The last basket weavers of Banjar

Tshering Namgyal  | Banjar

For many years, villagers of Banjar had been weaving cane baskets. The raw material was abundant and villagers had the skills. It was a tradition of the remote village in Tsamang gewog, Mongar.

Banjar has developed. There is road, electricity and mobile connections. Children are attending schools and many have left after getting government jobs. This has left an impact on the craft, also known as tsharzo. Today, there are only a handful of villagers engaged in weaving cane products.

As abundant as the raw materials in the locality, there used to be at least one or two family members possessing the unique skills until a couple of years ago. But the trend has changed.

From about 30 clustered households in the village, today there are only around five of them keeping the tradition alive. From the five, only two are engaged on a regular basis, as they have found cane weaving as a source of cash.

Tshering Leki, 43, is one of the last few weavers. She had received some orders to weave baskets from hoteliers in Thimphu. Once she finishes weaving the baskets, she is mulling to call it quits.

Shortage of raw materials or the difficulty in getting them and not getting good returns on the products, villagers said, were the reason. “To get enough canes for two baskets it takes an entire day, from early dawn to late night,” Tshering Leki said. “When we sell it, people always bargain and it is not worth the hard work.”

Until recently, Tshering Leki, a mother of three, had been weaving about 40 to 50 different products. Most products are containers, Zepchu, which is used for carrying or storing household items. However, she said it is not profitable or sustainable as the time taken to weave on Zepchu takes about a week and sold between Nu 1,800 to 2,000. She prefers working as a daily wage earner.

“With a daily wage of Nu 500 for women and 600 for men it is a far better option. That’s why most of the village folks have now quit it,” she said.

Dendup, 65, one of the few male weavers who weaves about a basket in a month said the work involved a lot of hardship but fetched between Nu 1500 to 1700 a basket that takes over a week to complete. “When you don’t get good price it demotivates us,” he said.

In Banjar village, it’s mostly women who are into weaving.

From whatever they earn from selling their products, villagers have to contribute 30 percent to the community forest, as the raw materials collected are not charged. It was around 50 percent before and was reduced later after weavers complained that it was too taxing for them.

Weavers said that the market is not an issue as hoteliers in Paro and Thimphu ordered for their weaves. Weavers do not use any machines and do it the old way from peeling the canes to dying and weaving.

Banjar villagers started production of non-wood forest products for commercial purpose with the formation of community forest (CF) in 2010. The products were first promoted during one of the exhibitions in Gyalpoizhing in 2017. Regional Agricultural Marketing and Cooperatives in Mongar also help the farmers market the products.

Meanwhile, cane is also becoming an issue. According to both forestry officials and CF members, new plantation of cane saplings is difficult and sustainability is in question if over harvested. Villagers said there are raw materials, but it is far away from their village.

Banjar CF falls under Phrumsengla national park.

Tandin Wangchuk, a ranger at the Lingmethang range office who looks after the Banjar CF said the CF was initially handled by the gewog forest office and handed over to the range office in 2017, and the group could not succeed in mass production as of now.

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