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The hallmarks of our nationhood

Dorji Penjore's latest book to hit the market

In 2009 The Centre for Bhutan Studies (CBS) organized a three-day National Storytelling Conference. Scholars from home and abroad presented papers on the importance of folk culture. They pointed out the need to revive our rich oral tradition. Hundreds attended the program and it was truly one big national event. People from different regions were invited to narrate folktales in their own dialects. That conference was praiseworthy. It aimed at creating deeper understanding and appreciation of our oral tradition and similar traditions elsewhere.

“Walls of rural Bhutanese houses may have once echoed and re-echoed with folktales narrations but frequency of narrations today is becoming ever fainter and lesser,” writes Dorji Penjore, one of Bhutan’s foremost folklorists. “There is a huge gap between original folktale reservoir and what could be narrated today. A Bhutanese folklorist would be disappointed by number of narrators and folktales surviving in the villages.”

According to him Bhutanese have grown up “listening to folktales at homes and schools, and there are folktales everywhere to know at least one of them.  Ironically, it is this ubiquitous nature that very little interest is generated for studying it formally.”  He goes on to add “Bhutan may have been rich in oral tradition (kha rgyud) until the 1960s, but recycling the same image today is blinding our sight to that fact that this oral tradition is fast dying.”

And he is of the opinion that until now the government has only stressed the importance of our folklore only on paper, but very little effort has been made to promote it. It does not form the part of our school curriculum and that little effort that has made is only the result of individual interest borne out of love for our rich oral tradition. We have a long way to go.

Mr. Penjore advocates “For Bhutan whose hallmark of nationhood is founded on cultural identity and Gross National Happiness, folktales are too important.  It deserves to be narrated at homes, taught in schools, documented by archivists, studied by scholars, translated into different languages, and above all made into every day part of life.”

To do this we need interested people to record and retrieve our folktales from every part of the country. And to do this successfully these individuals must be supported with adequate funding. There are Bhutanese who have collection of folktales without the source of funding to print them. The authorities must ensure that they organize activities that are aimed at promoting and creating awareness of our folktales. A foundation for the national story telling conference was already laid back in 2009 and now we need to add onto that momentum by making it an annual event.

We need our children to generate interest in listening to and get engaged in our folktales because I see that as the most effective medium of value transmission. This calls for inclusion of our folktales study as part of our school curriculum so that our children develop an understanding and appreciation of our stories form early on. I see telling children stories as one of the most effective tool in delivering classroom lessons. It is one great way to promote our national language by recording stories in the language. Eventually they can be translated. Of course it is heartening to see that happening slowly in our effort of promoting GNH schools.

We have been saying a lot on paper for a long time. Now it is time to get down to real business. (This is an abridged version of my recent column in Bhutan Times)

Note: Mr. Dorji Penjore's latest collection Dangphu Dingphu: A Collection of Bhutanese Folktales will be released in the market soon. This addition to our limited collection of folktales is wonderful news to us all. I am sure getting my autographed copy, how about you? 


  1. A thoughtful post. Yeah, surely we would love to have a copy and go through his book. Cheers for his endeavour in striving to keep the folktales alive! Great Job! :)

  2. Wish I could also get an autographed copy just like you. :)


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