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Bamboo Introduction

The many uses of bamboo
Bamboo has a thousand uses in an Akha village. Today the Akha were building a fence along a road. Dragging poles from the forest, long and straight, and then splitting some into long strips, and other poles being cut into short pieces that will be split into the slats for the woven fence.

Ah Zeh, seen here splits a short piece for fence slats.

Knives and how to use them are integral to Akha life. Both the knife and the bamboo can seriously cut you.

Bamboo also provides food by means of sprouts during the rainy season. Depending on the species of the bamboo and the skill of the Akha woman gathering them, the sprouts can taste bland and tough, to soft and nearly sweet. One of the most interesting foods from bamboo is a clear gel that can be found in it that is broken up and mixed with garlic greens for a very interesting snack.

Bamboo is host to two kinds of grubs, the famous small white grub that the Thais buy and almost everyone eats, frying in oil. They have a mild taste and are expensive. The other grub moves to the top of the new bamboo shoot and is quite large, is less commonly seen or traded, but is still coveted by Akha woman. In a large stand of bamboo, the Akha know which bamboo has the small grubs by picking those poles which have shorter segments, stunted by the presence of grubs. For the larger grub, these are gathered on the rapidly rising new shoots, when they are ten fee tall or so. The Akha women look for disturbance or holes in the new stalk, maybe even a small hole up near the top, and gather the large grub just before it chews out of the top of the stalk, falls to the ground, and digs a hole into the ground where it becomes a beetle.

Bamboo has fine hairs on the poles that are a major irritant to the skin, so collecting and trimming poles is not easy work, to say nothing of towning them out of the mountains.

There is a sheath that falls away from bamboo as it grows, the Thais use this for making hats, it has a characteristic a little like styrofoam.

Akha doctors use the same sheath in a ceremony for getting rid of hives on the skin.

Many lowland farming practices require excessive quantities of bamboo from the forest to prop of fruit trees or build greenhouses for pesticide intense flower farming. Meanwhil the Akha are told there is not enough bamboo to allow them to continue gathering sprouts, very much a typical double standard.

In the old days, the Akha ran water great distance in bamboo pipes.

Besides hut construction, the Akha use bamboo to make many items from trays to harps, chopsticks, shoes, and containers or cups for the home. Also, it can be used in interior decoration, to make furnishings as well as wall and floor coverings. It is a popular material in the lobbies of casino hotels, spas and luxury resorts. Bamboo is also split for weaving mats and baskets. Its uses are endless, and finally when tired, dried up, and cracky, it warms the house and cooks the food and as ash, goes back on the garden.

Trifle with bamboo and it will cut you painfully like a piano wire, handle it skillfully and it will become just about anything you want of it.


Nov. 1, 2009

Copyright 1991 The Akha Heritage Foundation