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The Amusing Bamboo Death

Bamboos are the fastest-growing plants on Earth. There are around 1200 species of bamboo across the globe. North India alone supports around 63 of these species. A typical bamboo grows as much as 10 centimeters in a single day. Certain species can grow up to a meter during the same period, or about 1 millimeter every 2 minutes. You can see the plant grow in front of your eyes. Sounds amazing right? Bamboos serve a variety of purposes; from cradle to coffin; hats, toys, musical instruments, furniture, chopsticks, paper, and a lot more. Even some of the tallest buildings in Asia are constructed by scaling bamboo scaffoldings. Especially in tribal regions, bamboos have a great significance culturally and traditionally. But have you ever heard of bamboo killing human beings? Stay tuned as we uncover the mystery.

Bamboo flowering is a unique phenomenon. A particular species of bamboo namely Melocanna baccifera locally known as mautak is found in parts of northeastern India. It flowers every 48-50 years. 30% of the land area in the states of Mizoram and Manipur are covered by this variety of wild bamboo forests. These plants have a peculiar way of blooming. Whenever they plant flowers, they do it simultaneously across a wide area, even if they are separated by hundreds of kilometers. This leads to a temporary windfall of large volumes of seeds which acts as the food for rats and hence invites the rat flood. The entire rodents’ population multiply over a dozen times by feeding on these seeds. However, once the flowering period is over, these rats leave the forests to forage on stored grain. Usually starting from the rice, the rats begin to eat whatever they can find, which in turn causes devastating famine. This phenomenon is popularly known as" Mautam". The term "Mautam" in Mizo means the death of bamboo.

The 1958–59 Mautam resulted in the recorded deaths of at least a hundred people, besides the heavy loss to human property and crops. To combat the menace of rats and other rodents, the state government even announced a bounty of 40 paise for every rat killed. More than 200,000 rats were killed and collected by locals.

The famine caused thereafter ignited an underground movement that lasted for 26 long years and led to the formation of the state of Mizoram. The most recent spate of flowering, on the bamboo species genetically-linked timetable, began in May 2006. The worst nightmare of the Mizo people arrived after 48 long years. Once again, the rice fields were pillaged by rodents, and households were ravaged. The state government and the Indian Army made attempts to prevent a famine. Farmers are even shifting to planting crops that are not eaten by rats such as turmeric and ginger. Despite several measures, the vast destruction was caused and the local population had to bear huge losses.

This looks like a very strange phenomenon and probably less known, but nature never skips a chance to amuse us.

About the Author

Sonali Shehnaz Thakur is currently pursuing her MBA from SIBM, Pune. She writes her tales of the humble Himalayas and her life in her blog ShehnazWrites. You can check it out at


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.

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