It’s food. It’s a basket. It’s a house plant.
Jippy Jappa is naturally occurring plant found in Belize. The resourceful Maya search, sometimes deep in the bush, for this useful plant. The young shoots can be boiled and used for food. When prepared with tumeric and coconut oil Jippy Jappa it’s actually one of my favorite dishes. Local village pigs find delicacy quit tasty too, which is why it’s no longer easy to find.
Jippy Jappa leaves are carefully selected for color and strength. Young leaves still in their sheaths are cut out. A needle is used to carefully and evenly shred the leaves into thread like strips. The pieces are then boiled and dried in the sun until they are stiff. The young leaves produce the white or light colored basket material above.
Mature leaves or leaves that have already unfurled are also carefully selected to produce either the dark brown color featured above or a light green color. Mature leaves don’t need to be boiled. They are simply cut into threads and sunned for about three days.
A bundle of 10 or so strands forms the core of the basket. Another single strand is wrapped around the bundle every quarter inch or so. The basket usually ascends in circular for m with passes of the needle joining lower section to upper rows of the basket. As the bundle of strands reaches the end of its length additional strands are carefully tucked inside the bundle in seamless transition. Resulting in a basket that is smooth and virtually blemish free.
The finished product is surprisingly strong. Jippy Jappa is formed into a variety of baskets and shapes that range from bread baskets to hair clips. Some are embellished with flowers and other motifs of colorful thread.
The process of basket making is typically taught to girls from a young age, though it is not uncommon for men and boys to help with the harvesting of the leaves. While the physical contruction process is both time and labor intensive the journey doesn’t stop there. The majority of Mayan women live in rural villages far from tourist destinations. Many must wake up long before sunrise to prepare food for their families. These hard working women then catch buses to tourist towns like Placencia or Hopkins. Where they spend the day wandering up and down beaches peddling their wares to tourists. Many baskets sell to holiday makers for less than 30 BZE. The equilivalent of 15 USD is spent on a days labor.
The picture above is a good example of the start to finish process. On the left you can see the young leaves still in their sheaths. To the right is the young light colored leaf after they have been shredded, boiled and sunned. It is now ready for the weaving process. The finished product a hair clip is modeled by me in the center.