Take a bow!
KOCHI: Until Covid broke out, Tins M Thomas did landscaping works for houses and offices. After the lockdowns began, like many others, Tins also switched to a completely different career to cope with financial struggles. He spent his time creating traditional items which were once a part of the Indian culture, but are not popularly used anymore.
Though he started by reviving sustainable bamboo products, in the last three years, Tins has made an array of items including traditional tribal weapons — the bow and arrow — used by tribal communities, furniture, and even wooden handmade vehicles which are still in use in Congo in South Africa called Chukudu, which can carry at least eight quintals of weight!
Inspired by movies like Pazhashiraja and Bahubali, Tins was always fascinated with weapons that could dart arrows and hit at the target effectively. “Though those sceneswere made using computer graphics, I knew that such traditional weapons existed once. I was disappointed that I never got a chance to see them for real. So I decided to start a new venture along those lines during the pandemic,” says Tins.
Wood and bamboo are his go-to materials. “I don’t want to add any more non-biodegradable waste into our environment. So I refrain from using raw materials like plastic, fibre and aluminium,” he adds. When he was getting very few orders, he made use of bamboo growing in the neighbourhood and created a glass. This caught the attention of his friend. In three weeks, orders started pouring in. “I never expected such a sudden boom. As I was successful in making bamboo utensils, I decided to try making bows and arrows using the same material. The first trial wasn’t very fruitful,” he says.
Undeterred by multiple failures, Tins decided to rely on more than just YouTube tutorials to get the technique right. He travelled to Wayanad’s Ayiramkolli to get basic lessons in archery from Govindhan Ashan of the Kuruma tribe, known for their tactics in the practice. Ashan is the last of the line of specialists in archery. Using Manipuri bamboo and wood of Sheemakonna and Kaapi, Tins was able to make both types of bow and arrows — traditional, often built one inch taller than a person and the handy ones with moveable parts that are fixed while setting out.
“I want to make the current generation aware of the weapons that once existed and save this knowledge from being obsolete,” asserts Tins.
Make and motive
The neatly carved, polished wooden weapons are almost perfect. This makes it hard to believe that a self-taught amateur made them. Tins is also particular about who he sells the weapons to. “The weapons can be misused, I don’t sell it to just anyone. It is mainly given to those who practice archery,” he says.
The youngster’s collection also has Oothambu or Othulli, a weapon also known as a blowgun, popular for darting at least five arrows at a time. Tins have made this for uses on both land and water. Paranki Pathi and Thokku Thettali (crossbow fishing gun) are used for hunting and shooting moving targets. Oothambu is made of a half-inch sized bamboo pipe. Inside, it has arrows with iron studs at the tip. “When blown, the arrow can travel at a 25-40metre distance. It is powerful. At the edge of the arrow, there’s a hole, where a stick is inserted. When the arrow is shot, the stick will float on water and its sharp edge will get hooked to the predator’s body. Oothambu is used for catching fish,” says Tins. The variation of Oothambu used on land was commonly used in India and Africa. “This traditional weapon was mainly used for hunting animals. Organic poison is rubbed on the arrow’s end. It sedates the target after hitting it,” he adds.
Craft of Chukudu
Apart from traditional weapons, guns, and furniture, one of Tins most peculiar creations is the Chukudu, a wooden handmade vehicle that is still in use on the east side of the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa. The scooter-like vehicle is made with different kinds of woods, including coconut and aanjili. Tins made it to protest the hike in petrol and diesel prices. “It is driven by manual power. There is a break at the edge. One just requires cycle balance to drive it. The vehicle is used by the people of Congo. It can transport cargo that weighs even over five quintals,” says Tins.