Ura village in Bumthang, like many of our highland communities not long ago thrived on abundant livestock and strong cultural practices. However, today, the Yak Lha ritual in Ura is only practised by a single family.
Thanks to a Loden Foundation project the details of the ritual are preserved for posterity as a documentary. Similarly, the foundation has recorded the Lhop Festivals, Local Teeth Healing, Subba and Mongar’s Marriage System, Sang: A Women Festival, Yak Lha, Namkha Namsey Festival, Bjawa Kam Nyaru, Jomja: A Local Cuisine, Story of Pawos, and Mani: The Hymn.
As Loden’s founder, Karma Phuntsho (PhD) points out the country is experiencing a cultural change which is fundamental and far-reaching from all the other shifts or changes. For the country to find a smooth and harmonious process of change, he said, it has to take into account the importance of cultural roots – balancing modernity with tradition.
What is even more worrying is that it is not just the rituals that are fading fast as inhabitants abandon ancestral homes and migrate to urban areas in search of a better life and livelihood. Our crafts – be it bamboo weaving, pottery, blacksmithing, textile, and others – are surviving in the last few elderly on the verge of disappearing.
Many of our elders mourn the vanishing of certain aspects of culture and traditions to globalisation. Even as we convey our commitment to preserving our culture, visitors are struck by the growing influence of foreign cultures on the youth. The availability of a rich variety of imported consumer goods in the shops portray the impact of globalisation.
When we discuss culture the average Bhutanese person sees images of the religious community, dress, language, handicrafts, and other concepts identified with traditional Bhutan. This imagery is strong because culture forms the basis of our identity and most Bhutanese have a strong sense of culture.
The interpretation of culture, however, has been evolving. As we talk about blending the traditional notion of culture and the modern notion of creating a culture-based economy we are looking at culture as a creative industry.
We have already seen the birth of a small creative revolution here in Bhutan. Although we have not made the connection between traditional crafts and knowledge-based products the Bhutanese media is rapidly opening up. Albeit with caution.
Given Bhutan’s policy of moving ahead at a manageable pace, we are also aware that this is a powerful industry that has momentum of its own. We already see it in the private film and music industry, in the publishing and advertising sector, and in the overwhelming ICT industry. The audio-visual media and multi-media, handicrafts, fashion, and publishing are already thriving.
With some concerted efforts, our cultural drama series could be viewed around the world like the Korean ones. But we don’t have much time at hand.
Often the changes to our intangible cultural heritage are happening unconsciously. Most of the time we don’t realise how much we are losing until it is too late.