People & Society
The Bhutanese population of over 600,000 comprises of multi-ethnic and multi-lingual society. The extreme north east is a home to the Brokpas, the semi-nomads of the villages of Merak and Sakteng who thrive on rearing yaks and sheep. They speak Bro-kad, the language of the Brokpas. In summer they move to the pastures with their yaks and sheep and in winter they return to live in their houses, normally built of stones with small ventilation to protect from the piercing cold weather. As virtually nothing grows in Merak and Sakteng the Brokpas trade with the Tshanglas of neighboring villages for their necessities with butter, cheese and yak meat. They also barter bamboo baskets and mats.
Tshanglas: To the east are the Tshanglas (descendants of Lord Brahma), popularly known as Sharchops or the easterners who speak Tshanglakha. Besides cultivation of maize, rice, wheat, barley and vegetables this group also rear domestic animals to supplement their living. Weaving is a popular occupation of women. They produce beautiful fabrics mainly of silk and raw silk.
Kurtoeps: Kurtoeps are the other category of people in the east. They inhabit the district of Lhuentse and the villages are found spread along the banks of Kurichu. Khoma women are expert weavers and are known for their skill in weaving the grandiose Kushithara.
The Bumthaps, Mangdeps and Khengpas: The people who speak Bumtapkha, Mangdepkha and khengkha respectively dwell in central pockets of Bhutan. The Bumthaps cultivate buck wheat, potatoes and vegetables. A section of this population also rear yaks and sheep. They also produce fabrics of wool and yak hair. The Mangdeps basically depend on cultivation of rice, wheat, maize, vegetables, etc besides rearing some domestic animals. The khengpas also depend on agriculture similar to the Mangdeps. However, they are also known for the bamboo and cane craft.
Ngalops: Then, there are the Ngalops of western Bhutan who speak Ngalopkha, the polished version of Dzongkha which is the national language of Bhutan. Their basic occupation is agriculture. They cultivate rice, wheat, barley, maize etc, among others. In the regions of Thimphu and Paro apple is also cultivated as cash crop.
Lhotshampas: Down south, the main inhabitants are the Lhotshampas or the southerners who speak Lhotshamkha which is the Nepali language and practicing Hinduism. There are also the Lhops, popularly known as Doyas. Both these ethnic groups essentially depend on agriculture. However, they cultivate cash crops like ginger, cardamom, oranges, etc.
The Layaps: To the extreme north are the Layaps who speak the layapkha. Like the Brokpas of Merak and Sakteng, they are semi-nomads whose source of livelihood is dependent on yaks and sheep the products of which they barter with the people of Wangdue and Punakha with rice, salt and other daily necessities.
The Brokpas: The other nomadic community is the Brokpas. They are settled in the two villages of Merak and Sakteng in eastern Bhutan. Like the Layaps in northern Bhutan, the Brokpas are semi-nomads depending on yaks and sheep for livelihood. Living in the high altitude zones they hardly take up agriculture. They speak a different dialect and have their own unique dress that is made of yak hair and sheep wool.
The Doyas: These are the other tribal community and are settled mostly in southern Bhutan. They are considered the aboriginal inhabitants of western and central Bhutan, who over the years settled in the present areas in Dorokha. They have a dialect of their own and dress in their own unique style.
The Bhutanese society:
The Bhutanese society is free of class or caste system. Slavery was abolished by the Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck sometimes in the 1950s through a royal edict. Though, few organizations to empower women have been established a few years back, in general the Bhutanese have always been gender sensitive. In general ours is an open and a good-spirited society.
As is the case elsewhere, living in a Bhutanese society generally means understanding some basic norms like Driglam Namzha, the traditional etiquette. This is a norm which desires that the members of the society conduct themselves in harmony and in a similar manner. For instance, wearing a scarf when visiting a Dzong, letting the elders and the monks serve themselves first, offering felicitation scarves when someone gets a promotion, greeting the elders or senior officials before they wish you, etc. are some simple manners that synchronizes the society.
In the Bhutanese society, the head is considered sacred and legs impure. So it is wrong to touch anyone’s head or stretch your feet in public.
Normally, greetings are limited to saying Kuzuzangpo amongst equals. For seniors and elders, the Bhutanese bow their head a bit and say kuzuzangpola. But, the western way of shaking the hands has caught on people of urban areas.
The Bhutanese are also fun-loving people. Dancing, singing, archery playing, stone pitching, partying, social gatherings etc. are common things that one observes. Visiting friends and relatives at any hour of the day without any advance notice or appointment clearly depicts the openness of the Bhutanese society.