Bows And Arrows in Bhutan

Posted on January 18, 2017


Most Bhutanese speak 3 languages. The official language (English), the national language (Dzongkha) and their mother language (most likely Scharchop or Nepali, though with 33 languages in Bhutan, one’s mother language could well be another tongue). Most also speak Hindi, as since television was introduced in 2000, Indian shows have become popular, so a command of Hindi is absorbed through the boob tube. Who says TV cannot be educational? All schooling is in English, so conversing is not problematical, and meeting and getting to know Bhutanese is easy. Bhutanese are unfailingly polite and as in much of Asia, a raised voice in considered poor manners. And while everyone has a mobile phone, you never overhear a conversation, so unlike the USA where having to endure others cell phone prattling is de rigueur. While Bhutanese are good orators and have plenty to say, it’s all accomplished at a decibel level that is not jarring. However, if you want to hear Bhutanese raise their voices, watch them shoot bow and arrows. Archery is the national sport, played all over the country, and on weekends a match is never far away. Bhutanese rules are unlike elsewhere, as the target is 450' from where the archer stands. My contact lens corrected eyesight cannot discern the target, so it baffles me how the archers can, yet judging by the number of bulleyes, or near bulleyes, these men have good eyesight. Yes you read that correct, these men, as archery is a man’s sport. While sexual parity in Bhutan is higher than elsewhere in Asia, archery is the domain of men. The Bhutanese do realize how this appears to the outside world and send specially trained female archers to the Olympics. Archery matches are noisy affairs. The main reasons for the noise is that the teams delight in insulting each other, and they hurl their insults back and forth from target to target. The normally genteel Bhutanese break loose when playing archery and raucous and ribald comments are the order of the day.  Insults are often funny, at least to the one not being insulted, so the result is belly whopping laughter from the spectators. My friend Dorji will not translate the insults for me, saying innocently ‘they just make fun of each other.” Though his friends fall over themselves in laughter as they translate, they are not restrained by the same modesty that affects Dorji. Most insults involve insulting the opponent’s sexual prowess or equipment, with explicit and colorful language, enough to make me blush, so I understand Dorji’s reluctance. What makes this x-rated dialogue all the more incongruous is that the men are wearing ghos, the traditional Bhutanese garment for men, which is in fact a dress. Or more accurately it's a robe, which untied fall to the ankles, properly tied reaches the knees and looks like a dress. They also wear knee socks with this, and for archery tennis shoes. Bhutanese are required to wear traditional attire when going to work or school or into a government building, or when playing archery. An only in Bhutan sight, a bunch of hunky men in dresses (OK, ghos) shooting arrows and arrows and making an unholy racket as they holler they sexually laden insults back and forth.