Have you seen the new line of purses and flower hair clips Dsenyo is launching this month? They come in a gorgeous array of colors, from linen and honey gold, to vibrant tropical brights, and they’re arriving just in time for summer! These beautiful products are made by artisans in Brazil using fibers from an amazing tree, the miriti palm.
Photo 1: New Dsenyo Made in Brazil, eco-friendly handbags and flowers.
Mauritia flexuos, as the botanists call it, is also known as the “Tree of Life” in South America. And it’s no wonder when you consider its many uses. The fruit, highly nutritious, is squeezed for juice, used to flavor ice cream, or fermented to make wine. Oil, extracted from the fruit, filters and absorbs cancer-causing UV rays from the sun. The fronds can be used to thatch roofs, while the trunk is used to make building materials. And fibers from the leaves can be woven into cords, mats, baskets, or hats.
Photo 2: Miriti Palm: Reaching as high as 100 feet, the miriti palm grows abundantly throughout the southern Amazon Basin.
That’s where Dsenyo, and our new partner organization, Segue o Seco, come in. The miriti palm is abundant throughout Northeastern Brazil, where Segue o Seco’s artisans live and work. Using fibers from this palm, which they call buriti (bu-REE-chee), the artisans produce the colorful purses and clutches, as well as delicate hats and pretty hair ornaments, that Dsenyo is proud to include in its line of fair trade products.
What is buriti? If you’ve ever tied a present with raffia instead of ribbon, you’d recognize it. Like raffia, buriti is a strong, pliable fiber harvested from the leaves of the miriti palm, a native of South America. And like its cousin raffia, buriti looks a bit like strands of dried grass or straw, only much longer.
Photo 3: Miriti palm fronds used as thatch for roofing in Northeastern, Brazil
Perhaps best of all, the miriti palm is a renewable resource. These trees flourish in the waterlogged soil that characterizes the Amazon Basin. What’s more, they are responsibly harvested in the proper season, so the plants aren’t damaged or destroyed. This ensures that the trees continue to yield biruti fiber over the course of years.
We thought you might be interested in seeing some photos of our Brazilian craftsmen--and women--harvesting buriti and preparing it for production.
Cutting Buriti: Men carrying machetes climb the tall trunks of the miriti palm to harvest the crowns. The work isn’t easy: There’s always the danger of falling. Also, the men may encounter venomous snakes and spiders in the leaves on top.
Extracting the Fiber: Artisans extract buriti fiber from the palm fronds. Wielding small, sharp knives, they carefully pull a thin membrane from each leaflet. This step takes place as soon as possible after the crowns are harvested, to preserve the quality of the fiber.
Treating the Fiber: Next, the fiber is strengthened by boiling it in water. In its natural state, buriti is neutral in color, a sort of warm beige or soft ecru shade. At this stage of production, buriti can also be dyed a wide variety of colors. Using the leaves, fruit, bark, stem or root of various plants as coloring agents produces buriti with more natural or subdued tones, while analine dyes yield more vivid hues.
Preparing the Fiber for Production: After the fiber is sun-dried, it’s divided into thin or thicker strands and separated according to length. Some fibers are twisted together and wound into skeins for products that are to be crocheted or made by macrame. If the fibers are to be woven and used to make handbags or place mats, they’re treated differently.
Special thanks to Segue e Seco for providing us with photographs and a description of how buriti is produced.
Written by Diane Clymer
Goulding, M., Smith, N. J. H., & Mahar, D. J. (2000) Floods of Fortune: Ecology and Economy Along the Amazon. New York: Columbia University Press.
Kahn, F. (1988) Ecology of economically important palms in Peruvian Amazonia. Advances in Economic Botany 6: 42-49, 1988. The New York Botanical Garden.