Cane & Bamboo of Assam

Cane and bamboo are the two most commonly-used materials in daily life in Assam. Products ranging from household implements to construction of dwelling houses to weaving accessories to musical instruments are made in bamboo. No mechanical devices are used in the craft, which is mainly a household industry. Besides basket-weaving, bamboo is used chiefly in the construction of houses and fencing. The craft traditionally provides part-time employment to cultivators in the lean season, although, increasingly, full-time artisans engaged in commercial activity can be found now.

Bamboo products are in evidence everywhere in Assam. There are innumerable types and shapes of the bamboo basket, varying with the use to which they are put. The men of the household usually weave the bamboo baskets. Each district has its own distinctive style. In general, conical baskets are used as carrying baskets and square or round bottomed ones are used for storage. An example is the Assamese bamboo basket from Silchar. This has a square base that is capped inwards so that the corners of the square act as a support and it has a wide mouth. It is used for storing betel nuts. The Bodo bamboo basket is made with the help of a mould, which is used to get the shape of the neck and the mouth. From the neck to the bottom, brown paper is made into a cone and put into the basket so that its tip touches the bottom. Sand is filled inside to retain the shape of the cone and the weaving follows the shape of the cone.

Whole bamboo culms are used as containers for storing home-brewed rice beer, for fetching water, and for carrying drinking water. Bamboo houses are characterised by is their walls, which has a framework of wood and bamboo matting. The bamboo matting is made from rough strips of bamboo woven in an open weave, sandwiched between two grids made from wooden strips of whole bamboo. A whole range of fishing implements --- jakoi, khaloi, juluki, pollo, and so on --- are also made of bamboo. Mats and furniture, walking sticks, bows and arrows and products for domestic use are also common. Chalani (sieve), kula (winnowing fan), khoralu (small basket), dukula (big basket), doon and dhol (measuring baskets), fishing traps, hats used by the peasants in the fields are all made of cane and bamboo. Sturdy objects like mugs for rice beer, hukkas, and musical instruments are also made with bamboo stems. Fine cane and split bamboo are used for more delicate articles like hand fans, screens, and floor mats.

The japi, the traditional sun-shade continues to be the most well-known of bamboo items. It has been in use since the days when the great Chinese traveller, Hiuen Tsang came to Assam. Visitors were welcomed with japi(s), decorated with colourful designs and motifs.

Dolls and toys are also made with cane and bamboo. Apart from human and animal figures, toy shotguns and musical instruments are crafted. Umbrella handles made of bamboo are a speciality and have designs of leaves, creepers, plants, rings, and crosses etched on them. A special variety of bamboo known as the muli is used for the handles.

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