building bridges: lessons from the khasi people..

Perhaps we could learn something from the Khasi people..

In India’s northeast, near the border with Bangladesh, the state of Meghalaya is full of lush green mountains and thick tropical forests that receive copious amounts of rainfall every year – the village of Mawsynram, for example, receives an average of 11,873mm of rain annually, earning it the title of the wettest place on Earth. But while the rains bring life to so much of the state, they have long presented a challenge to the indigenous Khasi people, who live deep inside Meghalaya’s jungles. During the June to September monsoon season, the otherwise gentle waterways that flow through the state’s deep valleys become strong, rain-fed torrents – impossible to cross by foot.

To overcome this problem of rotting and breaking bridges, Khasi elders devised a clever solution by building living root bridges – bridges made out of roots. Rubber (Ficus Elastica) trees were planted on the banks of several streams, whose roots were then guided in hollow canes of beetelnut to meet halfway across the stream. The roots were tended to and patiently nurtured for several years until they grew strong and slowly reached the opposite side forming the skeleton that eventually would grow into a bridge over the stream. ‘Today’s strongest bridges can carry more than 50 people at once and are more than 180 years old. Living Root Bridges take about 15 years to get strong enough to carry people and are the finest examples of Bioengineering.’

Maybe we should take a cue from the Khasi people. If we looked at problems within our communities more holistically, used available resources and implemented the same process- guiding, tending, patience, maybe we could build stronger bridges. Just a thought..

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