Manipur: Diverse Bamboos that are Indigenous to the Land

NeW Bureau

Manipur harbour a high diversity of bamboo. More than 54 species of bamboo under 9 genera have been reported from Manipur against 136 species under 23 genera from India as a whole. The State has 15 species of bamboos that are all indigenous to the land, out of which two varieties are of Arundinaria, six varieties of Bambusa, four varieties of Cephalostachyum and one variety each of Dendrocalamus, Melocalamus and Melocauna. The Bambusa and the Cephalostachyum species grow at an elevation of 50 to 500 metres above sea level. The latter can also grow at a higher altitude. The Arundinaria varieties grow at a height of 800 to 3500 metres. Neat bamboo groves are cultivated both in the hills and in the valley of Manipur. Pure bamboo brakes constitute 18.6% of the total forest area of the state.

From time immemorial to the present day, bamboos have been an integral part of the lives of the people in Manipur. One cannot imagine the cultural life of the people living in the valley and in the hills of Manipur cannot be imagined without bamboos and their products. The Bamboo plants are closely related to a person’s life, and in one way or the other, even to death. For a Manipuri individual, the significance of bamboo is so much that bamboo is inextricably related to a person’s life making its way even through the demise of the individual. The use of bamboo knows no end when it comes to the natives of Manipur. It is believed that a family living in a house built without any bamboo can never be a happy one. If one is to start a home then there should be a bamboo grove growing on their plot of land since they believe it is a good omen. It is also believed that presence of a bamboo plant in a house ensure growth of family and beneficial to children.

Bamboo plays a vital role in the life of Manipuris in their day-to-day requirements. It has multiple uses and is used in almost all the households needs, for construction, craft, fencing, rituals, firewood, rope, food, utensils and paper manufacturing. Rice prepared inside tender hollow bamboo that is full of flavour is offered to guests during festive occasion and this preparation is called ‘Utangchak’. Bamboo shoots, both in raw and fermented forms, are largely consumed by the people and can earn a large share of household economy. There is no end to the uses and utility of bamboo.

Bamboo craft is a traditional Manipuri craft and is intricately entwined with the Manipuri lifestyle. It is extensively practiced in almost every Manipuri household. Not a single day of a villager’s life goes by without the use of bamboo in different forms. Bamboo is found to be used in myriad ways to create a large variety of articles which are more or less used in the day-to-day lives of the natives of Manipur. The products produced by the artisans here are not only aesthetic in look but are also highly functional in nature. Unfortunately, the practice of this craft has now reduced considerably. Among the northeastern states Manipur ranks second in terms of the production of various bamboo crafts the first being Tripura

The bamboo crafts of Manipur have a huge variety that range from traditional to modern creations. Crafts like sofa sets, Murhas, mats, basketry, tray, chair, table, flower vase, ashtray, headgears, ornaments, musical instruments, umbrellas, bamboo combs, smoking pipes, pitchfork, bows and arrow, anklets and wristlets and other decorative and utility articles. Many of the parts for the loin-loom, fly shuttle loom, etc., are made of bamboo.  The screens of Manipur consist of beautiful room dividers stage and ‘mandap’ backdrops. The bamboo craft of Manipur in fact may be classified as decorative bamboo craft, utility bamboo craft and commercial bamboo craft. Moreover, Manipur is also well known for its beautiful baskets created by the tribal people for their own use. Intricate patterns with dyed bamboo are worked on these baskets and it has won the hearts of many. The most unique feature of Manipuri baskets is the use of bamboo fish straps crafted artistically to look like sculptures. Another variety of baskets, the chengbon (a square body of checks and squares in black and white, and rest on four prominent legs and are used for storing clothes) have a domed lid made of bamboo. Excellent reed mats and cushions are also woven in Manipur, locally known as ‘kounaphak’. Another type of double-weave mat known as ‘phak’ is woven in the state. These as well as the mats and baskets are in much demand outside Manipur. Other various baskets are like filtering baskets, container baskets, fishing baskets, conical baskets etc.

Till date the management of state bamboo resources has many constraints with lack of post harvest treatment and technology for product development, inadequate trained manpower and inadequate infrastructure for large scale harvesting in the event of gregarious flowering. . Efforts have been made by the Department of Commerce & Industries to upgrade the skills of the bamboo artisans by organizing training programmes inside and outside the State. In order to salvage bamboo from the effect of bamboo flowering, Dom-Shaped Brick Kilns @ of a set of two kilns each during 2006-07 were constructed at the places of bamboo growing areas of the State. To utilize the vast bamboo resources, the State set up Bamboo based gasifiers; presently one under construction at Taobam village for generation of power/thermal energy. It suggests prospects for value addition and utilisation of bamboo resources. The technology has been developed, tested and stabilised and is now available for large scale induction, suitable for application in the 25Kw to 1 Mw range. Recognising the resources of bamboo in the state of Manipur, in general and Jiribam of Imphal East District in particular, Govt. of Manipur is planning to set up a bamboo Technology Park at Jiribam.  And with an aim to upgrade the skills of the bamboo artisans a bamboo technology course is being introduced in the existing Departmental Arts and Crafts Training Centre, Thoubal

As bamboo can grow easily with least labour and time, cultivation aspects are least considered. The high potential can be improved by suitable scientific intervention and local capacity building, which will have great implications in improving the socio-economic status of the community. Bamboo resources will not only increase the per capita income of the state but also the life of the rural household.

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