Translated from Kokborok by Hamari Jamatia
The state of Tripura is covered in many forested hills. Sandwiched between Bangladesh on the west and Mizoram on the east side, the state has immense biodiversity that gives birth to hundreds of species of plants and trees. One of the most important plants is the bamboo that dominates every part of the indigenous life. From time immemorial, the Borok people have been using this plant to better their lives by fashioning the highly-flexible material into making homes, beds, kitchen utensils, toys, boundary walls, mats, and baskets. Such is the bond between the people and bamboo that every puja and festival requires its presence.
What Is A Wasung?
Bamboo belongs to the grass family and grows very fast. It has “knots” inside the hollow that divides it into closed compartments. Of all the products made of bamboo, the wasung remains the most multi-purpose one for Borok people. The item is a length of bamboo open on one end and closed on the other end by the plant’s own knot. Think of it as a tumbler except it is made of bamboo and not glass or metal. It can be of various sizes depending on the needs of the family.
Making A Wasung
A wasung can be made from various types of bamboo but the best ones are fashioned from a species called wamlik. This bamboo is strong and can withstand many falls. With other species of bamboo, there is always a chance that the wasung will break and split open after a few uses. An experienced person can recognize the best bamboo for the particular purpose it is meant for.
For instance, the wasung for cooking requires a thinner bamboo than that for making a storage jar. After the bamboo is identified, it is cut and brought home. The maker then saws it according to the desired size. It’s exterior is polished, so it has a smooth finish. The bamboo contains some dust inside which is cleared using a piece of cloth.
Wasung Gudok being cooked in bamboo. | Photo- Rajib Debbarma
How Wasung Is Used
Wasung can be used in a variety of ways:
In the past, before the arrival of plastic containers, an array of wasung were used to store items in the kitchen be it salt, dry fish, dried vegetables, dried red chillies, or turmeric. Even today, the older generation store their masalas in the wasung and close the opening using a crumpled piece of paper.
It is also used for cooking a variety of food items. The cook places all his ingredients inside the wasung, shuts the opening with banana leaves and places it in the wood fire. The wasung works as a cooking pot, and the food inside cooks slowly. This wasung cannot be reused as it gets partially burned in the fire. A thinner variety of bamboo is used in making the wasung for cooking purposes.
Wasung is also used as a mortar to crush masalas and vegetables using a pestle. The wasung gudok is a famous dish made using bamboo.
People who practice jhum cultivation use the wasung to pack and carry their lunches to the site.
Wasung is fashioned into a tumbler to drink water and juices. These days the cottage industry of Tripura is involved in promoting items made from wasung, and so these tumblers are available in many handicraft shops.
Other than its practical uses, the wasung is integral to the worship rituals of the Borok people. During every puja ceremony, water and rice beer is offered to the deity in the wasung. Even during weddings, the wasung is used to pour water on the couple as part of a traditional ritual.
With time, the use of wasung, however, is decreasing. Most households today rely on plastic containers to store items. With the introduction of cooking gas, bamboo dishes that require wood fire, have also been reduced. Nowadays, food is cooked in bamboo only during winters when the plummeting temperatures force people to light wood fires.
With its many uses, the wasung can be an important element in reducing plastic pollution as it is a biodegradable material that can decompose without polluting the environment. It is a great alternative to many plastic containers and vessels. I hope people from my community continue to use wasung as well as inspire more people to use plastic-free options in their day-to-day lives.
This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.
This article was first published in Youth Ki Awaaz