Cane and bamboo products have been supporting 71-year old Sangay Wangdi’s family for generations.
Smiling through his timeworn face, he picks up the cane pieces to weave a bangchung. He claims he is the fourth generation in his family to practice the tshazo (bamboo craft) in Pasaphu chiwog of Kangpara, Trashigang.
From a modest production that was restricted only to bangchung, there are at least 15 varieties of bamboo products in the community today. “It is a craft that needs proper training, expertise and a great deal of practice,” Sangay Wangdi said.
As a young boy, he said he watched his father and grandfather effortlessly produce sacks of bangchung within months and barter them for essential items like rice, oil and salt. The bamboo products were also sold at Nu 2.5 in places like Samdrupjongkhar.
Until the age of 55, Sangay Wangdi worked as an apprentice under his father. “Once I was given Nu 15 for weaving five bangchung. I used the money to buy new clothes and travel to Melabazar (Samdrupjongkhar).”
He said he worked hard to perfect the craft.
The bamboo business in the locality flourished for years. It was the only source of income for the people then.
Sangay Wangdi said that it enabled people to send their children to school. “The small income we earned helped us put food on our plates and roof over our heads.”
However, the craft is disappearing in Pasaphu today.
Lack of ringshoo (calamus latifolies), the chief raw material for making bamboo products, has deterred many from pursuing the practice.
Sangay Wangdi said that during his grandfathers’ time, ringshoo was found plenty in the community. “People overharvested it because they didn’t realise it will be unsustainable.”
He said that the quality of the bamboo products from Kangpara is one of the best in the market today. “For me, it wouldn’t even take a day to sell 300 bangchung in Thimphu.”
Not all people from Kangpara are into weaving bamboo products today. Their journey to Thimphu to sell the products has also decreased.
“When there were many people weaving in the village, we travelled to Thimphu at least three times a year,” he said. “Now with age, most of us hardly produce enough to go to Thimphu.”
To revive and help sustain the age-old tradition, a group was formed in 2010.
Known as the Red Panda Group (Achu-Donka Datshen), there are 47 members including some veterans in the craft and young enthusiasts. Agriculture officials are currently working on the regulations and guidelines for the group.
The Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN) has also identified about 30 acres of land to grow ringshoo for the farmers. In 2008, ringshoo was cultivated on about 15 acres of the land.
Younten Tshedup | Kangpara