People & Culture of Bhutan

People of Bhutan

Exploring Bhutan, you imagine yourself catapulted hundreds of years back. This is enhanced by its people, Bhutan mother and child are hardly influenced by Western mass consumption and lifestyle. Instead, they still wear their self-woven traditional outfits, leading a calm, simple and peaceful life.

The first records of people settling in Bhutan go back 14.000 years ago. It is very well possible though that Bhutan was already inhabited by scattered clusters of tribes. The Drukpa are Bhutan’s indigenous population. They can be divided into three main ethnic groups: the Sharchops, Ngalops, and Lhotsampas.

The Sharecrop are believed to be Bhutan’s original inhabitants, living predominantly in Eastern Bhutan. Their roots lie in North Burma and Northeast India.

Bhutan’s second tribe is the Ngalop. Importers of Buddhism to the kingdom migrated in the late 19th century from the Tibetan plains. You find them mainly in Western Bhutan. In the early 20th century, the Lhotshampa nestled in the southern plains of Bhutan, looking for agricultural land and work. They are of Nepalese origin and you’ll recognize them by their ‘topi’, a very specific headgear. This minority group was so heavily discriminated against in the late 1980’s, that in 1990 they massively fled to Nepal. Nowadays they still can’t return to Bhutan and live mostly in Nepalese refugee camps of the United Nations.

Culture of Bhutan

Bhutanese culture and Buddhist influence go hand-in-hand. The influence of religion is highly visible in everyday life and is a major reason for Bhutan’s spiritual and cultural legacy. The hundreds of sacred monasteries, stupas, religious institutions, prayer flags, and prayer wheels make Buddhism a faith that nowadays still is very alive and probably always will be in the kingdom. Not only does this make Bhutan a very authentic country; but it is also because of the traditional woven garments the people wear, the typical robust yet refined architecture, and the splendid cultural festivals which are steeped in Buddhism. These entire combined make Bhutan into a unique cultural setting.

All religious ceremonies and rituals (and there are many!) are regularly performed, with reverence for all of life. All Bhutanese families go on a pilgrimage on auspicious days, offering prayers and butter lamps to the gods of the Himalayas. National and regional festivals coincide with the seasons, happening all year round.

Bhutan might globally be a small country, yet it holds a very strong identity and unity. The rich cultural heritage is strongly promoted by its government. Although modernization is slowly making its way, generating urban settlements and introducing computers, mobile phones, and other Western modernity, most of Bhutan’s people still live quietly in small remote villages. The predominant ways of life are small family farms and Bhutan’s number one occupation is being a farmer.