Craft: Tshazo (bamboo craft), one of the chief sources of income for communities in Bjoka in Zhemgang, Jangbi in Trongsa and Pasaphu of Kangpar in Trashigang, is slowly disappearing because of lack of raw materials. 

Government’s stringent control and Community Forest Management (CFM) is also affecting tshazo makers.

In Bjoka and Kangpar, locals say that tshazo is what enables families send their children to schools.

“Income from tshazo is what made children from the poor villages like ours able citizen,” said Sangye, Bjoka Tshazo Tshogpa’s chairman.

While there is no written document or oral literature about the origin of tshazo, practitioners says that the art has come down to them through generations.

Tshazo is so integral of the Bjoka community. Our grandparents practiced the art of making bangchung that fetched just 25-50 Cheltrum,” Sangye said.

Even in Kangpar, the trait existed from around the same time when bangchung cost just 25 or 50 Cheltrums. Similarly, Monpa community has relied on tshazo for income.

Changsho, Zem and Lagchung were bartered with cereals, clothes and dairy products with herders from Bumthang,” Nakri from Jangbi said. But the trait is in decline even in Jangbe and Phumzur.

Tshazo uses Pacha (cane), calamus latifolies, Ringshoo (nemicrocalamus andropogonifolius) and another species of cane known as Breng (calamus himalayanese) in Khengkha or Minjay in Sharshop as the chief raw materials. Using these materials, the communities weave numerous products such as Bangchung, Lagchung, Zem, Ara and Soray Palang, among others.

But of late, raw materials for tshazo are in decline. Rigid government control of its resources is also affecting the communities.

Pasaphu is facing serious shortage of Phashe (cane), Minjge and Ringsho after permits to Rimung and Gomdhar from where raw materials earlier brought were denied. People of Pasaphu no longer have access to raw materials after the forests in Rimung and Gomdhar were turned to Community Forest Management  (CFM).

“Today, every household barely produces 20 bangchung a year compared to over a 100 before,” said Sangye Wangpo, a tshazo practitioner from Pasaphu.

The decline of tshazo in Pasaphu is attributed to shortage of raw materials.

Kinzang Tshering from Pasaphu said that while the village suffered from shortage of Ringsho, Minjay and Phashe, shortage has worsened in the recent years.

“Pasaphu did not have enough Ringsho, but the problem has aggravated in the recent years,” Kinzang Tshering said.

Tshazo practitioners of Pasaphu depended on villages like Gomdhar and Rimung in Samdrup Jongkhar for raw materials.

“While the materials are bought these days, earlier it was mostly bartered with dry chilli or Bangchung,” Kinzang Tshering said.

But getting these raw materials has become difficult with introduction CFM in Ringsho-growing areas of Rimung and Gomdar. With formation of CFMs, the tshazo practitioners could no longer apply for Ringsho permit from Division Forest Office.

Once the CFM was formed, the rights and the ownership of the naturals resources were handed over to the respective communities. He said getting raw materials became difficult after CFM members refused people of Pasaphu access to the raw materials from CFMs.

“Even if the CFMs issued the permits for raw materials, exorbitant prices were asked,” Kinzang Tshering said.

Pasaphu Tshogpa Wangda said that in 2013 CFM members from Samdrup Jongkhar brought minivan full of Ringsho to Pasaphu for sale.

“But none of the weavers bought because buying the raw materials at exorbitant prices isn’t really profitable,” Wangda said, adding so most of it either perished or was bartered with chilli.

Shortage of raw materials, poor market price for its products and better monetary offer in construction works is also putting tshazo in danger.

“Most of us have almost stopped tshazo because of shortage of raw materials or of better wages in construction works these days,” Sangay Wangpo said.

People of Bjoka and Jangbi are also facing increasing shortage of raw materials in recent years. Today, both in Jangbi and Bjoka, the villagers are traveling to far-flung areas after raw materials in the nearby areas depleted from over-exploitation and flowering.

In Bjoka its Trong chiwog has already ran out of raw materials.

“Now we buy Yula (Ringsho) from neighbouring gewog, Ngangla,” Sangye said, adding Kamati and Dali are also running short of Yula.

Bjoka gewog ranger, Sherab Dorji attributed the shortage of raw materials to flowering of Phashe, yula and minjay and undue pressure from extraction because of increasing demand for tshazo products.

“Though the shortage of raw materials would persists for sometime, the resources however will be available once the regeneration begins,” Sherab Dorji said.

Similarly, Jangbi and Phumzur in Trongsa are also facing the same problems.

“Loss of these raw materials in Phumzur to the herders from Bumthang is also exerting additional pressure to the limited resources,” Nakari from Jangbi said.

Today, Jangbi relies on Phumzur for raw materials after its resources in its village vanished.

Formations of CFMs and government’s regulations have also however also helped in promoting sustainable use of tshazo raw materials in villages like Bjoka, Phumzur and Jangbi.

By Tempa Wangdi