Amate Paper

Amate is a type of bark paper. It is made by stripping the bark from different types of trees, such as nettle and wild fig. The bark is cleaned and dried before being boiled for several hours. Lime or ashes are added to the boiling water. After boiling, the fibers are rinsed in clean water and arranged on wooden boards. Craftsmen beat the wet fibers with stones. Finally, the sheets are left to dry.

For centuries, this type of paper has played an important part in the cultural life of Mexico. Before the Spanish Conquest, the indigenous peoples of Mexico, such as the Aztecs and the Mayas, used amate to keep their records. The pages of the Dresden Codex, a Mayan book and the oldest surviving from the American continent, are made from amate. Furthermore, this type of paper was used in religious ceremonies.

During the Colonial era, Spanish authorities banned the use of amate paper because it was allegedly used for witchcraft and magic. However, the production of this type of paper never disappeared. Due to the shortage of European paper, amate was used every once in a while by the Spaniards. Some of the Catholic missionaries even used it to create Christian images.

The production of amate was zealously guarded by some indigenous communities in central and southern Mexico. Some historians argue that the production of this type of paper was a way to defy Spanish culture.

Today, amate is mainly produced in the state of Puebla. A large amount of the paper made in Puebla is sold to artists from Guerrero, who use it as backing for brightly colored paintings. These paintings and the production of amate have helped to alleviate poverty in some communities in Mexico for decades.