The many faces of Bamboo | Milaap

The many faces of Bamboo

Outside, the midday sun is a little harsh and beating down with intensity. Inside, however, it’s as cool as the night itself. It’s a traditional bamboo hut with a thatched roof and a mud floor, one of many on display during the 3rd World Bamboo Workshop being held in Manipur. It’s the first time the workshop is being held in Asia, and Manipur being a bamboo-rich state seemed an apt choice.

There are sixteen different types of bamboo houses showcasing the traditional houses of as many tribes of Manipur (there are many other tribes in Manipur besides these 16). They vary in their shapes, designs and placement of bamboo columns, and the artwork on the walls. Some have animal and human figures painted or carved on the walls, while others have geometric patterns. There is one similarity among the huts – they are all beautiful.

“These huts belong to tribes such as Thadou, Kuki, Inpui, Maram, Kabui, Tangkhul, etc. In the tribal villages, people are still using these but in the cities and towns, brick and concrete structures have taken over,” says Mr L Bhubol, one of the artisans involved in building the huts.

A tribal bamboo hut

It’s not just huts, all kinds of bamboo products are on display – ranging from pickles to a bicycle. Use of bamboo is sustainable, low-cost and eco-friendly. Moreover, most species of bamboo grow at a remarkable speed. For Manipur and the Northeast, there’s another advantage. The region lies in very high seismically active zones, and is thus, earthquake-prone. The simple design and lightness of bamboo structures ensure there’s no major damage during earthquakes.

The World Bamboo Organisation is pushing for greater use of bamboo in terms of food, fuel, fibre and other products for a greener and more sustainable future. The workshop and exhibition have also given a chance to artisans from Manipur and neighbouring states to showcase their products to delegates from across the globe.

Manipur-based Mr Ajit Kumar is one such artisan. He has a designed a cycle in which the frame is made almost entirely of bamboo. “We have a lot of bamboo in the state but not the corresponding technology, unlike China. Therefore, our output is low as the bamboo industry is confined to local artisans working with their hands. We need modern machinery if we want to expand the bamboo industry,” he says.

A bicycle with a bamboo frame

Some machinery to process bamboo is here too. The Indian Plywood Industries Research and Training Institute is displaying various machines designed to cross-cut or split bamboo, or to convert it into slivers. There are also machines to treat and season the bamboo, to remove its knots, or to convert the slivers into polished incense sticks.

Meanwhile, the artisans have set up stalls to offer a wide variety of items. In the stall of Mr RK Joykumar from Wangkhei in Imphal, one can see folding tables, corner stands, dry flower pots, cane baskets, an elegant mirror with a small drawer beneath it, a walking stick, hair clips, hats, laundry baskets, and several decorative items like a motif of snake God Pakhangba, the ruling deity of Manipur. He also offers traditional items like the ngarubak, a box-like basket with a lid which can be hung from the roof and is used widely in Manipur to store fish and other edibles. It keeps its contents safe from cats or other animals.

He is one of 21 artisans working under the Eastern Bamboo Production Society here in Imphal. As all items are hand-made, it takes several days to make a single item. “There are at least 35 different varieties of bamboo in Manipur alone. The most commonly used are Maribok, Sanibi, Khou-wa, Uttang, Longa and Wui. While some have broad stems for making hut columns, others are small and are used for baskets etc.” he says.

Some artisans from Meghalaya are also here, offering pickled bamboo and edible bamboo shoots. So is Mr Ruovi from the Nagaland Bamboo Development Agency. “In Nagaland, we eat bamboo, sleep in bamboo, and sell bamboo,” he remarks.

Some decorative items from Nagaland

It’s not just traditional bamboo items being showcased here. There are many experimental and abstract models. A team from Mexico has built a ‘cocoon’ – a head-shaped shelter meant for lounging or other activities. A Bangalore-based team of architects has built the ‘India Pavilion’, built in the shape of a dying leaf partly buried in the soil, or “a double curve cantilever”. The skeletal structure is made of bamboo and then covered with “concrete cloth”, that is a cloth covered with cement slurry, to make a rain-proof shelter-space.

A Manipur-based organisation has built a bamboo-based low-cost toilet meant for the rural poor. It claims the total cost of the toilet, including the latrine and the septic tank, comes to be around Rs 10,000 as it’s primarily made of bamboo.

While inaugurating the event, Manipur chief minister N Biren and others emphasised that Manipur and the other north-eastern states are the ‘bamboo’ region of the country where the plant is an integral part of people’s lives. The bamboo industry is currently unorganised but has huge potential to fuel the economic development of the region in the coming times.

Perhaps it’s time to use and promote this wonder grass more widely for a better tomorrow.