Bamboo is a tree-sized grass that is the fastest growing plant on earth. Some species have a growth rate of up to 1-metre a month and can be harvested every 3 to 5 years. Although bamboo is native to Asia, it grows on every continent and is abundant throughout Indonesia and especially on the island of Bali. Bamboo is often referred to as a source of life for the Balinese as every part of this renewable natural resource is utilized for ritual Hindu existence. The sheer strength of bamboo is amazing and it is perhaps the most versatile material within the local community.
While bamboo is an ecologically friendly substitute for timber in building and furniture, it also conserves the environment by re-enforcing precious topsoil along riverbanks and deforested areas. Balinese architecture takes full advantage of bamboo and it is used to create traditional structures with lightweight support beams, rafters and durable roof and floor tiles. Bamboo also makes inexpensive scaffolding for construction, a sturdy ladder, irrigation piping as well as strips for binding. Balinese live by a strict set of guidelines that is determined by a devotion that seeks a harmonious balance between mankind, the environment and God Almighty.
Therefore, offerings are constantly made to appease the Gods as well as the spirits of the underworld. Ceremonies and temple celebrations take place daily around the island and bamboo is an essential resource for the Hindu religion. Bamboo strips are woven into baskets, temporary shrines and carved into sticks for sate, while full lengths are used as decorative poles called penjors that are symbolic of the sacred mountain Gunung Agung. A razor sharp piece of green bamboo is used in the ritual slaughter of sacrificial animals that are required for particular ceremonial offerings.
Thin lengths of bamboo are used to craft flutes that produce the soothing background music favoured by many Balinese spas and hotel lobbies. Larger pieces of bamboo also make the xylophone keys and resonators of the traditional instruments played by villagers around the island. Different lengths of bamboo can be assembled into wind chimes and toys which tinkle lightly when caressed by a soft breeze. This multipurpose overgrown grass can also be styled into furniture, handicrafts, paper and matting.
Young bamboo shoots make a tasty and nutritional food source and the leaves of this flourishing plant is an alternative feed supplement for animals. The Chinese have always used bamboo as an ingredient in traditional medicine due to its healing properties. The root from a species of black bamboo is believed to treat kidney disease, while a powdered form of bamboo secretion can assist asthma and respiratory ailments.
There was a time when bamboo was once called ‘poor man’s timber’. However, the significance of bamboo was exposed to a world audience in 1995 when Bali hosted the 4th International Bamboo Congress. This event successfully brought together a unique group of environmentalists, scientists, architects, musicians, designers and business representative to discuss bamboo and its many uses.
Bamboo has been used by the Balinese for centuries and if nurtured properly there is no doubt that it will continue to serve the island and its people well into the future.