Feeling duty-bound to preserve their community’s traditional craft, four bamboo craftsmen from a village in the hills of Chiayi County have started to teach their skills to students in the city.
Residents of Anchin Village (安靖) in the county’s Meishan Township (梅山) used to make a living by crafting bamboo furniture and various other bamboo products.
As it was the village’s main trade, everyone in the community, young and old, male and female, was well-trained in the techniques of working with bamboo.
The skilled elderly villagers were known as “barefoot master craftsmen,” as it was customary to work barefoot.
Not wanting to see the craft of bamboo furniture-making perish, four “barefoot master craftsmen” — Wu Wen-chieh (吳文杰), Wu Wen-yao (吳文堯), Liu Ming-chih (劉明智) and Yang Ming-chung (楊明鐘) — accepted an invitation from Tzu Chi University’s Continuing Education Center to teach craft classes.
According to school official Chang Hsiung-ho (張熊和), the elderly craftsmen were modest and said: “We never thought that we old farmers could become teachers.”
The four will teach two courses, one titled “Bamboo Weaving Art” and another called “Making Bamboo Chairs,” starting in September, the school official said.
“When cutting bamboo stalks into thin strips, you have to ensure they are all the same length and thickness. The process for weaving and making laminated bamboo can be quite complicated,” Yang said.
“Although I do not have an advanced school degree, I am willing to pass on my 40 years of bamboo handicraft experience to the next generation,” he said.
Wu said that one-and-a-half working days are needed to make a bamboo chair by hand, adding that it takes 17 days to finish a bamboo table with three chairs.
A free workshop was held at the center yesterday for members of the public to have a hands-on experience of working with bamboo and making bamboo products.
The four “barefoot master craftsmen” said they learned their skills by watching their parents since their childhood.
The bamboo products they made as youngsters helped supplement their family income, they said.
However, in recent years, the demand for bamboo handicrafts and furniture has declined, so they turned to cultivating bananas, betel nuts, camellia flowers and other crops to make a living, they added.
Their bamboo handicraft became just a hobby, they said, adding that to maintain their skills and learn new ways of crafting bamboo products, they had attended courses offered by the Job Training Center at the Council of Labor Affairs.