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How To Make Fire Without Matches: A Survival Lesson From Tripura

Updated: Apr 17, 2021

Translated from Kokborok by Hamari Jamatia


Rabi Debbarma (65-years-old) from Chailengta, Dhalai District remembers that when he was a small kid, he would accompany his grandparents to the fields and the forests of Tripura. On many carefree days they would come across some fresh vegetables by the roadside or catch some lively crabs in the pond. In those days when there were no matchboxes or lighter fluids, the grandparents “Nana-Thagu” would light a fire to cook the items using nothing else but bamboo. At that time, Rabi, who watched the bamboo catch fire, did not realize that he was learning a valuable lesson of survival and indigenous knowledge called “horduk somani”. Today he is one of the few people who know how to kindle a fire without matchsticks.


“My grandparents would go to the forest to cut bamboo or to look after their crops. We used to carry food and tobacco with us. In the absence of matches we would often resort to making fire using dried bamboo. On many afternoons we cooked crabs and rice in this way,” Rabi reminisces.

Rabi Debbarma from Chailengta learnt the art of making a fire from his grandparents

In the past, way before kerosene, matches, and lighters became common household items, indigenous peoples used to light fire using just bamboo or wood shavings. In Tripura, the people needed to light fire for all kinds of purposes—for burning a forest to prepare it for jhum cultivation, to light tobacco, to cook at home, and to use as a torch while travelling at night.


Rabi informs that we need a bamboo species called waa milik to make the fire. This bamboo is found in the forest all year round. Once it has been cut, it needs to be split into half and dried in the sun for a few days. Only dried bamboo catches fire, the fresh ones have too much water in them. Even when they do light up, they can burst and crackle thereby becoming dangerous to the people around.


Things you need to make the fire device: To make the fire we need three different types of items made of waa milik. First is the bamboo that has been split into half and dried, second is a handful of bamboo shavings and third is a length of thinly split bamboo called “waaruk” that can be used as a rope to heat up the “device”.

How to light the fire: First lay out the half-split bamboo on the ground. Next place the bamboo or wood shavings in one of the grooves. Now wrap the bamboo with the thin bamboo rope “waaruk” and start pulling it to and fro. The heat generated by the waaruk will soon transfer to the wood shavings/bamboo shavings that will begin to smoke and catch a fire. You can also place some bamboo sticks around it so that the fire transfers on them and makes the fire bigger and useful.


While lighting a fire using just a bamboo may seem easy, Rabi says that it takes a lot of strength and patience. In addition, only select few people can master this art. "The art of making a fire varies from person to person. It is not everyone's cup of tea," he said. So far, no one has ever come to him for learning the art but if someone does come, he would definitely like to teach.


This article represents the intellectual knowledge of the Borok community of Tripura. It has been created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.

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