bamboo and a cyclone

Cyclone Ita

cyclone ita, bamboo damage(This is the finished version: The early draft was inadvertently published way too soon.)
We battened down in preparation for category 5 (Beaufort 12) Cyclone Ita last weekend. That was the cyclone that caused untold damage and misery in the Solomon Islands before heading this way.

bamboo damage

It crossed the east coast of Cape York 300 km to the north of us as a category 4 and was a category 1 as it passed over us. We got LOTS of rain – nearly 400 mm in 36 hours. And it did get quite windy. No structural damage here, just a rather messy garden. The large bamboos came off worst.

broken bamboo, cyclone ita

We are feeling very fortunate: little damage; we only lost power for 3 days; local roads were cleared very quickly; the range road to Cairns was closed for only one and half days; and I got paid for not going to work.
Storm damagebamboo storm damage, cyclone ita

There’s just the clean-up now.

Bamboo in Antarctica

aurora, Antarctica, bamboo

Gratuitous and opportunistic: Nothing to do with bamboo. Image of an aurora in Antarctica (thanks Kat & Rob). Those aboard the Aurora Australis for V6 (2014) were treated to this phenomena over several nights. Photo credit: Katrina Beams, 3rd Mate, Aurora Australis.

As this post is published, the Aurora Australis (V6) is returning from an Antarctica trip to resupply Mawson research station for the coming winter. I doubt that our current Aurora Australis has bamboo on-board, but the Aurora Australis that delivered Douglas Mawson and his team to Antarctica in 1912 certainly did.

In his book about the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, The Home of the Blizzard, Douglas Mawson outlines some of the ways bamboo was utilised by his team.

Bamboo poles were used mostly as markers to indicate distances and all-important food depots. They were also used to measure snow; fit masts and spars to the sledges; as flag poles for the Union Jack and the Australian flag; and traverse crevasses. Bamboo poles were sewn into the circular tents to “facilitate their erection in the perpetual winds”

“Pitching camp took nearly an hour. Blocks of snow were cut and arranged in a semicircle, within which the tent was laid with its peak upwind … One man crawled into the tent, and, at a given signal, the other two raised the peak while the former held on to the upwind leg and kicked the other legs into place with his feet. The others then quickly piled food-tanks and blocks of snow on to the skirt, calling out as soon as there was enough to hold it down, as the man gripping the bamboo leg inside would soon have ‘deadly cold’ fingers. It was always a great relief when the tent was up.” The Home of the Blizzard

The bamboo poles taken on expeditions were used for sledge repair work on more than one occasion.

Antarctica, bamboo, mawson

mawsons sledge, Antarctica, bamboo“They had managed a few days of difficult marching over rough sastrugi … when one of the runners on their sledge was broken in an accident. But Bickerton and Hodgeman, true handymen, fashioned a replacement using a bamboo depot pole, which lasted for the remainder of the journey.” Mawsons Huts

I’ve read The Home of the Blizzard. It’s a great read. You’ll find copies on Amazon and eBay. eBay au is also a great source of other material to do with Mawson memorabilia, books, and DVDs.


Very special bamboo rakes

kumade, bamboo rakeIs this another version of ‘boys and their toys’? Yoshimi Watanabe, the head of a minor opposition party in Japan, ‘fessed up that an undeclared 800 million yen (A$8,344,800) loan was spent on personal items, including a lucky bamboo rake.

Decorative bamboo rakes, known as kumade in Japan, are believed to confer luck on its holder. As one commenter suggested of Watanabe, “He’s gonna need that ‘lucky charm’ now to get him out of the pit he’s dug for himself.”

kumade, bamboo rakeDecorated bamboo rakes were first sold in the courtyards of shrines on festival days in the Edo period and, over time, have come to be known as good luck charms for ‘raking’ in success, wealth, safety and happiness.

There is a festival for bamboo rakes (of course). The one held at Tokyo’s Oji Shrine in early December is quite famous. Here you will find bamboo rakes decorated with lucky charms such as okame (fat-face woman’s mask), Ebisu-daikoku (one of the seven deities of good fortune), pine, bamboo, plum, crane and tortoise. Vendors cry out loudly to attract customers and they celebrate with a hand-clap when a kumade is sold.  If you can’t wait until December, you could find a Tori-no-Ichi (Rooster Fair) in November, or buy one on eBay au or eBay US.

There are other kumade too, less benign than lucky bamboo rakes. In ancient Japanese warfare a device called kumade that looks like a long-handled garden rake was used to grab the clothing or helmet of enemy horsemen to disengage them from their horses.

kumade, bamboo rakesThere is a kumade karate manoeuvre: kumade uchi, or bear hand strike, is executed with a partially clenched hand and palm, usually employed against soft tissue. A Shinob kumade is a Ninja rake: hemp rope is threaded through short lengths of bamboo and a hook is attached to one end of the rope. The bamboo pipes are transformed into a single long bamboo pipe by stretching and securing the rope, creating a collapsible climbing device. This short YouTube video shows how.

Beware folk carrying string bags of short bamboo tubes!




Bamboo on the Internet for March 2014 – my picks

bamboo pplanterBamboo urinal: a self-contained and somewhat mobile, eco-friendly public urinal. The unit has three main components; planter module (with the growing bamboo); the water tank; and, the urinal and sink. One pees in the urinal (women can use a disposable funnel to achieve this). Once done, a foot pump draws water from the water tank for hand washing and urinal rinsing. The used water is pumped into the planter module/biofilter, where the bamboo is growing in a medium of rocks, wood chips and styrofoam. The water, nitrogen and phosphorous are used by the bamboo, while bacteria living in the growing medium break down carbohydrates and protein. There is reportedly little if any smell. A prototype was tested in a San Francisco neighbourhood and stood up to use by over 300 people within an 8 hour period, says Gizmag

bamboo housing

Bamboo shelters inside abandoned factory buildings is one solution for the housing shortage in Hong Kong offered by architects from AFFECT T. These are positively spacious compared to other barely-affordable options for Hong Kong’s poor workers. 

More for bamboo sticks, these ones more high-tech: Bamboo ski poles and bamboo skis. As a resident of the wet tropics, I rarely get to see snow, let alone play in it. You will find a review of new bamboo skis here. They look gorgeous. Mobile art? Some of them are available on Amazon. Alternatively, there are some very interesting looking vintage bamboo skis and ski poles on eBay au.

bamboo organThe Saint Joseph Parish Church in Las Piñas, The Phillipinesis now a designated National Treasure. The church is home to a famous bamboo organ, already a National Cultural Treasure. Pipe organ buffs will already be familiar with this historic instrument. People write books about it, write music for it, and record music played on it. There is a small book
and music selection on Amazon, and eBay au has a few records and CDs. If you’re too curious to hear the bamboo organ and can’t wait, here’s a YouTube clip for you:


Bamboo justice

bamboo sticks, lathi, gulabi gangBamboo sticks are the weapon of choice for the Gulabi Gang, a pink sari-clad group of female vigilantes based in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Bamboo sticks, or lathis, are a formidable weapon. In the hands of these angry women, the bamboo sticks are a rather effective way of encouraging change in a region where women have been victims of social oppression for centuries.

The Gulabi Gang, drawn from the dalit (untouchables) caste, was started in 2006. It was initially formed to punish oppressive husbands, fathers and brothers, and combat domestic violence and desertion.

“In cases of domestic violence, we go and talk to the man and explain why it is wrong. If he refuses to listen, we get the woman out of the house, then we beat him,” explains founder Sampat Pal Devi. “If necessary, we do it in public to embarrass him.”

Their list of achievements is inspiring:

  • storming police stations when officers have refused to register complaints of abuse against women
  • attacking men who have abused their wives
  • stopping child marriages
  • putting hundreds of girls in school, and,
  • In 2008, they stormed an electricity office and forced officials to turn back on the power they had cut in order to extract bribes.

bamboo sticks, gulabi gang, lathiNew recruits to the gang are trained in fighting with sticks. The sticks, or lathi, are traditionally bamboo. A quick Google image search for ‘lathi’ displays a prevalence of images of bamboo sticks as a weapon for riot control in South Asia, rather than the South Asian martial art of lathi khela.

The story of the gang is related in books, a Bollywood movie, and a documentary. There was an official website, but all that remains now are numerous dead cache links. I was not successful in locating a copy of the movie or documentary but you will find books about the Gulabi gang on both Amazon and eBay au.

Whomever wields the lathi keeps the cow
South Asian proverb

The Star
Wikipedia – Gulabi Gang
Wikipedia – Lathi khela
The Guardian

Bamboo as erosion control

Bamboo IslandKrabi, in southern Thailand, is famous for its natural beauty. Iconic images from Krabi province, such the one of the pier at Bamboo Island, shown here, do not tell the whole story though. Less than 40 kilometres across the sea, the fishing village of Ban Khlong Prasong is slowly being washed away.

Previously, the village was surrounded by beautiful sandy beaches and mangrove forests that offered some protection against erosion. Now, mud has replaced the clean sand. Waves have eroded more than one kilometre of coastline in some places, including much of the mangrove forest.

erosion control beach

After the tsunami in 2004, Krabi local government authorities built a 2m-high concrete wall along the beach in an attempt to mitigate the erosion and protect houses. Instead, seawater seeps under the concrete causing the land to subside further. The concrete wall has also changed the pattern of the waves, causing more problems.

Bamboo to the rescue (again)

Supported by a number of NGOs, villagers have adopted an idea from a village in another province suffering the same problem. Bamboo fences are being constructed. These are permeable, temporary structures. So far, 600 metres of bamboo barrier is in place.

Interviewed for the Bangkok Post, villager Kanit says, “The wave varies from place to place. Here, we need to put the top of the bamboo into the sand and make a small hole along the trunk to allow sand to seep in and make the bamboo stand solidly in the sea.”

bamboo fence, bamboo wallSince the bamboo fences were ‘planted,’ sand and soil are gradually returning to the beach. Small aquatic animals such as molluscs and crabs are observed now, and the mangrove forest is recovering. The roots of the mangroves help with binding the soil and in establishing micro-organisms which further assist in stabilisation. Stabilisation starts from the land side and gradually moves toward the sea.

Disclosure: I’m a great fan of mangroves. In a previous life I drove a small river cruise vessel on a river that hosts over 30 species of mangroves in only a small area. The mangroves were my favourite part of the tour and I managed to get many a sleepy visitor awake and excited (or at least interested) in the wonders of mangrove forests.


Bamboo Plant Opal

Bamboo Plant Opal Loudspeaker. The very name requires a second look. It certainly had me wondering what plant opal is, what it has to do with bamboo, and why it might be used to make speakers.

bamboo plant opalPlant opal, or phytoliths, are microscopic siliceous bodies which occur in living plants. When plants die and subsequently decompose, the phytolith is released into soils and sediments. Because phytoliths are highly resistant to decomposition, they survive in sediments and soils long after the plants have vanished. This characteristic makes them useful for scientific research in botany, agriculture and archaeology. Now we can add manufacture of loudspeakers to the list.

Panasonic was already making speakers with diaphragms made from resin mixed with bamboo fibres and bamboo charcoal. Their new loudspeakers also incorporate plant opal from bamboo leaves. The claims from Panasonic’s website maintain that the plant opal loudspeaker is able to reproduce clear sound with low distortion thanks to the hardness of the plant opal material that occurs naturally in bamboo.

bamboo plant opal, phytoliths

Phytoliths under the microscope. Each phytolith is only tens of micrometers long.

Plant opal is certainly hard and robust. Phytoliths are made of inorganic silica or calcium oxalate and survive in conditions that would destroy organic residues. Different plants produce distinguishable phytoliths with different shapes and relative content percentages, as do different species within the same family or subfamily. This is particularly so in the grasses family to which bamboo belongs. Within the sub-family of Bambusoideae, we find that there are several types of phytoliths in bamboos including fan-shape, long-saddle, tower-shape, sinuate elongate, smooth elongate, silica stoma, silica hair and hair tip. Who would have thought?

You can see 3,669 more images of phytoliths in the PhytCore phytolith database online. Clearly, someone cares. And aren’t we lucky they do?

Have you heard sound from the Bamboo Plant Opal Loudspeaker? Is it as good as they make out?

Amazon lists lots of books about phytoliths, and eBay au has some too.


  • Hart, D. M. (1988). The plant opal content in the vegetation and sediment of a swamp at Oxford Falls, New South Wales, Australia. Australian journal of botany,36(2), 159-170.
  • Huang, Z. T., Li, Y. F., Jiang, P. K., Chang, S. X., Song, Z. L., Liu, J., & Zhou, G. M. (2014). Long-term intensive management increased carbon occluded in phytolith (PhytOC) in bamboo forest soils. Scientific reports, 4.
  • Li, Q., Xu, D. K., & Lu, H. Y. (2005). Morphology of phytolith in Bambusoideae (Gramineae) and its ecological significance. Quaternary Sciences, 25, 777-784.
  • Panasonic
  • Wikipedia