Viveka and I decided to visit a ‘working’ hacienda where henequen is grown and processed into fibre. Henequen was the source of much of the area’s wealth in the boom years between 1880 and 1915. It was best known for it’s use to produce rope. It is often called ‘sisal’ because it was shipped from the port of Sisal, and that is what was stamped on the crates. Nylon replaced it’s need.
The plant is a spiky succulent. A plant only yields 20-30 leaves a year for 12-20 years but it takes 8000 leaves to make a 400 pound bale.
Most of the production here is for the benefit of the visitor’s education. We saw them feeding the leaves into a giant crusher that extracted the fibre, the fibre being carded and then dried. It was then spun into cords which could form rope or be woven into gunny sacks. The shops in Merida were full of purses and other products made from the fibre.