The last three blacksmiths of Woochu

With no takers to learn, the craft is on the verge of extinction

Craft: With only three elderly blacksmiths left in Paro’s Woochu village, which is known for its fine products, it is feared that the village’s craft is on the verge of being history.

Today, no one is willing to take blacksmithery as a profession, not even the family members.

Having caught up with age, lack of manpower is a major hindrance to the three blacksmiths. Despite paying Nu 600 to 700 a day, they said it is difficult to get helping hands.

Chencho Sithup, 72, said he could no longer work like he used to and takes only few orders to work. “This is the only source of income besides working on the paddy fields,” he said.

For him, the craft is not something that he inherited like the other two blacksmiths. “I took it up out of interest after settling down in Woochu,” he said. “Back then it was a good source of income but not anymore.”

He was 21 when Chencho Sithup started to learn the craft along with others from Woochu. Almost all men from the households in Woochu practiced blacksmithery then, he said.

Chencho Sithup has lost count of the products he made so far. “Swords, knifes or sickles, its just too many,” he said

The three blacksmiths vividly recall how in the past they used to travel to the neighbouring Indian border towns to buy railway tracks and other metal parts. Today, they said it was much easier to work given the easy availability of materials and mechanised equipment. They now use TMT rods from construction sites, spring from vehicles.

The construction boom and increasing number of vehicles in the country, according to the blacksmiths lead to easy availability of metal parts. However, they said this didn’t help attract men in the community to take it up as a profession.

The eldest and claimed to be the best among the three blacksmiths, Ap Phaju, 75, in an earlier interview said that he doubts if there would be any blacksmith left in Woochu after the three of them die.

“Even unemployed youth in our village aren’t interested to make a living out of it,” he had said.

Ap Phaju also served as an instructor at the institute of Zorig Chusum. He said those days, being a blacksmith meant working in a dusty environment surrounded with charcoal and fire. “Now it’s a lot easier but who is wiling to take it up?” he asked.

Another concern for the blacksmiths is the growing competition from products that are brought in from Indian border towns and sold at a cheaper rate. “People no longer care about quality,” he said.

The cost of their products ranges from Nu 350 to Nu 4,000 depending on the metal and make. It takes a few days to about a month to cast a knife. The products from India come at almost half the price of those made at home.

Chencho Sithup has two daughters but he said there is no way he could have encouraged his children to take up the craft even if he had a son.

His elder daughter said that although she has a son, he was not interested in the craft. Besides, she said none of the men in the family are willing to take it up as a profession.

“It’s also because people tend to look down on the craft,” she said.

The three blacksmiths have a common workplace below the road in Woochu near their houses. Whenever they get orders from the government, although very rarely, the three men get together to work.

As they lament on the waning interest for the craft, the elderlies in Lungnyi gewog said that in the past Woochu was not only well known as a village of blacksmiths but also as phopzos (wooden cup makers). “Products of blacksmiths from Woochu were once considered the finest and the costliest in the country,” one said.

Kinga Dema, Paro 

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