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Historic Rope Production in Mexico

Ever wonder where rope is made? The largest industry used to be in the Yucatan in eastern Mexico. I recently toured a restored plantation…here is what I learned.

A species of agave cactus is the source of henequén (green gold) production still found on a fascinating hacienda outside Merida, Mexico. Situta de Peón, a working henequén hacienda, was one of many established in the 1800’s and restored from its abandoned state over 25 years ago. The European style plantation buildings and fields of agave cactus offer a glimpse into the past that is the focus of this living history village. Over 80 local Mayan families, descendants of the original workers, are employed here.

The fibrous leaves of the cactus are harvested, placed on mule-drawn carts, and taken to the processing plant where they are fed into a 100-year-old stripping machine which can process 100,000 leaves per day. The resulting long strands of green fiber are then hung to dry in the sun before heading to the bummer press where they are formed into 400 pound bales for shipping to Merida several times per week for further manufacturing. The green waste material from the stripping machine is used as animal feed and fertilizer.

A walk through the museum illustrates the many types of manual processes that have been mechanized over the years. In its heyday between 1860 and 1915, multiple products were produced on the plantation. Spooling machines could twist the fibers into ropes of varying thickness, including the large gauges for marine use especially popular during the shipping era of the 1900’s, or transform them into balls for easy transport. Looms would weave long bolts of coarse mesh which could be made into bags, mats, grain sacks or hammocks.

The entire area is fed by an underground water system of rivers and cenotes. The hacienda name Sotuta comes from the Mayan term “Tzu Tzut Ha” which means circulating or moving water. The future of henequén is questionable as synthetic materials have become more popular.

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