Bamboo serves the needs of the people of northeast India in unique ways. The humble grass can grow up to a height of 25 feet in 23 days while trees take close to 10 years to achieve the same height. The wet climate and the resultant moist and fertile soil further give impetus to the growth of this plant species.
Belonging to the northeast myself, I have seen the versatility of bamboo. It is used to build sturdy flood-proof homes, bridges and craft sustainable solutions like straws, tiffin boxes, and even bottles.
Here’s a look at how Bamboo can do it all!
1. Bamboo Drip Irrigation
While traversing through the undulating hills of Meghalaya’s terrain, one can often see small streams flowing gently through the hills. This water is clear and free from impurities making it perfect to be reused for purposes like irrigation and people have done just that.
For the past 200 years, tribal farmers residing in the Khasi and the Jaintia hills have used bamboo to make pipes for an effective
drip irrigation system. Through this, almost 18 to 20 litres of water enters the bamboo pipes per minute and is used by the farmers to water their betel nut and black pepper crops.
To construct the system, bamboo columns are split into half and the channel is smoothened using a local chisel known as a dao. Bamboo of varying sizes can be used in the system to regulate the flow of the water. Different adjoining pipes also allow in diverting water from the same system to different villages.
Visit any Assamese household and you can spy a jaapi somewhere in the house. The conical hat is vibrant in color and is beautifully decorated by local artisans in the state. During the different Bihu festivals in the state, this symbol of Assamese culture is proudly displayed while Bihu dancers also often use it as a prop in their performances.
But, this large hat made from tightly woven bamboo and tokou paat (palm leaves) serves a very important purpose. Farmers who work in paddy fields in the state often have to protect themselves from rains and the harsh sun. The jaapi then serves almost as an umbrella, an additional use being that it keeps the farmers’ hands-free, allowing them to carry on their activities with ease. Here, the jaapi does not comprise any kind of embellishments and is kept simple to fulfil its purpose.
3. Bamboo Shoot
The mere mention of bamboo shoot makes me salivate as this simple ingredient adds a punch of flavour to authentic dishes cooked in the region. Widely used across different northeastern states, this versatile ingredient can be consumed fresh, dried, or fermented. Pickles and curries made using bamboo shoot are delicious and also nutritious as the ingredient is low on calorie and sugar content while being rich in fibre.
It is also rich in minerals like potassium, copper and manganese and contains proteins in the form of amino acids. The bamboo shoot is basically a new sprout of the bamboo plant which typically emerges in the spring season. It is best harvested when it is a foot or so tall. The hardened covers are removed to obtain a cream coloured shoot. This can be sliced into thin pieces and dried or one could store this in brine with some chopped red chillies.
4. Bamboo Tumblers
Located in the Leprada District of Arunachal Pradesh, Basar town is a hidden paradise. The town comprises about 26 villages and those who love immersing themselves in nature can explore the jungles, trek trails, and large caves.
The villagers brew rice beer or ‘poka’ and serve it in bamboo tumblers to visitors. The villagers themselves drink from the bamboo tumblers and add a rope to sling it easily on the side. These bamboo tumblers are also used in the annual Basar Confluence, a tribal festival in the town. The tumblers are widely used in place of plastic or paper cups. This is something that could be replicated in numerous music festivals across the country which are notorious for generating a large amount of waste.
5. Bamboo hollows for cooking
I still remember the first time my aunt from the village visited us bearing gifts. The most unique one out of these were bamboo columns and while I was initially surprised, she split the bamboo in half, and there emerged the beloved sticky rice. This entire dish cooked inside the bamboo column has a name called ‘sunga saul’.
Bamboo hollows have for long been stuffed with rice or meat (wrapped in plantain leaves) which is later cooked on coal embers. The smoke from the burnt bamboo gives a special taste to the dishes. To prepare the bamboo as a vessel, the cylindrical column is vertically split halfway from the top keeping the bottom part intact. The column is then washed and later filled with water to be kept overnight. The moisture that is absorbed by the bamboo helps in the cooking process. Later the water is removed and the small raw food parcels are stuffed into the column.
Now that you know the many different uses of bamboo, do write to us if you know any other way in which this underrated grass is being utilised.
Feature Image Source
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)