From the mountains of China to Southeast Asia: a thousand-year-old+ papermaking technique
When I crossed the Mekong to Laos a few years ago, searching for people who made paper, I had no idea of what I'd find. There was nothing written about it in papermaking literature. (Only much later did I find books by anthropologist Jacques LeMoine and scholar Laurent Chazee which briefly mentioned bamboo paper.)
After a chance meeting in a Lao border town, I hitched a ride to the jungle, and was in for a few surprises. Thanks to Andrew Kong for introducing me to the village — and for translating the recipe below. This recipe is excerpted from my upcoming book, Paper Pilgrimage: Bombs, Bandits, and a Vanishing Art in Southeast Asia.
It was described in detail to me by a woman in a Hmong village at the edge of the jungle in Bokeo, Laos. (The woman pictured above I met later is making paper in the same way–she is from the LenDen hilltribe in Luang NamTha, Laos.)
Find out more about the book here: PaperPilgrimage.com
Hmong Papermaking Recipe
* Young bamboo stalks, just before they have leaves: 10-15 feet high
* Ashes from a cooking fire
* Fresh water from a stream
* Mosquito net
* Paper mold (bamboo frame)
* Pans, various sizes (plastic, metal, or other)
* Wooden hammer
* Freshwater stream
* Wooden table
* Banana leaves
* Bamboo chisel
* Bamboo fork
Enough for the village to use that year for funerals, weddings, sicknesses, ceremonies with visiting shamans. Keep a few extra sheets on hand for family emergencies or in case a neighbor needs to buy or borrow some.
NB: The maximum number of sheets produced every day depends on the number of molds each family has.
1. After cutting the bamboo, peel most of the layers off, take out the center pith of the bamboo— the softest part.
2. Dry in the sun 4-5 days
3. After dry, make small bundles of the dried bamboo
4. Boil in a big pan, add ashes from the cooking fire
5. Store and soak for up to 10 days
6. Take to the stream and rinse the bamboo
7. Cut some big banana leaves, wrap up the pulp, and leave somewhere dark inside the house
8. Open the bundle after 6 days. If it has started to smell, that's good, it is rotting and breaking down the fibers. If not, wrap it up again for a day or two
9. Beat the pulp on a table with a wooden hammer
10. Keep adding water and hammer more
11. As it gets well-beaten, scoop the mashed bamboo into a bucket
12. Stir the bucket of pulp and water with a piece of bamboo that's been split (used like a whisk or a fork). This tool lifts out the larger fibers from the pulverized bamboo, and leaves the finer fibers, which are used to make the paper. Wad larger/rough fibers into a ball; these will be re-used in a later batch.
13. Find an elevated spot – in the fields, away from the village because it makes a mess. Prop up the paper mold so it's not on the ground (i.e. on bamboo stakes)
14. Take a small bowl and pour the bamboo pulp onto the netting. Be sure to go back and forth evenly, in lines
15. After the water has soaked through the mosquito net completely, place the mold vertically against a wall and let dry in the sun – about one day
16. When dry, make a bamboo scraper with a sharp end, pry between the sheet and the paper's edges, and slowly peel off
More about the book – and how you can help make the Special Edition a reality – here: PaperPilgrimage.com