The Raffia palms (Raphia) are a genus of 20 species of palms, native to tropical regions of Africa, Madagascar, with one species (R. taedigera) also occurring in Central and South America. They grow up to 16 m tall, and are remarkable for their compound pinnate leaves, the longest in the plant kingdom; leaves of R. regalis up to 19.81 m long  and 3m wide are known. The plants are either monocarpic, flowering once and then dying after the seeds are mature, or hapaxanthic, with individual stems dying after fruiting but the root system remaining alive and sending up new stems.
Raffia fibres have many uses, especially in the area of textiles and in construction. In their local environments, they are used for ropes, sticks, supporting beams and various roof coverings are made out of its fibrous branches and leaves. The membrane on the underside of each individual frond leaf is taken off to create a long thin fibre which can be dyed and woven as a textile into products ranging from hats to shoes to decorative mats. Plain raffia fibres are exported and used as garden ties or as a "natural" string in many countries.
extracted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raffia