Allo (Girardinia diversifolia, syn, G. heterophylla), also called “Sisnu” in Nepali, is a tall and rigid herb which grows wild at an altitude ranging from 1200 to 3000m in moist and fertile soil under the forests of Nepal. It’s a fibre yielding plant locally known as “Puwa” in the west and “Allo” in the east. It is a perennial robust nettle like plant with stinging hairs. Bark, young shoot, and leaves of the plant are used for fibre, vegetable and fodder.
The stem bark of Allo contains fibres with unique qualities, strength, smoothness, lightness, and when appropriately treated, a silk like lustre. The Indigenous people of Nepal have for centuries extracted and spun these fibres to weave durable jackets, porter’s head bands or straps, fishing nets, ropes, bags, sacks, mats, coarse clothing material blanket in the remote villages of Nepal.
Fibre length is found up to 580 mm, which it is said the longest fiber in the plant kingdom. The leaves are simple and alternately arranged in early stage and leaves become 3-7 lobes in later stages of development. Leaf length ranges from 10 to 35 cm.
Traditionally, the fibre obtained from the bark of Allo has been used for a variety of woven product, namely clothes (Bhangra, east-coat), bags, sacks, tablecloths, porter strap, blanket etc. and are marketed in Kathmandu and are also exported to foreign countries like USA and Japan.
The most suitable season to harvest the Allo plant is from August to December. The plant harvested in this time gives a white and good quality fibre. Stingy nature of Allo plant discourages local community to harvest it because they are not equipped with gloves and only use a thick piece of cloth to protect their hand. Community prefers to harvest Allo plant during winter season, when the cold reduces the stinging force of the Allo. After cutting the plant, the bark is removed and peeled.
The Allo plant is known to be found in the mid and high hilly regions of Nepal from the East to the West. The fibre extracted from the Allo plants is the strongest among all the other natural fibres from the Himalayas and so the clothes and other products made from Allo fibre are extremely durable.
Who makes allo products?
Indigenous and marginalized communities who live below the poverty line, especially Kulung Rai in remote and road-less areas of Nepal traditionally use allo for practical and religious purposes. They weave the fibrous stalk into durable cloth for use as clothing, blankets, large sacks, and fishing nets. The leaves are eaten as a rich source of Vitamin A. Allo cloth and plants are also used in ritual ceremonies by villagers. For Kulung Rai, they cannot do anything without Allo.
Why is allo important?
Selling allo products brings income to poor and smallholder families in areas of food shortage and preserves ancient cultural practices. In recent years, allo has helped women earn money for items such as soap, shoes, oil, medicine, and children’s school supplies.
As a women’s craft, weaving allo promotes equality. Allo creates an opportunity for women to earn their own income, increase their voice in family decisions, and overcome personal hardships. Environmentally, use of allo encourages preservation of forests and helps control soil erosion on steep geographical areas.
Through your purchase, you are reaching out across the world to support village women and their families. You are helping to preserve indigenous traditional handicrafts and local forests.