The first time our Moulmein guide suggested a visit to see some rubber band making we have to confess to be considerably less than enthusiastic! “Rubber bands – elastic bands!?” “Yes, really – very interesting and not far – just a short visit, very good”. Think it must have been the ‘not far’ part that convinced us but a great move it turned out to be. You would not imagine how fascinating rubber-band manufacturing can actually be!
The large Bilu Island, (aka Ogre island), lying just off the coast of Burma’s Moulmein (Mawlamyine) Town has an impressive range of traditional handicrafts, though obviously cottage industry would be more accurate in the case of this post. We’ve seen the cheroot rolling, silk and lotus weaving and boat building at Inle; lacquer-wear of Bagan, the parasols of Pindaya and umbrellas of Pathein whilst Bilu has traditional hat-making, bamboo pipes, writing slates but rubber bands is definitely one of the most unusual.
Never realised one could make rubber bands in their back garden – well as long as you have a rubber plantation handy – and what’s particularly interesting here is that the entire process, from collecting the raw latex from the tree to bagging up the finished brightly coloured bands ready for market, goes on in these folk’s garden.
The raw latex is processed and taken to the garden shed where the sheets are melted and coloured dies added. Wooden poles are then dunked several times into the rubber until the required thickness of the coating is obtained whereupon they’re taken outside for drying – making for a rather photogenic scene.
Once dried the rubber coating is peeled off and transferred to a 2nd shed for further drying and smoking to toughen them up a bit more before heading to the slicing machine.
The ancient-looking machine seen below – which wouldn’t be out of place in Moulmein Museum – then slices the hollow rubber tubes into thin band widths.
Then comes the fun part – sorting out a pile of a million bands – and that’s where the family kids plus grannie help out! Surprisingly interesting stuff to see and we’re looking forward to our next rubber band trip! A day trip to Bilu island is included in our off the beaten track South Burma tour, ‘Lookin’ Lazy at the Sea‘ as well as our 3 week comprehensive Burma itinerary, “Famous sites and Hidden Secrets“.