Updated: Aug 15
What is a Bangchung?
The Bangchung is a handwoven spherical-shaped bamboo container made by artisans in Bhutan. Traditionally used as a plate, it is still widely used by the people of Bhutan in the rural regions as lunch boxes to carry cooked food (mainly rice and meat) for long journeys or when they go out to work in the fields. Bangchungs are also used to hold offerings in the temples and as containers to serve food and snacks to guests and lamas (Buddhist priests). More recently, it has become a form of decorative item to store various knick-knacks.
The Bangchungs come in curious colours and eye-catching patterns. They also come in various sizes of Bangchungs - baikor, bathra, dagama, nyi kyelma and tangkama. It consists of two pieces of woven bamboo, the smaller outer lid, called the ‘chishab’ that fits into the bigger inner receptacle called the ‘nangshab’. When closed together, the container is almost airtight to carry liquid in it.
The Art of Bangchung-making
Bangchungs are crafted across various regions in Bhutan - in the far eastern region of Bhutan, it is made in Thrimshing Kangpar in the Tashigang District, in the southern region of Bhutan, it is made in the Shimgaong District. The ‘Khengs’ in central Bhutan are known to be highly skilled in weaving these baskets or containers.
Bangchungs are made from a special form of bamboo/cane called Yula that grows on the hills of Eastern Bhutan. It is so used because, unlike other bamboos, it can easily retain dyes.
In earlier days, bamboo was harvested throughout the year. However, under the Bhutan Forestry Department sustainable plan, harvesting of bamboo has been confined to the months between April and September. The aim is to avoid over-harvesting the bamboo and help conserve the local natural resources while keeping alive the age-old tradition of making bamboo handicrafts.
When the bamboo/cane are harvested, it is finely split into inner and outer layers, depending on the size of the Bangchung that needs to be woven. Some of the split bamboo may be dried and stocked for future use. The sliced bamboos are seasoned for at least three weeks before they are dyed. First, they are boiled in a turmeric solution for an hour and dried. These yellow strips are then soaked and dyed, often using colours made from natural vegetation and plant roots. Traditional colours such as yellow, green, natural, blue-purple, or maroon are used.
After it is dried, the ‘chishab’ or the outer lid of the Bangchung is skillfully woven using the dried coloured strips to create varicoloured diamond-like patterns. The colourless strips are used to weave the ‘nangshab’ or the inner receptacle. Once completed, the loose strips are woven to form a spherical shape using an arched circular cane strip. Thus, the rims of both, the inner and outer pieces, are made from bamboo/cane strips and woven with cane thread. Often, a thin piece of leather is attached on the outer lid to aid in opening the container. The whole process of weaving each basket can take up to 3 days or more to complete.
Keeping alive traditional skills in bamboo-making handicrafts
The skills in making Bangchungs have been passed down from one generation to another for many decades. However, two decades ago, the art of Bangchung-making was in danger of disappearing due to the rural-migration of the younger generation to the cities and towns for work. With only a handful of people with the skills in bamboo-making crafts, the Government of Bhutan set on an entrepreneurial strategy for the youngsters to help keep alive this age-old tradition. Today, the Bangchung is one of the best-known artefacts of Bhutan, an art form that has been revived by young entrepreneurs. Due to its decorative appeal, it has recently become popular as a decorative item and souvenir with tourists, largely Europeans and those from the far East, such as Japan, visiting Bhutan. It has helped keep this age-old tradition of bamboo and cane work alive and has provided sustainable income for artisans in rural regions.
At Made In B, our aim is to promote such unique artisanal products and therefore endeavour to help keep alive the traditional art of bamboo handicrafts in Bhutan. We hope that you will love these wondrous items as much as we do. Come and explore the Bangchung Bamboo Container - Medium and the Bangchung Bamboo Container - Small.