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Pāṭa patha, the Jute path (1)

In order to enjoy our comfortable and genuine espadrilles we need some fabrics that don’t appear just out of the blue. Instead, they go through a long journey, and we would like to pay tribute to it with a series of articles about the winding paths they take and the people who make it happen.

I travelled to Bangladesh during the peak of the monsoon season with my mind set on learning first-hand about the Jute harvest, the fibre that replaced hemp in the production of espadrilles.

On my first trip, this search took me to the Matlab area, SouthWest of Dhaka. Here are plenty of golden fibre fields, a plant belonging to the Malvaceae family called Corchorus Capsularis and known as Pāṭa in Bengali.

La Manual Alpargatera
La Manual Alpargatera
Jute plant drawing (Corchorus capsularis)

This plant grows in flooded areas with such a high amount of water that makes them unsuitable for growing most crops and turns jute cultivation into a cover crop until the soil is ready to plant rice again.

When we entered the area and right from the road, we could see what seemed like jute fibre curtains everywhere. They were spread intended to dry under the monsoon rain with tipi-like bundles of thin branches in between them. These bundles are made of the jute core that is left after the fibres have been stripped, and here they are waiting to be put to another use, because from jute nothing is wasted. —In some Wikipedia versions we can see that these stems are described as “jute fibres during the process”, but this is precisely the jute part without the fibres—.

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Drying the jute fibres

As the rain ceased to pour for a moment, we decided to take our first stop. It was at a place where they were washing the fibres in the river. This is a hard and spectacular work because of the dimensional plasticity of the scene and the hypnotic movements taking part in it. From across the road I was able to record and take pictures of the curled up fibre during the washing process in the river’s stream.

La Manual Alpargatera
La Manual Alpargatera
Washing jute fibres in the river
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Once the farmer had finished washing the Jute, he drained it and carried the loops head-loading to hang them out to dry, just like we had seen them on the sides of the road.

Taking advantage of the good weather, I decided to go deeper into the fields crossing the bridge located about 30 metres along the way. Hereby, I must say that to describe that rudimentary and minimalist structure made of bamboo with the word “bridge” may sound a bit exaggerated to my Western World fellow citizens.

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Once I reached the flooded fields by the other side of the river, I was invited to get into a typical local boat. These riverboats are particularly flat because they must move around extremely shallow waters.

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Thanks to that I was able to reach another field with my camera equipment intact and take photos of the farmer harvesting the jute that grew in front of his house at the water level, just as if I was standing with the water covering my knees.

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When I asked him if I could take pictures while he harvested, he nodded but he also covered his head with the turban to pose for the photos.

La Manual Alpargatera
La Manual Alpargatera
La Manual Alpargatera
Jute gets harvested when the water level is almost low enough to plant the precious rice or other crops again.
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The fresh-cut jute stalks are grabbed into bundles before they are subjected to retting, a rotting process that allows the chlorophyll and other less-resistant components to be removed.
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Sharing his “trophy” with the kids who liked to hog the camera.
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Fresh-cut jute letting the water do its work.
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After a couple of weeks soaked in water, the jute is ready to be stripped apart.
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When we returned to solid ground, the boatman left me in a place where I could see the jute bark being removed, in these strips is where the precious fibre is found. The entire process takes place while the jute is well soaked.
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The jute reeds are shuck and the fibres bundled together to wash them in the river.
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Bundles of jute bark right before being washed.
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The rhythmic plasticity and the mesmerizing movements carried on during the jute washing make time stop while I observe…
La Manual Alpargatera
La Manual Alpargatera
A hard work to which we owe the comfort of our feet.
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Here, awaiting for a new destination, the barkless bundles leave our story.

La Manual Alpargatera
Once they have been washed, the fibres are dried and sent over for processing.
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Any place is suitable to shuck the jute if it lies near where the bundles “rot”.

La Manual Alpargatera
Taking the jute bundles out to be stripped.
La Manual Alpargatera
Taking the jute bundles out to be stripped.
PĀṬA PATHA, THE JUTE PATH (2)
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