Friday, February 26, 2016

Rediscovering the Lost Soap

As a part of a unit on community in our class we were exploring local indigenous knowledge with students through discussion and group work. The next day a student came up with a nut and handed it to me. He said, this is called kiling se. "In my village, it is used by women to apply to their nipples to stop breast feeding for their children," he added. I took the nut to class and we had a class discussion around the nut.
I made a short post on wechat moments about this nut. Later one of my friends after viewing my post told me that his father collects these nuts. I was curious to see him and that evening I approached his dad. He was ex army and has spent a lot of time outdoors and has a lot of other local knowledge besides the nut.
I learned from him that the nut was used by elders in the community as a natural soap to wash their clothes. Their parents use to soak this nut in water along with clothes. I tried with a piece to clean my hands and it was very effective in removing the dirt. If we keep on rubbing the nut shell, we can see white foam starts to appear. It is very much like modern soap.
The round, black seed inside can be cracked, he said, to extract nut for consumption. We tried together to crack one and it tastes like a less-greasy walnut.
The nut in large quantity can be sold in neighbouring Indian. They use the nut to clean gold and silver. He said the nut polish will give a shiny appearance to the materials.
‘’Kiling se’’ is a term in the Sharchop language (the most widely spoken language in East Bhutan). It is a rough round dark-red kernel with a black seed inside it. Besides traditionally being used by the women in the village to ween their children from breast feeding, it was also used by villager as an anti-leech, medicine to heal the cracks on our heels and can be used as natural whistle for many children.
Another friend of mine recounted that, when she was a kid, she visits her aunt in a neighbouring community. They used to make use of the nut to wash their hair as a natural shampoo. She said it gives a shiny appearance to hair.
A monk from Martang said the nut is beaten into small pieces, mixed with a few pinches of salt; it is wrapped in a cloth piece then tied onto the end of a stick. It is ready for use to remove leeches and sometime the mixture is applied on the skin directly.
Later I learned the English name of the nut from Brodie, a visiting English teacher. It is called ''Soap Nut''. He told me that the nut is used in the west as a natural soap. He said now China is planting this nut to export to the west.

Personally I feel there is potential for SJI to take up this as a project for small-scale production after doing some research on it. LME students can take this as a community project to collect seeds and plant it around Shedra.