Her Majesty Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck attends cultural symposium in Washington DC
Her Majesty Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck, the Royal Patron of the Royal Textile Academy attended a symposium titled “Cultural Sustainability in the Age of Globalization” in Washington DC, USA last Thursday, organized by the Smithsonian Center for folk life and cultural heritage in collaboration with the Royal Textile Academy of Bhutan and the Alliance for California Traditional Arts last Thursday.
Her Majesty in her keynote address spoke about Bhutan’s development philosophy of GNH; Bhutan as a country and Her Majesty’s personal efforts at preserving and promoting our living culture and arts; how culture is today at a threat due to rapid economic advancement; and why it is now extremely important for governments, countries and people to take measures to preserve and strengthen cultural traditions and identities while at the same time reaping the benefits of globalization.
Renowned academics and researchers from the Smithsonian Institution and Alliance for California Traditional Arts also made presentations at the symposium.
Ladies and Gentlemen
We in Bhutan are committed to a holistic development approach that the world has come to know as Gross National Happiness. GNH strives to strike a balance between socioeconomic, environmental, spiritual and cultural needs of the people.
Before proceeding further, I would first like to thank The Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, the Royal Textile Academy of Bhutan and Alliance for California Traditional Arts for organizing this very important symposium on Cultural Sustainability in the face of Globalization.
In particular, I would like to acknowledge the valuable contributions of Dr. Michael Mason, Director, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Mrs. Krista Amason, President of the Friends of the Royal Textile Academy and Ms. Amy Kitchener, Executive Director of the Alliance for California Traditional Arts.
I bring to you warm greetings and good wishes from Their Majesties the King and Queen and the people of Bhutan.
With a population of slightly over 700,000, Bhutan is situated between China and India, two of the most populous countries in the world, with over 1 billion people each. Yet, throughout our history, we have neither been conquered nor colonized. While this is in part due to the rugged terrain that served as a natural barrier, to a greater extent it is also due to the sterling qualities of our wise, visionary leaders. Four hundred years ago, the founder of the nation, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, realised that a unique cultural identity was paramount to the survival of our nation.
Our successive kings shared this wisdom and for a tiny kingdom with neither military nor economic might, Bhutan, to this day is a proud and independent nation.
In the early 1970s, His Majesty the Fourth King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck said that for a country like Bhutan “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product.” GNH has since been a subject of great interest to many academics, researchers and economists, especially in the last decade.
But its essence is best captured in the words of His Majesty The King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who remarked that “GNH is simply development with values.” Of the various components of GNH - socio-economic development, cultural conservation, environmental protection and good governance - culture has been the main focus of my endeavors.
This is because culture not only defines who we have been as a people but it must guide us as we negotiate the complex, regulating forces of globalization, if we are to continue to retain our ageold values and unique identity. Aside from promoting communal harmony and building social resilience, our festivals and historical monuments are also the backbone of the tourism industry, which is the second highest contributor to Bhutan’s GDP, after hydropower.
Bhutanese culture is synonymous with spirituality and living with compassion for all sentient beings. This has led to an emphasis on the preservation of our cultural heritage through maintaining our centuries old fortresses and monasteries, architecture, and the traditional dress at the work place and formal functions.
It is, however, a reality that like in so many other developing countries, Bhutan also faces the side effects of globalization, especially through commercial-driven television shows, the internet and social media. Rapid economic advancement comes at the risk of cultural dilution and even erosion.
It is therefore extremely important that governments, countries and people take measures to preserve and strengthen cultural traditions and identities while at the same time reaping the benefits of globalization.
Preservation of the living arts is an initiative I have always felt very strongly about. It led to my involvement in establishing the country’s first textile museum in 2001 and the Royal Textile Academy in 2005. These two organizations are among several others that seek to preserve Bhutan’s living arts while embracing the opportunities served by globalization.
The objectives of the Academy are to preserve and showcase our unique textile arts and to promote their development and to gradually evolve into a centre for studies and research.
The RTA presently trains women from rural areas in the art of weaving traditional textiles, yarn dyeing as well on basic book-keeping and accounts to determine the cost of the woven pieces. Not only do the women get trained as forbearers and successors of traditional textile knowledge, but also through this, the RTA is able to economically vitalize their local communities. This interconnects historic traditions, physically and emotionally to socio-economic vitalization.
Over the years, the mission of the RTA has evolved and expanded to include a cultural heritage centre. The Centre will work towards the preservation and promotion of the various other traditions and cultures of Bhutan including, oral traditions, etiquette and other art forms. The centre will also work to research, document and present our culture and traditional way of life in mediums that appeal to the young generation. Ladies and gentlemen, it is my earnest belief that this symposium will add significantly to the momentum and will bring us closer to the realization of cultural sustainability in the face of globalization. Change is inevitable but we should be able to influence its direction and content. Let us discard old practices, which are out of tune with human rights and individual dignity. Let us, however, try to save the precious heritage and techniques refined over the centuries, which, if lost, would impoverish the lives of not just this generation but those of our children and their children. Let us strengthen our weakened heritage legislation and activate the range of tools available to help achieve meaningful heritage preservation. Let our cultural practices be not only links to our colorful past but help us charter a vibrant future. Let us provide the avenue and support for our culture to sustain, evolve and thrive. And above all, let us strive to embrace what His Majesty the King calls, development with values.
Thank you and Tashi Delek.
Her Majesty Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck, delivering her key note address at the symposium titled “Cultural Sustainability in the Age of Globalization” in Washington DC, USA last Thursday.