In Western culture bamboo is defined as “woody or treelike tropical and semitropical grasses”. But in other cultures, specifically Asian cultures, bamboo plant meanings are significant. Lucky bamboo plants are also significant and have meaning, especially in feng shui, but this article will encompass “real” bamboo.
A VERY Condensed History
Since 12,000 BC bamboo was used in China for food and to make products used in everyday life such as baskets, chopsticks, shoes, plates, beds, and weapons. Bamboo was also used in construction. By 206 BC bamboo was turned into a kind of paper known as xuan paper (rice paper) for writing and painting. It was also used as medical treatments and was the subject of paintings and carvings. Needless to say, you can see why bamboo held such a significant place in Chinese life. In fact, it held significance in many Asian cultures where experiences and observations about bamboo shaped beliefs about it.
In Chinese culture there are four plants that are considered the Four Noble Ones. Bamboo is among one of these four plants. The other three include chrysanthemum, orchid, and plum blossom. Each of these four plants represents a season with bamboo representing summer. Even so, bamboo and plum blossom along with the pine tree are considered to be the Three Friends in Winter and are admired for their survival and perseverance under hard winter conditions when other plants die.
In Japan the word for bamboo is “take” and it’s considered a sign of prosperity and strength. Bamboo is used to ward off evil and is commonly found around shrines and Buddhist temples. One beloved story in Japan is about a young women who is found in a bamboo stalk, she is raised and grows up to become a beautiful woman-a moon princess. One night when the moon is full this princess returns to the moon from which she was birthed.
In Vietnam, bamboo is described by the word “brother” and has been used to make everyday products along with weapons to fight off invaders. For the Vietnamese, Bamboo symbolizes Vovinam. Vovinam is a martial art and it shows the qualities of the Vietnamese soul. The significance of bamboo can perhaps be best seen in a traditional proverb which states that “When the bamboo is old, the bamboo sprouts appear”. This saying can take on many meanings, but in Vietnam it essentially means that no one can kill them or destroy their culture. Even if all of them die now, there will always be those (children) who will rise up and keep their culture going.
Bamboo has long been useful in the Philippines for making products, but it also represents humility, flexibility and strength. In the Philippian creation story both man and women emerged from bamboo stems that had been split during the battle of the Sky and Ocean or the “elemental forces”.
Malaysia also has a type of creation story involving bamboo in which as a man sleeps under a bamboo plant he dreams of finding a women inside it. When he awakes he cuts the bamboo in half and finds the women inside. Malaysia also has a dance called the bamboo dance which (obviously) focuses on bamboo.
Hawaii has its own bamboo known as ‘Ohe. The Hawaiian people had and have many uses for bamboo. ‘Ohe is considered the body form of the creator god of Polynesia, Kane Milohai. Many ledges, myths and stories exist about bamboo in Hawaii including one in which a young boy ignores the warnings of his elders and wanders into the bamboo forest. Instead of meeting his doom he finds the feared bamboo man, Kane’ohe playing music. The man teaches him that “Often, creativity loses itself if people don’t actively seek it out.”.
5. Respect for elders
6. What looks week can be strong
To learn more about lessons from bamboo check out this Ted Talk!