Bamboo Technology, named for the unlikely devices that the Professor came up with on Gilligan's Island, is the use of mechanisms with a level of technology closer to the Stone Age to achieve feats usually achieved with Industrial or even Modern Age technology. In general they are not necessarily made of bamboo — the ones on The Flintstones were often made out of wood, stone and dinosaurs. What characterizes all of them is the self-evident unlikelihood that they actually work. Most likely to be seen in the more farcical sitcoms.
Bamboo Technology includes the Rube Goldberg Device, but not anything that relies on magic to work. Those devices are Magitek. Pretty much sure to crop up in past-based Punk Punk settings, especially Scavenged Punk.
When the mechanisms are made with modern components cobbled together, the trope is Homemade Inventions. Contrast Low Culture, High Tech, where primitive cultures use technology they didn't invent and can't comprehend. Compare Sufficiently Advanced Bamboo Technology, which is very advanced technology designed to look primitive.
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This ad for Emerald Nuts features a man who has things built on him by the Swiss Family Robinson. They appear to have gotten into his living room through a trans-dimensional portal, made from bamboo.
Anime and Manga
Clockwork Fighters is this with the villains using Steam Punk variations.
Onidere - Kenji Taketori's firm, Taketori Financial Combine, specializes in making bamboo products. Including functional bamboo rocket ships.
The iconic "Take-Copter" or bamboo helicopter from Doraemon, allowing one to fly by putting it on the head or body.
When he and the rest of the Fearsome Four (ZombieFantastic Four) were locked in a vault so the Ultimate Fantastic Four could save the day, Zombie Reed Richards bragged to the guards that using highly improbable materials ("Did you know you can make a keyboard out of hair?"), he and the rest of the Fearsome Four had now built a functional teleporter and would be leaving now for Central Park where they'd gobble up whoever they came across, thank you very much and goodbye. The Fearsome Four joins hands and disappears, the guards rush in... and then Zombie Reed Richards tells Zombie Sue Storm she can turn off their invisibility.
X-Wing Series comics: Requiem For A Rogue had TIE fighters and TIE Interceptors made largely of wood. Small spaceships, firing lasers. Made out of wood. Piloted by non-sentient beasts being controlled by evil Sith music.
Parodied in Top Secret!, in a flashback in which Nigel and Hillary, after being trapped on a Deserted Island, build numerous items actually out of bamboo, including a shopping basket and a two-car garage. They have real Bamboo Technology too: the garage door opener and controller, which would require electronic equipment.
The most laughable moment in an already ridiculous film, MST3K alum Cave Dwellers has its Prehistoria Renaissance Man Ator launch his final assault on the Evil Overlord's castle in a hang-glider made out of wood and tanned leather.
Joel:He's probably got a tank waiting in the courtyard.
Servo:Yeah, and it's made out of coconuts.
Madagascar and Madagascar 2 both make use of Bamboo Technology. In the first one Marty manages to use it to build a small house with plumbing. In the second one it's upgraded and used to repair and launch a crashed plane with a giant slingshot (although landing is a little more difficult), then used again to turn it into a helicopter which actually works.
In the live action Fat Albert film, Fat Albert is given a car made out of trash from the junkyard to drive his date, subverted in that it's powered by two of the Cosby kids.
A made-for-TV movie version of Swiss Family Robinson featured a fake gun made of bamboo that was used to scare away the wildlife.
A simple gun might have made the Suspension of Disbelief (barely) possible, but the producers went balls-to-the-walls improbable with a Gatling gun design that fired several fruits per second. Never mind that it was never explained HOW that gun generated the pressure to propel them down the spinning barrels.
Spoofed in Galaxy Quest, when The Captain is stranded on a planet with nothing but rocks in sight, and another crew member asks, "Can you construct a rudimentary lathe?" Which in itself is a spoof of the Star Trek episode "Arena", which you'll find discussed in the TV section of this article.
Made more absurd by the fact that he was being attacked by a giant rock monster at the time.
Raiders of the Lost Ark. Ancient South American Indians develop a trap with a trigger that uses a beam of sunlight as an electric eye: when anything interrupts the beam, the trap activates. Question: does the trap work when the light isn't shining through at that exact spot, which would be, I don't know, most of the day and all night?
The 1971 film by Dennis Hopper The Last Movie concerns a western being shot in a small Peruvian village. The Peruvian natives are "filming" their own movie with "cameras" made of sticks, and acting out real western movie violence, as they don't understand movie fakery.
Seen in Lt Robin Crusoe USN. The title character (played by Dick Van Dyke) has some ingenious comforts, including a golf course and a bamboo "post office" (toilet tank and bamboo chute, which delivers messages-in-a-bottle to the sea).
In the second Uplift trilogy by David Brin, a group of inhabitants on Jijo make amazing things, such as computers, despite trying to voluntarily devolve, and having discarded all their working technology to an oceanic trench. Many things, funnily enough, are made from the boo — an alien version of the plant, which is bigger and stronger — even space rockets.
Swiss Family Robinson. They had a water-cooled "fridge", and a waterwheel-pumped system to deliver it.
Missionaries trilogy by Lyubov and Yevgeny Lukin. Some guys found a portal into past (turned out to be Alternate Universe) and tried to stop European colonization by giving would-be victims whatever technology local resources allowed — threw hang-gliders and primitive incendiary bombs into tribal warfare, then fire fed itself, along the path the originators didn't understand well.
The "Clacks" of the Discworld novels are based on real life semaphore telegraphs and seem to work much the same way - only much better. In reality the Chappe telegraph was fairly slow, easily disrupted and thanks to the cost of training and keeping operators, hideously expensive (which is why it was used by the government and army rather than merchants).
The Clacks on the other hand not only work much faster and reliably than the real world version but are apparently so inexpensive to run the company that owns became fantastically rich very quickly. Then again, in fairness, they exist largely as a parody of the internet so arguably this can be excused. The operator-problem is somewhat mitigated by the employment of gargoyles, who are naturally good at sitting in a single place just looking at the next tower, lack the imagination to make mistakes, and can be paid in pigeons.
In fact, the Bamboo Technology Internet aspect even extends to transferring photos through binary. Again, over semaphores. Not mentioning Smoking GNU group of hackers. GNU was a message that might be used as a DDOS attack (althought it did not). The book (Going Postal) also had man-in-the-middle attacks. Also, the Clacks is a shutter-telegraph system, not a Chappe-telegraph one,and is thus rather faster than a Chappe style system would be.
In Soon I Will Be Invincible, the prison holding Doctor Impossible at the beginning of the book is reluctant to let him get his hands on anything for fear of this trope. He lampshades it quietly to himself, musing that he really couldn't pull a Gilligan, but maybe if he had some copper wire...
The Shroud Of The Thwacker by Chris Elliott, a historical fiction spoof set in the 19th century, features wooden mobile phones that run on kerosene.
A 1988 April Fools article in Scientific American announced the unearthing of rope-and-pulley logic gates on the island of Apraphul.
During Galaxy Of Fear: Clones an outpost of rather strange-acting Rebels is found. They've built a spaceship.
Or at least, what might have been a spaceship, if spaceships were made out of old scrap metal, bilba tree wood, and patches of woven grass. It was like a giant model of a star freighter, several times larger than their own ship, the Shroud. It was the kind of thing children might build in their backyard, only on a much bigger scale.
The inhabitants of Midworld use rifle-like blowguns called "snufflers", carved of literally-green wood and powered by a type of seed pod that ruptures with a blast of air when pierced.
Live Action TV
Gilligan's Island may very well be the Trope Codifier. In the Animated AdaptationThe New Adventures of Gilligan, the trapped castaways listen to a radio made out of bamboo and coconut shells. At least the original Gilligan's Island had the decency to have their radio be one of the few pieces of mainland technology that survived the shipwreck.
Good Eats: Bamboo Technology was applied for humorous effect in an episode of the Alton Brown cooking/science show, in which Brown is "stranded on a deserted island" but has managed to put together a suspiciously well-equipped kitchen out of found objects, wherein he demonstrates the techniques and science behind several forms of tropical cooking. (The show abounds with similar framing devices, ranging from Alton playing his own Evil Twin in an episode about kimchi to a Courtroom Antics trial of butter.)
In The Mighty Boosh episode "Milky Joe", Howard and Vince flee from the coconut police in a bamboo car. They also construct houses, fashion items, and the coconut men from bamboo, palm leaves, etc.
One prominent example is The A-Team, where the titular team regularly cobbled together weapons and vehicles from random ingredients, such as twenty-four feet of PVC piping, a metal dune-buggy frame and household chemicals.
MacGyver: the plot revolves on the hero saving the day by fabricating something ridiculously clever from a piece of gum, a toothpick and a hairdryer (or whatever). One memorable sequence (perhaps the definitive one) from the opening of "Legend of the Holy Rose Part 1" involves bamboo technology. The title character, with only a few hours, manages to design and build a whole gyroplane out of bamboo, tarps, and an old airplane engine. He and the prisoner he was rescuing then proceed to fly out of the base through heavy gunfire and have the plane work perfectly without any apparent flaws in spite of both the lack of rigidity of the materials used in it and the fact that it had to have taken at least some hits. Not exactly Willing Suspension of Disbelief's finest hour. Also lampshaded by his copilot saying "It really flies!" and Mac replying "Of course it does!".
Mythbusters tested out MacGyver's bamboo glider. It didn't work, primarily because the motor (which in the MacGyver episode actually came from a cement mixer, not an aircraft) wasn't strong enough. It also took them a lot longer to build. This is why MacGyver is frequently called the "Patron Saint of Mythbusters".
In a Christmas Episode of Saturday Night Live, a couple who are stranded on a desert island are exchanging holiday gifts. He gives her a potholder of woven palm fronds and two conch shells; she gives him a spectacular, fully functional telescope, wristwatch, and motorcycle that she made from some stuff she found around the island. You know, if you're bored, you might just pan some gold, smelt some iron ore, kill a rhino for its whiskers.
Star Trek: The Original Series. "Arena" has the Metrons forcing Kirk to fight his (Reptiloid) Gorn counterpart on a desert planet for which they will use their god-like powers to allow control over that region of the galaxy to the winner's species. Having discovered that dropping an almighty rock from a great height onto the Gorn has no effect, Kirk makes a hand-cannon out of coal, sulphur, saltpetre and bamboo to shoot him/her/it with the local fist-sized diamonds. They bounce off but not without knocking the Gorn captain down, whom Kirk honourably allows to retire in defeat, for which the Metrons (our demi-gods) award the human race extra Brownie points. *
Mythbusters tested this one. Based on their results, Kirk might have been better off using it as a bomb rather than a cannon in the real world. Still, it's an Acceptable Break from Reality nonetheless.
The British television show Rough Science is essentially this trope applied to reality TV. Five scientists are dropped off in the middle of the wilderness and must use natural materials and a small amount of scrap material to make advanced devices within a time limit. They've constructed everything from radio transmitters and receivers, weather stations and clocks, to a wide variety of medicines and microscopes and bacterial cultures, all using scrap and natural materials.
Red Green: Many of Red Green's creations on The Handyman's Corner fall into this trope. Although he preferred to use pieces of old cars and liberal amounts of his "secret weapon" Duct Tape
The Stone Age characters in Johnny Hart's B.C. often utilized this.
Calvin And Hobbes: Calvin is able to make a time machine, Transmogrifier, and Duplicator out of a cardboard box (the same cardboard box). He even manages to convert a regular water pistol to a Transmogrifier gun. The line between what's real and what's in Calvin's imagination is never really established, so whether these were actual working devices or a kid playing pretend is uncertain.
/tg/ had a field day when it discovered that since zombies in Dungeons & Dragons are capable of following simple commands, a necromancer can take three zombies, tell one of them to look at the other two and raise its right hand unless both of them raise theirs. Why is this important? Because with those instructions, the necromancer has just made a NAND gate, which means that with enough zombies he could build a programmable computer.
One NPC in Genius: The Transgression, Mr. Shark is a 17th-century Maori navigator who built a time-travelling canoe. It can travel in time to any year between 1623 and 2223, but you still have to row it if you want to get anywhere.
BIONICLE in its early years, though in the storyline only.
In an almost perfect example of this trope, Princess Kaguya in Ōkami returns to the moon on a space shuttle made of bamboo while wearing an ancient Japanese spacesuit.
Chrono Trigger has robot arms made out of stone...in Sixty-five million B.C.. There are also guns. As it happens, they're actually superior to the guns and robot arms available in the far future.
Masahiro Sakurai lampshaded this trope with those two words while showing Diddy's moves on the Dojo during the long lead-up to Brawl's release.
Also in Donkey Kong 64: Funky Kong makes planes, helicopters, boats and weapons for DK and crew from wood and other jungle technology. The Donkey Kong Country series itself actually has the rocket barrels, barrel made jetpacks.
The dwarves in Dwarf Fortress are able to raise huge steel bridges using nothing more than three rocks. One for the lever, and two to connect the lever to the bridge. It is actually possible to build a primitive computer in Dwarf Fortress. The machine uses carefully arranged water flows, floodgates and pressure sensors or gears to perform boolean operations.
Super Mario Bros 3. Bowser had a whole tank division, a navy and an air fleet all made of wood.
Taz-Mania's Francis X. Bushman had a "tree trunk tank".
A lighter version: Among the planes in Altitude are a WWI era biplane with a machine gun, and what looks like a space-fighter with energy weapons and teleportation technology. Both planes are of the same tier...
Wood Man from Mega Man 2 is a Robot Master made entirely out of wood.
The mechanisms built by Sirrus and Achenar on their respective prison ages in Myst IV: Revelation are surprisingly sophisticated for technology built only from raw materials without any available tools. Achenar's stuff is at least crudely made from available materials, but Sirrus built a big laboratory and steampunk machinery from scratch.
In Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire, most tribes in the valley have Stone Age tech - the natives most advanced (contemporary) weapon is an 'obsidian-edged sword' similar to a macuahuitl. One of your party members, Professor Rafkin, can build crude rifles and grenades out of bamboo, clay, and stray bits of hardware for you. For the most part, they outperform native weapons handily, although only 'modern' characters can figure out how to use them.
In a Veggie Tales parody of Gilligan's Island called "Larry's Lagoon", the professor gets everyone off the island by building a helicopter out of bamboo and coconuts.
Edd from Ed Edd N Eddy has been building anything with cardboard and miscellaneous junk long before the KND. Framework for a prototype rocketship? Yep. Go-kart? You betcha. Airplane? Yeah! Unfortunately, his inventions usually get destroyed by the end of the episode due to interference or malfunctions.
Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius: Jimmy manages to build rocket ships out of rides in an amusement park. He builds two treehouses with functioning plumbing systems out of bamboo at one point. Once when stranded in the past he built a time machine out of nuts, berries, rocks and wood.
Gadget, the inventor mousette, constructs her inventions, ranging from weapons to vehicles (even a starship of sorts) to home appliances, exclusively from garbage found in dumpsters or even right on site.
The episode "Elephants Never Suspect" features a pair of panda inventors who construct a Bamboo Technology device out of actual bamboo.
Mike, Lu & Og Og, the boy genius inventor, can build any invention from the materials he finds on the show's no-tech Pacific island setting, including on one memorable occasion a television set. (It doesn't work because there are no stations on the island, but all the islanders become addicted to watching static.)
"And then, Dave made an improvised megaphone by using a squirrel, some strings and a megaphone!"
Futurama: Bender gets a downgrade so that he is made out of wood. Naturally, it turns out that it was All Just a Dream. Along with that, he and the other inhabitants of the Island of Obsolete Robots build a submarine entirely out of wood. In a nod to realism, it isn't terribly water-tight.
Parodied in The Simpsons episode "Das Bus" (which was essentially Lord Of The Flies meets Gilligan's Island) where Bart instructs Martin to work on building "some coconut walky-talkies. And, if possible, a coconut Nintendo system". He also envisions the children building a society based on Bamboo Technology and monkey butlers. Needless to say, it doesn't quite work out (not least because the island lacks any bamboo).
Freakazoid! had a good laugh at this when Freakazoid was trapped in a bamboo cage...but he couldn't break through it with his super-strength because it was "molecular bamboo."
The young rodents in Once Upon a Forest build a flying machine called the "Flapper-wingamathing" out of mainly sticks and leaves and such.
Kowalski from The Penguins of Madagascar has inventions made from household items, including Stat-O-Vision binoculars made from paper cups, a mind-switching machine powered by a 17-speed blender, and an trans-lunar spacecraft out of trashcans. Amazingly, they seem to work properly half of the time.
There is a Donald Duck short from 1944, "The Plastics Inventor," in which Donald follows a radio announcer's instructions to create a plastic airplane. By baking it. In his oven. Not a toy airplane, a life-size one that actually flies... at least for a while. Somehow Donald makes the plastic base material for plane-baking by combining a bunch of random garbage. Even stranger, it melts in water.
The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 has Bowser's Doomship, which looked like it was built out of redwood trees (or some other huge type of tree), though it was armed with Bullet Bill launchers, cannons and rocket jets. His air force, which only appeared in one episode, and his tank corps (again, only one episode) were also made of tree trunks. However, his Doomsub (two episodes) was made of metal.
Super Mario World takes this trope further; many of the episodes revolve around some form of modern technology being introduced into the Dinosaur World, which is usually constructed out of rock, wood and/or some other form of plant biomass. These include television sets, cars and a telephone network made of vines and coconuts. A Magikoopa in each set. The cars have enslaved Goombas running on the front wheel connector. The telephones are tin cans with a string principle.
Used in an episode of Phineas and Ferb, "Swiss Family Phineas", in which the boys wash up on an island and demonstrate their usual capacity for building freakishly elaborate structures.
Long before The Flintstones, the Merrie Melodies short "One More Time" utilized live mice as car horns, hood ornaments and weapons. (The character Foxy has a gun, and when he pulls the trigger a mouse pops out with a mallet and hits the target on the head.)
In Kim Possible, Dr. Drakken abducts Ron, gives him a bunch of random junk, and gives him the seemingly impossible task of building a doomsday device from it. Dr. Drakken leaves the room and by the time he returns, Ron has somehow made a destructive laser cannon from the junk.
In a desperate attempt to reach the west coast of the USA, the Japanese created crude bombs attached to balloons which were launched into the jet-stream thirty or forty thousand feet up. This took advantage of the high-speed wind that blew them over the Pacific and were roughly timed to drop over the west coast. The balloons and carrying frames were assembled by schoolchildren from rice paper and bamboo and thousands were launched, carrying small bombs or clusters of incendiaries. For all the effort involved, the USA and Canada hardly noticed. The most damage caused were small forest fires in Washington, British Columbia, Alaska and Oregon. There is a lot of western seaboard and outside big cities, it is sparsely populated. it was only when malfunctioning bomb-balloons came down over California that America knew anything at all about this weapon...
In Ethiopia and other African countries, bamboo scaffolding is still preferred to other, more modern alternatives.