Sunday, September 27, 2009
My forthcoming novel True Confections is not only about chocolate and a crazy family. There is also a part of the story that takes place in Madagascar over several generations. Although I mentioned orb weaver spiders, and Merina people, I did not know about the history of Madagascar spider silk-weaving, nor about the woven object now on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Producing the spider silk to make this piece—apparently a unique enterprise in the world—required 70 people who were employed collecting spiders daily (using long poles) from their legendary webs strung across telephone wires, during the rainy season, which is when they produce silk. A dozen people would then draw out the silk from the immobilized female spiders, who were then turned loose. (Somebody has to determine the gender of these spiders! What do you call these jobs on your resume? Spider sexing? Spider milking? Spider silking?) An Orb Weaver spider's silk gland can produces some 80 feet of this amazing golden silk filament at a time.
The woven piece on display in New York is based on a weaving tradition known as lamba Akotifahana from the highlands of Madagascar, an ornamental art created for the royal and upper classes of the Merina people. I dearly wish I had woven some spider silk into my novel.