Monday, October 4, 2010

What is Henequen?

If you ever choose to visit or live in Merida or the surrounding area, you will eventually hear someone bring up the subject of Henequen. Late in the 19th century and the early 20th Century, the area surrounding Mérida prospered from the production of Henequen. It is an agave whose leaves yield a fiber also called henequen which used to make rope and twine in the early to mid 20th century. It is the major plantation fiber agave of eastern Mexico, being grown extensively in Yucatan and Veracruz. It is also used to make Licor del henequén, a traditional Mexican alcoholic drink.

According to Wikipedia, The plant appears as a rosette of sword-shaped leaves 1.2 to 1.8 meters long, growing out of a thick stem that may reach 1.7 meters (5 ft). The leaves have regularly-spaced teeth 3-6 mm long, and a terminal spine 2-3 cm long.

For a brief period, around the turn of the 20th century, Mérida was said to house more millionaires than any other city in the world. The result of this concentration of wealth can still be seen today. Many large and elaborate homes still line the main avenue of Paseo de Montejo, though few are occupied today by individual families. Many of these homes have been restored and now serve as office buildings for banks and insurance companies.

Just out of curiosity, I recently asked a friend of mine here in Merida what happened to all of the Henequen production and why it disappeared. Among a few other reasons, this person informed me that government interests came in and bought up the plantations from private owners and well......everything just sort of disappeared after that. Enough said I guess......Also, just as an interesting fact, Les Stroud used the henequen plant on his T.V. show Survivorman to make a needle and thread for making both medical stitching and a sewing needle for clothing on one of his episodes. This "plant" does in fact have many purposes.

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