Several ethnic Tharu women in Laxmanpur of Bardiya have become economically self-reliant after Kumali Tharu initiated Dhakiya weaving industry by using natural resources available in local community forest. Their initiation has revived the fast-dying Dhakiya weaving tradition.
Ghanshyam Pandey and Shankar Prasad Khanal
Traditionally, ethnic Tharu community uses Dhakiyas as an essential pot. Dhakiya weaving tradition is an old tradition. The multipurpose Dhakiya is used to keep grains, ornaments and cloths safe. It is used to carry food for people working in farmland. Inspects die inside the Dhakiya due to poor ventilation even if they enter into Dhakiya. That’s why Tharu people uses Dhakiya to store grains instead of metal pots. Those Dhakiyas are placed at top of house. People used to weave Dhakiya while staying at home. Locals used compete among locals on who can make the most attractive Dhakiya. Peacock’s feather and coral used to be placed atop Dhakiya.
But those days were gone. Many had stopped weaving traditional Dhakiya. Very few pepple were using it. “The Dhakiya weaving tradition was dying fast. My parents had gifted me two Dhakiyas while I was married off. But I had no Dhakiya weaving skill,” said Kumali Tharu, 40, recalling how her Dhakiya weaving industry revived after they trained locals.
Her mother and grandmother used to weave Dhakiya. Dhakiya wasn’t in practice as earlier so they stopped weaving the traditional handicraft of ethnic Tharu people. Kumali had never thought that Dhakiya weaving would be a source of income generation. These days, Dhakiya has become key source of income. Local women are also employed because of traditional handicraft. For many women, Dhakiya weaving has become an inspiration to begin green entrepreneur.
“Earlier, Dhakiya was a commodity of need. It was used for household purposes. Dhakiyas produced by us are different than those produced by mom or grandmother,” she said addingm “We are producing Dhakiyas of various sizes and designs are more attractive. Dhakiyas are now commercialized. They are built as per choice of customer. This is for employment and business.”
Their Dhakiya products are imported to India, Denmark and other European countries via Kathmandu. So far, 400 Dhakiyas are imported to Denmark. An oval sized big Dhakiya was imported to Banglore of India. Women charged Rs 80,000 for a big Dhakiya. Import of Dhakiya to Kathmandu is too common.
Raw materials used to make Dhakiya is also used to make pen holder, tea-mat, mat, vessels, piggy bank and flower vase among others. The demand of these products is high in the market.
“We used to keep our ornaments into Bhauka. We make ornament boxes. So far, we have produced 26 types of products. We are thinking how to make more verities of products. Previously, those goods were products for domestic products. Now, we produce them as per market demand,” she said adding, “It’s always pure to use Dhakiya instead of using metal pot. Our seniors used to bite while making Dhakiya we use scissors. Naiya and Deluwa are made. Demand of Dhakiya is high for marriage. Large-size Dhakiayas is not produced as those costs expensive. We produce Dhakiya as per order.”
Her family helps Dhakiya making. Her eldest son has reached Japan. Youngest son is completing Bachelor’s degree in education. Her husband’s elder brother is blind. But her husband, Holiram, and mother-in-law Chimdi, 74 and father-in-law Ratanu,78, also support her in weaving Dhakiya. Chimdi was weaving Dhakiya when scriber reached her house in late autumn 2022.
They have seven kaththas of land. The food is inadequate so husband goes to Gulf nation to make money. The earning from handicraft is the only reliable source of income. An organization had trained her in weaving Dhakiya some ten years ago. She is in the profession ever since she was trained. Initially, only 16 women were trained whereas the number of Dhakiya weaving women has now reached to 45. All of them didn’t get training opportunity. Instead, they learned by practice.
Kumali doesn’t only weave Dhakiya and sell them to the market but also transfers her skill to the locals. She’s known as a trainer in village. She has travelled to Kathmandu, Kailali, Banke, Bardiya and Kanchanpur in course of attending training. Schools in Bansgadhi, Badhaital, Barbadiya also asked her to train students on how to make Dhakiya. Many students have also learned Dhakiya weave skills. Locals give her Rs 2,500 per day salary wherever she goes for training.
Kumali, however, never claims fee from training organizers. “The fee is neither low or high. I accept whatever they give me. I’m also earning money from Dhakiya profession. Also, I’m working to expand commercialization of our traditional knowledge,” she said.
For her Dhakiya weaving is like an official job. She continues Dhakiya weaving jon till 4 am starting at 10 am. It takes three to four days to complete a Dhakiya. She can prepare a pen holder in a day. Initially, she worked so hard that water would come from hand. “Order used to be high so I used to weave Dhakya till mid-night,” she said.
Her income was not so good. Anyway, she arranged her livelihoods. “It’s like an employment to jobless people. I can earn Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000,” she said her earning was higher in initial days, “I When I replied them, I’m weaving Dhakiya they used to ridicule me.”
Those, who used to ridicule her, are also now involved in Dhakiya weaving profession. “College graduate girls are also weaving Dhakiya. They have made up their mind to work as Dhakiya weaver instead of searching for other job,” she said.
Dhakiya weavers in Bardiya are united under banner of Jasu Handicraft Center. Established in 1995, Beltari Community Forest had organized a training for women Dhakiya weaver. The opportunity was given to community forest users. The aim was to train unemployed women and make them economically dependent. The community forest had helped to construct Jasu Handicraft Center. Locals worked free of wage. They helped to plant flowers, gravel road. The hurricane destroyed the house. The community forest users’ group provided Rs 50,000 to repair house. Apart from this, the forest users’ group support them, gives feedbacks for betterment and arranges raw materials if needed. As suggested by chairperson of forest users’ group Dhakiya weavers have started to save earning.
All Dhakiya makers from the center jointly work when demand is high. Their unity is the strength. Dhakiya weavers discuss at the group whenever they receive the demand for handicraft. The center has determined minimum wage. They all collect wage and profit is deposited at the center. Each member deposit Rs 50 in a month. So far, forest users have created a fund of Rs 50,000. Needy people can use the fund with 1 percent interest. The group can loan maximum Rs 20,000. Kumali is leading the organization third time consecutively.
Nepal Rastriya Higher Secondary School Laxmanpur had provided one kaththas of land to the center for developing it as a model handicraft center. “The center often arrived at our school and train the students on how to weave Dhakiya. This has helped to preserve Tharu tradition.”
The school has assured the center to use the land as long as they want. A two-room house has been constructed there. One room is used as show room and another room is used as hall and store. Women weave Dhakiya at the same center. “Being a member of school management committee I myself had tabled a proposal to allot land. They easily agreed,” she said.
The center has been registered with the Small Cottage Industry. Foreigners from various countries arrive to visit the handicraft center. Kumali remembers visitors from Denmark and Japan visited her house five times after they stayed at homestay. “Foreigners like bread basket the most. They buy every time visiting us,” she said.
Faguwa Tharu, chairperson of Beltari Community Forest, said women are economically empower after they were trained to weave Dhakiya at recommendation of community forest users. “We recommended them for training as they were community forest users. We have provided finaical support and contributed free labor time and again to build road, repair roof,” he said, “Now, they are well connected with the I/NGO. There’s no need to organize similar training next time.”
Members from Jasu Kala Kendra had trained locals of Belauli and Khaireni. They had started to weave Dhakiya. Even as some had stopped weaving many had continued. She had travelled all across the district in course of sharing her handicraft skills.
Five sisters of Pardeshani Tharu in Laxmanpur weave Dhakiya. “We all work when we have high demand. I myself had weaved 13 Dhakiya during lockdown. Tailoring is my main job. But I weave Dhakiya when I’m free from tailoring,” Pardeshani said adding, “I work at home. It’s not difficult to earn money staying here at home.”
The undergraduate Pardeshani is thinking of continuing jobs of tailoring and Dhakiya weaving instead of trying for another job.
Raw materials and Market
For locals it’s easier to sell handicraft products instead of arranging raw materials. They have to walk to the river banks to collect Kas and Puja. These seasonal raw materials are not easily available. Raw materials should be collected within mid-November. The Bardiya national park doesn’t allow locals to collect raw maerials so they have to go to other community forest. Community forest charges Rs 200 fee to enter into the forest for the purpose of collecting raw materials.
Because of Dhakiya weaving Kumalu hasn’t only increased her income but also heighted her popularity in the society. She can interact with the people of any standard without fear or hesitation. It incurred Rs 1.8 million to send her son to Japan. She settled all the expenses incurred for his Japan trip in three years. The family believes the son will earn in days to come.
Youngest son has already played national football tournament. The family didn’t detect children. Instead, they were left free to decide whatever they wanted to be. Kumali and other women re doing Dhakiya weaving training. They are confident that they could enhance their skill if they get an opportunity to attend advanced trainings—level III and level IV. She stresses on the need of support from local government and non-governmental organizations to expand Dhakiya weaving.
“Our Kala Kendra is well known in Baasgadhi Municipality. It would be great if we could make it famous all across Lumbini Province and then all over the country,” she shaed her future plan adding, “Dhakiya weaving has made women economically self-reliant. We wish to expand it across the country. The traditional skill has become a source of income. It would be really great if we could continue the fast-dying tradition and our grandchildren could also know about it.”