The Bizarre Culture of Night Hunting in Bhutan is Fading


In many parts of eastern Bhutan, Night Hunting is a courtship tradition, a rural version of urban dating. In hard-working, farming communities where time-consuming dating is not a luxury, young couples meet at night. They may or may not have a quick chat about the boy’s coming and how the girl would facilitate the boy’s entry to her house.

Typical Bhutanese House


I was born listening to the stories from my grandfather. Stories from eastern Bhutan. During one antecedent, I remember him sharing about how he met my late grandmother.

Typically, like most of the youths in his community, my grandfather who was then 17 would slip away silently from the home as the dusk progressed, to return in the wee hours. But for him, it was a girl from his neighbourhood whom he had eyed during one of the festivals in the village. As he climbed up the window, he knocked, whispering. The girl who was my late grandmother, knowing it was him would happily open the window, and he would sneak through the traditional window with the help of a typical wooden ladder.

On the contrary,  if the girl doesn't fancy the stranger popping up to her window at night, she would make noise to wake the whole family and chase the man. In my grandfather's case, he was accepted. One fine morning,  after having him found in the bed with my late grandmother, they were declared married.

To this day, the tradition is known as Boemena meaning going towards a girl. Among the modern Bhutanese, the culture is known as night hunting. The nightly courtship tradition was existential in rural parts of the eastern and central regions of Bhutan. It was a rural version of romance, a date where a couple would meet at night, a boy facilitating entry into a girls house with or without their permission. Some boys would form a group and disperse when they approach their destinations.

The practice of the night courtship wasn't easy. It required persistence, energy and sleepless nights. From travelling a long distance to experiencing twisted ankles and chins. One would not dare to be afraid of wild animals and evil spirits rather they took it as an opportunity to find their life long partners.

Generally, night courtship was a culture that enabled youths to find partners for marriage in olden times. With time, this traditional custom of night courtship is on the wane. With problems associating teenage pregnancies, vulnerability of Sexually Transmitted Disease and fathers abandoning children out of wedlocks, it has sparked controversies among the policy and lawmakers. While the former practice was meant for rural men and rural women, the study suggests that the latter usually happened with urban men and rural women which is why many rural women have been the subject to experiencing sexual coercion and pregnancy.

The beauty of the nightly courtship culture retained then, is diminishing with rising issues as mentioned above. Gone were the days when romance was a culture, a tradition beholding the lives of youthfulness, of travelling distances to fulfilling the urge of meeting a girl. Now, with courtship culture in its waning stage,  the accessibility of electricity and improved housing have proven its nemesis and usage of social media has taken a step to an imaginary romance.

The culture is thus on the verge of fading. 

 Writer; Sonam Dorji



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