Fr. Pedro Espallargas: Inventor of Abaca Hemp Stripper

January 10, 2015

pedro espallargas, albay, hemp stripper

The hemp extraction device revolutionized abaca fiber extraction, promoted a lucrative trade with American and made Albay, the biggest abaca producing province, the richest province of the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century.

Fr. Pedro Espallargas (written as Despallarguez in other documents), a Franciscan priest, invented the abaca stripper in Albay sometime in the 18th century. The stripper and its operation is described as follows:

“This consist of a sharp, somewhat dentate knife fixed above a smooth piece of wood. One end is fastened by a pivot; the other end, extending beyond the wood has a cord and weight attached to it, so that the knife is kept in closed opposition to the knife ruins over a pulley and then downward, being attached to a pedal. Pressure on this pedal raises the knife so that the saja may be inserted. The remaining fiber is now pulled out, the fleshy part of the plant remaining behind. The saja is now reversed so to clean the other end.”

From “The Wild Tribes of Davao” by Fay Cooper Cole (1913)

Fr. Espallargas’ abaca stripper removed the drudgery in abaca fiber extraction, improved the quality of the abaca fiber, and increased the volume of production, All these plus the fact that abaca was already recognized as the best fiber for marine cordage attracted British and American capital to the Philippines, promoted a very lucrative trade with America, stimulated agriculture in many parts of the Philippines, and made Albay the richest province in the Philippines from 1900 to 1920.

One wonders why Fr Pedro Espallargas is never mentioned in standard Philippine history textbooks when his invention had brought so much economic benefits to the Philippines.

The article was written by historian Pio Andrade Jr. for his Past/Present column. The historian permitted the publication of this article in this blog.

Note from Blogger:

Americans Henry Frank and Henry William’s would later introduce their invention, “The Hemp-Stripping Machine.” They acquired patent for this machine in 1923.

The Friar invention was widely used in the archipelago, not only in Albay. The inventor did not request for patent as it was a donation and not for profit.

Here’s another description of the hemp stripper from “The Wild Tribes of Davao” by Fay Cooper Cole (1913)

“This consists of a knife which rests on a wooden block. The handle turns on a pivot and the end is drawn upwards by means of a bent twig, or sapling, which acts as a spring. This spring is lowered and the knife blade raised by means of a foot treadle; a strip of hemp is laid on the block; the foot pressure is removed, and the knife descends. Taking a firm hold of one end of the strip, the operator draws it toward him under the blade, thus removing the pulp and leaving the free hemp threads. These are hung in the sun until dry, when they are tied in bundles ready to be carried to the coast.”

This type of stripper is still commonly used in backyard abaca productions.

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Myles Garcia

You sure this is not the Vegas stripper? LOL!!