Making Bark Paper


This is how the bark paper is manufactured still to this day. First, men go to the woods to find "jonote" trees for the dark brown paper or "xalama limon" for the white paper or "mora" for a light silvery brown color. (These last two are hard to come by due to over-use, but the jonote trees re-seed themselves incredibly well.) They use a machete to make cuts and then peel long strips of bark off the tree. The strips are then tied into bundles and carried back home. This process does not harm the tree. In order to prepare the bark, paper-makers boil it in a huge vat together with wood ash and lime. This takes 6-8 hours and may even be left overnight. When the fibers can be pulled apart, a long, flat board is set out, and the strips of bark are placed on it in a grid pattern within rectangular outlines. The artisans then take a specially shaped stone - like a small brick with finger grooves on the side - and pound the bark until it is all evenly spread out. The pounding from San Pablito echoes across the mountains and can be heard miles away. Where most paper is made into pulp and then shaped, here the pulping and the shaping are one and the same process. Several family members will work along one board together, helping each other and chatting as they work. The edges of the paper are then turned in to make an even edge and pounded in again. Then the entire board is leaned up against the wall in the sun and allowed to dry, while the folks go on to make more sheets.

When the paper is dry it is peeled off the board. When there is bad weather, there is simply no making paper, and families will turn to beadwork or embroidery. In order to send the paper out to clients, they must take a bus from San Pablito to Pahuatlan an hour away, then another to Tulancingo - this time over a paved road. When the order is going by air freight or DHL, they must go to Mexico city - another 2 1/2 hours away. The whole process is incredibly labor intensive. An average person can only make about 10-15 small sheets a day.

I can buy the paper here in the states but it is bad quality and horribly expensive. And, the people in San Pablito get very little for their work when jobbers from the states go down to buy it. By eliminating the middleman, I get excellent paper and I pay about a 20% of the price I find here in the states. The papermakers get up to ten times what they would normally receive from the middleman. In some cases one order can provide a year of income to one family.