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A little sad short story about bamboos, coconut trees and the unavoidable loss of great traditional knowledge.

28/04/2013

 

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All the roofs of Les 3 Elephants resort have been built out of bamboos and coconut trees, following a centuries old traditional method. A coconut wood frame is used as the base, then bamboos form the framework, which itself is covered with dried coconut branches folded and interlaced on themselves. Coconut leafs are humidified and smoked to be used as binding material, they get strong and rigid when drying. Strings and ropes made of coconut shell fiber are used as well…

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Difficult to imagine anything more eco friendly than this technic. Bamboo and coconut trees are abundant in Kerala’s tropical climate, in addition they grow very fast, which make them a highly renewable resource. In addition to the roofs, we use bamboo mats, bamboo plywood, bamboo blinds, bamboo fences etc…

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So, everything sounds perfect in the beautiful eco dream of Les 3 Elephants. However one serious problem threatened this eco building perfection: the skills of the workers seem not renewable…

We had many teams of workers, each playing their more or less specialized part in the building process. Out of all these teams, the traditional bamboo workers team was the only one with no apprentice. Five amazingly skilled fifty years old guys, with no one to learn from them.

To build this traditional roofs, you need to climb the bamboo structure with no protection, and work long hours under the scorching tropical sun. It is a painful and dangerous job. In addition, this type of roof used to be destined only to poor people houses, unable to pay for tiled roofs. so the job’s reputation remains socially bad.

Barhatan, the boss of the team, is an incredibly skilled architect and engineer, an artist also in his fied of bamboos and coconut trees. He has a son who has just completed his architecture studies. He will build concrete houses in Kerala, or even better, glass and metal structures somewhere in the Emirates. Who can blame him for not following his father’s path? He will have a better salary, more social respect, for a lot safer and less painful job!

So, in less than ten years, this great team of workers will go on a well deserved retirement, their bodies refusing to climb anymore bamboo. And the knowledge will be lost. I am still looking for an idea, but none in sight, and the time is running. Ten years for a bamboo or a coconut tree to grow, probably as many for a gifted young man to learn everything about the art of bamboo roofs. Ten years and no seed in the ground…

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7 Comments
  1. This is a very good point brought to the attention. Ancient arts and knowledge like weaving, making bamboo constructions are being lost. Though the Indian government is taking some initiatives to help people, it is not enough.

    I remember reading about how Japanese people protect such people by declaring them national treasures. A katana (swords used by samurai) maker was declared as a “Living National Treasure”.
    They make beautiful swords with ripples on the surface using ancient knowledge and skill.

    http://www.samuraisword.com/nihontodisplay/shinsakuto/Sadatsugu/

    We need such an initiative for Indian artists, to protect and promote our priceless heritage.

    • Sadly, i’m afraid India has other emergencies on its plate… Thanks for the japanese link, i’ll check it. Wish you a nice month of may 😉

  2. What beautiful buildings! Let’s hope some young people step up to the plate.

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  1. Dying traditions in an emerging India | lakesideindia

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