The Many Faces of Bamboo

A low-cost toilet, a cycle, beautiful huts, and many more products made of bamboo! Manipur flaunts the many uses of this wonder grass, which holds immense value to the local community.

Outside of the hut, the midday sun was harsh and hot. Inside, however, it was as cool as the night. It was a traditional bamboo hut with a thatched roof and a mud floor, one of many on the display during the third World Bamboo Workshop held in Manipur.

It was the first time the workshop was held in Asia, and Manipur being a bamboo-rich state seemed an apt choice.

There were sixteen different types of bamboo houses showcasing the traditional houses of as many tribes of Manipur (there are many other tribes in Manipur besides these 16). The huts varied in shapes, designs, placement of bamboo columns, and the artwork on the walls.

Some had animal and human figures painted or carved on the walls, while others had geometric patterns. There was one similarity among the huts – they were all beautiful.

An artistic bamboo hut

“These huts belong to tribes such as Thadou, Kuki, Inpui, Maram, Kabui, Tangkhul, etc. In the tribal villages, people are still using these but in the cities and towns, brick and concrete structures have taken over,” says Mr. L Bhubol, one of the artisans involved in building the huts.

Not just huts, all kinds of other bamboo products were on display – ranging from pickles to a bicycle.

Use of bamboo is sustainable, low-cost and eco-friendly. Most species of bamboo grow at a remarkable speed.

Manipur lies in a high seismically active zone, and is thus, earthquake-prone. The simple design and lightness of bamboo structures ensure there’s no major damage during earthquakes.

The World Bamboo Organisation is pushing for the greater use of bamboo in terms of food, fuel, fiber, and other products for a greener and more sustainable future. The workshop and exhibition also gave a chance to artisans from Manipur and neighbouring states to showcase their products to delegates from across the globe.

An artisan in Manipur.

Manipur-based Mr. Ajit Kumar is one such artisan. He has a designed a cycle in which the frame is made almost entirely of bamboo.

“We have a lot of bamboo in the state but not the corresponding technology, unlike China. Therefore, our output is low as the bamboo industry is confined to local artisans working with their hands. We need modern machinery if we want to expand the bamboo industry,” he says.

The Indian Plywood Industries Research and Training Institute displayed various machines designed to cross-cut or split bamboo, or to convert it into slivers at the exhibition. Machines to treat and season the bamboo, to remove its knots, or to convert the slivers into polished incense sticks were also showcased.

A bamboo cycle.

Meanwhile, the artisans have set up stalls to offer a wide variety of items. In the stall of Mr. RK Joykumar from Wangkhei in Imphal, one can see folding tables, corner stands, dry flower pots, cane baskets, an elegant mirror with a small drawer beneath it, a walking stick, hair clips, hats, laundry baskets, and several decorative items like a motif of snake God Pakhangba, the ruling deity of Manipur. He also offers traditional items like the ngarubak, a box-like basket with a lid which can be hung from the roof and is used widely in Manipur to store fish and other edibles. It keeps its contents safe from cats or other animals.

He is one of 21 artisans working under the Eastern Bamboo Production Society here in Imphal. As all items are hand-made, it takes several days to make each item.

“There are at least 35 different varieties of bamboo in Manipur alone. The most commonly used are Maribok, Sanibi, Khou-wa, Uttang, Longa and Wui. While some have broad stems for making hut columns, others are small and are used for baskets etc.” he says.


Some artisans from Meghalaya were also present at the event, offering pickled bamboo and edible bamboo shoots.

Mr. Ruovi from the Nagaland Bamboo Development Agency said, “In Nagaland, we eat bamboo, sleep in bamboo, and sell bamboo.”

Many experimental and abstract models were also showcased at the exhibition. A team from Mexico built a ‘cocoon’ – a head-shaped shelter meant for lounging or other activities.

A Bangalore-based team of architects built the ‘India Pavilion’, built in the shape of a dying leaf partly buried in the soil, or “a double curve cantilever”.

The skeletal structure is made of bamboo and then covered with “concrete cloth”, that is a cloth, covered with cement slurry, to make a rain-proof shelter-space.

A Manipur-based organisation built a bamboo-based low-cost toilet meant for the rural poor. It claims the total cost of the toilet, including the latrine and the septic tank, comes to be around Rs. 10,000 as it’s primarily made of bamboo.

While inaugurating the event, Manipur Chief Minister N Biren emphasized that Manipur and the other north-eastern states are the ‘bamboo’ region of the country where the plant is an integral part of people’s lives. The bamboo industry is currently unorganized but has huge potential to fuel the economic development of the region in the coming times.

Perhaps it’s time to use and promote this wonder grass more widely for a better tomorrow.

Photos: Gagandeep Singh

Originally published here, this story is part of the Milaap Fellowship Program.  It is a unique opportunity, providing young professionals with a six-month fellowship to contribute to a cause and cover inspiring stories of change.

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About the author

Gagandeep Singh