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Bamboo and Cane Culture of Mizoram

Mizoram is the land of a number of craftsmen and skilled artisans excelling in various crafts. Bamboo and Cane related crafts are a major source of income to the state as well as the people. The Mizo’s dexterity in wicker-work and basketry is well known. Bamboo and Cane have their multifarious uses in turning out various commercial crafts and items of furniture. Even their houses are generally built with bamboo walls and floors and thatched roofs. While women excel at weaving, men are expert at cane and bamboo work. They make fine cane hats and uncommonly beautiful baskets. The traditional Mizo hat is known for its workmanship. It looks as if the hat is woven out of fine bamboo as fine as cotton yarn. Besides their typical hat or caps, domestic baskets are all made from plaited bamboo and these are reinforced by stout cane, which is very hard and durable. By smoking, the cane would be coloured a shiny mahogany to give some colour and patterns to the work.


A typical Mizo basket is broad at the rim and tapers at the bottom. There are baskets for carrying firewood, water, paddy, rice and vegetables. Baskets made of cane and bamboo together with leaves and grasses, for storing ornaments, clothes and other valuables are also made. Other items made are chairs, sofas, tables, bamboo screens and cages, umbrella-handles, knitting needles and hats. All types of traditional baskets and decorative articles are products in the Handicrafts Centres situated in three districts- Aizawl, Lunglei and Chimptuipui (Sailha). The Handicraft Centres at Luangmual, Aizawl produces typical Mizo Cane Hats.


Traditional ornaments too use bamboo in it. On celebrations, Mizo women use a headgear of a bamboo band with parrot feathers stuck in it, the ends of which are decorated with beetles. Other bamboo products include fish and animal traps, rain bamboo hat seen with the formation of a flat thin layer on its top, japis, cones, circular boxes and other materials serving as reservoirs and containers of goods, crops and other things. Therefore, a variety of them is catered to the village craftsmen on regular or irregular basis. They serve mainly as body panniers for placing head-loads, carrying baskets, cages, fish nets, etc. They take different shapes and vary from slim or even flat (like rice winnowing fans) to broad, elongate sizes and the traditional size with regard to proportion from rim to base is retained. Panniers or cones accommodate the bigger loads whereas the other baskets of course do not support heavy weight.

Mizos both men and women are inveterate smokers. They love their locally made pipes. The women’s pipe is like a small hukkah, small enough to be easily held in the hand and carried about. The men’s pipe is of western type. These are made out of bamboo and weed. Provided with selected, seasoned bamboo and given proper training in carving pipes for export, the Mizo craftsmen could possibly introduce a new range with sufficient prospects.


So far as the bamboo in the Mizo Hills are concerned, it is available in large quantities but at present it has not been utilized to the maxim. However, it seems that the constituted authorities have envisaged the feasibility of introducing in Mizoram better vocational trades in spinning and weaving, cane hats and cane baskets, bamboo chairs, tables, teapots, racks, safes, etc as well as bamboo screen cages and umbrella handles.


Mizo House

The houses built by the Lushai tribe of Mizoram, predominantly uses bamboo and wood in their construction. Most of the houses are built on the slopes and are invariably supported by wooden posts of varied lengths, so that the house is balanced horizontally with the level of the road. Cross beams are fastened against these posts and over the beams long solid bamboos are laid. Bamboo matting is then laid over the bamboo frame, which forms the floor of the house. The walls of the house are also made up of bamboo matting fastened to the outer posts. The roof consists of solid as well as split bamboo frames covered with thick thatch and some other kind of leaves. Cane is generally used for keeping the joints together and in some cases, iron nails are also used. In case where the floor of the house is much above the ground, a ladder made entirely of a piece of log is placed across the intervening space between the floor of the house and the ground. The doors and windows are usually of bamboo matting and these are fastened against the wall. It may be noted that in some cases the floor, doors and windows are made of wooden planks, while in others split bamboos are used instead.

The interior of the house is a single rectangular structure. It is partitioned into a number of rooms according to the convenience by screens made of bamboo matting or with a cloth fixed to bamboo or wooden frame. In houses where both married and unmarried persons live together, separate sleeping apartments are made by partition as described above. The hearth is always at one corner of the house usually near the front floor. It is made of clay and stones and is raised about 2-3 ft above the floor supported by raised poles. Above the fire place is hung a bamboo frame which is kept suspended to keep various things used in cooking as dried chillies, dry fish, salt, etc.

Basketry

Basketry among the tribes is a delicate work. They are experts in making etches and notches from the soft fibres of cane. Baskets with lids and without lids, smoothly surfaced, strongly floored, gently fenced from mouth to base and modelled into oval, square, flat structures, revealing a considerable skill in sliting, folding and inserting are seen. They serve various purposes such as cages, containers, baskets of different articles, etc.

Models of Baskets (local names)

i) Dawrawn.

ii) Empai, Emping, Tlamen.

iii) Paikawng: It is a basket made from split bamboo strips.

iv) Hnam.

v) Nghawngkawl.

vi) Thlangra.

vii) Koh or Fawng.

viii) Paih-Per. (Dawrawn, Hnam, Nghawngkawl, Paih-Per are best examples of Panniers).

ix) Thul or Thulte: They are used for storing valuables at home and outside.

x) Herhsawp: It is a bamboo stool.

xi) Arbawm: It is usually netted and is a poultry basket.

xii) Thuttleng orThutthleng: It is a bamboo chair; it is four legged.

xiii) Bontong: It is an ornamented basket for storing coloured yarn.

xiv) Bawmrang: It has a hollow circular rim and it is u-shaped.

xv) Aiawt: This is a fish or crab trap. In most cases, a variety of jungle cane is used. The fine cane serves the purpose of etching, notching and more making a suitable coherence in the parts of the bamboo structure.

Baskets

A. Open Weave Carrying Basket:

(i) Paikawng:

The paikawng is an open-weave carrying basket made and used by the Lushai tribe of Mizoram. Women generally use the basket as a rough work basket for carrying firewood, bamboo water tubes, etc. The basket, made entirely of bamboo outer splits, is carried over the back with a strap resting on the head. The local names of the bamboo species normally used are rawnal, rawthing or phulrua.the basket has an extremely strong construction which is very resistant to vertical loads. This is due to the construction pattern as well as the fact that fairly thick strips of bamboo are used.

The paikawng has a square base of diagonal 230 mm from where it gradually transforms into a circle of diameter 390 mm at the rim. The height of the basket is 390 mm. To the craftsmen making this basket, the height is assumed to the one hand-measure known as tawngkhat in Lushai. The main elements are those that form the base, sides and rim of the basket. The basket is carried by means of a braided head-strap.

(ii) Emsin:

The emsin is very similar in construction to the paikwang. In fact, it is an ornamental version of the work basket. Lushai women use this basket for marketing or carrying belongings to the fields. It is used for light work. Young girls take pride in taking this basket on evening walks to the bazaar. It is carried over the back with a strap resting on the head.

The emsin has a square base whose diagonal measures 225 mm, the rim diameter is 370 mm and its height is 370 mm. The main elements are about one-third the width and thickness of the paikawng but more elements are used. The rest of the structure is similar to that of the paikawang except at the rim.

B. Closed Weave Basket:

(i) Paiem:

The paiem is a closed-weave carrying basket used by the Lushais of Mizoram to carry grain and other field produce. In Lushai, the word em means “basket” and pai means “without holes”. This basket is also called empai. The Lushai women also use this basket for marketing. It is made from bamboo outer splits from a species locally known as rawnal. Split cane is used in the rim-strengthening element; the weft elements of the side weave near the base; in bindings at the rim; and for strengthening the corners of the basket. The cane species used is locally known as mitperh.

The basket has a square base whose diagonal measures 200 mm and the cross-section of the basket goes through a gradual transition till it reaches a perfectly circular rim of diameter 410 mm. Its height is about 430 mm. All elements made from cane are smoked to a rich red-brown colour before they are used in the basket.

(ii) Tlamem:

The tlamem is a Lushai product, larger than the paiem, which is carried by men to bring in produce from the fields. The basket has a square base and a circular rim.

The diagonal of the base square is 210 mm and the sides flare outwards sharply to a rim diameter of 520 mm. The height of the basket is 520 mm. The structure and method of construction is similar to the

(iii) Dawrawn:

The dawrawn is anther closed-weave carrying basket used by the Lushais, both for storage as well as to bring in field produce. This basket is made in two sizes, the men’s size and the women’s size.

It is a tall, narrow basket with a square base and circular rim. The diagonal of the base square measures 190 mm; the rim diameter is 420 mm and its height 740 mm. The structure and method of construction is similar to that of the paiem, except that slightly coarser strips are used for the warp and weft elements.

C. Small Storage Baskets

Fawng:

The fawng is a shallow, square-based basket with a self-strengthened square rim and is used by the Lushai tribe of Mizoram. The diagonal of both base square and rim square measures 400 mm and the height of the basket is160 mm. The basket is woven in the diagonal-weaving method with two mutually perpendicular sets of elements interlacing in either a 2-up-2-down twill structure or a 3-up-3-down twill structure. The corners of the base square are in some cases strengthened by split-cane binding.

Smaller baskets of a similar construction are made by the Lushai to store yarn for making the loin-loop warp. These are called fawng-te-laivel. "Fawng" refers to the square-based basket described above, while te means “small”, and “laivel” refers to the “concentric square pattern” generated by the twill-weave structure used in the basket.

D. Storage Containers

Thul: The Mizos use a basket called Thul. These baskets, though shaped like their carrying baskets, have a double-walled structure and legs located at the corners of their square base. A lid shaped either like a semi-spherical dome or like a cane covers the mouth of the basket.

Native Furniture

Stool from Mizoram: The Mizo stool is a short cylinder made of two rings of cane held apart by a series of vertical bamboo splints located around the circumference of the rings. These splints have both ends shaped to form tenons, which are firmly driven into corresponding holes provided in both rings. The seat surface is made of raw hide stretched over the upper rings and simultaneously held in place by the bamboo verticals. The cane rings are held in shape by overlapping the free ends by an inclined cut, which is then bound by leather thongs. The local name of the cane and bamboo are mitperh and phulrua respectively.

The most fascinating feature of this stool is the manner in which the rings are formed. The Mizo craftsmen have found a unique way of bending cane. As freshly harvested cane is fairly flexible, a length of cane is wounded around a cylindrical post of selected diameter into a tight helix and left to cure in the sun. The cane is left in the sun for three or four days before being removed from the mould and cut to form rings of the required size.

Whole culm containers

Tuium:

The tuium is made from a bamboo with a diameter of about 100 mm to 140 mm and internodes length of 450 to 600 mm. Two internodes are used to make a water tube 900 to 1200 mm long, with one nodal wall forming the base. The nodal wall between the internodes is pierced to connect the lumen. Half the circumference of the top open edge of the tube is cut at an angle to facilitate pouring. The outer skin of the bamboo is removed and the nodes are scrapped off to reduce the weight of the tube, to prevent it from cracking and to keep the water cool by evaporation through the internodal walls.

Winnowing Trays

Thlangra:

The thlangra is a winnowing tray used by the Lushai tribe of Mizoram. The triangular thlangra requires manufacturing skills that only a few craftsmen possess. The rawthing bamboo is used because of the resistance of thin strips of this bamboo to impact loads. The equal sides of the isosceles thlangra are held in the hand when it is being used.

Fish Baskets There are baskets that are used to store fishes. These are either carried by the fishing folks in their hands or tied to a belt around their waist.

Paikur:

The Mizo paikur is a bottle-shaped structure with a conical spiked valve at the mouth. This again only allows the fish to enter the bottle. The fish can be collected by removing the spiked cone when required.

Rain Shield and Head Gear

Lukhum

The lukhum is the traditional hat commonly worn by Lushai men. Its shape is like a peaked cap and retains its shape even when not in use. It is formed in two layers, each made from strips of bamboo woven in an open-hexagonal weave. The inside layer is generally coarser than the outside layer and is woven first, spinning at the top. This hat is made extremely delicately, with a high quality of craftsmanship. The recent trend however is to make the hats a little coarser, with paper or plastic replacing the palm leaves between the layers.

Miscellaneous Products (Toys)

Bamboo Pop Gun:

The bamboo pop-gun is an interesting toy made for children by local craftsmen. A length of small diameter bamboo is used as the barrel. When the splint is pulled back in the slot and released, it can propel a small pellet placed inside the tube. An indigenous trigger mechanism is provided to regulate the release of the pellet.

These devices seem to have evolved from the countless bird and animal traps that are used locally. Most of these traps uses the elastic property of bamboo splints in order to spring the trap when the prey touches the trigger.

Smoking Pipes

(i) Vaibel

The Lushai tribe of Mizoram makes a bamboo pipe called vaibel. The species of bamboo used is locally called tursing. It is a solid bamboo upto 50 mm in diameter and it is very strong, as it does not break when dropped. A part of the culm including a node is used to shape the bowl. The hollow of the bowl is bored in the centre passing through the node in a small hole. The bamboo stem passes through the shaped branch segment to enter the hollow created below the node. The hole at the bottom is sealed with a piece of dried gourd. Locally grown tobacco is used and only men use this pipe. Whereas, the Lushai women use a pipe called tuibur.

(ii) Tuibur

The tuibur is made in an interesting combination of bamboo and clay. It consists if five parts connected to respective elements in housed joints wedged tightly together. The joint between the water container and the central element is covered and strengthened by a fine braided band made from a palm fibre. The central element is solid and is shaped from a part of a rhizome.

Weapons

Sairawkher:

The sairawkher is a bow made by the Lushai tribe of Mizoram and used to hunt birds and small animals. Unlike the usual bow, this one fires clay pellets instead of arrows. It consists of a strong beam made from a wide splint of bamboo, which is held bent in tension by a bow-string made from a fine bamboo split. The beam is made from rawthing bamboo while the bow string is from sairil bamboo. The bow requires some skill to operate, as it has to be twisted slightly to one side to permit the pellet to sail past without striking the beam.

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