Long before hemp became infamous in the USA as the "evil weed" marijuana, it had its own rich history closely woven with that of mankind’s. Its various aspects and qualities were used for millennia to clothe, maintain good health, and enrich the many societies that held this plant a close ally in the struggle for a comfortable existence. Hemp's story is as deep as the eons that it came from and as colourful as the misunderstood situation it finds itself in today.
We hope you find this brief hemp history interesting.
In the beginning
The natural origin of hemp is believed to be the highlands of the Himalayas where it grows wild to this day. The surrounding cultures initially knew mainly of its psychoactive properties, and was revered in Tibet and India as a Herb of spiritual significance. Ancient Scriptures, dating back thousands of years, state in their mythology that hemp was present with Siva when the world was formed. Bhang, the name given to the leaf, was so influential that two major areas were named after it. Bangladesh (meaning "bhang land people"), and Bengal (bhang land).
Hemp seed was spread from the Himalayas to around the world by birds, wind and explorers. The Aryans who invaded India are known to have taken hemp seed with them to sow for fibre through the Middle East and Europe. Hemp cloth dating back to 8000 BC was also found in the area once known as Mesopotamia and was mentioned in Assyrian scripts where its medical properties were written about; "Used as stomachic and poultice for swelling".
By the third Millennium BC, hemp had established itself as one of the major fibres of the world. No less than 80% of the worlds’ textiles were hemp. China fully utilized hemp by farming and cultivating it for its strong fibber characteristics and along with silk was its most important textile.
The great leap
It was the Scythian traders who carried hemp from Asia through Greece, Russia and into the heart of Europe. Arabs later bought hemp from Africa into Spain. Aside from serving the Greek fleets with sails, it has also been written that "women made sheets of hemp".
Venice became the heart of the Italian hemp industry, with a state operated spinning factory. Hemp helped the Venetian fleet reign over the Mediterranean shipping until the defeat of Venice by Napoleon in 1797.
It was not until around the 16th century that hemp began to mould the world into the Global society that we have today, for it was around this time that the Nations of Western Europe had begun their struggle of dominion over the seas. England, Holland and Spain were reliant on the sea to obtain trade that would normally reach Venice via the Silk Road from Asia. Hemp allowed them to build vessels that would help them generously tap into this market via the oceans. A great demand for hemp was born, as only the long fibres of hemp were strong enough to make sails and rigging that could withstand the treacherous sea journey to the Orient. It was Holland that was ready to supply the West with the hemp needed. The Netherlands had technology to meet this demand and quickly became the leading supplier of Canefis, canvas for sails. It was these sails that carried Colombus and the Mayflower to the New World of America, thus changing the course of History forever.
Into the New World
As did many ships of that time, Columbus's boat carried hemp seed for use in case of shipwreck to grow crops for raw materials and as a source of nutrition itself.
In the early 1800's America's hemp needs were met by supply from Russia, at the time the world’s largest exporter of high quality hemp. By around 1850 hemp production increased domestically and by the turn of the century, with the industrial age upon them, new mechanical means of harvesting and retting allowed hemp to be manufactured much more efficiently. However this new era of industrialization also brought about steel cable, steam powered and iron hulled ships which rendered much of the hemp industry obsolete.
Hemp was in decline as cotton also became easier to produce and petrochemicals brought about such things as nylon. It wasn't until 1942 and the onset of World War II that hemp was once again brought back into service for the benefit of all. With the imported hemp supply being cut off by the Japanese, and all forms of textile being drawn into the service of protecting the allies, hemp was promoted as "the patriotic crop" by the Government which requested 30,000 acres of hemp seed to be sown. Once Victory was established, hemp was again lost to industry.
Hemp is currently grown in Tasmania, Queensland and New South Wales. Small trial plantings produce Hemp seed oil, paper, animal bedding, pet food and agricultural matting, but investment in infrastructure to turn these operations into significant commercial operations has not been available.
We believe this is a great agricultural opportunity for sustainable economic development.
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