Naga might not be able to properly calculate his age, but when it comes to measurements for furniture, he says he understands the numbers better than any other craftsman in the workshop he works with.
Ten craftsmen from Anehole, a tribal village a stone’s throw away from the Malai Madeshwara Temple in Chamrajnagara district, have been crafting furniture out of lantana wood for over a decade. The village is made up mostly of members of the Soliga tribe.
The raw material used for the furniture is, in fact, a fast growing forest weed which the forest department has to clear every three months as the aggressive weed chokes useful plants, Naga says.
For generations, the primary occupation of members of the Soliga tribe has been the gathering and sale of forest produce such as gooseberries and honey. The Large Sized Adivasi Multipurpose Co-operative Society set up by the government help them to sell these products.
“Some of us continue to sell forest produce through the co-operative society. However, the income is less and there is no certainty of getting a good price. About a decade ago, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) had come to our villages and one person from every house was chosen for training. We were taken to Dehradun for training,” says Naga.
While listing out the standard products and designs that are made at the workshop – sofa sets, swings, beds, teapoys and shelves, Ramesh, another craftsman, says that they can also offer to replicate customer’s designs.
“We can replicate designs if the customer personally came and showed us what they want. However, we tell them we cannot make designs that require too many bends as the wood is not very flexible,” he says.
However with extra hours of boiling the wood, which is much bamboo, can be made flexible.
It takes about four days to make a piece of furniture.
“As and when we get orders we set out to the forest and get the wood. One of us goes to the Mysuru or Bengaluru to get nails and other tools that would be required. This also helps the forest department to de-weed the area. We then boil the wood in water for a day. After it dries up, the next day, we cut the pieces to size. On the fourth day, we build the furniture. We have even taught the women how to make them. Most customers ask us not to polish the furniture, because the wood naturally has a polished look,” he says.
Murugesha says that the workshop can receive orders over phone unless customers have a particular design in mind. It also delivers the finished products to customer’s homes provided the transport charges are covered. “So in case there are minor problems with the build, we can rectify it,” Murugesha adds.
The prices range according to the type of furniture, with single chairs priced at Rs 1200, and beds or tables starting off from Rs 1500.