Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Bhutan : A demon-inspired migration

10 February, 2009 - Farmers in rural Bhutan abandon their villages when wild animals attack crops or humans, or they lose their farmland to landslides or even in search of a better life.

Phungshing villagers in Thrimshing dungkhag have a spookier reason. Villagers started leaving Phungshing in the early 1990s when the local paw (shaman) told them that the death of a middle-aged villager was caused by a demon that resided below the village. More people died in the following years and villagers started abandoning Phungshing in droves.

Located on a gentle slope of a low hill descending into the Ngera Ama chhu (river), Phungshing is a fertile village where farmers grow maize, potato, chili and orange. According to villagers, since the shaman’s warning, many people, who did not heed the warning, died. They say most deaths were sudden and strange.

About half a dozen people from that village have perished so far. A household, according to villagers, moved away for good after losing two members in successive years.

“My father was healthy and strong when he died in 2006,” said Thukten Tshering, 35, who left Phungshing that year itself. “Those, who died after my father, were all young and healthy men. We had no choice but to leave the village,” said Thukten.

From more than a dozen domiciles in the early 1990s, today only two households located above Phungshing are occupied. Most houses in these parts are two-storied traditional structures with CGI roofing. All the houses are closed in by khengpa (artemisia) bushes.

Villagers have since moved over to nearby and safer villages. Thukten lives with his paternal uncle in Sako. “Its pains me to look at my land going to waste in front of own eyes. It used to be full of maize, potato and chili,” he said pointing towards Phungshing, where several houses can be seen surrounded by thickets.

In 1993, three households left their village together when their children died suddenly, without falling ill, according to Phuntsho Norbu from Sako, a neighbouring village.

Pema Wangchuk, 40, from Thungkhar, had taken in his doubly widowed mother when his stepfather, aged 50, died all of a sudden in 2007. “He had come to vote in a tshogpa election in which I was a also nominee. He died a few hours after he fainted suddenly,” said Pema Wangchuk. “He didn’t have any sickness.”

Although living with someone away from their village is difficult, villagers dread going back to Phungshing, even after a chorten was erected to offset any evil influence.

“We might invoke the wrath of the demon if we go back and work on our fields,” said Pema Wangchuk. “We’ve invested a lot in building the houses,” he said.

About an hour’s walk from Phungshing, another farmer, Yonten, is constructing a new house. He left Phungshing a year ago when his immediate neighbour left for Tsirang, to live with relatives.

The chorten was consecrated by Garab Rinpoche last year and nothing strange has been recorded since. But villagers fear a recurrence. “It’s risky to go back,” said a villager.

By Tshering Palden


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