Russ Carpenter Update on Bhutan

March 26, 1999

Just one year ago Russ Carpenter gave the Obsidians a talk about the unique country of Bhutan. Russ characterized this sequel as a “graduate course” on Bhutan, with emphasis on Bhutanese art and spiritual beliefs.

As occurred in January’s potluck talk by Herm Fitz, the cleared potluck buffet table was again completely covered; but this time (in stark contrast to bleached bones) by strikingly bright and beautiful fabrics of wool and raw silk woven by the women of Bhutan. The silk fabrics are of such unique quality, being more of an art form than utilitarian, that finding a suitable market for them is difficult. [Russ and Blyth would appreciate any suggestion concerning this problem.]

The basis of both the art and religion is complex, and its complete analysis is difficult. Violence is prevalent in the art depicting their gods, and yet the Bhutanese people are notably kind and gentle. Their relaxed attitude toward erotic images, as depicted in art and theater, does not appear to carry over into their personal relationships. The intricate art work, which is vivid and crowded with images, is kept “alive” by often being completely painted over with a new subject.

Bhutan is a model of environmentalism — two-thirds of the country is to be kept forested. The children are schooled in English and there is no TV. The capital city has no need of a traffic light! It seems reasonable to expect that the Bhutanese are not overly concerned with the Y2K problem. Russ suggested that the unique character of these people may have been molded by the extreme harshness of the Himalayan environment. Russ and Blyth are to be commended for their ongoing efforts to help Bhutan deal with the unavoidable interactions with the rest of the world. But it was made apparent that we have something beneficial to learn from the Bhutanese.

Bep Fontana

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