Thursday, March 21, 2013

Home made in Bhutan

Home made in Bhutan

Surly there are a number of places in the world where traditional methods of doing things are still in practice but likely not many where those traditions are still so much the norm and fully supported by the culture and the government which are one and the same.
            So, the fellow next door, Pema, our school driver and catch all employee, has a young family and wanted some furniture. Earlier in the season he purchased a batch of walnut from a tree felled a few villages over. This wood is stacked behind our building with stickers so it will stay dry. The pieces are large, 3 or 4 inches by 12 to 16 inches. An amazing amount of walnut by any modern standards. After acquiring the wood he hires a carpenter for whom he has erected a substantial tent shelter in the back yard. In this tent the carpenter begins by turning the rough wood into dimensional lumber suitable for furniture. This involves a huge amount of planing, by a power planer when it is working and large block planes when it is on the fritz. Mortise and tenon joints are then hand cut into the dimensional lumber. As they are fit and glued together simple furniture is produced that is handsome walnut, very functional, and should last a lifetime.
            Another Bhutanese tradition which affects me daily is the national dress. In school’s all the students and all the Bhutanese teachers wear Kira, for ladies, and Gho, for gents. I wear Gho daily to teach in as a show of respect for and interest in the Bhutanese culture. I hope the Bhutanese reputation for being genuine is true and that the comments I have heard that, for a foreigner, I wear Gho pretty well are true and not just being nice. Anyway, every Gho starts out as raw material and is made in Bhutan. Most are custom made but it is possible to buy one off the shelf if it fits. Hard to imagine that a garment which looks like a giant, shapeless cape can be sized but I have learned as one of mine is smaller than the other and they do go on differently. Every morning one must take this huge, shapeless cape and construct the national dress which is very specific. Like the hand hewn mortise and tenon every day the Gho must be shaped, tucked, and adjusted just so to be presentable. It is all held in place by a belt, again just a flat woven strap which has no buckles or other methods of holding together. Extra tight is the correct adjustment, ends tucked in just so. The whole belt is covered by a large fold of the Gho so that it should never be seen even though they are of brightly colored patterns . Still today the Gho is just material sewn in a certain way, no snaps, buttons, or zippers, just tradition. The Gho is required daily dress for most jobs in Bhutan, including taxi drivers. So it is around all the time, not a ceremonial garment to be brought out only at certain times.
            Any society which not only tolerates but values hand made furniture and national dress which must be created daily is a society which is worth getting to know a bit and worth preserving provided the Bhutanese continue to value their traditions. So far that seems to be the case. Meanwhile I will keep practicing, I can do it well enough by myself about half the time. Very often I need adjustment or an entire remake in the morning.
All this is not to say Bhutanese are not attracted by modern marketing and all sorts of cheap, poorly made products along with junk food. Coke products are fairly new here and the red and white Coke signature is becoming quite noticeable in the country’s somewhat abundant litter. I would think that a company like Coke would be sensitive to its image if not its contribution to the litter problem. Many tourists will see the red and white logo and form their own opinions. Bhutan should be a place where recycling fits in with many national goals. Plastic is still not being recycled effectively throughout Bhutan although it has begun in a few areas. Deposits on containers, reusable glass, etc should all be options that would be nice to see before Bhutan joins the rest of SE Asia much of which is covered in endless litter. So come on Coke, do your part!
No luck with pictures today, I'll try to add some later.

1 comment:

  1. It's so interesting how everything in Bhutan is pretty well hand made, if you get a chance you should check out this preview to the documentary "Made in Bhutan", I think it goes nicely with this blog post!