Broom tree and the Hiralal family: a business of generation

Broom makers family

Broom makers family

Traditional and technical knowledge has been intricately connected with culture and belief of people. There is dependence of local communities on forests and rangelands to provide input to households and it varies upon area, climatic conditions and income status. One such tradition lesser known Non –timber forest product is ‘broom’.

The word ‘Broom’ derives from certain thorny bushes which are required in each house to sweep cabins, castles, courtyards and dusts. Broom has historical significance from the days of Father of nation ‘Mahatma Gandhi’ who was always ready to take the broom and clean. Sant Gadge Maharaj, the social reformer use to clean the villages he visited. The reform has started since earlier times, at present Indian Prime Minister Shri.Narendra Modi has paved pathway to their dreams by launching ‘Clean India Campaign’. The small unnoticed natural handmade tool has become status symbol of ‘Swach Bharat Abhiyan’ which will be required in each nook and corner of all roads and streets in ‘Clean India Campaign’.

Brooms are ritualistically connected with Lakshmi, Goddess of wealth. It is believed that Lakshmi graces the house when it is clean. Moreover, it provides insight in to environmental issues. It is a form of biological indicator i.e., the decline in use of a particular broom indicates that, the tree/shrub/grass available to make is becoming scarce which in turn associated with changing land use and rainfall pattern.

Broom tree: Phoenix sylvestris (Date palm)

Broom tree: Phoenix sylvestris (Date palm)

The earliest form of broom is known as ‘Besom Broom ‘which is made of locally available twigs, shrubs, leaves tied to a handle. In different parts of the world, the plant used for brooms are named with relevant country: Spanish broom (Spartium junceum L.,), scotch broom (CytisusScoparius L), French broom (Genista monspessulana L.) etc., the most commonly used plant is called common broom or broom. They are frequently used tools in household and exist in different forms. They may be soft and hard brooms, big and small which are made depending on the available resources. According to their use, different names are given (Home broom, yard broom, threshing –floor broom). Large quantities of brooms are used in India and most are made of grasses, bamboos and Palms. One such Palm, commonly called as wild date palm or sugar date palm (Phoenix sylvestris) distributed in Bangladesh, China Southeast, India, Mauritius, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the West Himalayas.

In present-day India, it is commonly found on low ground in the sub-Himalayan tract, along riverbanks on the Deccan Plateau (south-central India), in forests up to elevations of 1350 m in Himachal Pradesh, and especially on lower hill slopes in Haryana (northwestern India). It survives in disturbed areas, such as wastelands or seasonally inundated areas.

Phoenix is the Latin term for the Greek word that means “date palm.” The species name sylvestris, translates from the Latin term for “of the forest.” It belongs to the ‘palmae’ family. An unbranched, erect, tall dioecious, evergreen tree, 4 to 8 metres in height with large persistent leaves in a terminal tuft; stem clothed with persistent bases of leaf-stalks. Leaves, compound, 1.5 to 2 metres in length, green with a few spines at the base, each leaf containing numerous (120), pinnae which are linear, 26.5 cm long and sharply pointed at the end. The fruit is used in preparation of cold beverage locally called as ‘neera’. The trunk is used as supporting beam in construction of houses. Halved trunks are used in diverting water in water turbine mills. The tree is also planted for aesthetic view. The leaves are used for making brooms, baskets,fans, floor mats, etc.

For centuries, indigenous people belonging to the ‘Koli’ community from Rajasthan and Bargundas, belonging to the ‘Khajurvanshi’ community from Madhya Pradesh and Uttar pradeshmakes broom from Phoenix sylvestris. The whole family is involved in this profession and also ensures that their daughters get married to broom makers only. With the coming up of new technologies, such natural eco-friendly handmade art makes us to get connected with the traditional knowledge and also with plants, grasses and other natural resources.

Broom making from wild date palm does not confines with community; it also can be noticed in parts of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Tamilnadu, West Bengal, Karnataka, Maharashtra etc., When we explored the area during a survey, we seen a boy pedaling on cycle loaded with brooms in Khandwa village of Madhya Pradesh, then we stopped and enquired about broom maker and met Mr. Hiralal, a family of five person are engaged in broom making.

It is an art where a person uses each part of body from toe to teeth. The entire family makes income from this art; he showed his skills and explained from collection of raw material to marketing. The family quite often moves to the place where the tree population is high, stays there and does his job. Sometimes he collects palm leaf from farmer’s field by giving broom free of cost to them. Leaf is locally called as ‘Phadiya’ and is collected in two seasons (March-April and November-December).

He faces difficulty in collecting ‘phadiya’ as the tree is very tall and the leaves are beyond the reach of hand. Therefore, he uses long bamboo handle attached with sickle to collect leaf. The fresh leaves contain moisture, so it is allowed for shade drying during summer and sun drying during winter for three to four days. The thorns are also removed. Dried leaves are tied in to one bundle locally known as ‘Gaddi’. He initiated broom making by holding the ‘gaddi’ in one hand and separating the leaf blades with scrubber i.e comb like tool made of wooden base/ thick rubber sole containing sharp nails or umbrella needles. One might think separation of individual leaf blades are easy task but the leaf is very stiff and rigid, needs energy to make the raw material fibrous.

The even length leaves are gathered in to ‘Mutti’ (Bundle of five Phadiya) or the leaves are cut in to uniform or standard sizes of 2.5 to 3 feet. Women are mostly involved in this skill as it requires dexterity of fingers and swiftness in executing the process from arranging of ‘mutti’ to finishing. She holds the ‘mutti’ and taps on the ground in order to arrange the bundle in uniform way. The broom head is tightened and knotted with either strip of leaf/iron/ nylon wire depending on the availability of material. Nylon cords are also used to give decorative finish to the broom with different color of nylon wire on the pale-yellow leaf. However, iron wire is preferred due to its strength and durability.

Hiralal family sells broom for Rs.10-15 INR (1/6th of US dollar) in the market of nearby village or to by passers. The actual cost of preparation of one broom is Rs. 3 to 4 (INR). Sometimes he purchases dried leaves from the market at the rate of rupees hundred for 80 ‘Gaddi’. A person makes hundred brooms per day if the dried leaves are ready in hand or else 25 brooms are made depending upon availability of raw material.
The cost of 1 kg iron binding wire and nylon wire is Rs.70 and 250 INR ($1-3) respectively, of which 100 and 350 to 400 brooms are processed. The selling picks up during two important festivals of India i.e., Holi and Diwali. During this season, his family makes Rs 18,000-20,000 ($300-350) brooms and earns around INR 2.5 to 3 lakh ($4000-4500) approximately. Each person is able to earn around Rs 30,000 to 40,000 INR ($400-420) in one festival season. On monthly basis, he can earn around Rs 4000 to 4300 ($ 60-65) after deducting self labour cost. Though the income is small, it is the only source of income to their livelihood.

Blogpost and photos submitted by Sangram Chavan, Keerthika A. and Uthappa A.R. (Central Agroforestry Research Institute, Indian Council of Agricultural Research) – sangramc8(at)gmail.com

The content, structure and grammar is at the discretion of the authors only.


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