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Dangb-ooo Dingbo-ooo (Long Long Ago) The Folklore of Bhutan

Updated: Dec 18, 2018

It is a universal truth that folklore and fable everywhere, is permeated by doctrine, power, and politics. Through the ages those in authority whether king, queen, zealot, or dictator, have often sought to censure the opinion and artistic expression of their subjects. Happily, ancient tales lullabies and ditties become ear-worms, and those ear-worms have a way of outpacing father time. Superstition, fairy-tales, parables and lore, are the vessels that carry the voice of the subjugated, the underdog, the poor, and the hero. Today In the remotest corners of Bhutan, herders, highlanders, nomads, and all who have not yet fully transitioned from oracy to literacy, continue the valuable tradition of imparting wisdom and language through folklore.

Detail of wall, Punakha Dzong, Punakha, Punakha Valley, Punakha District, Bhutan
Detail of wall, Punakha Dzong, Punakha, Punakha Valley, Punakha District, Bhutan

Bhutanese Fables:

‘Meme Haylay Haylay' is the Bhutanese tale of a poor, work shy old man, who did as little as he could when working the fields each day. One day while ploughing earth, ‘Meme Haylay Haylay' has the good fortune of finding a priceless turquoise stone. The uneducated and work-shy 'Meme', instantly decides to make his fortune and sell the precious stone and sets off for the market. However, before long he happens upon a fellow riding a horse. ‘Meme Haylay Haylay’ trades the priceless turquoise stone for the horse, he then trades the horse for an ox, the ox for a sheep, the sheep for a goat, the goat for a rooster, and finally he trades the rooster for a song. The last we hear of ‘Meme Haylay Haylay’, he wanders away whistling the song he has happily traded a rooster for. This well-known parable can easily be dismissed by outsiders as a simple anecdote about an old fool, but for the Bhutanese the tale is laced with symbolic significance.

What the herders, nomads, and remote tribesmen and women of Bhutan know and disseminate to their young through this story, is not a tale of foolishness, but a tale of throwing off the shackles of the material in order to gain true happiness. How the story changes when you understand that the turquoise denotes wealth, the road to market progress, the horse generosity, the ox strength, the sheep stability, the goat sacrifice; the rooster victory, and the song the mysticism and magic of a deity. The Bhutanese believe song attracts deities, and only a deity can bring unending prosperity and ultimate joy.

Most fables touch upon the triumph of good over evil, bringing light forth from the dark, or teach that for every action there is a reaction. Take the tale of ‘The Hoopoe Birds’, in which a couple works all day to collect grain to see them through the harsh winter. Though they toil, they are unable to collect much, and agree to ration their seed to see them through. Returning home, the husband begins to gather the grain, while he does so a single seed falls through an unseen crack in the couple’s nest. Husband 'Hoopoe', believing his wife to have eaten the seed, flies into a rage and pecks his innocent wife to death. Frightened and remorseful, the husband wishes to lay his wife to rest. He leaves the nest and carries his wife’s lifeless body to the mountains, but overhead vultures flock, and not wanting her body desecrated he decides to carry her to a bolder. The bolder is surrounded by scavenging mice, so once again he changes his mind, and takes his companions body to the mother river. He soon realises, if he leaves the body of his mate there, fish will surely consume her. Husband 'Hoopoe' has been travelling for months, winter has passed, and it is once again spring. Finding no place to leave his beloveds body, he decides to take her back to their nest. Upon his return, husband 'Hoopoe' sees a beautiful wild flower growing through the previously unseen crack, the seed he believed his wife had eaten has bloomed. Husband 'Hoopoe' wails in remorse, he lays beside his wife’s corpse and there he dies of a broken heart. This tale of anger, murder, and remorse, teaches children a sense of responsibility, to always speak the truth; remain unified with their people, and never to make rash judgements which they may come to regret.

Stories such as the above, teach the nomadic youth of Bhutan ethics, to respect and value tradition, and do their civic duty. For some folklore is their only source of knowledge, and the only way they too can preserve the rich and vibrant heritage of Bhutan. Though modernisation slowly creeps in, folklore in Bhutan is alive and well, and still enriching the secretive world Bhutan’s natives live in.

Did you know?

· Fables and parables in Bhutan often start with ‘Dangbo’ (Once Upon A time) or ‘Dangbo Dingbo’ (Long Long Ago).

· Traditionally the audience is expected to interject and respond throughout the telling of a fable. Exclamations of surprise such as, ‘Yaahlamah’, or ‘Ayi Wha’, let the story teller know your listening, and prevent wrathful spirits stealing the tale being told away.

· Simply stretching the words ‘Dangbo-oooo Dingbo-oooo’ denotes the length of time past, the lengthier the word the older the tale.

Trouvailles is happy to give you these insights into the Bhutanese culture, to witness it yourself why not book a Trouvailles Tour. Please call us at 020 3877 0670.


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