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Magical Paper

Magical Paper
March 31, 2015 Juliette Tuke


photo 3amate mayan paperThe invention of paper in 105AD in China fulfilled a human need for expression and communication. Stone, animal skin and leather were used prior to paper production. However paper provided a lightweight and flexible alternative. It can be procured more easily than animal skins, transported more effectively than stone. The testament to its success is that nearly 2000 years after its invention it is still in use today despite modern technologies.

For the first five hundred years paper was a precious and expensive commodity. The Chinese Monks took the paper to Japan in 600 AD. Where paper was make from the Mulberry Tree. Its use became more ubiquitous. It was subsequently used for decorations.

In parallel development in Mesoamerica, the Mayans in 600AD invented paper. It was made from the bark from the Finca Tree. It is called Amate. For nearly 900 years, until the Spanish conquest the bark was used for record keeping, decoration during religious ceremonies and rituals. The Mayans paper making skills spread throughout Mexico. Before the Spanish invasion, there were 40 villages making paper. The paper was demanded as tribute (a kind of tax) from the Aztecs. The Aztecs wrote books called Codices. The codices were accordion like in their structure. They were mostly destroyed during the conquest however 5 remain. It was also used as gifts on royal occasions and rewards for warriors and for rituals.

The Mayans propagated the use of paper through southern Mexico to Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador.

After the Spanish Conquest because of the religious and magical use of the Amate paper it was banned in Mexico. Only used if the preferred European paper was in short supply.

The production of Amate was never quite outlawed and it continues to be produced in the remote mountains of the State of Veracruz and Puebla. The paper was invested with magical qualities. In the 1900 the production of the paper drew the attention of academics. The Otomi people became aware of the commercial opportunities of the Amate paper. The Amate paper is often used for colourful painting depicting life in Mexico. The paper decorations that are seen throughout Mexico origins go back in the bark paper that was made 1400 years ago in Southern Mexico.

Mexican paper cuts hand made in Mexico




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