Districts in Focus
The mat makers of Magura
Hossain Seraj, Magura
Many landless poor families living by the sides of rivers of Magura have weaved themselves a better fate by selling meley mats.
Meley is the local name for a cane-like plant seen along the banks of rivers and canals. The plants look like grasses and have fibrous root systems.
Its fibre is dried and used for weaving mats locally known as ‘pati’.
“The mat has become a blessing for the poor people in the areas like Kechhuadubi, Narapati and Nalia villages of Magura as it requires very little capital and provides a way to earn their living,” said Abdul Hai Sardar, former chairman of Moghi union of Magura sadar.
“Every year thousands of meley mats are sold in the adjoining districts of Jessore, Jhenidah, Kushtia, Meherpur, Chuadanga, Satkhira, Rajbari, Faridpur and even Dhaka,” said Manmotho Adhikari, a rural physician at Kechhuadubi, a village in Magura sadar.
“Around 180 families out of the total 200 at Kechhuadubi are involved in making mats and all of them are experts,” added Manmotho.
At least 1,200 people in different upazilas of Magura district are engaged in the mat weaving industry. Most of them are from Kechhuadubi in Magura sadar and Nalia village in Shalikha upazila. Some people in Narapati village of Shalikha and Langalband of Sreepur are also in the craft.
Kechhuadubi and Narapati villages are situated near river Fatki, while Nalia is near the river Chitra and Langalband near Garai.
Nimai Chandra Adhikari, his daughter Anjana Adhikari and other villagers were seen busy in making mats at their own houses in Kechhuadubi during a recent visit.
Most families make mats collaboratively, with all members contributing. Even children help with the colouring of the mats.
“Kajol Rekha, a housewife of our village, first cultivated meley plants on the bank of the river Fatki and made mats from dried meley plants 20 years ago. Her innovation has helped many of our villages add to their income and change their lot,” Nimai said.
The cottage industry faces some difficulties due to increasing price of thin rope and dyes used in weaving the mats. However, profits are still enough to make mat weaving an acceptable vocation for many, leading to its expansion.
“Only two years ago, thin rope used in weaving the mats cost Tk 10 per kg but that has now increased to Tk 140,” said Barun Kumar Adhikari, a youth of Kechhuadubi who weaves mats for a living.
He said making of meley mats does not need a large investment as the main raw material, the meley, is grown on the river banks by the weavers themselves.
“Making meley mats is simple. Only a locally made tool called ‘shun-machine’ or weaving machine is needed and its costs only Tk 350-Tk 400,” Barun added.
Meley mats are usually used by people of lower middle classes for sitting during mealtimes and for saying prayers. People of the ultra poor group also use the mats for sleeping on.
Sukumar Biswas of Nalia village in Shalikha upazila has been selling mats for the past 22 years. He said, “Marshy land is suitable for cultivating meley. It is cultivated in the Bangla month of Agrahayan and can be harvested twice from the same crop, usually in Falgun.”
Every Saturday, wholesalers from different adjoining districts come to Kechhuadubi and other villages for purchasing mats.
“I come here to buy meley pati as it has a great demand among the middle and lower-middle class people because of its quality and low price,” said Moksed Ali, a wholesaler from Dharmodah village of Jhenidah sadar.
“People can buy a big size mat for Tk 140-Tk 150 and it lasts long too. The price of a similar plastic mat is between Tk 350 and Tk 400,” claimed Moksed. The wholesale rate of a big mat is Tk 120, he said.
Sanjit Kumar Biswas, another wholesaler, from Agpatora village of Baliakandi in Rajbari said, “I sell the mats in Rajbari town and make a profit of Tk 30-Tk 50 per mat.”
The weavers usually make mats of three different sizes. The largest is 8 feet by 5 feet.
A big size mat costs Tk 70-Tk 75 and sells for Tk 120 at wholesale; a medium one costs Tk 50 and sells for Tk 80, while a small one sells for Tk 60 and costs Tk 30.
“We make at least four mats daily and earn more than Tk 6,000 a month. My daughter Laboni Adhikary obtained GPA 5 in SSC from Arpara Ideal Secondary School in 2010,” a smiling Tulshi Adhikari, wife of Gurudas Adhikari of Kechhuadubi village, said.
“We can easily maintain the expenses of our five-member family with the income as our needs are very simple,” said Gurudas.
Tapon Kumar Adhikari, a landless man of the same village living on his brother-in-law’s land, said, “I have been earning my living by weaving mats for the last 13 years.” “I have already married off my only daughter with the earnings from mat making,” said Tapan.
After harvesting, the green meley plant is dried in the sun and stored by the weavers at bamboo-made platforms in their own houses.
The weavers then make mats with those dried plants throughout the year and earn their living selling those to local markets and wholesalers. Their trade goes on round the year, the mat makers said.