SANI HEMP FROM YUNNAN HIGHLANDS
Robert Clarke, as usual, has graced the pages of the Journal of Industrial Hemp with a story about hemp in farflung places. This year he has done an article titled "Four Generations of Sani Hemp Satchels", which appears on pp. 58-72. The Sani live some 40 miles east of Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan Provice, People's Republic of China, which is in the southwest corner of the nation. The Sani have for a long time produced both food and fibre from Cannabis sativa, but production declined after the Communist takeover. The seeds are sown during the summer rainy season, at an elevation of just over a mile. Clarke notes that the fields are red clay, with lots of limestone boulders, which are a defining feature of the landscape. It has been noted that hemp does like a good amount of calcium, so the presence of limestone may be a good thing for the hemp. In the UK hemp farmers like to use oyster shell.
Male plants are harvested mid-summer as they begin to flower. They provide the highest quality fibre for yarn, twine and cloth. A portion of the males are left in the ground to pollinate the female seed plants, which are harvested in autumn. Their fibre is coarser, and is used for such things as cordage for tobacco bales. Softening and bleaching is accomplished by boiling in mineral lime or ash.
The article goes into exquisite detail on the patterns and history of certain hemp fabrics. It appears that some of the knowledge is already a lost art, with the older pieces being collectors' items.
It is one more example of an unbroken tradition of Chinese hemp cultivation and processing. Recently a rather ignorant American journalist exhorted that we not use hemp as it comes from China, forgetting that cotton does as well, and is quite often processed there even if it is grown, say, in America. It is articles like these, written by people who really go and look at hemp production, that rebut such ignorance. Hopefully, though, more countries will pick up on hemp production, and we will produce more in the West, but that is not to cut China out. In the hemp world, and in many other realms, China will always hold the honour of having been there first and taught the West.