Bhutan – Society and Culture
The Kingdom of Bhutan is one of the few countries in Asia untouched and uninfluenced by Western Colonisers. The country practiced a strict national code of isolationism and the Bhutanese government only allowed tourists to visit the country in the late 20th century in limited numbers. To date, the country is slowly opening up to the global community.
The country has religiously followed the different tenets of Buddhism, which in turn has largely influenced their societal values and cultural traditions. These dictate the way of life of a Bhutanese, and it is also by which tourists should conduct themselves, to a degree.
Here are a few tips that you can use on your Bhutan holiday that will help you interact well with the locals.
The Driglam Namzha
This is Bhutan’s official behaviour and dress code. The Driglam Namzha governs how you should act and behave and what to dress on different occasions and in public. Examples of the contents of Driglam Namzha include wearing a scarf when visiting a Dzong, letting the elders and monks serve themselves first, and greeting the elders or senior officials first. The Driglam Namzha’s aim is to develop the virtue of respect and conservatism in their citizens. It is for this reason that even though they have recently opened their country to tourism, they have treated their visitors with utmost respect and expects the same from tourists. So it would do well for you to respect and conform to their basic social norms like dressing appropriately and respectfully greeting people that you meet.
Unique Family Culture
Bhutan can be considered a matrilineal and patriarchal society. Patriarchal in the sense that men are considered heads of the family and that they should work to provide for the family, as is the expectations of a Western father. But, men do not receive any inheritance from their parents. This is where matrilineality enters – inheritance is passed through the female line. As such, males are expected to find success through their own efforts and often upon marriage, moves into his wife’s home. Regardless of these unique norms, one factor is still maintained – respect for the mother and father is absolute.
The Bhutanese people put a lot of importance to religion as an essential part of daily life. Before the 20th century, Bhutan has already embraced the tenets of Buddhism at first, and Hinduism, coming in at second, in their lives. Buddhism tenets developed in the Bhutanese people the persistent struggle to practice and apply its virtues of generosity, morality, renunciation, wisdom, and diligence in their lives. These virtues are passed on to the next generation through their parents who ensure that the children are well-educated on their religion’s teachings and code of conduct.
Bhutanese hospitality is one of authenticity. This hospitality does not come from luxury but is deeply-rooted in simplicity. The Bhutanese people are extremely warm and receptive to tourists especially when you radiate good vibes towards them. They have also developed the Western culture of handshaking when greeting foreigners. They would also invite you to their homes especially on meal times, and treat you as a member of the family. These simple gestures of kindness made Bhutan a haven of tranquility for tourists who want to get away from their hectic urban lives.
Happiness in Peace and Simplicity
There are no displays of haughtiness in Bhutan. People appreciate and is contented with what they have. Buddhism has instilled in the minds of the Bhutanese people that riches aren’t needed to live a life that is happy. Happiness for them comes from the feeling of being at peace and living simply and within their means. Mansions and luxury houses, luxury cars, labeled bags, even down to their plates, there is no shred of arrogance. Children are content with outdoor games and anything they can play with under the sun. Parents are content with their children being respectful and having modest dreams. Elders are content with watching the younger generation grow in virtue and not in wealth. The Bhutanese people understand that peace within is enough to be happy in life and this has always shocked a lot of tourists.
Mother Nature Must Be Loved
The international community lauds the conservation efforts of Bhutan, which is evident in their beautifully preserved landscapes, flora, and fauna. In fact, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) called Bhutan an “inspiration” for its environment-friendly policies. These policies include encouraging agriculture and forestry, electric cars to become the main form of transportation, and only utilising sustainable clean energy as evident in their huge dependence on hydroelectric power. Their human population is increasing and as such the homes of the citizens and the animals’ habitats has led to mutual habitat encroachment. As a solution, the Bhutanese government constructed solar powered alarm fences, watchtowers, and searchlights to protect the animals from violent encounters with human settlements. Bhutan has really shown the whole world how to walk the talk of environmental conservation.
If this breathtaking country did not open itself to tourists, we would never witness the captivating festivals of the Bhutanese culture. During times of festivities, the Bhutanese people transform into a close-knit family that’s united in celebration. These festivals include prayers and rituals as opening and dances with colourful masks and costumes. The people are also traditionally dressed and are so adorable in it. The festivals are also multi-themed: from depictions of battles of old, to dancing in commemoration of their ancestors, re-enactment of legends of Buddhism, even dances to bless infertile women. Above all, the atmosphere during these festivals is joyous and lively, even well through the night. Without booze and disco sounds, you will be amazed and realise that you can party just by celebrating life and its goodness.
These are just a few of what makes up the Bhutanese people. We can’t say that they wouldn’t be influenced by external forces in the years to come, but we can definitely hope that their culture will stand the test of time. After all, Bhutan is a body without a soul if its culture disappears. Let’s help in preserving it by respecting them and not forcing our ideals on their daily lives – let them flourish in their own ways.