Bamboo has long been used for many purposes, such as weaving baskets, but now, a collective is weaving attractive new products and finding great success.
“I am very proud that I have taken up this career –I couldn’t feed my four children if I was still making baskets in traditional styles. Now, I earn more income to support my family by weaving modern styles,” said Maing Salin, a member of the Kampong Chhnang Bamboo handicraft association.
Salin told The Post that her parents had taught her to make many kinds of baskets, in styles that were unchanged from the way her ancestors had done it. Almost all of the people of Teuk Hout commune’s Roneam Totoeung village of Kampong Chhnang province’s Rolea Ba’ier district knew how to make them, and in 2013, she began making the traditional baskets. Unfortunately, the prices such work demands remains low.
The 43-year-old, who has four children, said the women of her village received training from a women’s association and formed collectives that could develop more modern products, thus increasing the rewards they could earn from their labour.
She said that after forming the association, sharing ideas and observing other provinces’ products, they modified their designs until they found success. Before they modified their style, one bamboo tree was enough to make no more than two or three lunch boxes. Now, she could get as many as five from the same quantity of raw materials. It saves her time and raw materials, which also allowing her to demand higher prices.
“I used to make ordinary baskets for storing fish. They took a long time to make and I could only sell them cheaply. I don’t do that anymore, but weave other styles which are far more profitable,” she added.
She said she was able to sell at higher prices because she now made her products according to customers’ orders. She weaves bamboo into tools, souvenirs, pen holders, boxes, fruit baskets for gifts and many other shapes.
“Now that I know how to make attractive designs, I am able to earn more money and support my family and pay for my children’s education. My husband is a construction worker, and we pool our earnings to raise our children. We also farm rice when it is the correct season,” she added.
According to Salin, in order to weave bamboo, it needs to first be boiled with salt and ripe tamarind. This means it loses its sweetness and will not be eaten by insects.
After it is boiled, it is cut to the thickness required by its intended final shape and then dyed.
Her customers are both foreign and Cambodian, with local customers preferring the brightest colours.
Pang Sopheap, the president of the bamboo handicraft association, said it was formed in 2015 and has about 50 members, mostly women with children.
The members were trained in different styles by the Women’s Development Centre.
His association produces about 30 different products, including saws and knives, and all of them are handmade.
He said they take orders and share production with the members of the association. Each of them weaves according to the orders taken, and are paid almost the full market price. The association takes only a few per cent of each order in order to pay for its administrative costs.
According to Sopheap, their products are very popular with customers who shop online. The majority of the orders are placed in Phnom Penh, but he encouraged people from all over the Kingdom to support their work.
“The association’s members are generally over the age of 40, as younger women go to work in garment factories. Young people don’t have the patience of the older people, and close attention has to be paid to weaving if we want our products to remain of a high quality,” he said.
Cheung Kreav commune chief Thao Thoeun told The Post that the Kampong Chhnang Bamboo handicraft association was attracting attention and had made a real difference to the people of Rolea Ba’ier district. Apart from weaving, most people in the area relied on growing mixed crops to support themselves.
“This handicraft is helping to provide a livelihood to our people. Their skills were passed down from their ancestors, but they have found a way to modernise the traditional methods. There are some people who still can’t believe that some of their products are made from bamboo,” he said.