She who knows excellence, becomes excellent. She who knows stability, becomes stable. She who knows success, becomes successful. She who knows home, becomes home for others.
— Chandogya Upanishad 5.1.1
Listed above is a quote from the Chandogya Upanishad's, one of the oldest of Hindu sacred texts. There is a lot of strength in this text, providing the reader with hope and confidence. These "lyrics" or stories have been passed down in regions all over Nepal and India. Until recently, Nepal's official religion was Hindu. Texts like the Upanishads have guided people here with stories of mythology and poetry, shaping society and culture.
The pillar of the "lyric" deals with the home. In the case of Ram Sati Devi, the owner of the hemp house, her home has created a sense of success, stability, and humble excellence. When we returned to the home the following day I was hoping to meet her; however, when we arrived she had not returned from work. We were met again by neighbors and her children. Many people gathered around the house showing an apparent curiosity for the house. I was surprised to see that the villagers did not know about this material and before coming to Nepal I was able to learn about the significance of hemp in the region.
Hemp is only grown in a few parts of this region, but not for industrial use. The climate is suitable for growing hemp considering the plant has native origins to this region. The western part of Nepal is one of the main sources of Hemp in the country. The wild hemp plant is harvested by marginalized communties for its intoxicating flowers and buds. The seeds are sometimes used for food and oil, but typically the flowers are harvested and sold to smugglers. The 2.5-3.5 meter stems and fibers are considered a waste material. My host Dhiraj contacted these villages to procure the shivs, they were more than happy to have another source of income, as the drug operation alone can be very risky. Farmers often have no choice in the matter to cultivate and harvest the wild growing plant. One fall harvest, could be extra income to purchase the food for the cold winter months.
Most villagers have heard of the plant, but until now it had never been used as a building material.They know its significance with Lord Shiva, one of the three major gods in the Hindu religion. "According to legend, Shiva wandered off into the fields after an angry discourse with his family. Drained from the family conflict and the hot sun, he fell asleep under a leafy plant. When he awoke, his curiosity led him to sample the leaves of the plant. Instantly rejuvenated, Shiva made the plant his favorite food and he became known as the "Lord of Bhang"."(Gumbiner Jann).
The day I arrived in Nepal was actually the festival of Lord Shiva in Katmandu. Many pilgrims travel from all over to worship in the Pashupatinath Temple by lighting fires, drinking Bhang, and chanting prayers. The cultural significance and climate suitability of hemp is pretty apparent. "Yet, this was the only hemp house in Nepal?" I wondered.
Ram Sati returned to the home. We sat down for an interview where she explained that the home feels very solid and strong. Though the material was new she was very comfortable using hemp as a building material, as it is similar to traditional homes in the village. She has great confidence in the material and understands its unique features and can feel its insulating properties, necessary in the +40 celsius summer months. She expressed a feeling of empowerment and success having completed something on her own. Her husband, who had been paralyzed, passed away a few months before the construction leaving her with the responsibility to care for four children. Stability had briefly left her life, and this home was a great opportunity to "rebuild". Dhiraj, had explained to me that the walls of her previous home could have been taken down with one swift push. Ram Sati, already part of the many lower caste's in Nepal, was even looked down upon in her own village. Her house and little personal items, made her and her family stand out. Her lack of confidence and social standing could not even afford the exchange of bamboo from her neighbors, required in the initial building.
After the building, a sudden change seemed to occur. According Dhiraj, Ram Sati was being accepted in the village. She was bringing new life to the village through the exchange she had with SHIV . The members of the village even held a wedding ceremony in the front of her new home. As Dhiraj puts it, "she has been hEmpowered"
SHIV's work is gaining ground in southern Nepal. Through meetings with government officials, retooling handmade equipment, and gaining global support they are hoping that they can continue to build more hemp homes. They are currently working on a crowdfunding campaign that will help them build 6 more homes. If you are interested in learning more click the SHIV link above or click the crowdfunding link here.
People like Ram Sati can continue to benefit from these home projects. Excellence, Stability, and Success can be known, through knowing a home. Hemp homes are one of the few designs that take environment, equity, economy, and culture into account. This appropriate technology and may be one solution to a sustainable future in Nepal.
The next blogs will look at "textiles" and Foods of Nepal, from "recycled plastic" to the Russian roulette of street foods. Share, stay connected, and comment your thoughts, questions, and ideas.