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Bamboo: North East India’s best friend Featured

Peter Wallang 06 Apr 2016

There’s something very integral about bamboo in the context of North East India; its metaphoric expression and symbolism highlighted in the numerous local stories and tales among the diverse communities of the region. Considered very important in the day-to-day routine of several of the tribes in the North East, bamboo, unsurprisingly, is holy, the reminder of how it is regarded at every step of life’s crucial milestones. A child is placed on a comfortable bed made of bamboo at birth; at the end of the life cycle, it is the bamboo bed on which the dead body is taken for the proverbial last journey. Throughout this journey of life, bamboo, in several of the regions in North East India, plays an important part – it is an important food ingredient, vital for the growth and an integral part of the dietary regime of people, especially among the Garo and Khasi communities of Meghalaya.

In an effort to educate more people on the significance of bamboo, North East Slow Food and Agro-Biodiversity Society recently held a symposium-cum-workshop at the North Eastern Hill University campus, Shillong, on the significance of this plant in the socio-cultural and economic development of North East India.

The programme was in collaboration with Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi, and Department of Cultural and Creative Studies, NEHU, Meghalaya. The week-long celebration, which took place in March, allowed people a greater understanding into the plant and the goodness it continues to impart through its varied uses. To be sure, North East Slow Food and Agro-Biodiversity Society, over the years, has contributed through its extensive knowledge of food biodiversity specifically in recognising the use of bamboo in making food.  This time, North East Slow Food and Agro-Biodiversity Society also held a special architecture and art exhibition – this was part of North East Slow Food and Agro-Biodiversity Society’s new programme initiatives.

Let’s pause to understand just what North East Slow Food and Agro-Biodiversity Society aimed at achieving at the exhibition held this year. Through its exhibit’s curation, A Celebration of Bamboo Culture, it relooked at the importance of bamboo in the socio-cultural and economic development of the people of North East India. With this, North East Slow Food and Agro-Biodiversity Society motivated public participation to create awareness and ensure promotion and preservation of bamboo products.

At the exhibition were an array of dishes available from the Garo and Khasi communities – the delectable fare used bamboo as an ingredient, or were cooked and prepared in bamboo vessels or simply served in bamboo plates. If food is the doorway to understanding the culture of a place, this exhibition truly encapsulated the richness of North East India.

Not just for food, this plant is now being seen increasingly as a substitute for wood, seen as an alternative source of ecological friendly material to work with. This segment at the symposium, showcasing the importance of bamboo in all aspects of day-to-day living was critical in understanding how local artisans and craftsmen of the region need to be exposed to develop bamboo in various ways – weaving, art, architecture, daily products in furniture  -- the uses of this plant / grass, which regrows every three years once it is cut. Used wisely and promoted well, bamboo, experts reckon, can be the rich source of fuelling development and growth of artisans and craftsmen. A glimpse of how it serves as an important source of livelihood was shown at the symposium – various species of bamboo showcased in its various uses – household objects, agricultural implements, domestic utility items, weapons, musical instruments, textile, and traditional cuisine, ethno- medicine, healing practices, rituals and so forth.

The intimate connection of bamboo in the North East parts of India is deep and passionate. In both, traditional and contemporary economy, bamboo is playing a holistic role in repertoire activities and thus represents an invaluable dimension in the socio-cultural and economic development of the people of the North East India.

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