September 27, 2019
At a time when ultra modern and contemporary have become buzz words, the humble palm tree cots continue to be woven with a slice of heritage in every warp and weft.
The elegant palm or palymra trees (Borassus flabellifer) found plentifully in Tirunelveli, Tuticorin and Kanyakumari districts are a lifeline for the locals here, as the palm fronds, wood and fruit provide them with food and shelter, besides livelihood. Among the many uses of the palm tree, are the ubiquitous woven wooden cots made from palm fibres, found in houses of rich and poor alike in these areas.
It is also a collector’s item, steeped as it is in rich heritage of the region. C Balashankar, a cot maker in Thisayanvilai town of Tirunelveli tells The Covai Post, “This cot was originally devised by tree climbers who often had to stay for days in palm groves and climb trees to harvest the palm fruit and collect sap. Often they were bitten by snakes or insects, so they felt the need for a cot to rest and designed this one. They cut palm fronds whose fibres called ‘auni’ were then sheaved to smooth strands and woven on wooden frames, which were also made from the same tree. All our houses, whether small huts or large houses, have walls and roofs made with palm fronds and fibres. We do not use coir or rope.”
It takes three persons four days to weave a single cot. Balashankar says the fibres are so stiff and tight that the warp and weft have to be woven with the help of small sickles. And once woven, it can last nearly a decade. “We can’t unravel or tighten it like coir, rope or plastic fibre cots. The only maintenance is washing it once a month with boiling water as this will prevent termite or bug infestation. Besides, this cot gives the feeling of a hammock or cradle, while other fibres can be uncomfortable. The palm cot can also replace benches and chairs at large gatherings as a multi-seater,” he explains.
Though its popularity has waned with modern replicas, Balashankar says there are customers who value this cot for the rustic ethnic beauty. “Most of our customers are from Coimbatore, Salem, Erode and Chennai. We have sent a few pieces to Bangalore also. The prices starts from Rs.6,500 onwards,” he adds. All their cots are based on orders only. And each cot then becomes a heritage piece. Among the other products from palm trees are woven plates used to make healthy string hoppers (idiyappam) and coir products, which are stronger than bamboo and other coirs.
A fine example indeed, of a cottage industry walking shoulder to shoulder with modernity.