The Monpa


Within Bhutan, a small Kingdom in the Himalayas, hidden away in the deep forest and high mountains, live the Monpa - the indigenous people considered the country’s first inhabitants. Isolated from the Bhutanese for thousands of years, it has been less than twenty years since they were contacted with the intention of assimilation into the modern world.
 
The Monpa asked the TTF to help them preserve their ancient culture as hunter-gathers living in harmony with nature and each other. In 2014 we were the first Westerners to visit them, camping on their land for two days to learn about their way of life. Dasho Dorji, their shaman recognized his people “would be traumatized by the rapid assimilation into the dominant culture” without our help. For example, the traditional healer did not have an apprentice because the Monpa had learned there was better medicine at a hospital. This was difficult, however, as no one would have been able to travel there due to a lack of roads and transportation. The TTF’s professional documentation from this initial trip resulted in recording the Monpa’s creation story - a promotional video for the preservation of their culture, a photography book entitled Echoes of Bhutan, and the building of self-esteem within community members.

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Learn more about the traditions of the Monpa people in this video from Gage & Gage Productions. For more information, email [email protected]

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An advocate for indigenous peoples, the TTF responded immediately to new requests for funding by organizing a donor trip. With the permission of the Bhutanese government, a small group of committed and influential advisors and donors traveled five days to reach the Monpa in the secluded Black Forest. In the evening, we hosted a community meal and served everyone in the tribe. In appreciation, the Monpa entertained the travelers with a cultural performance of traditional songs and dance. Our deeply personal interactions inspired the participants and revitalized the endangered indigenous culture. As the Monpa Lama Dophu stated, “If it wasn’t for the Tribal Trust Foundation, we would have lost our culture by now. But there is still work to do.”


The TTF partners with the Tarayana Foundation of Bhutan in supporting grassroots sustainable cultural preservation projects for the Monpa - including the recording of their native language and stories, bamboo reintegration, and documenting the traditional knowledge and skills of the tribe’s Natural Healer in a book. The Tribal Trust looks forward to a continued alliance with the Tarayana Foundation in helping the Monpa preserve their ancient beliefs and customs while improving their life - while sustaining a link to our past and perhaps a key to our future.

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At the request of the Monpa, this year’s trip donation will establish a heritage museum and a pilot activity to domesticate some of the herbs the Traditional Healer, to be used as medicine, with the intention to preserve the indigenous healing tradition in the long run. Next year’s cultural preservation project is already identified - the Monpa have requested funding for an annual event to celebrate their culture. We are pleased to announce that the first Monpa Day is scheduled for December 10, 2019.


Bhutan: Photographing Happiness

Barry Shaffer

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For more than thirty years, Barry Shaffer has been a dentist, an educator, an international volunteer, a parent and a photographer. His experiences in all of these areas taught him that most people, whether they are anonymous individuals from the most remote corners of the globe or well-known Hollywood celebrities, share the same needs and have strikingly similar hopes, dreams and desires. With his photography, he strives to convey this human universality. By making his photographs and professional skills available to nonprofit organizations, he hopes to engender better understanding among people, help those struggling for life's basic needs and do his small part to create a better planet. Click here to visit his website.