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Get ownership certificates for your Dzee but you still can’t sell them outside Bhutan

The Department of Culture under Ministry of Home and Culture Affairs has started issuing ownership certificates to antique owners along with the legitimate value according to the value of property decided by the department.

The department is already working on the new rules and regulations for the antique cultural properties.

“We found the need to revise the price of certain items especially like dzee because the price, which we decided before is not legitimate anymore in the market,” said the Chief of Division of Cultural Property, Phendey Lekshey Wangchuk.

“It’s not mandatory for the owners to sell at the price mentioned in the certificate, they can sell at lower or higher cost,” he said adding that the ownership will also be transferred to the buyer after the sale.

So far the allocated price for the one eye dzee is Nu 100,000 and Nu 30,000 for distorted ones.

As of now, 44,182 antique properties including both public and private properties have been registered with the Department of Culture Properties (DCP) under Ministry of Home and Culture Affairs (MoHCA) of which 1,040 are registered by private owners.

He said that all antiques belonging to government, dzongs, lhakhangs and museums needs to be inventoried including the door knob and latches as per the movable cultural properties act of 2005.

“For the private properties section 36, mentions that all the antique properties need to be registered too”.

“Ku Sung Thugten and ritual objects that are 100 or over 100 years old are to be considered as Valuable Cultural Property. Those objects made and consecrated by renowned religious figures and those created by famous artisans and crafts people are also considered Valuable Cultural properties irrespective of age, but there are also such properties which need not be beyond 100 years like the belongings of His Majesty The Fourth King and Je Khenpo,” he said.

He said people do not register, dzee and jeru, as private antique property. “It’s mainly because they intend to sell outside country and people think the government may snatch their property,” he added.

Phendey said that Dzee and similar properties are not allowed to be sold outside Bhutan to preserve the culture and tradition of the country by keeping the properties within the country itself.

“It can also be because there is an association of crime like theft and vandalism which is increasing over the years and even leading to murder cases” he said adding that the high rate provided by the foreigners for Dzee will also encourage more crime in the country.

He said claiming such ownership certificates will prevent owners from getting into trouble. “There are chances that such identical property can belong to someone else , which if lost, can be charged as being stolen if  it is found with the unclaimed owner,” he said adding that if such properties are lost, the department will also help to relocate the registered item.

The movable cultural act 2005, section 20 states “Should any Valuable Cultural Property reach foreign countries either through theft or sale or as a gift by irresponsible people, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs along with the Royal Bhutan Police and other relevant Ministries shall negotiate with those countries to recover these protected properties. The lost Cultural Properties, when recovered from any other country, shall be verified in accordance with the Lhakhang and Thram and sent back to its rightful place”.

While it is strictly prohibited to sell such properties outside the country he said that it is always safe to inform the regional cultural officer if the properties are going to be taken outside the districts. “It’s vital that we preserve what is already with us,” he said.  “Such properties usually come with ample blessings and history, so it’s not really a good idea to sell.”

“Ornaments which includes ornaments for Kusung Thugten of Lhakhangs and jewellery made of gold, silver, copper, cats-eye, and coral, turquoise, pearl, precious stone, sapphire, diamond, oyster, and such other ornaments of historic interest which are considered valuable irrespective of age comes under valuable cultural properties which hold the same significance as statues and religious items,” he specified.

He also said that most of the chorten vandalism cases arise in the search of dzee since it’s considered one of the most valued antiques in the world. The report says that since 1987, more than 3,500 chortens were vandalized.

MoHCA minister Lyonpo Dawa Gyeltshen said, that cultural property forms a significant and a core component of Bhutan’s immensely rich and ancient heritage. He said, therefore, the conservation and safeguarding of movable Cultural Property is thus very important not just as representations of the past but also to ensure that the quality of life of the Bhutanese people is also as rich or even richer in the future.

“Every individual needs to register such properties for it will be easier to track down if the item is real or fake or legal or illegal,” the minister said. “Such properties need to be preserved because it is part of our culture, value and tradition.”

So far, 289 dzee and 1,423 pieces of jeru have been registered, mostly from Paro dzongkhag.   The cultural department also advocated on the importance of registration of such properties in almost all the gewogs and dzongkhags, which is still ongoing.

Research has also been done by the cultural department but the origin of dzee still remains a mystery. Lopen Phendey said, “Many say that it was found from cow dung, river or stones but we believe that it was brought from Tibet by lamas as jewel were inscribed within the statues.”

Lopen Phendey said that joint investigation shall be done every three to five years by the Zhung Dratshang, Rabdey and the Department of Culture on the condition of Valuable Cultural Properties to ascertain whether these properties are still in accordance with their Thrams.

“If the government becomes aware of cultural properties that have been concealed to avoid registration of these objects during the time of registration, penalties shall be imposed,” he said.

“Similarly if Valuable Cultural Properties are found to be missing during the investigation, the matter shall be forwarded to the Royal Bhutan Police for further investigation.”

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