Bangladeshi Crafts: Papermaking

The age-old traditions and crafts of Bangladesh continue to thrive even as the country moves ahead with the times. Skills and know-how have been passed down through generations, and by using ingenuity and marketing many Bangladeshi artisans continue to make a living out of traditional crafts such as wood carving, bone carving, textile manufacturing, leatherwork, ceramics, basket weaving, conch and shell craft, handmade paper, metal-craft, jewelry and embroidery, among others.

Before paper was invented, a variety of natural products were used to write on, including the bark and leaves of trees such as those of palm and plantain, as well as specially treated cloth, leather and parchment. Once the principles of papermaking were discovered, a wide variety of products have been used, many of which are by-products of other manufacturing processes or would have been discarded as waste, such as hemp and jute waste, off-cuts of cotton fabric, old newspapers, fishnets and old burlap sacks. The plants used in papermaking are fast-growing and indigenous to the area in which the paper is being made, so different materials are used in different regions of Bangladesh. Plants used include flax, sunn hemp, daphne, water hyacinth (an invasive species), sisal, bamboo and bagasse – the fibrous remains of sugarcane after the juice has been extracted.

While the technique of papermaking remains the same as it always has, some artisans make use of machines for pulping the raw products – a tedious process that takes a lot of time when done by hand. The smoothing of the paper is sometimes carried out by machines as well, but the selection of the raw materials to make the paper and the formation of the sheets is still very much a traditional and individual process. The pulp is floated in water and collected on a metal screen which is left to dry in the sun before being made into other items such as greeting cards, photo albums, gift boxes, pen holders and ornament boxes, or packaged as writing and wrapping paper.

Besides being creative, the production of handmade paper is environmentally friendly and has an impact on the economy of the community in which the artisans live. Many of the traditional crafts in Bangladesh, including handmade paper, are marketed under Fair Trade standards and therefore bear the Fair Trade mark. Why not support the efforts of hardworking artisans by buying handmade paper products manufactured in Bangladesh.