The dominance of plastic products has resulted in the decline of traditional bamboo-based handmade products in Tamil Nadu. The Kuravar tribe has been a major contributor in the production of these handmade bamboo products. Adivasi Awaaz creator Kavipriya, talks about the implications of replacing bamboo with plastic, especially for the Kuravar tribe.
The Bamboo tree, commonly referred to as the poor man’s timber or green gold is useful in various different ways. India is the second-largest exporter of bamboo-based products. In Tamil Nadu, bamboo is used to make a variety of different products like baskets, bags, flowerpots, etc. Districts like Thanjavur, Trichy, Ariyalur, Perambalaur and Cuddalore are famous for producing elegant bamboo bags. The Kuravar tribe of Tamil Nadu has been engaged in making handmade products from bamboo, since ages, for their survival.
How the Kuravars Make Bamboo Products:
In order to produce any item from bamboo trees, bamboo stems are cut into long stripes. These stripes are then woven into strings, which are used to make a multitude of products, especially for homes, including items of daily use. Some of these products include:
1) Flower baskets
2) Vegetable baskets
3) Laundry baskets
6) Pen stands
9) Decorative interior designing products
Ever since plastic as a material has gained importance, it has percolated into villages as well, which were the hubs of making bamboo products. The villagers grew bamboo and made handmade products for daily use. A lot of these products were made at homes by women like baskets, earrings, siever, etc. Plastic, as a material is cheaper than bamboo, hence, it became popular even in villages. However, the replacement of bamboo with plastic has had dire consequences for those involved in manufacturing bamboo products and for bamboo growers, as well. Women making handmade bamboo products have been greatly affected by it. The Kuravar tribe has been harshly hit because of plastic products, as they lost their traditional way of earning income, by producing handmade bamboo products.
The Story of a Kuravar Woman:
Parvati who belongs to the Malai Kuravar community from Melanikudikadu near Jayamkondan makes traditional bamboo-based products for a living. When asked about her experience, she said “I’ve been doing this since my childhood. We produce and sell bamboo plates, baskets, vegetable baskets, box baskets, hand fans among others.
A bamboo tree costs Rs 500. When we process into products, we make Rs 650. That is, we make just Rs 150 for one bamboo. If we work the full day, we earn about Rs 300. Boxes made from palm leaves move faster during festivals like the Shivaratri. We also make sieves from bamboo and the hand fans sell better in the summer. During the monsoon, however, we will not be able to sell any of these. When bamboo products become wet, they turn black.
Nowadays, people prefer plastic products more. Our sales have declined because of that. There are plastic alternatives to many of the bamboo products that we make. Plastic baskets, plates, jars and so on have flooded the market making our products redundant. The life of a plastic product is less but bamboo products have a long life. However, this is the skill that we have and that is why we keep making them. The art of making bamboo products is slowly fading away. If the same situation continues, there will be no one to make bamboo-based products in the future. This is why we expect the government’s help. The government should ban plastic products in government offices and mandate the use of bamboo products in all government offices. The government should help us to buy modern machines for manufacturing bamboo products. Khadi Kraft buys and sells many traditional tree-based products. In the same way, the government should buy traditional bamboo products from us and sell them through Khadi Kraft.”
The Kuravar people who make traditional bamboo-based products are not demanding government subsidies or loans. Instead, they are approaching the government to help them sell their products. Will the government step in and help them? Will it take steps to decrease the use of harmful plastic products? Will it help the traditional artisans who desperately need help? Will it save traditional bamboo knitting, one of the oldest occupations of the traditional Kuravars?