Tsharzo: An Economic Activity of Kheng Bjoka


Zhemgang district is the heartland of a unique Bhutanese weaving culture, which famously produces the traditional Bhutanese art and craft called Tsharzo—the art of cane and bamboo work. Canes and bamboos grow widely across the region, and people take advantage of the natural resources to make their living.

Among the eight gewogs of Zhemgang, the people from Bjoka are the pioneers and they exhibit skilled craftsmanship in basketry and other bamboo products. Bjoka gewog has five Chiwogs—Trong, Dali, Barpong, Chapdenba, and Kamati—with a total population of 856 with 194 registered households, at an elevation ranging from 150m to 1600m. The Gewog centre established at Kamalung village is connected by a road, which is 31km away from the Dungkhag administration in Panbang.


Bhutanese artisans have practiced the thirteen different types of arts and crafts popularly known as Zorig Chusum since the 17th century. From those thirteen crafts, Kheng region is known for the art of Tsharzo, or the bamboo and cane handicrafts.Before the emergence of brass, steel and plastic utensils, these products were widely used. Today, a variety of beautiful multi-colored cane and bamboo crafts are sold in arts and crafts shops as gifts and souvenirs, and these craft products are mostly produced in the Kheng region.

The traditional skills and knowledge of cane and bamboo crafts have been handed down through generations. According to the village elders, His Majesty the Third Druk Gyalpo took special interest in the traditional Bhutanese arts and crafts to shape the country’s distinct identity. It is believed that in 1971, an expatriate expert toured the Kheng region to establish a bamboo basket cooperative. Ever since then, the people of Khengrig Namsum have given this art and craft more importance to shape their unique tradition in the region.

In 2007, a cooperative group was formed known as Bjoka Tsharzo Gongphel Doetshen, which helped to revive and sustain the tradition of bamboo crafts. This group encouraged people to focus on this ancient craft as a source of income.

Tsarzo: An Important Source of Income        

The region of Khengrig Namsum is blessed with abundance of natural resources like cane and bamboos; and, the people of Kheng have engaged in this Tsharzo art for generations. Only in the last decade or so, this art was driven toward producing decorative gift items, which also energized the handicraft market and transformed the lives of local artisans. It is a craft that needs proper training and expertise, and a great deal of practice. As a result of the burgeoning popularity of this art and craft, the region has seen an escalation in socio-economic growth and sustainable development. Thus, the practice of this art has improved the living standards of the people in the Kheng region.

Now all the people of the five chiwogs are involved in weaving cane and bamboo products today. Therefore, the Tsharzo Gongphel Doetshen cooperative has 174 members including some veteran craftspersons and young enthusiasts. The cooperative produces more than 40 varieties of cane and bamboo products in the community; every household in Bjoka claims that their annual earning is between Nu. 50,000 to Nu.100,000 from the sale of these cane and bamboo products. Consequently, this bamboo craft has become a lucrative activity for every household which not only enabled them to send their children to school, but it also brought social and economic development in the community.

Type of Bamboo Used and the Process Involved in Tsharzo

Cane and bamboo are the two most commonly used materials for weaving different sizes and shapes of cane and bamboo products. Yulay is the specific type of bamboo species that is used to make bangchung; it grows profusely in the lush sub-tropical forest of Kheng region. The best season for harvesting cane is from December to May, and it is carried out in a sustainable manner to avoid damaging the clumps. After the harvest season is over, people are mindful about not disrupting the ecology of the forest.

There are various stages that go into the production of cane and bamboo products, beginning with the collection of raw material from the forest. The production of cane and bamboo articles involves cutting the whole stems and splitting them into various sizes, making it as thin as required. To obtain a smooth surface the upper layer of raw cane is scraped off, and the long cane sticks are cut into smaller pieces, then further splitting them to obtain fine thin strips. These thin strips are dyed with different colors to produce multicolored bamboo and cane products, or fashion them into products that the artist desires.

Types of Cane and Bamboo Products

  • Tsizib: basket to store dried meat and food items, and often used as a carry basket
  • Lakchung: a small-sized fruit basket to serve dried fruits on special occasion and ceremonies
  • Beykur: a small square-shaped basket used to store yarns, or used as a gift box
  • Bangchung: a pair of round containers used as a rice bowl, or to carry pack lunches, and also to serve snacks
  • Bello: sun hat
  • Poedung: a slender cylindrical container to store incense sticks
  • Bechab: a rectangular-shaped platter with one side slightly curved to winnow or de-husk rice
  • Pari: large woven mat used to dry grains
  • Soray (quiver): an elongated cylindrical container for arrows
  • Jatsa: butter tea strainer
  • Sipa: a round hollowed container with lid to store butter and cheese
  • Palang: a cylindrical tube to store alcohol and water.

Challenges in the Art of Tsharzo

Bamboos and canes were used by the people as a means to express their creativity and artistic streak as well as to make useful items for daily use. In Bjoka, cane and bamboo basketry are part of everyday life. All women and men are involved in making beautiful products, and therefore, Kheng region has been the hub for traditional cane and bamboo art for a long time.

In the last decade, the demand for bamboo and cane products have increased, especially bangchung, and thus, to meet the growing demand, people have over harvested the natural resources. The community people said that during their grandparent’s time raw materials were in plentiful, but today it is a different story because canes and bamboos in the forest have dwindled drastically. At a point, the decreasing resources has become a major concern for these communities because when there was no supply of cane and bamboo, this craft could not be sustained and as a result, people might lose their source of income. Therefore, in 2007, the Remote Community Development Project was established to support the villagers to grow cane and bamboo in the villages. This project has helped achieve three objectives: it helped the communities to have a steady supply of cane and bamboo, it revitalized this art and craft for generations to come, and it also ensured the livelihood of these communities.

Initiatives to Revitalize the Art of Tsharzo

The Tarayana Foundation has played a key role in helping the poor communities to become self-reliant through the facilitation of income generating activities, promoting artisanal arts and crafts to bring about positive change in the communities.  This foundation has promoted artisans and crafts in the country by introducing new skills in addition to the traditional way of basketry and other products. The foundation supports Bjoka, Goshing and Ngangla gewogs in Zhemgang district to promote and revitalize these traditional art and craft.

By adapting to modern needs and tastes, the craftsmen use their traditional craft skills to make items of utilitarian value; thus, people are able to sustain themselves and their crafts. Extracting bamboo from the forest is not only labour intensive, but also the once abundant bamboos and canes are on the decline in the wild. Therefore, to meet the growing demand of this arts and craft in the market, the communities have started cane and bamboo nurseries and plantation in their villages as cane and bamboo propagate easily and require minimal care.

With high demands for these art and craft goods, people of Kheng Bjoka not only earn an income, but also, they are able to keep their craftsmanship alive. Both men and women are involved in the process of preparing bamboo for weaving to produce cane and bamboo products. Therefore, the Tsharzo weaving is a common sight in almost every household in Kheng Bjoka.


Dorji, C. & Namgyal, P. (PhD) (2018) Bhutan Bamboo Baseline & Situational Analysis Study for Promoting Integrated Bamboo Based Enterprise Development Among SAARC Countries, Thimphu: Tarayana Centre for Social Research and Development


Sangay, 45, Chairperson, Bjoka Tsharzo Gongphel Cooperative


Dechen Tshering, Associate Lecturer, College of Language and Culture Studies, Royal University of Bhutan 2019.

(Click on the Thumbnails to view the Photo Gallery)