Bhutan's society has three main groups: the Bhotia of Tibet; the Eastern Bhotia, or Sharchop; and the Nepalese. There are also various other smaller tribes. The Bhotia are primarily concentrated in western and central Bhutan. They are the largest of the tribal communities, and most of the social and political leaders come from this group. Many of the elite immigrated to Bhutan from Tibet in the eighth century, and Tibetan refugees have entered the country at many other times. Both the Eastern and Central Bhotia are generally tall and athletic. True to their Mongolian origins, they have elongated eyes and broad cheekbones. They are generally known as independent and cheerful people.
What Are Their Lives Like?
The Eastern Bhotia farmers usually live in small settlements or in isolated homes. In the larger towns, homes are built in clusters and many are painted with attractive designs. They are usually built with timber and thick, pounded mud walls to keep out the cold. Most of the homes have two floors, but some have as many as four. If a family owns animals, their livestock is kept on the ground floor. The roofs are made from wooden slats that have been anchored by heavy rocks.
Marriages are typically monogamous. The women marry at about age 16, while the men wait until they are 21. Formal wedding ceremonies are not held. Newlyweds may live with the groom's family, the bride's family, or on their own, depending on where the need for farm labor is the greatest. The extended family is very important in Bhotia culture, and grandparents often look after younger family members.
The Eastern Bhotia women wear beautifully woven fabrics with colorful, intricate designs. A long piece of cloth, called a kira, is wrapped around the body and attached to the shoulders with a pair of silver brooches. A small jacket is usually worn over the kira. Men wear long plaid robes, or gos. During the daytime, the go is fastened with a belt so that it reaches the knees. At night, it is let down while sleeping. Hats are rarely worn. When entering a temple, men and women wear scarves over their shoulders as a sign of respect. The color of the scarf depends upon an individual's rank.
What Are Their Beliefs?
Most Buddhist families have shrines for worship inside their homes. A poor family may only have a small Buddhist image or painting rather than a shrine. However, a wealthy family may use an entire room as a shrine, furnishing it with an elaborate altar, lamps, an incense burner, and other religious items.
What Are Their Needs?
Although efforts are being made to reach the Eastern Bhotia, the people remain isolated and resistant to the Gospel. Much prayer and evangelization efforts are needed to break down these walls of isolation and tradition.
The Bhutanese of Bhutan; and The Central Bhotia of Bhutan.
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
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