Bamboo Craft on the Decline

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Kangpara gewog in Trashigang is seeing a decline in its traditional bamboo-craft (tsazo) practice, with craftsmen finding better economic opportunities elsewhere or in other line of work. Villages of Madewa, Pasaphu, Pedung practise bamboo-craft, and weave products like bangchung, pen case, tsezem (cane backpack), hand bag, belo (cane hat) and pey palang (incense case).

But this tradition has been on the decline since last year. “My father would transport the bamboo products to Thimphu twice a year but, since last year, he stopped,” a bamboo craftsman in Pedung, Kinzang Tshering, said. “The income is meagre.”

Tsazo – The Art of Bamboo Weaving

Others like Kinzang Tshering said craftsmen were losing interest in tsazo; constructions work provided better wages. “Now people prefer manual roadside or house construction work, since it pays double the amount which weaving bangchung brings in,” another craftsman in Madewa, Sonam Chejay, said.

A day’s manual work in construction works pays Nu 300. A bangchung earns only Nu 150 – 200 and takes 3 days to complete. “Even though tsezem cost Nu 1,500, the profit is meagre,” a craftsman said.

“If inclusive of raw material, transportation of resources and labour costs, profit is skimpy like we might be making a profit of Nu 5 a day,” another craftsman from Pasaphu, Sangay Tenzin said.

The craftsmen said tsazo could be practiced as a hobby during free time, or when guarding fields from animals. “But we can’t rely on its trade for livelihood,” said a craftsman.

Availability of raw materials like ringshoo (Neomicrocalamus andropogonifolius) and minjee was also limited. After Pasaphu and Madewa villages failed to supply enough ringsho and minjee, people had to travel to neighbouring district Samdrupjongkhar.

Narpung, Tokarong, Rimung and Gomdhar were some other places from where ringshoo was collected, after getting a permit from forest officials. The craftsmen said, before it was available in plenty and collected without much hindrances.

They were charged Nu 3 for 30-35kg of ringsho. When the forests were adopted as community forests, collection of ringsho was limited. Now Nu 140 is charged for 15kg of ringsho.

Minjee, on the other hand, craftsmen said, were difficult to come by. “It’s unavailable, even if we were to buy it,” a member of Achodongkar tsazo tshogpa, Karma Phuntsho, said.

Except for tsezem, other bamboo products are woven by ringsho and minjee. Tsezem is woven using cane.

With help from the Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN), the villages of Pasaphu and Madewa planted ringsho in 50-60 acres of land in 2009.

“But it’s going to take few years time before we can harvest,” a craftsman from Pasaphu, Sangay Tenzin, said. “It’s our hope that the plantation will keep the tradition alive during our children’s generation.”

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