Lhops of Bhutan- one of the country’s aboriginal communities.
Among the ethnic group who lived in lowlands before the twentieth century is two closely related groups known to other Bhutanese as Lhop. The Lhop popularly known as ‘Doya’ is considered the oldest aboriginal inhabitants who settled in the southwest of Bhutan. In the local term ‘Lhop’ literally means southerner, a term mostly used by the people of the Paro and Haa.
These communities, which remained isolated from the rest of Bhutan until very recently, represent a very ancient and primitive culture that is very different from the mainstream Bhutanese culture. Most of the Lhops are concentrated in Dorokha, Samtse district. However, history and their origin have remained a mystery. According to the local, most of the Lhops live in three villages of Jigme, Singye and Wangchuck. Today there are around 157 households in three villages.
Doyas live under the power of supernatural forces that rule their loves in interactions with their immediate physical environment; land, water, rain, forests, plants and animals of all which belong to their omnipotent and unseen powers. For them the force of production per se would also include the unseen forces who they have to always communicate with time and again for their agricultural productivity, to seek a permit to work on the lands and appease them for good crops through rituals of food and drinks offering and sacrifices of animals and birds. For them, the unseen powers are beyond their controls and they have no technology to supersede the whims and designs of the supernatural beings.
They live in close-knit communities, practice cross-cousins marriage. They do not cremate their dead but bury them in wood and stone slab coffins that form a small mound. A hut erected on the mound protects it from the rain and fence is put up around the site.
Things to Know
The most noticeable aspect of Lhops is their traditional attire. It is unique! Men and women wear the same kind of wraparound garment called ‘pakhi’ made of nettle fibre. Though nowadays they use machine woven Indian cotton.
Today elders fear that the tradition of wearing pakhi might perish, therefore the Lhop children attending Early Child Care and Development (ECCD) are asked to wear their traditional attire at least twice a week.
Food & drinking habits
The main food consists of varieties of cereals, roots, and meats. Cereals such as bucket and maize are the most popular food grains. Doya mostly eats boiled food. They consume more meat products than vegetables. They are known for their habit of eating meat infested with worms. The common vegetable found in their region is bamboo shoot, pumpkin, squash, and leafy vegetables.
If you visit doyas ‘Kim’ house just above the fireplace you will notice smoked pork hung from the makeshift bamboo shelf in every household. Doyas are popular for eating all kinds of animals except snakes. In the olden time since they were hunters and gatherers, they ate monkey meat too. However, today like any other region in Bhutan, pork, beef, chicken and fish are the main food.
The main festival of lhop is called Loh festival. ‘Loh’ literally means ‘year’. Every year the festival takes place for 3 days in the month of September. During the loh festival, lhop pay homage to their local diety & ancestors.
There is a belief that during loh festival, every household has to offer cocks head to their household deity and ancestors as a form of worship. Besides traditional believes Lhops involve in drinking and eating meat to celebrate the occasion. While men engage in playing traditional archery and khuru, women accompany their partners to the field.
Lhops are very generous with food and beverages, they invite staffs working in schools and health to join them to celebrate their festival. Towards the end of the way, you will bump into locals wasted. Know your limit if you are invited for drinks.
Lhop Community Radio Station
Every evening Lhops tune in to their local radio station. The station broadcasts local news for the community people in Lhop language. The radio station is feasible to Lhops in several villages.This initiative is to promote and preserve their native Lhopu Language. The radio station is funded by the Swiss Agency for Development Corporation.
One of the main cash crops of people in Samtse is the cultivation of cardamom. The Lhop villages are surrounded by lush green cardamom plant during monsoon season. Throughout summer farmers cure the plant and towards the start of autumn farmers harvest cardamom and smoke the cardamoms.
The process of cardamom smoking is ancient in Lhop villages. Although the villager’s practices old tradition of smoking cardamoms, the government continues to make technology intervention predominantly to improve the drying technology. Best quality cardamoms are exported to countries like Bangladesh