People's need and taste change in time. Their changing taste and need have gradually led them to replace popular household items made of cane with those made of different materials including plastic and aluminium.
The dwindling demand for cane utensils has resulted in financial hardship for cane artisans, a small Hindu community known as Monidas, living mostly in Harirampur, Ghior, Singair and Sadar upazilas of Manikganj.
Palla, Ser, Dhama, Katha and Turi are some of the items that the artisans have been hand-crafting for generations. Before the time of contemporary measuring scales, people in rural areas traditionally used Palla and Ser to measure rice or pulses. They used the other items, such as Dhama, Katha or Turi as containers or serving bowls for various food items.
During a visit to Das Para in Lauta village of Harirampur's Chala union, members of the Monidas community were seen making cane utensils.
Subhash Chandra Das, 52, said back in its heyday, 25 families in the Das Para used to make cane goods. But now, only three families are involved in the craft as cane items are losing out to those made out of plastic and aluminium.
Palla and Ser were popular for measuring, while Dhama, Katha and Turi were used as containers for rice, wheat, maize, chira (flattened rice), muri (crispy puffed rice) or khoi (puffed rice), explained the elderly cane craftsman.
He said except for a few occasional orders received from rural fairs in Munshiganj, Nawabganj and Manikganj, he did not have any mentionable large order for cane utensils in recent time and the last time he received such an order was about 12 years ago, from an organisation in Dhaka.
Another elderly cane craftsman, Jagadish Moni Das, 61, said now he can barely provide for his family with the meagre earnings from the sale of cane utensils.
Frustrated by the grim prospect, a younger member of the community, Palash Das, 32, said, "This work is worthless. There's no respect for it in the society. But this is the only trade I've learned throughout my life."
Since he cannot find anything else in the country to make a living, he would have to leave the country, Palash added.
Contacted, Abdur Rashid Mollah, extension officer of Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC) in Manikganj, said there are about one hundred cane artisans living in different parts of the district. They also use bamboo to make different utensils as well as other goods.
BSCIC is working on to find ways to promote the goods made by the cane artisans in Manikganj, he also said.
Bimal Roy, regional coordinator of research organisation Bangladesh Resources Centre for Indigenous Knowledge, said only two hundred and fifty families are now involved in the trade of making cane utensils in Manikganj, whereas only a few decades ago, the figure was nearly three thousand.
Rise in the prices of raw materials, loss of sense of dignity and financial insecurity are some of the reasons, among many others, that are compelling the artisans to switch to other trades, he observed.