Guest Author - Connie Krochmal
Agaves may be beautiful plants. But, they have many practical uses as well. Historically, the maguey or agave was among the most important plants to the native people of Mexico.
Francisco Hernandez wrote about various uses of the plants during his travels in Mexico in 1577. Concerning the household uses for the plants, this was used as a building and roofing material. It also served as serving platters and plates. It also was used as paper. The plants also were grown as living fences and used as a fuel source. Even the roots were used for they were the source of a strong rope. According to some sources, the plants are a potential source of gums and adhesive emulsions as well.
Agave as a Fiber Source
The agaves are a traditional source of fiber. These versatile fibers are used for various purposes from carpets and sacks or bags to cords and ropes. Historically this has been used for clothes and even for shoes.
In Mexico archaeologists discovered special spindle whorls that were designed specifically to spin a certain diameter of agave thread. The whorls were found only at El Palmilllo and other nearby sites in the eastern region of Oaxaca. The whorls were in assorted sizes from small to medium. The large was used to make a coarse thread. The finer thread was made using smaller whorls.
The archaeologists believe that the finest fabric was highly prized and intended for use by the elite classes, while the coarse version was used by the common people. At the time being studied by the archaeologists at this dig, the people at El Palmillo lived on special terraces in the hilly country with nearly 1500 terraces in the area.
Ancient Andean cultures used maguey fiber to make braided slings. These were a main tool of warfare and defense. According to archaeologists, one such sling could hurl stones as far as 500 feet. They said the sling was the main long-term weapon of choice by ancient people who built and occupied the temple-fortress of Chankillo, which was constructed during the third century B.C.