Neten Dorji | Trashiyangtse
Trashiyangtse, is known for hewing Dapa(wooden bowl). However, only few people in the dzongkhag can narrate the history of its origin.
The art is long associated with people of two gewogs in Bumdeling and Yangtse.
Today, there are more than 40 artisans in Trashiyangtse. But not all are known to be skilled artisan. The master artisan, Shagzop, made their livelihood through wood turning over four generation.
Most of the Shagzops are descendants of renowned master artisan Pema Norbu, who died around 1968. Today, his seven grandsons, Tenzin Jamtsho and Jangchub, are said to revered artisan in the Dzongkhag.
Tenzin Jamtsho, 66 and his brother Jangchu, who inherited the skills from their ancestors are the fourth-generation artisans.
Tenzin Jamtsho was busy making Dapa at his workshop above Trashiyangte town. He completed making coarse bowl to give a rough shape. “This is what my father did after inheriting the skill from my grandfather Pema Norbu. My grandfather learned from his father Lobzang,” he added.
He claimed that Shagzo become popular after his father exported both skills and products to other dzongkhags.
What makes the product more expensive is the pattern, locally called Dzab that is decorates the burr. Tenzin Jamtsho knows the names of all the patterns that comes with the burr.
Tasochenma or the pattern of Horse teeth is considered the most expensive, followed by Woogthra or the pattern of Owl feathers. Likewise, the Meri chenma(flame patterned), Phozab (Large stripes), Mozab(Small Stripes) are considered as common Dzab.
Seven to eight-inch diameter of highly figured wood burrs or Dzab, fetch enough money to buy a decent car costing approximately Nu 700,000. “We don’t see much highly featured Dzabs today, it is rare now,” he said.
Lacquer gives the appealing finish to the product and makes the patterns elegant. The lacquering process have to wait until the end of June and there is a window until September. It requires enough humidity and temperature to dry.
In the past, Jangchu said they used to harvest milky sap from a tree (seyshing) and store in containers. Today most in the business use imported Japanese lacquer.
For Dzab or patterned burrs, a minimum of 12-13 coatings of lacquer has to applied. Normal burrs require about seven coatings.
With dwindling source of wood burrs, today, Shagzops employ burr hunters in places like Wangduephograng, Chukkha, Dagana and Haa. According to Shazogpa, theailing outgrowths of woods are also bought from Merak and Sakteng in Trashigang, and West Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh, India.
One of the Shagzops said that, to prevent over harvesting of burrs, forestry division allow cutting only two matured trees per year by a Shagzop with trade license. “Getting trade license is long process,” Jangchu said.
He said that people extract the materials to make Dapas from Rhododendron arboretum, Eaglewood (Aquaria malaccenisis), Walnut, Oak, Lyonia Ovalifolia, Myrica esculent, wild Avocado, Maples and Alders.
Meanwhile, the local products in the showroom in Trashiyangtse range from traditional bowls such as Geylong Zheycha and Draphor (both used by monks), Gophor (small bowls with lid), Bayphor (Tibetan bowl), Pa-Dapa (large Dapa used as meat containers), Phob (cup), Tsamder(used for serving snacks), Lhungzedand Karma-Lhungzed (begging bowls), Nyey shan phob(Silver hatched cup) to modern wine cup and beer mug.
Working conditions, according to many artisans have however improved with modern electric motors, sand paper and imported lacquer replacing traditional tools.