The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Monday, July 23, 2007

The Making of a Nation in Bhutan

Period: 21 July - 19 September 2003. Country: Bhutan
(1) The Making of a Nation in Bhutan
MIYAMOTO Mari (Division of Southeast Asian Area Studies)
Key Words: Self-Representation, Mahayana Buddhism, Movement of Environmental Conservation, Small Population, System of Compulsory Labor Contribution
An elementary school in national park. The government and NGO's effort at promoting environmental education.
Photo at Wangdue Phodrang. Many towns were built along the valleys in Bhutan.
A carpenter building a house.(2) The purpose of my dissertation is to analyze the characteristics of nation-making in Bhutan. In order to clarify the process, I have focused on three aspects: first, the historical change of the “system of compulsory labor contribution”; second, the policy of promoting “Bhutanese national culture” and third, the movement of environmental conservation. The system of compulsory labor contribution was introduced by the government in 1959 in a development plan to build a domestic highway. The development plan required a large amount of labor, therefore the royal government of Bhutan exacted big amount of labor from all villages under the system called “Dudom” or “Chunidom.” The people who were gathered in one place at one time share common experiences and common memories. Those elements had an important impact on nation-making in Bhutan. The policies promoting “Bhutanese traditional culture” also had a major impact on nation-making in Bhutan. The policies intended to introduce the Drukpa Kargyu sect of Mahayana Buddhism, which is dominant in western Bhutan, as representing Bhutanese “national culture.” The government attempted to disseminate “national culture” through school education. Also, laws were stipulated to make it imperative to learn and practice “national culture.” However these laws caused serious conflicts within the nation as they aimed to impose homogeneity upon the diverse people of Bhutan. Another important aspect in Bhutan nation-making is its self-representation as a “nation that loves and conserves its natural environment.” This image was used toward global society as well as domestically. In my dissertation, I will try to clarify Bhutan’s nation-making as seen through the historical change of self-representation.
(3) The main purpose of my present field research was to clarify the historical change in the “system of compulsory labor contribution.” In my field research, firstly, I tried to collect basic knowledge about this labor system. Secondly, I tried to clarify how villagers reacted to this labor system through oral history collected from them. Furthermore, I attempted to determine whether or not those common experiences as labor for the nation-state worked effectively toward creating a sense of solidarity as a nation. My field research was done from 22 July to 18 September. I spent approximately three weeks carrying out research in the central district of Bhutan especially Trongsa and Bumthang. I also spent four weeks conducting research on emigrants from Bhutan to India and Nepal. During this research, I was able to get many valuable oral histories from villagers, officers, former governors and village heads, etc. Through these oral histories, I was able to gather valuable information on the social system, customs of villagers and patriotism of ordinary people.

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