Kengkhar Women prove equal to men in craft

Over 25 crafts persons were trained by skilled locals on the techniques of making silver decorative belt patterns and motifs for Ara Palang (alcohol cask) in Murung village under Kengkhar gewog in Mongar.

The project was recently taken up by Helvetas to train craftsperson as part of the skills development program of local traditional craft.

Traditionally, the art and craft to manufacture the product was a ‘men only’ domain, and limited women’s role to polishing silver decorative patterns, extracting and transporting raw materials from the forest.

However, women are beginning to take up the occupation more seriously and from the recent training, the organization has identified some potential and skilled female Ara palang-makers in Murung village.

“Women are equally skilled and are capable of crafting high quality Ara palang,” project Coordinator with the Helvetas, Kunzang Dorji said. More women now showed interest in the trade and Murung women had no hesitation to work just as equally as men.

One among such female craftsperson in Kengkhar is Pem Zam.

She said there is nothing that women cannot do and that some women could craft better alcohol cask than men. Women also proved superior in identifying better raw materials from the forest.

The raw materials to craft Jandop (alcohol cask) in Kengkhar, Monggar had come to an end yet the skilled people in order to maintain the age-old tradition travelled far to Pemagatshel and Lhuentse to collect raw materials.

According to Kunzang Dorji, Kengkhar is eminent for highly-skilled alcohol cask makers, a tradition which is an old age practice.

He said that such produce have been a prime product of local trade with the neighboring villages and dzongkhags, who engaged in barter systems of trade in the past.

With the increasing demand of Ara palang of Kengkharpas, the women in the area realized that the product has become an unmistakable symbol of their cultural product and community identity and also a major source of family income.

The Project Coordinator said that the project’s aim is to help preserve local crafts heritage through skills enhancement and supply of basic tools and equipments and help open-up markets for crafts.

He said the enterprise development livelihood programs will be implemented in close collaboration with Tarayana Foundation, who has already initiated experimental plantation of the Dongtshong shing (sp. Boehmeria Rugulosa) an important material crucial to Ara Palang and the survival of the craft.

The community of Kengkhar has inherent skills in several crafts, in particular wood crafting and silver-smithy.

Kunzang Dorji said that with adequate support in terms of skills development and other entrepreneurial training in related crafts, Kengkhar can emerge as the model crafts gewog in Bhutan.

The training is a part of the Leveraging and Preserving Cultural Diversity (LCD) project’s enterprise development activity, supported by Helvetas Swiss Inter-cooperation and a grant from the European Union under the theme “investing in people-access to local culture, protection and promotion of cultural Diversity”.

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