Translated from Kokborok and edited by Hamari Jamatia
Rice is the staple diet of Tripuri people and most of the population is involved in the cultivation of paddy. In villages, people harvest their own grains and get it milled at the village mills. Milling is the process through which husk is removed from crude paddy so that the edible rice can be processed. Once this milled rice reaches an indigenous home, the family members use a bamboo “bailing” to remove any leftover husk and dust from the rice. It is a process where some freshly milled rice is placed on the bailing after which it is sifted.
Biswa Laxmi Debbarma from Bidhya Chandra Para tells us about the bailing and its usage.
A bailing is a flat disc made of bamboo bound on all sides to prevent the rice from spilling out. In Indigenous homes, bailing is used to sift rice from mills so that all husk and dust is removed and the clean rice can be cooked.
On closer look, a bailing is more than just a tool for sifting rice. It is used as a “plate” during functions to wash and collect vegetables. It is also used as a basket to dry meat and vegetables in the sun. Among the Reang tribe of Tripura, the item is used as an accompaniment during their Hojagiri dance. The dancers support the bailing on just one finger and spin it to show their expertise in balancing a heavy disc. In short, the bailing is an integral part of the life and culture of Tripuri people.
The bamboo for making this item needs to be procured from the forest. According to Biswa Laxmi, the bamboo needs to be really sturdy so that the bailing can survive many years of use. After the bamboo is spotted and brought home, it needs to be split into thin strips. Only people who are experts at handling bamboo can make the tool as it is a very intricate form of weaving.
“Even though it may look simple, the bailing needs a long time to make. It has several different components that have to be procured from different trees and plant.”, says Biswa Laxmi. Unlike other forms of baskets that are square or rectangular in shape, a bailing is round which means that the weaver has to take great care to taper it. Biswa Laxmi further informs that there are two layers of bamboo that go into the making of a bailing. While the upper side is made of thin strips of sleek bamboo, the underside is made of thicker strips.
The underside bamboo is also darker in colour.
Once the disc is ready, the edges are sealed off using the bark of the “Bata” plant. Biswa Laxmi informs that these days the “Bata” plant is only found in deep forests. “The rate at which forests are disappearing, there may come a time when Bata is no longer available,” she says.
To illustrate the workings of the bailing, Biswa Laxmi Debbarma mixes a few handfuls of rice and pulse as a sample. She then pours the mix on a bailing available in her house. She says, “Picking the pulse separately will take a long time but if we use the bailing to sift the grains, the rice and pulse will separate easily and a lot of time will be saved.” In Kokborok, the process of sifting grains is called “chokmung” but the verb is used in the variations of “chogo,” “chogui,” and “chokmani”.
Biswa Laxmi is adept at sifting and does so by shaking the bailing up and down so that the mix of rice and pulse jump to the rhythm. Very soon the pulses start shifting to the right side of the basket and the rice shifts to the left. This happens because the two items have different weights and so respond differently to the sifting.
Like most art and skills of indigenous life, the art of sifting rice is also disappearing as scientific developments have given rise to better mills where rice is sifted at an industrial level. However, many indigenous homes in Tripura still prefer to keep these tools in practice and pass them on to their future generations.
Is there a tool like this in your community which is also slowly disappearing?
This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.