Tradition and Surprises: Ethnobotany and Cultural Sanctuaries in Bhutan

Authors: Maria Fadiman*, Florida Atlantic University, Ngawang Gyeltshen, Bhutanese Government Botanist , Chris Rainier, Cultural Sanctuaries, Olivia McKendrick, Cultural Sanctuaries
Topics: Cultural Ecology, Human-Environment Geography, Indigenous Peoples
Keywords: Bhutan, Ethnobotany, Tradition, Environment, Wangchuck National Park
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Embassy Room, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Bhutan, known for Gross National Happiness, proves to be more interesting than the image portrayed. This paper is part of a project stemming from work with the group Cultural Sanctuaries, whose mission is to: “…create a global series of cultural sanctuaries that support the work of traditional and indigenous communities”. The study site, RukhaVillage, located in the buffer zone of Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park in Bhutan, is surrounded by forest and the residents are the last Olep speakers in the country. Their culture and their ecosystem are poised in a moment of change, as a road is being built connecting from the main highway to the village, with the increased potential of deforestation and cultural degradation. As times change, so do the people and their knowledge and traditions. This paper represents the ethnobotanical part of the project, working with a larger team made up of linguists, anthropologists, photographers and cultural mediators. Through participant collaboration we recorded and analyzed useful plant species in the categories of medicine, tea, food, transport, construction, ornamentals and spirituality. Plant names are recorded in Zhonka, Olep and the scientific name. This data is used as a lasting record for the people of Rukha, as well as creating a data base for the Royal Government of Bhutan and the Tarayana Foundation to provide cultural ecological data to provide a basis on which to create a Cultural Sanctuary. Surprising results reveal themselves as a culture is on the brink of a new connection to the outside world

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