Piru Parki of Thadadhunga in the Rural Municipality of Thalara-5 is skilled at weaving Himalayan bamboo into everyday household items such as baskets, storage units, cups and plates used in traditional Nepalese homes.
But the 72-year-old worries about the future of his beloved profession. He has passed his skills on to the younger generation in his community who are keen to keep the traditional craftsmanship alive, but their enthusiasm is subject to the availability of Himalayan bamboo.
As the local elections approached, several party figures came to Thadadhunga to solicit votes. Piru expressed his request: to make Himalayan bamboo available to the weaving community.
Thadadhunga, adjoining Khaptad National Park, is a village inhabited by the Parki and Sarki communities. About 30 Parki families and eight Sarki families make up the population of this village where almost every individual is a weaver. The craft has been passed down from generation to generation for centuries.
“Political leaders promise us all kinds of things, but our main demand is that they let us continue our way of life,” Piru said. “Party leaders come to our village and talk about development and how to achieve it. But for us, giving continuity to our business is of paramount importance.
Thadadhunga weavers have used Himalayan bamboo grown inside the national park for generations. However, six years ago the park banned the community from cutting bamboo to prevent over-harvesting that could lead to the species’ extinction.
The national park now allows the felling of Himalayan bamboo once a year for 10 days, leaving weavers short of raw materials for the rest of the year.
For the weavers of Thadadhunga, Himalayan bamboo is the only source of income as they do not own fields for farming or cattle for rearing.
“On good days, we used to earn at least Rs 2,000 selling bamboo products in the local market and in Dhangadhi,” said Ram Parki, a resident of Thadadhunga. “But for six years we have not been able to earn much money due to the shortage of raw materials.”
After the park imposed restrictions on bamboo cutting, young people from Thadadhunga left for India in search of work, Ram says.
“People in the village can no longer take care of their families. Thus, young people now bear the responsibility of managing the finances to run the household. Several children have dropped out of school and are engaged in daily wage labor just to put food on the table,” he said.
According to local residents, until six years ago villagers did not have to leave Thadadhunga in search of work. They say everyone over the age of 10 in the village knows the craft, but lately they have not been able to use their skills due to the shortage of Himalayan bamboo. Villagers fear that even with children being burdened with the responsibility of earning money, the tradition of passing down the skills to the younger generation is also under threat.
“Due to the lack of bamboo, our vocation is in danger. It is more important than the loss of income for our community. This lull in our practice will also have cultural implications,” said Dhauli Parki, 70.
“The bamboo we cut once a year only lasts 15 to 20 days,” said Prabhate Parki, 60. “Bamboo stalks dry out in a few weeks, then they become unusable.”
According to Dirgharaj Joshi, president of the rural municipality of Thalara-5, the villagers find it difficult to put food on the table because they are unable to do the work for which they are qualified.
“Other communities involved in agriculture and herding are also facing problems due to a lack of household assets,” Joshi said. “They ordered baskets from the weavers to store fodder; storage units for their kitchens to store food grains; and crop containers for storing harvested crops. The municipal office had asked the national park to relax the restriction but they did not agree.
The demand for woven bamboo products is very high, not only in the local market, but also in markets outside the district. The goods are sent to Dhangadhi in bulk from where they would be distributed to retailers across the country.
According to residents of Thadadhunga, a family’s annual turnover was at least 300,000 rupees before the restrictions were put in place.
Meanwhile, Khaptad National Park officials say the problem can only be solved with science-based and sustainable solutions.
“The frequent felling of bamboo puts the species at risk, but if the government introduces a sustainable approach to prevent the extinction of the bamboo species, the park can work towards a solution that will also benefit the local community who have deprived of her livelihood,” said Himalaya Kathayat, in charge of the Gadabaj Range Post in Khaptad National Park in Thalara. “We know the villagers are going through a difficult time, but we cannot work outside the rules and regulations. The staff can’t do anything other than enforce the rules.