How development and modernization has changed the lives of Brokpas

Although people of Sakteng Gewog under Trashigang dzongkhag are happy with development activities like road, electricity, network connection, health and education facilities, they are worried that with such development and with villagers exposed to new things, it might result in destabilization of their culture and traditions.

The people of Sakteng are however determined to protect their delicate culture and tradition against the rapid development and modernization.

Positive Impact

Sakteng Gup, Sangay Dorji said, “No place or village should be left in isolation for too long and compared to the past, Sakteng has developed tremendously. There are positive as well as negative impacts of development on local community”.

During winter, people of Sakteng locally known as the Brokpas leave to the lowlands of Trashigang district like Phongmey, Radi and Bidung to trade their local products and graze their yaks in available pastures. They barter yak butter and cheese with rice and salt. One of the prized Brokpa products is the fermented cheese.

Sakteng Gup said, “During 1980’s, people walk on foot for 3 to 4 days till Buna to trade butter and fermented cheese with rice and salt but now people don’t have to travel all the way to Buna and Phongmey as there are few general shops in Sakteng. Today with the completion of road, even the work of shopkeeper has become easier”.

Gup said, “In the past, if any high ranked people make a visit to Sakteng whether it is Minister or officials from the dzongkhag, people of Sakteng have to go to Phongmey to receive the officials and people need to carry their loads but now anyone coming to Sakteng can directly come and they are received at Sakteng”.

He said, “The introduction of phone has benefitted people not just in communicating but in other works too. During winter, people from Sakteng goes to Khelephu in Merak, Shingkharlori and Phongmey with their cattle and if some urgent meeting is bound to happen, one chupoen has to travel all the way till Merak and other places to convey the message. Now with phone services, it has solved this problem”.

“In the past when electricity was not there, people used Fire Kindler (locally known as mebchi) and kerosene for lighting. Power supply has brightened our houses and made our work easier as most work requires electricity”, he said.

Leki Dema, 38, said, “During the first government’s tenure in 2008, the work on construction of road started but it was only in 2014 that the construction of road till Thakte a small village, 18 kilometers from Sakteng was completed.  In 2015, work on construction of road till Sakteng was begun and was completed and first vehicle reached Sakteng in February 2019”.

She said, “The introduction of road has not only benefitted the local commuters but it has also promoted trade and economic growth in the community”.

With the reopening of Yonphula Domestic Airport and completion of road to Sakteng, the number of tourists visiting Sakteng has increased, people are now taking up ecotourism to earn additional income besides rearing of livestock which is the main livelihood of Brokpas.

In 2011, Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (SWS) has provided geyser and toilet equipments to people to construct 23 home stays but only one person has taken up the initiative to construct home stay and today Sakteng has only one home stay that is fully operational.

An official from SWS said that though we have provided necessary equipments to construct home stays, people have not been able to utilize them fully maybe because most tourist visiting the area preferred to camp and home stays are not able to cater the need of the visitors.

SWS official said, “Now with the completion of road, I think people have seen it as an opportunity to use those equipments and make home stays. We also encourage people to engage in ecotourism activities so that they can have alternate source to generate income rather than just depending on livestock”.

Sakteng Mangmi, Lhendup said, “I feel that most tourists come here because they are interested to know about the tradition and culture, lifestyles, dressing style, food and cleanness of places like Sakteng and Merak”.

Brokpas have always maintained their unique traditions and customs. Brokpas can be easily spotted as they wear different costumes. Both men and women wear a black hat with five fringes projecting from it known as Tsipee Cham woven from yak hair.

Men wear red woolen jackets tight around the waist with a belt. They also wear a vest made of deer skin or yak calf hides with the fur. Underneath they wear knee length shorts locally known as Kanggo, usually cream or white in color.

Women keep long hair tied up in traditional plaits. They wear pink and white striped raw silk dress on top covering till waist length and red striped similar to skirt with some animal and flower patterns woven on it. Women wear additional black woolen shawl during winter to keep themselves warm.

Negative impact

Sakteng Gup said, “With development and change in time, people are exposed to new things and people get to experience new thing which they were deprived for ages but with development, there are associated risk and we are worried at the same time. With the introduction of phone, though communicating and interaction has become easier, if people do not know how to use it properly, there are possibilities that the misuse of such facilities would result into distress and problem in the village”.

He said, “Sakteng was isolated for so many years but after the arrival of people from outside, even the way people dresses changed. With the opening of road and traffic for vehicles, many people from outside including tourists visited Sakteng and when new people came in they brought with them new culture and lifestyle. We are worried that eventually people will no longer wear our traditional dress which once used to be our pride”.

A villager, Nima Dorji, 35 year old said, “In the past, we did not have any health facilities and when we did not have health facilities, very few people got sick. However there are few changes now. With the opening of roads, many new things come in and with new things entering the village, I feel that people also suffer from different diseases which start with cold and flu and ends with sexually transmitted diseases”.

Pema Rinchen said, “We have heard that from last two to three years, tourists from countries like America, Thailand and Japan started visiting the village and when tourists comes in, there are of course so many benefits but at the same time there are negative impacts too”.

He said, “When tourists come to our village, though it benefits villagers in making some income, improper disposal of waste is an issue.  In the past when we didn’t have any visitors, the place was so clean but now there are wastes littered everywhere”.

Although Sakteng is provided with basic amenities or facilities, lack of proper health facilities, insufficient tsamdro or pasture land, poor condition of roads and power supply are some of the major issues faced the villagers.

Sakteng has basic Health Unit (BHU) but health facilities like blood testing, Ultrasound and Mother and Child Care is not available. Villagers have to go all the way to Trashigang Hospital to deliver a child or even for small tests like blood test and ear and eye tests.

As villagers depend on livestock for livelihood, villagers expressed that insufficient tsamdro is another problem. In Sakteng, there are more cattle and less pasture land. Tshamro issue has been there from a very long time.

Sakteng has also witnessed severe floods and windstorm destroying several houses. Between Pusa and Sakteng there is a river and during summer when it becomes bigger, there is a possibilities that it might wash away Sakteng village and Tengma village which is also located near the river.

This story was possible with the help from DOIM.

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