Written by Samir Debbarma and translated from Kokborok by Bibhuti Debbarma
Tribals and indigenous people across the world have extensive knowledge of how to use forest resources for different aspects of their lives. The tribals of Tripura, who have been living in the high hills and near forests for generations now, also have this knowledge. Wood and bamboo procured from the forest are used to make a variety of daily-use objects, including the Yamfra, which is a handwoven bamboo mat.
The Yamfra is found in almost every tribal home in Tripura and is mainly used for sitting. It is specially offered to guests who visit to sit on. In the earlier days, when sofas and chairs didn’t exist, the Yamfra was the primary furniture used by the tribals. Offering the mat to a guest is a symbol of love and respect. This mat is woven in a criss-cross pattern and is made by using bamboo slivers.
Swapan Debbarma, a resident of a tribal village in Tripura tells me, “Nowadays, seeing the Yamfra is a rarity, as barely anyone makes it or uses it anymore. Since chairs and other furniture have come into the market, people prefer to buy those and have forgotten about the Yamfra.”
Bamboo slivers have been created and used by the tribals of Tripura, to make various items. Although this skill is slowly disappearing, there are still a few people who practice it consciously. Madhu Sudhan Debbarma says, “The slivers need a specific type of bamboo; all bamboos are not suitable for weaving mats. Some bamboos are very hard, so slivers cannot be created from them, whereas others can provide very soft slivers. We have to use the perfect bamboo, which is neither too hard, nor too soft, and only 3-4 types of bamboo are perfect for weaving mats. These bamboos are called Betu, Wandal, Waa Milik and Kalangshi in Tripura.”
Before weaving the mat, the bamboo slivers need to be dried for at least 5-10 minutes in the sun. There are various designs which can be used for weaving; some weavers use a simple design whereas others use block texture design. It takes about 2 hours or more for weaving one mat. The mat itself is very light, small in size, portable and comfortable for sitting. The skilled weavers from the previous generation are unfortunately no more, so reviving this skill and the use of the traditional mat is difficult, but even more necessary in today’s world.
It is important that tribals keep this culture of self-dependence alive. I am sure it will be priceless knowledge for the coming generations. If you ever visit Tripura and see someone selling a Yamfra, do buy it. It will encourage people to create them more and keep this piece of the tribal culture thriving.
This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.
About the author: Samir Debbarma lives in the Khowai district of Tripura. He wants to work as a police officer. He likes listening to Hindi classical music and is interested in art. He is currently looking for a Government job.