A group of abis are hopeful that their songs will not die with them

Tradition: Be it gewog or private festivals, consecration of a new house or any type of celebratory event in the village, it would be incomplete without the “chonduri” singers of Choekhorling gewog.

Consisting of six women in their 60s and 70s, they are considered the last of the “chonduri” singers.

They sing the chonduri song, which villagers believe originated from their gewog many decades back, and now hold close to their hearts.

When guests visit the gewog, without any hesitation these abis or elderly women  voluntary come forward to perform their song, which includes a few steps like the rhythmic tapping of their feet and hand movements.

One of the singers, Changlo, said because it is an old song that defines their village, they feel they are responsible to showcase their talents and represent their gewog.

“We’ve often performed in front of many important guests and we would like to continue for as long as we’re alive,” she said. “Last year on December 17, we were asked to perform in Pemagatshel,” she added. “We practiced for days but sadly at the last moment we were informed it got cancelled.”

The song, according to the singers, describes women’s traditional ornaments worn in the olden days, which are expressed in Tshangla like kongra (earrings), tingkhab (koma) and kucheng (belt).

Many believed this song was sung during field work or leisure to rejoice the harvest. It was composed by an abi called Chonduri for fun but later gained popularity and spread.

Abi Tempa Choden, 75, who is the grand daughter of abi Chonduri said there was more interest in daughters wanting to learn the song from their mothers. But now, not many show interest and those who do, find it difficult to learn causing them to give up mid-way.

“And this is worrying because when we die there won’t be any youths that would take forward the song,” she said. “It would be sad if our traditional song vanishes with us.”

The abis are not only the last chonduri singers but also seem to be the last zhungdra singers. Without options, gewog officials usually have to request them to perform zhungdra songs because they cannot find anyone else.

“We do sing zhungdra songs but there are still songs that we don’t know the meaning, yet we perform,” abi Kapchi said. “It would be good if the young generation comes to learn so that we can share our talent with them.”

The abis said that their bodies are old but this doesn’t stop them from singing or dancing because of their passion.

However, some villagers say the song came from Bumthang. A maid for a queen in Choekhorling used to sing this song while baby sitting and when she returned, the song was brought along as well.

Choekhorling in Pemgatshel is 24km from Nganglam Dungkhag.

Yangchen C Rinzin,  Nganglam