A curtain is drawn on a crossbreed of cultures with the dawn of modernisation

Lifestyle: Pushed to the hinterland of one of the remote pockets in Trashigang, the residents of Thongrong village in Phongmey gewog are referred as Brahmis or outsiders.

They dress like the highlanders of Merak and Sakteng, but are not one of them.  Most are fluent in Dakpakha, the language of the Tawangpas (Dakpas) or the Brahmilo.

Although a chiwog of Phongmey, their home is separated from the gewog by Gamrichu, and lies on the other side of the river en route to Sakteng gewog.

Village elders claim that their ancestors were disconnected from the lower regions and their only human interaction was with the highlanders and, mostly, the Dakpas.

“Traditional stories has it that Thongrong only had about three households of cattle and sheep herders some 400 years ago,” a 67-year-old, Tashi, said.

With time, the Dakpas started visiting the village.  They would barter butter and cheese with crops and cereals.  During new years, Dakpas would also drop down to buy oxen.  Some even tied marital knots and started settling in the area and soon, the traditions, culture and language of the Dakpas started spreading.

Few elders still wear the dress of the Dakpas, chupa for men and shingka for women.

Back then, sheep herding was widely practised in Thongrong, with every household rearing at least 50 sheep.

“Our grandparents would use the wool to weave chupa and shingka. They’d wear them even in the fields,” Thongrong tshogpa, Pema Dorji, reminisces.

With the switch to cattle herding and the lesser tsamdros taken over by cattle, the practice of rearing sheep waned, along with the weaving tradition.  Today, only a few households rear about one or two sheep.

The movement of Dakpas to the village and vice-versa also became less and as those, who had adopted the culture started ageing, the younger lots were not too keen on keeping the culture alive.

“Accessibility to the lower regions improved and people started to learn about our very own culture,” Pema Dorji said. “With more developmental activities reaching the village, our lifestyle has completely changed.”

Today, the aged villagers that constitute about 10 to 15 percent of the population still communicate in Dakpakha.  They don’t speak Sharchopkha, a language that most people in the east speak, at all.

But while almost 80 percent of the villagers own the chupa and shingka, they wear it only during special occasions.

“Today, the difference is that we have to buy the dresses from the people of Merak and Sakteng,” another villager said. “We don’t have a single weaver left in the village.”

Studies carried out on the Dakpas reveal that it is the northern Dakpas of Arunachal Pradesh who are at times locally referred to as Brahmi or even Monpas.  Apart from Thongrong, Brahmilo is also spoken in other villages of Trashigang like Chaling, Tokshimang and Shongphu.

By Tshering Wangdi,  Trashigang