Translated from Kokborok by Hamari Jamatia
Until a few decades ago, many communities of Tripura practised shifting cultivation. Under this form of agriculture, the community members would ‘slash and burn’ the forest on a hill and use the cleared space to plant paddy and vegetables. They would till this hill for some years, enjoy the harvest, and then move on to another forest to repeat the method. They led a nomadic life because the soil of the hills lost their fertile cover after a few seasons of rain and became less nutritious for the plants.
This method of living brought the indigenous people in close contact with the ecosystem of the state. They could explore various species of plants and trees that grew on the forested hills and get inspired by them, both in the practical sense as well as the artistic. Having discovered the uses and flexibility of bamboo, the people began to build homes made of the material and soon began to weave home decor items such as vases and flowers to beautify their living spaces.
One of the items was the maitangsa, woven from bamboo in the shape of a rice plant. These maitangsa are beautiful to look at and are biodegradable. Moreover, they can be made from leftover bamboo so that nothing gets wasted.
First, one has to fetch bamboo from the forest or the market. Then the bamboo has to be chopped and split into thin strips called “waaruk”. These strips are light and flexible which means that they can be shaped in the number of ways. It is believed that bamboo that is about 1 year old is the best one to weave with.
Next step is to pick up two strips of waaruk and weave them together into the shape as shown in the picture. You have to fold each strip into half, place them inside one another and fold them together. Make 6 such shapes in ascending sizes, i.e. the one at the top needs to be the smallest and the one at the bottom needs to be the largest so that the end product looks like a leaf.
Once 6 pieces are ready, we shall need a thin stick of bamboo to attach to them. This stick has to be strong enough to hold the weight of the pieces. It is made by polishing and shaving a long piece of bamboo. The bamboo pieces have tiny gaps in them. They can now be lowered into the stick one by one. Just remember to place the widest one first and the smallest one last.
Expert weavers can make a whole bouquet of maitangsa to decorate weddings and functions. It adds to the beauty of the ceremony and gives it an authentic indigenous feel. It can be coloured and kept in the drawing-room. But, you can make just one too and use it to decorate the study table or use as a bookmark. It represents the rice plant that is tied to the lives of Tripuri people as we are predominantly rice eaters.
If on a visit to Tripura, consider purchasing some of the bamboo items made by the tribals in the state. Every home should have these beautiful items!
Note: The process of weaving the Maitangsa has been shared with us by artist Mr Rajkumar Debbarma from Lefunga, Tripura
This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.