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Culture & Identity of Bhutan

Introduction

Bhutan's government has made a very conscious effort to preserve the historic culture and way of life in Bhutan and for the most part they have succeeded. However, this historic culture and way of life is based primarily on only one ethnic group so many of the cultural aspects of the minorities are slowly dying.

There are similarities across the groups though, beginning with the heavy dependence on agriculture and the heavily rural population. Nearly two thirds of the people in Bhutan live in rural areas and nearly half work in the agricultural sector. For these people life is based on the lands and the way of life is dictated by weather, seasons, and the sun. Often times this is a family affair as families join in to help during busy seasons. Neighbors and community are also of utmost importance. Many farms are small as the mountains limit the fertile lands, and little heavy machinery exists so it's difficult to farm large plots. In this way the people live close together and rural communities are important.

About a third of the population lives in cities, many of whom are in the capital of Thimphu. Life in the city tends to have a more regular routine based on time, not mother nature. Many people work from about 9:00 am to about 5:00 pm, giving them a regular schedule, but this varies, even in the cities. Likewise, schools give some schedule to the people's way of life, but again there are variations.

Despite the schedules of people in Bhutan, and the fact that many occupations take up the bulk of one's time, life is still about family, community, and culture. This is obvious in much of the country, but due to laws regarding dress and lifestyle, sometimes the true people are not seen. Although in public uniformity often dominates, in the homes traditions rule in the form of dress, language, foods, and lifestyle. It is this culture, tradition, and history that is passed down from generation to generation and is at the heart of the culture.

Identity

The government of Bhutan is trying to link the national identity to the identity of the country's ethnic majority, the Ngalops or Bhotes, and the Dzongkha language, which is only spoken by about a quarter of the population. Their efforts have been quite successful and the two are defined in many of the same ways, however this is only acceptable due to the help of the Dzongkha-speaking people, many of whom run the country. This "Bhutanese" identity is theoretically a politically-defined term, but due to pressure, it is also based on ethnicity, language, and numerous aspects of the local culture including dress and food, both of which are being pushed on the people no matter their ethnicity.

The ethnic minorities in the country obviously protest this national identity, or at least how it is defined in terms of ethnicity, language, dress, and food, so more and more strongly identify with their ethnicity or on another local level. These minority groups are numerous and each tends to identify with their local language, dress, food, and other cultural aspects attached to defining each individual ethnicity or region.

This page was last updated: November, 2013