Translated from Kokborok by Manisha Debbarma
Till some decades ago, the indigenous people of Tripura got over their monsoon blues by fashioning bamboo stilts on which they could cross small streams and muddy puddles without dirtying their feet. They would put one foot on each platform attached to the pair of stilts and effortlessly glide over obstacles feeling like giants from their folktales, perched at least two feet above the ground. Other than its practical use, the stilts called Koldom were also a source of much joy among the community members who would race against each other to see who handles the stilts the best.
Sujit Debbarma, one of the few makers of Koldom, reminisces about his childhood and recalls that it was very common for people to use the stilts during rains. “During our childhood we used to walk using a Koldom just to escape the muddy water,” he says.
Mr Debbarma gives us a few tips on how to make a Koldom at home. The most important process is the identification of the right bamboo.
To make this Koldom, the perfect bamboo is very important. It has to be strong enough to bear the weight of a person. Once you have found the bamboo, you need a hot iron rod to pierce holes at strategic places and attach the platforms on which the person will place his/her feet. The bamboo should not burst open when the iron touches it.
Basically, making a Koldom requires one set of bamboo about six feet tall each, a second set of wooden or bamboo poles about two feet in height, and some good strings.
First, clean and polish the bamboo and pierce some holes at the lower part. Second, polish the remaining set of shorter poles and pierce some holes in them too. Now, attach the two sets of poles to each other using the string. They have to be tied tightly so as to ensure the safety of the user. The platform on which the person places his foot is called the Kadom. The space is narrow and so the person using it only has enough room to put his toes and forefoot on them.
Sujit Debbarma comments on the state of affairs today and laments that none of his children know about the Koldom anymore since it has disappeared from common use and become obsolete. “I have a son who is 17 years old and he doesn’t know about the Koldom. I had to tell him about its usage and history and how we used to race with it.”
From the neighbouring house, Priyo Bondhu Debbarma, another former user of Koldom, remembers going to the forest to collect the best bamboo for making the stilts. “We used to climb on the Koldom and cross streams. Sometimes, the bamboo was eight feet tall,” he says.
Priyo Bondhu Debbarma tells us that it is important to make a strong Koldom so that the user does not fall down. The platform that is attached to the main bamboo needs to be tied properly using a good string so that it does not move from its position. “You will see that in races, the people who fall are usually ones whose kadom is not properly attached to the main bamboo,” he says.
Priyo Bondhu Debbarma and his friend Basanta Debbarma give us a demonstration on how to race on the stilts. For this, they carry their newly made Koldom to an open field and after balancing on them hurry across to the other end.
Priyo Bondhu says, “When we were children, the race was very popular. Villagers used to gather at the field to witness the game and cheer for the players. Sometimes the players would slip and fall down adding to the overall gaiety of the occasion.” He adds that it’s sad how the youth of today are no longer interested in learning the games of the past. “Everyone has become very busy these days. Children are burdened with a lot of work and do not know how to play Koldom anymore. Today, while I was telling them about it, my children asked me, ‘Father, what is a Koldom?’”
Men and women of all the 19 indigenous tribes of Tripura used to walk and race on the Koldom in the past. It was considered an accomplishment to be able to balance on them. Today, the Koldom has disappeared from indigenous homes, as has the racing game. It is up to young people like us to keep the remnants of our past alive. I urge the readers to try and play with the Koldom once again.
Note: This article has been written as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.