A tradition keeps a community alive

The trade is so lucrative, that almost every household here is involved in the business

Craft: The fields are getting fallow, roads have reached almost every chiwog and children are getting to schools. But in Tsebar, the tradition of making duung and jaling (traditional ritual trumpets) is flourishing.

Villagers are not only keeping a strong tradition alive, and the tradition has helped the village generate employment both for young and old, including women. The prospect of leaving the village to work at construction sites or towns, have not yet swept the minds of the people engaged in the craft yet. It is their livelihood and the business is getting better.

A certain Lama Sangay Dorji was constructing a Zangtopelri in the village.  He ran out of funds and went to Samdrupjongkhar to learn how to make trumpets, so that he could sell them and make some money.  That is how the tradition of making traditional Buddhist trumpets came to the village.

In the beginning, when the craft of making trumpets was new to the village, makers had to go from door to door to sell the finished products.  Today, orders come from different dzongkhags, and the trumpet makers of Tsebar are prospering.

At a time when trumpet-making skills are dying, it is in Tsebar where trumpet makers are refining their skills. Tsebar trumpets are preferred to improvised and machine-made trumpets imported from India or Nepal.  The business is so profitable, that almost all the households in Tsebar are into the trade of making trumpets.

It’s probably because of this that most of the land in the village is left fallow, said one villager.  And there is stiff competition among the villagers that leads to the production of finer trumpets.  Young people undergo apprenticeship and perfect the art of making first class traditional trumpets.

The success and popularity of the trade has encouraged the villagers to form a group, Tsebar Lakzo Thuentshog that buys trumpets from the villagers.  Tenzin Drakpa, the chairperson, has been making trumpets for the last 20 years.  The tshogpa buys trumpets from the villagers and supplies them to handicraft shops in Thimphu.

“Demand for trumpets made in Tsebar has been growing over the years. It’s very encouraging,” said Tenzin Drakpa. “A villager can sell about five pairs of trumpets every month.”

The tshogpa that receives some support from the Agency for Promotion of Indigenous Crafts (APIC) also has members from Chongshing, a neighbouring gewog.

The tshogpa buys raw materials like copper, metal, copper wire and German silver, among others, and saves them in the raw material bank that APIC helped establish.  Trumpet makers no longer have to go to Samdrupjongkhar to get raw materials.

APIC supplies the raw materials. On the 16th of every month members deposit money in the bank for raw materials. APIC has also trained villagers on new designs and decorations on instruments.

Sounds of beating metal greet visitors to the village. Inside a small hut close to a house, two women are working on a design. Their full time job is running the house, but the business is lucrative and they have learnt the skill. “There are not many women into weaving or farming,” said one.

“I first learnt design arts on trumpets when I was 12 years old. I’ve never looked back since,” said 38-year-old Karma Tshomo, a mother of three. “At least we’re assured of instant income right after we finish doing patterns and designs. We also encourage young girls and boys to learn from elders, instead of remaining jobless. And they’re showing great interest in it.”

A pair of duungs fetches a villager anywhere between Nu 5,500  and Nu 10,000.  On an average, a villager makes about Nu 12,000 from a pair of trumpets.  A pair of duungchens (large trumpets) costs upwards of Nu 100,000 depending on the thickness of the metal.  A pair of jalings sells for not less than Nu 7,000.

Tenzin Drakpa said that villagers have taken to making trumpets, because the work involved is a lot less than farming in the fields.  And the income from it is far more. Farmers were losing crops to wild animals. Mandarin yield has been declining with disease. So the business of making trumpets has picked up, a village elder, Jambay Gyeltshen said.

“The business also prevented young people from leaving the village. This means the future is good. At the same time, we’ll be able to keep the tradition of making traditional trumpets alive.”

Income from trumpets has been more than enough for Jambay Gyeltshen to build a two-storied family house. He always advises the young to take up the art. “While many leave the village to work as truck drivers or in mines, most  youth, especially school dropouts are picking up the trade.”

By Yangchen C Rinzin, P/gatshel

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