All Photography by Paula Cox. Julienne Dolphin Wilding Contact

Friday, December 4, 2009

Silk Weavers Village, Soatanana

Yesterday we visited the Silk Trail in the village of Soatanana. This is a new tourist destination in the Amoron’i Mania region. For adventurous people wanting to discover local culture & village life, visitors have the opportunity to stay within the community. The wild silk used in these scarves was raised in semi-domestication in the highland Tapia forests of Madagascar. Madagascar is one of the Earth's great treasures of biological diversity, it's ecosystems are also among the most threatened.

The tapia forest is the only natural forest which exists in Madagascar’s highlands. It is home to great wealth, including the production of wild silk cocoons, medicinal plants, plants used for dyes as well as orchids. Eight community forest management associations are supported by NT/FBM in their management and conservation of the tapia forest. Each forest management association carries out reforestation of tapia and other species annually, in order to restore the forests. A tour of this area provides the opportunity to see all the stages in silk production, from the cocoon to weaving, including dyeing of the threads which is done with exclusively natural dyes. A circuit lasting one day is proposed to visit the villages of Antapia and Soatanana.

Feedback Madagascar oversees a project in this area to reintroduce the wild silkworm to the tapia forest and supports a weaver’s union, ‘Tambatra’, which regroups about 70 people. For the Feedback Madagascar tree-planting campaign this year, the objective of planting 45,000 tapia saplings has been set in order to ensure the reforestation of 30 hectares. All the population of around 585 households bordering the tapia forests would benefit. Tapia woodlands harbor many benefits, including wild silkworms (whose cocoons have been harvested for centuries to weave expensive burial shrouds), fruit, fuel wood, mushrooms, edible insects, and herbal medicines. In the 17th century, Europeans discovered that there was a special silkworm to the Great Island Madagascar.

Two types of silks exist in Madagascar: one is made from breeding silkworms and the other by Borocera Madagascariensis, silkworm living in the wild tree tapia. But, it is endemic to Madagascar. The silk worm Borocera Madagascariensis are holometabolous, therefore they have three distinct morphological stages; larva, pupa and adult. After hatching from the egg, larvae go through four molts as they grow. During each molt, the old skin is cast off and a new, larger one is produced. The silk worm larval life is divided into five instars, separated by four molts. After they have molted four times (i.e., in the fifth instar), their bodies turn slightly yellow and their skin becomes tighter. The larvae enclose themselves in a cocoon of raw silk produced in the salivary glands that provides protection during the vulnerable, almost motionless pupal state.

The cocoon is made of a thread of raw silk from 300 to about 900 meters (1,000 to 3,000 feet) long. The fibers are very fine and lustrous, about 10 micrometres (1/2,500th of an inch) in diameter. About 2,000 to 3,000 cocoons are required to make a pound of silk. Based on 1 kilometer (about 1,100 yards) per cocoon, ten unraveled cocoons could theoretically extend vertically to the height of Mount Everest. According to E. L. Palmer one pound of silk represents about 1,000 miles of filament. The annual world production represents 70 billion miles of silk filament, a distance well over 300 round trips to the sun.

The silkworm cocoons are boiled. The heat kills the silkworms and the water makes the cocoons easier to unravel. The silkworm itself is sold at market to be eaten. The cocoons then are compacted into balls and allowed to dry in the sun for four days. They are then beaten to make them soft and then washed again with soap. The silk is boiled dyed again with natural additives as dyes to develop the colours: Eucalyptus mixed with soil makes the colour black. Passion Flower makes the colour green 1 kilo of cocoons makes one large or two medium sized scarves. It takes one day to weave one scarf.

The Sale of Silk Scarves supports both the conservation of the native woodlands and the traditional handicraft of these scarves, as well as providing a sustainable source of income for the women who make them. The wild silks are hand spun, and dyed with natural dyes. Each scarf is different, with the subtle variations in colour and weave inherent with any handcrafted product, and each is beautiful.

View Silk Village Slide Show (by Paula Cox)

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