raffia (răfˈēə) [key] or raphia rāˈfēə, fiber obtained from the raffia palm of Madagascar, exported for various uses, such as tying up plants that require support, binding together vegetables to be marketed, and weaving baskets, hats, and mats. It is also made into a native cloth that is exported as rabanna. The raffia palm ( Raphia farinifera or R. ruffia ) is crowned with enormous leaves that may be as much as 65 ft (19.8 m) long and composed of 80 to 100 leaflets. The fiber, which is soft, pliable, strong, and nonshrinking when wet, is torn in thin strips from these leaves. After being dried in the sun, raffia takes on a yellowish-tan hue, but it is often dyed other colors.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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