Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 67.djvu/228

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222
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

THE VEGETABLE FIBERS OF THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS.
By H. TAYLOR EDWARDS,

BUREAU OF AGRICULTURE, MANILA.

THERE is probably no country of equal size in the world having a greater variety or wealth of vegetable fibers than the Philippine Islands. These fibers are of every class and of every description. They are obtained from the bast of the largest forest trees and from the slender stems of twining ferns. Their uses range from the manufacture of the most delicate and beautiful of textile fabrics to the construction of cables, furniture and houses. As an article of commerce, the one fiber, manila hemp, exceeds in value the combined values of all other products of the islands. As a factor in the domestic economy of the Filipino people, the fibrous plants of field and forest furnish, with the exception of food, nearly all the necessities of life.

 

The Relative Importance of the Fiber Industry.

The relative position that the vegetable fibers hold among the various agricultural products of the Philippine Islands is a subject that is neither clearly nor generally understood. The development of the various branches of the fiber industry will, in no inconsiderable degree, determine the future industrial condition of the islands. Until very recently there has been practically no machinery, no modern methods of cultivation, no introduction of improved species and varieties of plants; and yet, even under these unfavorable conditions, the production of fiber has grown to be the leading industry of the islands. To-day the vegetable fibers and fiber products form the most important source of wealth of the archipelago. A brief investigation of several of the more important of the fiber-producing plants should be sufficient to give some little idea of the vegetable fiber in the Philippines as a commercial product. Such an investigation, however, must leave entirely out of consideration the greater part of the four or five hundred so-called 'local' fibers, the use of which plays an interesting rind important part in the every-day life of the Filipino. To fully appreciate the extensive use of these local fibers, one must go into the fields and villages and homes of the native people.

But two fibers are now exported from the Philippine Islands, manila hemp and maguey. The latter has been, up to the present time, of comparatively little importance; the annual exports of maguey fiber amounting to something more than one thousand tons. Manila hemp, however, is not only the leading article of export, but it con-