Culture is not static. It changes and evolves.
However, globalisation is occurring on a rapid rate today. Some argue that this is leading to a loss of local cultures and traditions.
Fortunately, Bhutan has identified cultural preservation as a priority and as a result, Bhutan remains a unique nation today.
No doubt, our culture and traditions will be influenced. Some influences cannot be avoided and some should not be avoided for it can have a positive impact on society. But there are some aspects of globalisation that should be held at bay. Determining what must be avoided and for what reasons can be a complicated task.
Some practises are easy to identify as inappropriate. The use of religious objects like jalings (traditional trumpets used for rituals) as door handles could be deemed as culturally insensitive. The performance of religious dances as entertainment for tourists in hotels is another activity being frowned upon.
However, deeming what is culturally insensitive or inappropriate is not as easy in some areas. Recently, the screening of a film was barred in which the culture department said religious masks were inappropriately used. Many don’t agree with the culture department’s decision and a debate has ensued. Undoubtedly, we will see debate and disagreements on where the line is drawn.
There is also some debate occurring on the culture department’s decision to disallow people from painting and carving religious imagery on rock faces. The department argues that such paintings and carvings are not looked after and are usually defiled. The department is correct. We cannot have everyone painting and carving wherever they like for whatever reason.
We are aware that the department is working on cultural guidelines which will provide some clarity on the issue. We also welcome that the department will discuss with relevant stakeholders before finalising the guidelines. We are hopeful that this means the department will also open the discussion to the general public and not just agencies and officials.
The department has already rightly said that community members will have equal say in addressing cultural issues in the future. This is the right move. For instance, instead of centralising authority regarding the painting or carving on rock faces, local communities or governments should make the decision as they would know best if it is appropriate.
It is also important to recognise that in some areas, adoption of certain foreign practises or cultures can help us in preserving our own culture and traditions in the long run. For instance, the film and music industries have contributed to the popularity of the national language by successfully merging cultures.
Going forward, it is important that constant discussion be held among stakeholders and the public to determine the do’s and don’ts. The public must be involved so that awareness on the important of cultural preservation is raised, and so the best decisions are made to safeguard our culture and traditions. Having the public onboard or at least involved, is one of the best measures to ensure our culture is able to survive in a rapidly globalising world.