The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Bonchoe – The last yak to the slaughter

Chundu pow makes an offering

Haa’s guardian deity will be appeased without this ancient bloodletting rite

Ritual: It was a fine beast. The pair of even sharp horns almost look implanted on its head, its jet-black fur appears oiled as it runs down to its belly, almost touching the ground.

But with a coarse rope running through its nostrils and its head tied to the trunk of a big pine tree (lha-shing), the yak appears subdued. As if it knew its fate. It didn’t move an inch as curious people took its last photographs.

The yak draws attention as it is cleansed, and a few men push and pull it to a thicket next to the celebration ground. When the men return, they are carrying meat with blood their hands. Amidst the sound of singing and dancing, the yak was sacrificed to Ap Chundu, the protective deity of Haa.

The meat is taken straight to the kitchen next to the celebration ground. The Bonchoe ritual requires the yak to be cooked and served to the people attending the ritual, after the offering is made to the Ap Chundu. The cook, busy chopping the meat, said everything, including the innards, will be cooked and served.

Some, disturbed by the fresh meat carried to the kitchen, said they have brought their own lunches. “How can we eat meat of an animal that was standing in front of our eyes a while ago?” said a spectator. “I don’t like the practice.”

The nameless yak, however, will be the last yak to be sacrificed to Ap Chundu.

Doing away with the sacrifice was discussed a few times in the past but, as an age-old tradition, they didn’t dare test the wrath of Ap Chundu. This time, after consulting with the dzongkhag and gewog staff, and the family who carried out the tradition for years, they decided to seek Ap Chundu’s permission to stop killing yaks when appeasing him.

A decision was reached to roll the dice and see if the deity would approve the new idea. Monks conducted Ngoensel (prayers to appease Ap Chundu), and the Chundu pow (shaman) recited prayers, as Samar gup, Tshewang Tandin, who is also the dzongkhag tshogdu’s chairman, was asked to roll the dice.

“Ap Chundu gave us the consent,” said the gup after rolling the dice. “We can appease him without having to kill a yak every year during the Bonchoe.

The gup said that, although people didn’t like to see yaks killed, they never made an issue out of this, as it was a tradition practised for years. “Recently, some villagers shared their concern.”

Haa dzongkhag’s Sungkop, Pempa Tshering, said, as a Boenchoe (a type of bonism), the practice of offering fresh meat and blood was an integral tradition. “We tried stopping it once but, on the recommendation of the Chundu pow, we started it again,” Pempa Tshering said. “The pow then said discontinuing the practice would bring bad luck to the dzongkhag.”

Ha dzongda Sonam Wangdi said it was good that they could do away with the killing of animals. “But still, we have to ask for permission from the Je Khenpo,” he said. The dzongda explained that such kind of practices have existed in different parts of the country. “Except for Haa, rituals with animal sacrifice are out of vogue in many places,” he said.

The last yak

Meanwhile, Yangzom, 52, from Yangthang village said she was so relieved to hear the news. “It was hard to believe,” she said. Another villager, Penjor, 45, said there was no better celebrations than the stopping of yak sacrifices.

“Whenever I came to the Bonchoe, it was the yak tied on the lhashing that always disturbed me,” he said.

However, the Bonchoe will not go vegetarian. “We’ll buy meat and manage it,” the gup said.

By Nima Wangdi
Source: Kuenselonline