Craftsmen To Revive Dying Art Of Bamboo Craft In The Village Of Orong, Bhutan

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Two decades ago, the community’s bamboo artisans used to make bamboo crafts for household purposes, however this form of traditional art soon vanished.

Bamboo handicrafts made in Bhutan. (Source: ICIMOD)

 

By Tshering from Philuma Business Bhutan

The story was funded by the Content Development Grant of the Department of Information and Media.

The dying art of bamboo craft-making is set to get a fresh lease of life with the formation of the Philuma Potala Non-Wood Forest Product (NWFP) Group. It comprises of 42 skilled craftsmen from the Philuma village in Orong in Samdrup Jongkhar.

Located in the northern part of Samdrup Jongkhar, Philuma is four hours’ walk uphill from the nearest road point. The village has 54 household with a total population of 445, and nine empty households (gungtongs).

Two decades ago, the community’s bamboo artisans used to make bamboo crafts for household purposes, however this form of traditional art soon vanished.

In 2009, when the Forestry Extension Officer, Tshering Cheda was transferred to the gewog, he found that bamboo was in plentiful supply in the community. It was ironical that people were involved in commercial bamboo craft.

Therefore, Tshering Cheda spent two years on research and planning to sustain the traditional art of bamboo handicrafts.

This will also help to conserve the local natural resources as well as to revive and develop the age old traditional of making bamboo handicrafts.

Location of Samdrup Jongkhar

Map: Druk Asia

 

In 2014, the community formed the Philuma Potala NWFP Group which would benefit 54 households. The group is a Community-Based Organisation (CBO) that has the potential to generate income for villagers and revive bamboo handicraft products.

The project will also embrace modern technology and use improvised methods and skills to expand its production.

Convincing young villagers to revive the art of making bamboo crafts

Orong’s Gup Jigme said that it was very difficult to change the mindset of the people and get them to opt for agriculture and forestry works.

“At the beginning, it was very hard to convince the people about the benefits even with multiple awareness campaigns as they prefer to work on daily wages than to stay in village and work,” said Tshering Cheda.

Moreover, it will be difficult to keep the craft alive in the community as the younger generation tend to leave the village to work in towns and only a handful of people have the skills to make bamboo crafts.

A villager, Sangchu, 50, said the skills had been passed down from their elders and the latest designs from other people.

“But I cannot teach my son as he is working in Phuentsholing in a private company,” he said.

 

 Photo: Business Bhutan

 

NWFP’s Group Chairman, Jigme Dorji said that since the group was formed, it has resulted in increased income for the families and now people are learning new ways to design the raw materials.

“We are really happy that we have revived our bamboo culture but we lack the support of youth to take up the culture ahead,” he said.

“Rural migration is a major factor to decide whether youth will take up the craft,” Tandin, one of the group members said.  

The art of making bamboo craft has, however brought development to the village through income generation as the villagers are adept at their craft.

In an attempt to revive the craft that is fast losing popularity, they are also roping in designers from India and eyeing to promote their products at the international stage too.

Another artisan, Sangay Bidha said the although the raw materials are plenty, the lack of market for the bamboo products hinders engagement in the craft. Moreover, it is tough to compete with the Indian or Chinese markets

 

Photo: ICIMOD

 

“If the government helps us explore the market, it will encourage more people to join,” Sangay explained.

Strategies used to train villagers and upgrade their skills

Meanwhile, the group has some activities in the pipeline such as: a tour to India, plantation of raw materials, awareness campaigning, formulation of a management plan and procurement of tools. 

Furthermore, forest officials are also keen to help the community with different techniques such as creating water basins around the roots of the bamboo rhizomes.

Even though the traditional skills and knowledge have been handed down through generations, the group aims to make the artisans more proficient in their work by educating them about the latest technology to produce the finest of designs.

By adapting to modern needs and tastes, the craftsmen use their traditional craft skills to make items of utilitarian value. This helps in sustaining themselves and their craft.

 

This article first appeared in Business Bhutan and has been edited for Daily Bhutan.

 


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