Did you know that bamboo has been on people’s minds for over ten thousand years? To put this into perspective: it’s only been for the last two thousand years since the Holy Bible is playing an essential role in our lives. This statement is in no way intended to insult and to claim that bamboo is five times as important as the Bible. However, admittedly, here at the Bamboovement, we do worship it quite thoroughly. Read along and let yourself get surprised about some astonishing bamboo facts and stories.
Let’s forget about the value we address to bamboo for a second. It’s likely to assume that, until recently, it was often only considered as being just a beautiful type of grass, especially in the Western world. However, the current tendency of shifting towards more sustainability changes this perspective a bit. As it becomes more generally known that you can create many different products out of bamboo, this particular grass species is getting more and more material value.
Bamboo’s significance in the West in no way resembles the one in the East. As bamboo represents a symbol of fertility, long life, and immortality in eastern Asia, it shouldn’t be too surprising that many myths and tales talk bamboo. Given the significant differences around the globe concerning bamboo’s ascribed value, this article covers some of the most beautiful and extraordinary stories you’ve probably never heard of. It reveals bamboo’s importance for the animal world, its relevance to music, and its versatility for humans.
Giver and evolver of life
Let’s begin with one of bamboo’s most essential purposes. It fulfils a necessary and vital need in both the human and the animal world, as it proves to be a nutritious, protein-rich, food source. However, given the fact that there are tons of different options for our diet, humans don’t depend on bamboo. In turn, a variety of animals almost wholly relies on it.
To state the obvious, the giant panda and the red panda love to eat bamboo, but so do bamboo lemurs and bamboo rats. Their diets consist almost solely of bamboo. Other animals that love it are mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, and elephants. You might think you know a thing or two about the fluffy giant and red panda, as did we. But when we explored the panda-bamboo relationship, we encountered some exceptional details that we want to share with you.
As several recent articles revealed, the giant and the red panda are only very distantly related to each other. It turned out that their common ancestor lived over 40 million years ago. However, as their forebear belonged to the Carnivora family, both the giant and the red panda share this classification. To back this up, both have some typical carnivore characteristics, like a carnivore digestive system, sharp teeth to rip open the flesh of their prey, and an acute sense of smell.
Yet, only the red panda eats insects, eggs, and small animals occasionally. In turn, bamboo makes up for the lion’s share of their diet. They might spend up to half the day searching for it. Giant pandas seem to be on a whole other level. As it makes up for 90-98% of its diet, they spend 16 hours per day eating bamboo. That is as much as you and I are awake daily!
A question arises. “How can it be that both (carnivore) animals are craving bamboo so intensely?” It appears that their diets shifted to bamboo millions of years ago. As bamboo is very protein-rich, it turned out to be a worthy substitute for the regular carnivore nourishment. One might, therefore, conclude that it serves a potential for carnivore animals to become vegetarian.
Moreover, even though these two pandas are only very distantly related, their bamboo diet has made them slightly more alike over time. Both species have evolved stronger jaws to chew the sturdy bamboo comfortably. But even more striking is the fact that both have developed something like a sixth finger. This “pseudo thumb”, as it is being called, allows them to grip and control the bamboo with impressive skill.
Bamboo is a significant part of a panda’s life. If it isn’t for the pandas searching for the best leaves for over half of their lifetime, it is for bamboo that has changed the pandas’ lifestyle and their physical build. The natural interaction between the panda and bamboo is something truly unbelievable.
A naturally shaped musical instrument
The second highlighted purpose of bamboo is one that is indispensable of traditional rites and one that brings people joy. Because of its pure hollow form, it’s the perfect tool to make musical instruments. Bamboo is very suitable for making flutes. Still, it’s also being used to create a variety of percussion instruments, and more recently even, guitars and ukuleles. Even people on the most isolated islands can use bamboo to make musical instruments as long as the plant itself is growing somewhere nearby.
For instance, in Polynesia, a traditional dance called Hula is accompanied by music that’s partly played on bamboo instruments. The nose flute, rattle, stamping pipes and jaw harp they use are all cut from bamboo sticks. The national musical instrument of Madagascar, the Valiha, was traditionally made from local bamboo. Indonesia and the Philippines have several ancient musical instruments, like the traditional Kulintangand the Angklung, made from bamboo. For thousands of years, the Peruvians have used it to create their Antara, a native instrument consisting of a row of tubes in different sizes, also known as the pan flute. The Australian didgeridoo is made from the eucalyptus tree usually, but bamboo does the job as well. According to Chinese mythology, by tuning bamboo pipes to bird sounds, the mythical man called Ling Lun became the legendary founder of music. Bamboo is also a common material to create an instrument that doesn’t require a musician to produce music: wind chimes.
In some countries, the meaning of a bamboo instrument has become somewhat mythological. A striking example comes from India. The Supreme God’s, Lord Krishna, most important attribute is a bamboo flute. In almost all paintings and statues that display the god of compassion, tenderness, and love, he plays his Bansuri. The reason why Lord Krishna’s flute is a bamboo one tells a story emphasising the importance of humility and patience in life.
A super multifunctional material
To finish off this article, we take a look at bamboo’s multifunctionality concerning more recent human craft. In some places, it’s hard to get your hands on different kind of materials. Therefore, people have to be creative to make durable objects and products. Generally, we see that natural resources are used very often in places like these. As it turns out, bamboo serves this purpose perfectly.
Bamboo is widely used at construction sites, both as a building material as well as a tool to build safely. For example, bamboo reinforced concrete to repair damaged roads in India. Also, bamboo bridges allow people, and sometimes even cars and trucks, to cross water all around the world.
On top of being a travelling facilitator, it also facilitates housing. Hundreds of millions of people are living in bamboo houses. In Colombia, for example, bamboo is used as a building material instead of concrete in earthquake zones because it bends with the tremor and does not collapse. And lastly, for those among us that have never seen one with their own eyes, bamboo scaffoldings will blow your mind.
Next to these stunning purposes, it’s also ideally suited for making clothes, furniture, diapers and even beer. There’s an unlimited number of uses to this amazingly multifunctional and natural material. As long as it is responsibly harvested, bamboo is sustainable by all means.
That’s why, in many cases, bamboo products are great alternatives for plastic items. However, many people are not aware of this. The Bamboovement aims to bridge this gap by introducing you to many surprising and eco-friendly products.