Bamboo and a Community

Bamboo is a giant grass, which has become an inseparable part and parcel of the cultural life of the people of the North east region of India.

Around 75 genera and 1250 species of bamboo are known to exist throughout the world (Yuming 2004). In India there are 125 indigenous and 11 exotic species of bamboos belonging to 23 genera (India State of Forest Report 201). Out of which about 19 genera and 78 species occur in North Eastern India alone (Hore, 1998).

The North-East hill region of India stretches between 21˚50’ and 29˚34’ N latitude and 85˚34’ and 97˚50’ E longitude and comprised of seven states- Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura.

The Northeast region has rich bamboo culture. It is also home to a large number of as many as 145 ethnic communities. The ethnic communities inhabiting the region are still heavily depended on forest’s resources out of which bamboo is the most important and the dominant resource.

In the context of Northeast India, bamboo is rightly termed as poor man’s timber because of its manifold utility and easily accessibility. It has profoundly influenced the life and lore of the people of this region. Bamboo is used in every possible ways. It is used for the construction of houses, bridges, fences and making various household containers, baskets of different shapes and sizes, musical instruments, hunting weapons, fishing gears, agricultural implements, rituals altars, cooking and also used as food item. In Arunachal Pradesh, a man’s richness is still measured by the number of bamboo grooves he possesses.

With the use of a dao and a knife, bamboo can be crafted into many different designs. Baskets of different shapes and sizes with intricate designs are found all over the Northeast design. These baskets are used for carrying, storing and also for ritual purposes. Use of bamboo shavings as ritual altars of various deities is one of the most striking features of the Galo tribe of Arunachal Pradesh. Animals are sacrificed and their blood is smeared on these bamboo altars as an act of feeding the deities.

Bamboo shoot is the main and indispensable item in their diet. Tender bamboo shoots are consumed in different way- fresh, dried, pickled and preserved.

Bamboo tube is also used to store water and for cooking purposes. Cooking in bamboo receptacle is still done during feast by many tribes in North-East India.

Thus, the use of bamboo serves not only the daily needs of the people inhabiting the region but also their spiritual needs. Because of the importance of bamboo attached to the life and culture of the ethnic communities of this region, government is not only propagating bamboo handicrafts of the region but it is also working on the conservation aspect of bamboo for its future availability.

Bina Gandhi Deori
Department of AIHC and Archaeology
Visva-Bharati University,Santiniketan