Raffia is a natural fibre used to weave baskets, embellish crafts and package gifts. Since raffia is not man-made, it must be harvested, cleaned and packaged for sale. Raffia can be purchased in its natural tan colour or in a variety of vivid colours. It is typically packaged as raffia balls or hanks and available at craft stores.
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Raffia Palm Tree
Raffia comes from the raffia palm tree. Raffia palm trees grow in Africa. Madagascar and Uganda are famous for harvesting and exporting raffia from the palms that grow there. The raffia palm tree has long branches growing at the top of the tree. Each branch can grow up to 60 feet long and is covered with long narrow leaves. Each leaf has a thin membrane, which is the raffia.
Raffia is a renewable resource. It is harvested in a way that does not damage the tree, so that the tree can continue to grow new branches for future harvesting. Workers must climb the tall tree trunk and cut down the desired branches. Once on the ground, the raffia membrane is carefully pulled off the leaf. Workers try to pull the raffia off in one strip without tearing it.
Drying and Dying
The raffia must be dried in the sun before it can be used. However, if the raffia is not dried correctly, it can shrivel and will not be strong enough to use in basket weaving. In order to keep the raffia flexible, it is wrapped around weeds and grasses during the drying process. When fully dry, the raffia is a creamy colour. Much of the raffia will be left this natural colour. Some of the raffia will be artificially dyed by boiling.
The dried raffia is classified by quality and packaged for the different intended uses of agriculture, arts and crafts and floral arrangements. The smaller strips of raffia are often bundled into balls, while the higher quality longer strips are bundled into raffia hanks. Some artisans do not sell the raffia they collect in this form, but go on to weave the raffia into baskets and mats instead. The baskets and mats are then sold for profit.
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