Challenges facing Bhutan’s traditional wood turning craft

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Neten Dorji

Famous for its dapas (wooden bowls) and its role as a winter haven for endangered black-tailed cranes and the rare Choeteng kora, Trasyance is facing pressing concerns regarding the sustainability of its wood turning business. There is.

Master craftsmen known as shagzops have made a living from woodworking in this region for generations.

However, the increasing number of locals entering the trade and the shortage of raw materials have raised concerns about the future of the industry.

The Shagzops are concerned about the sustainability of Tashiyangtse’s resources.

Mr Shagzopp, who has 73 years of experience, said increasing demand and improving markets have encouraged more locals to get involved in the wood turning business over the years.

Currently, more than 40 craftsmen are engaged in similar projects around Choten Kola town.

Dapa and other household items on display in the showroom of

In the past, raw materials were easily available in this region. But with more people entering the business, artisans have to look beyond the dzongkhag.

Chazop production is rapidly increasing, with new chazops appearing every year. This influx of woodworkers has strained the supply of quality raw materials for making dapas and other wooden handicrafts, causing concern across Shagzop.

The cost of wood products is often related to the patterns that decorate the bari, locally known as zabu. Of these, the tasochengma (horse tooth pattern) is considered the most expensive, followed by the ugsula (owl feather pattern). Merichengma (flame pattern), fozab (large stripes), and mozab (small stripes) are considered common zabu.

In local dialects, the galls found on certain maple species are called zabu or bau, making them a rare sight in Dzongkhag. With dwindling sources of wood burrs, Shagzops resorts to hiring burr hunters in areas such as Wangdue, Chuka, Dagana, Trongsa, Punakha and Ha.

Finding these valuable raw materials can take weeks or months.

Tenzin Jamutsho, a 72-year-old craftsman, lamented the depletion of forest knots in Trashyangtse, saying not a single one remained. He attributes this decline to excessive and unregulated harvesting in the region. Baal hunters are now venturing into the jungles of western Dzongkhags such as Wangdue, Chirang, Chuka, Jemgang, Dagana and Haa in search of these precious plants.

The process of obtaining permission to extract raw materials is not easy. Permissions have to be obtained from the forest department of the particular district where the material is being procured, which is a time-consuming process. Even with a permit, individuals can only cut down two gnarled trees per year.

Harvesting burl may not have a negative impact on the environment, but it helps generate revenue for the government through taxes. Although there is strong demand for Dapa products, a shortage of raw materials has slowed production, raising concerns that the industry could eventually be forced to shut down.

The lack of raw materials has raised concerns about whether younger generations will continue in the profession. Many shagzops have observed that today’s youth are eager to make dapa but are reluctant to go into the forest to harvest raw materials. Collecting raw materials from the forest is difficult and less comfortable than making dapa at home.

In addition, woodturning provides employment opportunities for crowbar collectors, lacquerers, and woodturners, indirectly benefiting local communities.

Local forest officials admit that the wood available for dapa production on the Yangtze River is being depleted over time. They have a limit of only two trees allowed per year to ensure the sustainability of their woodworking operations and raw material supply.

Moreover, they took action against Shagzops who do not produce dapa, do not create employment opportunities and do not contribute taxes to the government.

Wood products made by Shagzops are not only popular among tourists and local Bhutanese people, but are also exported to Nepal. Income varies depending on the size and quality of the wood products and ranges from Nu 400,000 to Nu 900,000 per year.

There is a wide range of local products available at our Tashiyangtse showroom. From traditional bowls such as geyron zeitcha and drafā (used by monks) to modern wine he cups and beer he jugs. Although this rich woodturning tradition faces challenges, its cultural significance continues to be appreciated both locally and internationally.



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