THE STORY OF NEPALESE HANDMADE LOKTA PAPER:
The art of handmade Lokta paper dates back to the 12th century A.D, where it started in the hills of Nepal.
The handmade papers are manufactured from the bark of Daphne bholua and D. papyracea. According to the Department of forest in Nepal, these plants are available in over two million hectares of forests in over 52 districts across the whole of Nepal. Currently, only 32 districts in Nepal are producing paper (The Himalayan Times, 2017). These plants are predominantly found between the altitudes of 1600m to 3000m in the southern slopes of Nepal’s Himalayan forests.
Picture credit: By Gozitano - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54042441
So what makes these paper so special is its durability; it has resistance to tearing, humidity, insects as well as mildew. The ancient Buddhist for this reason used it in sacred religious texts. Also, because of its unique property to retain the smell and flavour of the spices, it was also used to store spices to preserve its flavour, in fact it still is used in several places across Nepal for the purpose of storing spices and various other food products. Because of these unique properties it has been made the preferred choice for all official government records by the Nepalese government. The Daphne bush from which the papers are made has some amazing qualities: The fibres are long which help make the paper really strong and durable, further the fibres are self-adhesive, meaning that they don’t require any chemical adhesives to stick to each other unlike other paper manufacturing processes. In addition to all of these the plant regenerates rapidly due to its cut, without which the plant would rot during the monsoon season. It really seems from all of these qualities that the plant came to existence for the sole reason of making paper.
The Nepalese Lokta paper production was hit hard when commercially mass-produced papers from India started to dominate the Nepalese market. This sent the Nepalese paper industry into a state of terminal decline. However, in the 1980’s various INGO’s alongside a few government offices in Nepal started a project to revive Nepal’s indigenous paper making process. After this few of the local entrepreneurs started partnering with International trading partners and started establishing an export market for the Nepalese Lokta paper.
The Nepalese paper industry supports the poor rural women in Nepal, because several research has shown that women of Nepal have traditionally been the principle forest users and gatherers of these Lokta plant barks. This Industry currently offers considerable economic sustainability for the poor rural Nepalese women, however, majority of the resources in this industry remains untapped. There is still a great potential in the paper industry and if exports from Nepal can be increased, this could provide a great economic sustainability for the poor rural Nepalese Women. For the modern world and its mindful consumers this could be a great substitute for the non-sustainable commercialised paper, and a better textured handmade paper with a great social impact. Ethnik by artisans partners with Manufacturers from these countries in bringing the finest of the Nepalese handmade paper to its customers. Currently ethnik by artisans is selling Handmade luxury gift bags made out of the beautiful handcrafted Nepalese Lokta paper as well as the vegan journals which are made of the Lokta paper with a beautiful outer cover made from the Himalayan Giant Nettle fibre.
Pic: A very old letter from Tibetan Governor to a Nepali official
The earliest surviving Lokta paper document appears in Nepal’s national archives in Kathmandu in the form of a sacred Buddhist text, the Karanya Buha Sutra. The Karanya Buha Sutra was written in Lichchhavi script and block printed on Lokta paper and is estimated to be between 1,000 and 1,900 years old.
Pic: A Nepalese woman dries out a sheet of Lokta paper, pic taken near Mulpani in Kathmandu, Nepal. P.C: Skanda Gautam