News

Calls Mount to Preserve Bhutan's Traditions as Youth Embrace Western Styles

The youth in Bhutan have been quick to adapt to Western styles, raising concern for many in the deeply conservative Buddhist nation, one of the world's last remaining holdouts to the forces of globalization. Raymond Thibodeaux reports for VOA from Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan.

Just a decade ago, it was more common to see people in this rustic capital walking around with longbows slung across their shoulders, an emblem of the national pastime of archery. But, more and more, the longbows are being replaced by guitars.

Singye Namgay, a 16-year-old Bhutanese musician, says he no longer stands out when he strolls around town with his guitar. Thimphu is filling with teenagers in ragged jeans and t-shirts, strumming folk tunes like a small platoon of Bhutanese Bob Dylans.

Bhutan, a tiny, isolated Himalayan nation sandwiched between India and China, is starting to open its doors to the world.

"The radio stations here are playing English songs, especially, and a few number of Bhutanese songs, I guess," Singye says. "Television is [also] there - American Idols and stuff like that."

These influences are fairly new to most of Bhutan, which did not officially have satellite television and the Internet less than a decade ago.

Compared to the rest of South Asia Bhutan's modernization appears to be in slow motion.

But with its first-ever national election recently concluded, Bhutan has ended a century of rule by absolute monarchy and ushered in an era of democracy.

Some analysts say that democracy in Bhutan could speed up the onslaught of Western culture in a country where preserving its distinct culture is one of the guiding tenets of growth.

Bhutanese authorities no longer strictly enforce the national dress code: ankle-length dresses for women and a knee-length bathrobe-like garment, called a kho, for men.

Dorjee Tshering, director of Bhutan's culture ministry, says the dress code is not just about fashion, it is about national identity. He says the forces of globalization can be a threat to Bhutan's culture, especially among the nation's youth, who are usually quick to adapt to change.

"At one point we really felt the threat of losing our culture," he said. "I think the pressure from outside cultures is so much that now with television and with us opening to some of the things being made available to, especially, the youth who want to be part of the global culture. That can be a threat."

But he says Bhutan's increasing access to the rest of the world gives the Bhutanese a chance to expand their culture. He says foreign influences can blend with Bhutanese culture, not obliterate it.

Bhutan's government occasionally steps in to stifle influences it does not like, as it did a few years ago by banning several cable channels, including MTV music videos and the wrestling series known as WWE.

The bans annoy many young Bhutanese people like Namgay Zam, a radio announcer for one of Thimphu's new rock stations, Kuzoo FM.

"The youth were dropping out of school and they were aping hip-hop culture - dressing that way and speaking the lingo," he said. "So the government thought it was high time they did something about it, so all the music television stations got removed, so you cannot watch it anymore. Who are they to decide what it is not good for the masses? I think all of us are intelligent enough to know what is right and what is wrong, what to take in and what not to take in."

As the sun falls behind the snow-capped mountains surrounding the capital, groups of teenagers in baggy jeans and concert t-shirts start filtering in and out of Internet cafes and discos to puff on imported cigarettes.

Cigarettes are banned in Bhutan, but the ban on them, just like the dress code, is loosely enforced.

It is yet another symbol of Bhutan in transition.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs