03 Jul2006

Abaca Fiber

by Marketman


It seems appropriate to end the posts on my recent trip to Legazpi with some musings on Abaca, that spectacular fiber from the region. I always associated Abaca with Bicol because of all the placemats, handicrafts such as baskets and rugs, rope for ships, etc. that seemed to emanate from there. I just assumed Bicol was the epicenter of abaca. That turns out to be false, it seems, but nevertheless this post. aba2Abaca fiber is considered to be among one of the strongest natural fibers around. Single fibers can be up to 8 or 9 feet long which is what makes it terrific for spinning into manila help or rope or cordage, most often visually associated with ships being tied to the docks. For a while, most of the biggest and strongest ropes globally came from the Philippines. These days, synthetics have displaced a lot of naturally made ropes. The abaca plant, which is indigenous to the Philippines, is related to the banana tree (actually an herb, not a tree). The only distinguishing feature is that its leaves are skinnier and more upright that that of a banana. It bears fruit as well, but it is less edible than bananas.

To make the fiber, you have to strip off the outer sheath of the trunk of the abaca plant and pull out individual fibers that run the height of the trunk. aba3This close up photo of the abaca trunk shows just how fibrous it is. Once stripped and separated, the fibers are dried and they look like the fiber up top. From there it is either spun into rope, added to security papers or currency notes, woven in with instant tea bags, made into handicrafts, etc. Abaca is a major crop in the Philippines and Albay isn’t even one of the top 10 provinces that produces it! Seems Catanduanes, Leyte, Samar and some provinces in Mindanao lead the production volumes that result in over USD80 million in exports per annum according to a Philippine government website.

But this whole learning process on abaca was really made interesting in that I actually witnessed a lady spinning the individual fibers into aba4threads right on our property in Bicol! I had never seen this done before so I was in awe at the labor intensiveness, the speed with which the fiber was made and the strength of the resulting product. I have a new found respect for every single abaca placemat that in fact involves a phenomenal amount of work to get it made! I will never complain about placemat prices again and at PHP15-20 each in Bicol, they were an incredible bargain! Instead of using plastic or other synthetic products, remember to purchase several dozen abaca placements or bags the next time you are in a handicraft store or return home for a holiday so that you can support the tens of thousands of farmers and weavers who make up the all natural and totally local Philippine abaca industry…



  1. Lou says:

    Thanks a lot for that wrap up of your Bicol Experience. I enjoyed every single one of them even if only vicariously; and the write up about our abaca plant and its finished products makes me even prouder of the general ingenuity the Filipinos are known for. I make it a point to buy our finished products whenever I see them available. I know they carry quality and pride in them.

    Jul 3, 2006 | 6:32 pm


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  3. Apicio says:

    One of the rarest presents among the wealthy (and profligate) class of China in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was mentioned in Jing Ping Mei chua, a length of nipis or very fine sinamay from the Philippines.

    Jul 3, 2006 | 6:55 pm

  4. linda says:

    This is really educational and enjoyable and we really appreciate your efforts of showing and sharing your adventures.

    Jul 4, 2006 | 8:13 am

  5. Lani says:

    Very informative, MM. Thanks for sharing.

    Jul 4, 2006 | 2:53 pm

  6. teth says:

    I grew up in a town where “paglulubid” -like the woman in your pic, is a livelihood. You can see them along the stretch of the road or in a shady place and sometimes will be a 50 to 100-meter long or hangga’t nakikita pa ang “nagbibiling” (the simple manual circular machine used to entwine it.,)nakaupo siya then at the other end, meron ding isa pang machine,nakatayo naman ang tao, isasabit ang dulo ng lubid then rotate hanggang lubid na siya. When I was a kid, I used to walk from end to end or play with my friends and then our hair would be stock on the “lubid”. Pasaway lang sa mga naglulubid!

    Sep 8, 2006 | 11:18 am

  7. Charlene says:

    Is there anybody out there who can refer me to people who makes tinagac tupos of abaca fiber. We will buy 2000 kilos of the fine grade abaca tinagac tupos.

    Oct 1, 2007 | 2:22 pm

  8. Norbu Tenzin says:

    I want some information about the abaca finbre, whether the wild abaca can be extracted and be same as planted abaca, in Bhutan we have plenty of wild abaca plant and if this can be used, we want to experiment it. So what you suggest?

    Jan 24, 2009 | 2:39 pm

  9. Boy Po says:

    I am a supplier of Abaca “canton” fiber in Albay. interested party may contact me…thanks!

    Jan 24, 2009 | 7:20 pm

  10. Norbu Tenzin says:

    Dear sir,

    I have asked some one to give me information about the abaca fibre. whether the wild abaca can be used for extraction of fibre.

    Jul 1, 2009 | 6:11 pm

  11. Marketman says:

    Norbu, sorry, I have no idea if wild abaca is the same as cultivated species… best you contact abaca experts, not a predominantly food related blog.

    Jul 1, 2009 | 8:03 pm

  12. thes palmes says:

    hi where are you located if ever we need abaca? i am from manila. thanks.

    Aug 23, 2009 | 12:37 pm

  13. elai says:

    hi! im interested with your product, can you have your landline number? thanks!

    Sep 12, 2009 | 9:44 am


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