Bamboo And Cane Culture Of Manipur


In earlier times, people living in the Manipur valley commonly built their houses, cooking huts, out-houses and granaries with bamboo and thatch since both the materials were available in abundance. The post World War II era saw changes in the architecture of the Meitei houses. The bamboo supports and pillars began to be replaced by wooden ones. However, the Hoomdaang or lower roof support and the U-ra or the upper roof support of houses with thatched roof survived the immediate changes and continued to be made for sometime. Although all the bamboo pillars were replaced by wooden ones, one bamboo pillar has been retained in the south-western corner of the house where a secluded space is reserved for worshipping the Sanamahi (the Meitei household Deity). The lone bamboo pillar is referred to as the Utang-wa, and it is more or less a symbol of the vanishing Meitei architectural tradition of using bamboo pillars in the construction of houses.

There are more than a hundred names for the pillars, supports, roof-supports, and a host of other parts necessary in the construction of a typical Meitei house.

The important feature of the architecture of a typical Meitei house is non-use of nails or any other metallic objects to secure or fasten the beams and the other supports. Cane and bamboo splits soaked in water are used for this purpose. To secure the beams and other supports firmly to each other, holes are drilled on the bamboo, and Pungjeis (sharp pointed bamboo objects, about 30 cm in length.) is driven into the holes. A Pungjei functions like a modern nail. The tips of the bamboo pillars are cut just above the node so that it provides strength.

The people inhabiting the hilly regions of Manipur cut bamboo and wood from the hills to make their houses. The pillars, the horizontal support beams and the roof support beams are all of wood and bamboo. The upper roof supports are mostly of bamboo split. Thatch is used for covering the roof. The Chin-Kuki groups commonly build houses in the pile-dwelling style, which is normally referred to as Kangthak- haaba. Bamboo is extensively used for the Kangthak- haaba. The houses have an extended verandah made of bamboo, and the platform for this extended verandah is improvised with mats made of bamboo. Temporary walls as well as permanent walls are constructed with bamboo-mats. The Naga groups living in the Tamenglong District build houses having roofs made of bamboo splits. Big bamboo poles are vertically split into two, and the bamboo splits are arranged in alternate turns, i.e., the pieces face up and down alternately. In some areas of Jiribam, the bamboo poles are cur into pieces. The cut pieces are then smashed. Starting from the fringe of the roof, rows of the smashed bamboo are laid out one upon another to cover the whole of the roof, in the same fashion as when thatch is laid out to cover the roof.


Measuring Baskets

The baskets used for measuring grains are usually found in houses having a granary. The grain measured in these baskets is leveled off at the surface with the help of a long bamboo-tube. Efforts are made to make the rim of the measuring baskets as firm as possible. In order to make the baskets handier during use, the outer surface of the basket is suitably lined with cow-dung. The various baskets in use in Manipur are discussed below.

The diameter of a Laitang basket and its mouth is 37 cm. Its height is 20.5 cm. The diameter of a Likhai basket, at its mouth is 46 cm. Its height is 25.5-cm. The Shangbai is a Meitei close weave bamboo basket used as a measuring basket for measuring the quantity of grain. Its height is 25.5 cm and the diameter of its mouth is 48.5 cm. People in the valley use a small measuring basket, called Miruk, to measure rice.

Filtering Baskets

In Manipur, people living in the hills as well as in the valley have a practice of collecting the ash by burning sun-dried outer layer of the banana stem, straw and pea plants. The ash so obtained is used for preparing curry. Through filtering, one gets the alkaline substance present in the ash. Meiteis use a small basket called Shek for filtering the ash. The Shek is conical, having a circular mouth with a tapering end. On two sides of the circular mouth are extended flaps that act as hand-holds. A tiny hole is maintained on the tip of the tapering end for allowing the filtered solution to come out. The ash previously collected is first put into the Shek through the open mouth and then water is poured over the ash. The filtered solution that comes out is termed as “Khari”. Excluding the strap, the Shek has a diameter of about 11 cm at the mouth and a height of 9 cm. Sometimes, it is observed that certain sections of the people living in the valley use the Miruk (basket used for measuring rice) in place of the Shek for filtering the alkaline solution. The tribal people too use the Shek for the same purpose. The only difference is that the Shek used by them is somewhat bigger in size than those used by the valley people.

Container Baskets

Lidded square dome shaped bamboo basket with legs.

The container basket has no fixed size and it is determined by the purpose that it is particularly gong to be used for. Meites use such baskets to keep cotton meant for making cloth; wares meant for selling at the market; fruits, betel nuts, betel leaves, etc., meant for marriage ceremonies, religious ceremonies, and also grain, rice and vegetables. The tribal groups also use container baskets to keep yarn meant for making cloth; grain, rice, etc., are also to keep rice-beer contained in Tumba or dried hollowed-out gourd.

The container basket used by the Meites for marriage and other religious purposes is known as Lukmai. Meites also use a particular basket called Chengchamuk in which the finely winnowed rice meant for cooking is put to be washed thoroughly with water.

In the hills, especially in the remote areas, long bamboo tubes hollowed out sufficiently, are used for containing drinking water. These are stored inside the house, often piling one upon another.

The Maram people living in Wilong use a container basket called Rashakok, which is finely woven in the open weave style with thin bamboo splits.

The Moyon and the Monsang tribes use a particular container basket called Irang on which the steamed rice is poured out and unwanted ingredients like rice chaffs, weed seeds, tiny pebbles, etc., are picked out. The form of the Irang is concave and it has a circular base which makes it possible to keep the basket firm without the least fear of tilting it. Irangs have two forms of weave: an outer weave and a surface weave.

Fishing Baskets

The womenfolk in the valley use a bowl-shaped fishing basket called Long to catch fish in shallow water. The body of the basket is woven with bamboo splits. It is more or less a flat structure. Then it is placed over an upright wooden block that has an oval-shaped tip. This wooden block has a height of 60 cm and a diameter of 35 cm. A circular loop made of bamboo splits is then forced down the wooden block from top downwards, thus pulling down the brim of the bamboo structure to fit into the circular loop. After getting the right shape, i.e., the bowl shape of the basket, the brim of the bamboo structure is tied firmly to the loop. Now the basket is ready for use.

The menfolk in the valley use a fishing basket, called Long-oop, to catch fish in waist-deep water. In hilly areas, fishing is done with the help of Kaijara basket. This basket has a gaping mouth with a tapering end, and has loops acting as hand-holds.

The baskets used for containing the fish thus caught usually have an elongated neck and a narrow mouth. In order to prevent the fish from leaping out of the basket, an appliance made of bamboo termed Shou, is fixed inside the “neck”portion of the basket. The shou is removed first before taking out the caught fish. The Shou is conical in form. It has a pointed tip, and is slightly blackened over the fire. It is bound firmly with fine bamboo splits. The mode of using these baskets by the womenfolk, when they go out to fish, is to tie the strap attached to the basket around their waist and to dangle the basket on their right side.

People living by the Loktak Lake use a basket called Ngathok to contain caught fish. The inhabitants of Karang, an island on the Loktak Lake who entirely depends on fishing for their livelihood, use a big basket called Cheplei Thop for containing the fishes caught from the lake. Fishermen plying on canoes, when fishing on the Loktak Lake, use a basket known as Shoiru to contain the caught fish. The Shoiru has a narrow mouth, but has a broad bottom. It has two loops or “ears” at the rim for convenience in carrying the basket. The slender end of the oar is inserted into the two loops and then the oar with the laden basket dangling from it is lifted on to the shoulders and is thus carried.

Conical Baskets

Tribal people in the hills of Manipur are still using conical baskets in great numbers. Conical baskets are primarily used for carrying things, as cut firewood gathered from the jungle, drinking water contained in bamboo tubes, field implements during both the sowing and the harvesting seasons, grain, vegetables and other essentials to and from the market, and so on. The conical baskets used for carrying baskets, field implements and bamboo tubes containing water, are usually of the open weave type, i.e., in the pattern of open diagonals filed in the texture of the open hexagonal weave.

Conical baskets are usually carried about by placing the straps that are attached to the baskets upon the head, with the basket resting on the back and the normal posture of the person carrying such baskets is inclined at an angle of 45 degree. To ease the task of carrying heavily laden baskets, menfolk use a shoulder length wooden appliance called Lengkot fixed to the straps. The Lengkot is placed horizontally on to the nape of the neck, but is mainly borne by the shoulders. The womenfolk of the Moyon, the Monsang and the Lamgang tribes use cane lengths in place of wooden lengkots. The straps on the conical baskets are of two types: those, which are fixed permanently on to the baskets, and those that can be removed and replaced by new ones.

Headgears and Ornaments

Bamboo and cane splits are compulsory components for structuring the basic forms of the headgears and ornaments. Tribal men folk use a headgear, woven with cane splits, which is made to fit neatly like a cap and which they wear when dancing. The Kharam tribals decorate their ears with flowers made of bamboo. The tribal people also decorate their arms and legs with Khudangyai or wristlet and Khubomyai or anklet respectively. Both the Khudangyai and Khubomyai are made of cane. Besides being a form of decorative ornament, the Khudangyai and Khubomyai both serve as protective gear in battles, fights, etc.


The use of traps or Lu for catching fish in lakes, creeks, streams, marshes, etc., is an age-old practice. In the hills, only one particular type of Lu, called Soralu is used. Sometimes, people living on the hill slopes but near the foothills, use a certain type of lu, called Kabo-lu imitating a similar use by the people in the valley. The size of a particular lu is determined by the size of the particular type of fish to be caught, and the depth of the water where the lu is going to be laid. Hence, lus are made and used according to the specific conditions. The types of lus used in the valley are: Taothum, Lushat-Lubi, Soralu, Soralu Chingaibi, Kabo-lu, Aronlu,Taijeb, Ayanlu, Lu-lu, Tekhao-lu, Nganaplu, Kao and so on. Nearly all, the above lus are comparatively small in size, whereas the Tekhao-lu, Soralu, Lushat-Lubi and Kao are quite big in size. These big lus usually have mouths measuring nearly one meter in diameter, and upto three or four metres in length.

Almost all the traps have sharp, pointed projections, like the shous as found inside fishing baskets. The place of fixing the shou differs according to the different traps. These shous prevent the fish from escaping once they enter the lu. In the case of fishing baskets, the shou is removed first before taking out the caught fish. It is not so in the case of the lu; with the lu the lid or any other material used for covering up the open end is removed first and then the fishes caught are poured.

Effigies and Images

Baskets woven in the pattern of diagonals filled in to the texture of the open hexagonal weave are represented as effigies of fowl in death rituals which the people in the hills conduct in the memory of their forefathers. One also sees such basket-effigies on the occasion of a “Feast of Merit” to inaugurate a newly-built house, and also in rituals performed to drive away evil spirits. Some of the tribal groups put up effigies made of bamboo representing human skulls. These are placed on the verandah of the house. 

At the time of the Umanglai Haroaba (Festivities of the Sylvan Deities) the Meitei Priest (Maiba) and Priestess (Maibi) place brass masks, representing the Umanglais inside baskets made of bamboo splits. The baskets with brass masks are worshipped as images of the Deities. Cloth is draped around and below the masks to complete the image. On conclusion of the Haraoba, the masks and the clothes are removed from the basket, and the basket is ‘safely’ stored away inside the temple for use at the next Haraoba.

Musical Instruments

The tribal people in the hills use a wide range of wind musical instruments made of bamboo. These are mainly played with the mouth. The Lambang tribals contrive cut tubes of a small variety of bamboo to make a flute-like-wind musical instrument calledPuleh. This instrument has 4 to 7 holes. The Maring tribals too use a similar musical instrument called Toutri. The Koms call it Theibe. The Thadou tribals cut three tubes of different lengths from the same bamboo stem and the tubes are separately blown with the mouth to produce different musical notes. The Thadous call such musical instrument Theiphit. The Lambang tribals use a peculiar musical wind instrument called Relru which is a one metre long hollow bamboo tube with an attached projection in the middle, through which one blows with the mouth to produce musical notes. Almost all the tribal groups use a musical instrument made of four to five bamboo tubes of uneven sizes that are joined together, the smaller tubes being partly inserted into the bigger tubes. The instrument is played like bugle. The Lambang tribals make use of both the hard outer layer or skin of the bamboo and the pulpy inner layer to make a musical instrument. The necessary length of both the layers is 30 cm. Many of the tribal groups configure fine bamboo splits or Paya to make an interesting musical instrument that is played with the mouth. The paya must be 15 cm long and 1.5 cm broad.


People in the rural areas use three types of bamboo-umbrella or yenpak, worn or borne on the head to ward off heat and rain while going to work and even when working in the paddy-fields. The types of Yenpak thus used are: Yenkhrung, Salaitep andYengoi. People venturing out to fish on the Loktak Lake, wear on their heads smaller version of the Yengoi umbrella. When working in the paddy fields, the use of Yenkhrung umbrella safeguards the upper part of the body from the direct heat as well as getting wet when it rains. As such, the local population living in the plains and those living on the hill slopes commonly uses the Yenkhrung.

The Salaitep umbrella is practically out of use. At times, while carrying conical baskets laden with goods, this particular umbrella is used to ward off the rains and keep the goods and the booty, safe and dry. The women-vendors sitting in unsheltered places use big Yengoi umbrellas, perched on bamboo poles, to ward of the heat and the rain.

In Manipur, Gouriya Vaisnavites use small Yengoi umbrella at the time of a person’s death and at the “Shraddh” ceremony of the deceased person.

The Yenpak, made with the primary objective of warding off heat and rain, has a pattern of weave conforming to diagonals filled in, the texture of the open-hexagonal weave. It has a double weave with an intermediary layer of very light, dry leaves. This makes the Yenpak waterproof. Some people use Waarukak (Culm Sheath) for the intermediary layer in place of the leaves. However, it is rarely used as it makes the Yenpak heavier. Yenpak with the intermediary layer of Waarukak are often used for death ceremonies. People in the hills use broad, crisp leaves (of trees such as teak) for the intermediary layer. After completing the inner and the outer weave of the Yenpak, and after inserting the intermediary layer, the rim of the Yenpak is bound tightly with cane splits to secure it firmly.


Totems in the form of tall bamboo poles decorated with three to nine circular bamboo rings, draped with cloth cut in geometrical shapes, are a marked feature of the Meitei society. The bamboo poles have to be straight ones, and of the biggest variety. The rings are of uneven sizes, with the smallest ring adorning the tip of the poles. The biggest ring comes last. These totems are known as Shattra. They are considered a must for various rituals and ceremonies. Shattras are offered and used as a sacred item for festivals honouring the Umanglais (Sylvan Deities). Such totems are also used in rituals connected with “shifting of ponds, “shifting” of temples, etc., and in death ceremonies and “Phiroi”(first death anniversary), etc.

At Karang, an island on the Loktak Lake, people put up tall straight bamboo poles, with a lovely cluster of small branches and leaves at the tip, in their courtyards. These totems signify that the marriageable daughter in the family is engaged to her future husband. On the celebration of Hari-oo-than, Meitei Hindus erect tall straight bamboo poles of the biggest variety, on which circular bamboo rings are fixed. In the villages, young girls prepare garlands of marigold flowers with which they decorate the rings on the bamboo poles, thus presenting lovely flower-totems.

The Maring tribals put up several bamboo totems in their courtyards on the Yaakiyo ceremony. Thee totems are erected to inform the people and the ancestors of the particular families that the ceremony is being observed. On the tip of these totems are hung replicas of birds and animals made of bamboo and wood. An elevated balcony of bamboo is constructed all around the courtyard. This serves as seats for the people who play drums, gongs, etc on the occasion.


In the rural areas, bamboo bridges are built across small streams and rivers for passage back and forth. One particular type of bamboo bridge, which still forms part of a typical rural scene, is the Urokthong. These are slightly humped bridges constituting of only one long bamboo pole acting as catwalk, which allows a single person to cross at a time. A single bamboo railing acts as hand support for maintaining balance. In most cases, the Urokthong is built at a height of 8 metres or more above the ground level or waterbed level. Suspension bridges made of cane used to be the sole mode of passage across ravines and mountain streams in earlier days. People in the valley construct bamboo Thonggra or scaffold like structure on the edge of ponds, and extending a little into the water but just above the water level, for bathing; for washing clothes; and for fetching water from the pond.

Many of the parts for the loin-loom, fly shuttle loom, etc., are made of bamboo. Practically every Meitei home in the rural areas have gates made with bamboo and fences constructed with bamboo poles and bamboo splits. Bamboo combs with tiny finely chiselled teeth were of common use in Manipur until plastic combs replaced it in recent times. However, the combs offered to the Deities for rituals, ceremonies, etc are still made of bamboo. In the hills, some of the tribals groups still use bows and arrows made of bamboo. Meiteis too use bamboo bows and arrows, but for ceremonial purpose only. Cut bamboo pieces and bamboo roots are used for making smoking pipes. Sound producing objects made from bamboo pieces are hung up in the paddy fields to ward off the birds. The hung bamboo pieces are attached to strings and produce sounds that scare away the birds. The tribal people living in the Senapati District use a pitchfork made of bamboo with which the paddy is threshed to separate the grain from the plant. Tables, chairs, seats, etc made of cane are used profusely. Certain toys such as Pichkari or toy water-pump, toy wind sails, etc. are also made of bamboo.