The Sisal Plant
Sisal is the common name for Agave Sisalana. It is very similar in appearance to other agave species such as the type used to make tequila. It can be found in most areas of eSwatini, and is regarded as an exotic and invasive weed. Sisal has always been used to make rope, twine, handcraft and stockades.
STEPS TO HARVESTING:
ONE - Harvest
Our sisal harvesting groups usually gather the sisal leaves while conducting other routine domestic duties such as; the gathering of firewood, farming, or looking after cattle. On discovering the sisal plant in the veld, the women will harvest the younger leaves. Young leaves are preferred because their fibres are a bright cream colour which takes the dye more efficiently. One leaf can be as long as 75cm in length and can hold 200 individual fibers.
TWO - Stripping and drying
The harvested leaves are then stripped. Using a little water and a sharp edge, (a rock, hoe or other farming implements), the flesh of these succulent leaves is scraped away to reveal the strong internal fibers. Once the fibers are bare, the sisal is then laid out to dry. Depending on the season, after a day or two, the fibers are dry.
THREE - Packing and purchasing
The dried fibers are then bundled, and inspected for any residual flesh. Tintsaba will then visit the various harvesting groups to buy the raw sisal.
• Uses no chemicals to harvest, only a little water
• eSwatini views the plant as an invasive weed which damages the natural ecology of the land
• Abundant supply, which can be found in local communities, so women can earn an income from home
Winding road, climbing to one of our sisal producing women's groups in the south.
Leaves of the Sisal plant
The Siphofanine group, weighing their harvested sisal.
Close up of dried raw sisal, ready to be dyed.