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Melody makers of Pemagatshel

Tsheten Norbu and his wife Sonam making Jaling in their small workshop

By Tshering

The fine pieces of art that one sees in handicraft shop displays or being adorned by people is still, in Bhutan at least, made by a process that actually resembles something out of medieval times. The tools, the technique, and the setting used to create these wares lie in a charming time warp. It has to be one of those things that retain its allure by not changing with the times. One such location is Khar Gewog in Pemagatshel.
Sounds of beating metal greet visitors to the villages. Inside small huts close to their house, men and women are seen working on the metal sheets creating beautiful Dung and Jaling.
Pemagatshel is famous for its artisans and weavers. The traditional religious instruments produced here are prized and sold throughout the country. Traditional instruments of traditional Bhutanese range from the familiar to the more exotic. They can be found in almost all the Bhutanese houses. They are used in Buddhist ceremonies to focus the mind, entreat spirits, and provide drones and melodies.
Dada described and demonstrated to this reporter the process of etching intricate design on the Dhung and Jaling as he spoke how he learn the art.
In late 1980s when Lama Sangay Dorji was constructing a Zangtopelri monastery in the village, he ran out of money, so went to Samdrupjongkhar to learn how to make trumpets. The money saved from the sale of these instruments helped him complete the monastery. With him he brought the art of making Dung (long-horn ritual trumpets) and Jaling (oboe-like instruments) to the village. Dada learned the art from the Lama when he was 18.
Today, the villagers are not just keeping the tradition alive; it has helped the village generate employment both for young and old, including women. In the beginning, when the craft of making trumpets was new to the village, makers had to go from door to door to sell the finished products but today, orders come from different dzongkhags.
Trumpets made by local artisans are preferred over the improvised and machine-made trumpets imported from India or Nepal. The business is so profitable, that almost all the households are into the trade of making trumpets.
The popularity of these products and encouraged and inspired the villagers to invest more time into the work. Dada and his wife works from 6 in the morning till late evening. If there is more demand they work longer. It takes the duo about three days to make a pair of Jaling. But, like other villagers, the couple is unable to explore market outside of the gewog for better price. They shared that if they go to sell their produce outside the gewog their work gets hampered.
The 36 year old, Tsheten Norbu, agrees that finding market within the dzongkhag isnโ€™t an issue, but exploring market beyond is a challenge. At the village level, not everyone is willing to pay Nu 8000 for a pair of Jaling.
Like Dadaโ€™s wife, Sonam, 31-year-old attended training in designing conducted by Agency for Promotion of Indigenous (APIC) two years ago. Today most of the women help their husband in designing.
Phuntsho, a customer, came to Pemagatshel to buy a pair of Dung and Jaling, admiring its quality and finishing touch.
Another customer, Sangayla, said there are many products in the market even from Sikkim, Nepal and other dzongkhags but Tshebar produces the best. They could be identified from quality of the sound it produces.
Sangchu agreed that because of the popularity of the product, the artisan do not need to go door to door to sell their products, but the customers come to them naturally.
Another artisan Karma Zangmo has been designing pattern for the trumpets for the past 14 years. Younger women come to her to learn the art of tay.
Like her there are many women in the village who are equally involved in the art. โ€œI first learnt the art when I was 12 years old. I have never looked back since,โ€ said 38-year-old Karma Tshomo, a mother of three. โ€œAt least we are assured of instant income right after we finish doing patterns and designs. We also encourage young girls and boys to learn from elders, instead of remaining jobless. And some of them showing great interest in it.โ€
SonamDema, a housewife, said: โ€œWhen I first came here I was amazed to see women sitting outside and making these wondrous designs. I wanted to learn. I can now make some designs and make good money and help my family.โ€
Women now earn about Nu 700 a design. One designer can do about two design plates a day.
Khar Gewog is popular for producing copper craft products like Dung, Jaling, lakhor (hand turn mini prayer wheel), and also for local Poe (incense stick). The Gewog consist of 5 chiwogs namely Khar-Yagyur, Khengzor-Labar, Shinangri, Bongmaan and Nagtseri-Tsebar. It has a population of about 3911 with 380 households in the 14 villages. The Gewog is connected by 55 km feeder road that will connect Pemagatshel and Nganglam Dungkhag.
Meanwhile Jamphel Choda, 35-year-old and his wife makes Dung. They take four to five days to make a pair of Dung. They have a Tshogpa who sells the finished product. However, they face the challenge of getting quality coal. They take
The success and popularity of the trade has encouraged the villagers to form a group, Tsebar Lakzo Thuentshog that buys trumpets from the villagers. Tenzin Drakpa, the chairperson, has been making trumpets for the last 20 years. The tshogpa buys trumpets from the villagers and supplies them to handicraft shops in Thimphu.
The chairperson was out of the country on pilgrimage tour so this reporter couldnโ€™t talk to him.
. The tshogpa buys raw materials like copper, metal, copper wire and German silver, among others, and saves them in the raw material bank that APIC helped establishment. Trumpet makers no longer have to go to Samdrupjongkhar to get raw materials.
APIC supplies the raw materials on the 16th day of every month, and members deposit money in the bank for raw materials.
Dendupla a 75-year-old said the business has helped the community retain its people from abandoning their roots and moving to the cities for job. At the same time, the community is able to keep the tradition of making traditional trumpets alive.
Dzongkhag Planning Officer,Kinley said children from Tshebar community need not go outside their village looking for temporary job during the school breaks,as they can work in the community helping their parents.
APIC Procurement Officer said โ€œour organization had provided training, funds, skills, employment for the people of Tshebar and now further planning to send Dung and Jaling to the outside country.โ€

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