The dying language of the Oleps

Only two people remain who speaks the language

The Ole language which belongs to the Olep people is on the verge of extinction with only two Oleps who can speak the language.

Currently there are only two old ladies, Choday and Mindu Gyem both in their 70’s who can fluently speak the Ole language at Rukha village in Athang Gewog under Wangduephodrang Dzongkhag.

There is a third man Passang who can speak Ole but not with the same fluency as the two old ladies.

It is estimated that there are under 150 Oleps in Bhutan but most either don’t know how to speak the language at all or know only a smattering of it.

‘Olekha’ is known as the Black Mountain Monpa language which is Tibetan- Burman languages originally found in the Wangduephodrang and Trongsa Dzongkhags.

Rukha village has approximately 20 households with around 200 people living in it and it is one of least developed and remote villages in Athang Gewog.

“The younger generation is not confident or inclined to talk Ole because they feel inferior when they speak in Ole” said Athang Gup, Khandu.

According to the Gup the gewog is hoping for some initiatives to preserve the dying language.

The Gup said he is fearful that the language will soon died out and so he wants to try and safeguard it by initiating a training program especially for a youth.

“I wanted to organize a training just like a Non Formal Education (NFE) program, giving some incentives for two old women so that they can teach and also they will not be distracted from their daily chores ,but due to lack of fund its impossible,” said the Gup.

The caretaker of the Gewog centre, Passang who is the son in law of Angay Choday, said, “ it is a sad trend if we are not able to preserve our language as there are already some signs of students who are away from home and cannot speak their native language due to other factors.”

“I know a little bit, but we usually communicate in Dzongkha at home, and we don’t have time to teach our kids as they are busy with their schedules and domestic chores” added Passang.

Gup Khandu said Bonism has something to do with the Ole practices and as slaughtering of animals and offering of meat is prominent at Rukha village.

“We are planning to get rid of this type of culture, but it is taking time for us to spread awareness among the villagers” observed Gup Khandu

However there is some hope for the dying Ole language. According to the Gewog Administration Officer, (GAO) Prahlad Mahet, in the 11th Five year Plan, certain amount of budget is being allocated for the preservation of Ole language.

Mahet said that the Ministry of  Education have been promoting the language and even sent some students to foreign countries, setting the specific criteria that the students should be from Ole family

“Presently, I am working on the project proposal for the Ole language and hope it will get through,” said the GAO

The Tarayana Foundation which has almost single handedly brought about much socio-economic improvement in the lives of Oleps through free housing, health care, schools and livelihood development is also looking at the problem.

Director of Programs of the Tarayana Foundation, Sonam Pem said, “Since the last three years we have focused on socio-economic development and now we will look at seeing how this language can be preserved.”

She said that Tarayana had collected some audio recordings and some written material on the language. She said that Tarayana will need funds and experts to help preserve the language.


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  1. The death of any language is a terrible loss for humanity because language is more than just a tool for communication.  In it is wrapped the unique values, culture, history and perspectives of a particular people.  However, we must be realistic and practical.  Experts say that 90 % of the 6,700 spoken at the moment around the globe will die out in a 100 years time.  Forget Olep and a host of other dialects in our tiny, underpopulated country, we will be fighting hard to save Dzongkha in the next couple of decades  and whether we like it or not, it may be dead in 30-50 years!

  2. The main factor affecting to the extinction of these languages are due to the Bhutanese people who are leaving in other parts of the world and trying to coup with their lifestyle and forgetting our phenomenal tradition, culture, and also the language. Most of the Bhutanese people thinks that being able to speak foreign language makes them look cool which is totally wrong from my perspective/ point of view.

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