Brokpa at­tire threat­ened by mod­ern­iza­tion

Business Bhutan - - Nation - Jigme Wangchen from Merak, Trashigang

Merak lies just me­ters be­low the tree-line there­fore it is no sur­prise that Mer­ak­pas un­til re­cently had been re­ly­ing on their unique tra­di­tional at­tire in many ways than one.

The at­tire for men com­prises a thick jacket made from yak hair and sheep wool known as chuba. For the lower half of the body, trousers made from wool called kango is cov­ered up un­til the knee with a skirt-like piece called pishu.

Women wear an apron-like shingkha which reaches a lit­tle be­low the knees. Wo­ven from raw silk, the shingkha is cov­ered with a toe­dung that looks like a tego. A black or red jacket cov­ers the toe­dung. Both men and women wear a disc­shaped hat called zhamu. Zhamu is made from yak hair and has five tail-like fringes that al­low wa­ter to drain and keep the head dry.

Since it re­quired raw ma­te­ri­als that can be de­rived from live­stock they rear, it was also con­ve­nient for them to weave and wear, and save money, time and en­ergy that would oth­er­wise be spend on com­mut­ing and buy­ing ready­made gar­ments.

How­ever, with de­vel­op­ment mak­ing steady in­roads into the moun­tain­ous ham­let,

the Mer­ak­pas’ life­style has not only changed but their at­tire is also on the verge of van­ish­ing.

In these cold win­ter days es­pe­cially, hardly any­one in Merak can be seen weav­ing. Ev­ery­one seems to be hud­dled around warm wood­stoves and sip­ping suja.

How­ever, there is a lone fig­ure weav­ing a shingkha in­tently. She is 25-year old Pema Dema.

“I am weav­ing this for my mother. I have been weav­ing since my child­hood,” says Pema Dema.

She said that nowa­days, it will be dif­fi­cult to find a per­son weav­ing in Merak as ev­ery­one prefers pants and coats to the tra­di­tional out­fit ex­cept for a few el­derly peo­ple.

In the past, while the men were away look­ing af­ter yaks, women would stay be­hind and weave. But the tale is chang­ing now.

Sonam Lhamo, a res­i­dent from Merak said a lot of women in the com­mu­nity do not weave these days be­cause of de­creas­ing num­bers of sheep.

“Each fam­ily used to have more than a hun­dred sheep. But to­day ex­cept for a few yaks, I don’t have a sin­gle sheep,” she said. “Most of our out­fits re­quire the wool from sheep and with num­bers de­creas­ing, it is dif­fi­cult to weave like in the past.”

Ad­di­tion­ally, she said that youth pre­fer pants and coats to tra­di­tional at­tire.

Aum San­gay Yu­den, 63, said that though weav­ing is an ar­du­ous job, ev­ery woman and girl in the vil­lage would hap­pily sit at the loom and weave in days by­gone. “As, the com­mu­nity was cut off from trade a few years back, the high­landers pro­duced their own and wore their own,” she said. “But now, with mod­ern­iza­tion, our unique tra­di­tional at­tire is be­ing re­placed by for­eign cos­tumes.”

She added that their unique tra­di­tional dress is be­com­ing an oc­ca­sional wear, whereby the high­landers save the dress for fes­ti­vals and oc­ca­sions. “We should not wear our dress only dur­ing the time of fes­ti­vals. In fact we must be proud to wear it al­ways to pre­serve our unique cul­ture and iden­tity.”

Ex­cept for se­nior cit­i­zens, not many peo­ple in the vil­lage to­day wear chuba and shingkha. De­vel­op­ment and mod­ern­iza­tion have brought ready-made clothes at the high­landers’ doorsteps.

Tsh­er­ing Dorji, 18, is sport­ing a pair of pants and jacket. He says these are more com­fort­able in the pas­ture­lands with cat­tle. “Pants and shirts are more com­fort­able and they are much warmer than our out­fits.”

Though the high­landers stand to lose the iden­tity that their at­tire has carved out for them thus far, young­sters are more in­ter­ested in modern, con­ven­tional clothes.

A few vil­lage el­ders said that this could have a se­vere im­pact on the com­mu­nity’s age-old tra­di­tions.

Merak gup Lama Rinchen said that the prac­tice of weav­ing is fast van­ish­ing not just be­cause of un­avail­abil­ity of wool but be­cause weav­ing is not an easy job. “It takes months and years to weave a full Brokpa out­fit.”

How­ever, the gup agreed that since the com­mu­nity is con­nected with a road, ready-made clothes are eas­ily and plen­ti­fully avail­able.

“Nowa­days, sim­i­lar out­fits which are made from bu­rey can be pur­chased at Sam­drup Jongkhar and Radhi in Trashigang. Peo­ple from these places sup­ply the out­fits,” He said. “High­landers buy these out­fits while keep­ing our own as oc­ca­sional wear.”

Mean­while the Gup said that the Brokpa at­tire is unique and a huge at­trac­tion to out­siders be­cause ev­ery time guests visit the com­mu­nity, they try on the at­tire.

While change has al­ready touched the high­landers, it re­mains to be seen whether the youth will re­vive and main­tain com­mu­nity vi­tal­ity by hold­ing to­gether their cul­tural iden­tity that seems to be quickly frag­ment­ing.

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