Talking about the history of brooms, Adivasi Awaaz creator Khumtia Debbarma, touches upon the subject of globalization and its impact on indigenous cultures and communities.
There is one household item that is common to all homes of India–the humble broom. It is our go-to item to keep our surroundings clean. There are commonly two types of brooms that are used–one is made of a kind of soft grass and the other is made of coconut leaves. The soft one is used to sweep the inside of homes and the hard coconut leaves' broom is used to sweep the outdoors. But did you know that in Tripura, brooms are made at home using a flowering bush called Kuli?
In my family, I have seen the older members dry the plant to use it as a broom for sweeping the courtyard. I was always intrigued as to why we did not use brooms made of coconut leaves which are easily available in the market. In cities especially, brooms made of coconut leaves are very popular. To satisfy my curiosity, I conversed with my grandmother, Parbati Debbarma, about the history of broom and in the process learnt a lot about our own community.
She said that before the era of globalization, people around the world lived a more modest life. They mostly used products that could be found in their immediate vicinity. During those days, many villages did not have coconut trees and so they had been using the Kuli flower for many centuries. My grandmother reminisced about the time coconuts were so rare that they were considered a delicacy. “When we were young, my father would walk for hours to go to the Bishalgarh market where traders would sell coconuts. We would purchase them so that we could offer coconut slices to our deities as 'prasad'. Today coconut trees are found everywhere so the demand and use of Kuli has gone down,” she said. Since coconuts were a rarity, brooms made of coconut leaves were also unavailable.
Many decades later, Tripura become a producer of coconuts, with every village sporting a grove or two. Coconut has also become an essential item for local pujas.
The rise of coconuts have led to the demise of traditional Kuli brooms. People repurpose the coconut leaves and use it instead. But one person in my village, Ashish Debbarma, still knows a lot about the plant and its uses. Ashish said that the bush grows easily and is ready to be harvested around the month of December. It grows to about 7 feet in length and is cut down to be dried in the sun for a few days. During this time the flowers fall off leaving the stalk behind. These brooms are then used for the rest of the year till the next season.
After conversing with my grandmother and with Ashish, I began realizing how much history exists behind items we use in our every day lives. From the cotton we use to weave our rignais, to the salt we add to our dishes, everything exists as part of a network. I wonder what other stories I would find, if I began having regular conversations with my elders.
This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.