Discover How The Lhops Of Bhutan Build A Rombu (Tomb) For The Dead To Reach Gahala

Email

According to the Lhops, the tomb which is also known as the Rombu hold significant value in their lives for it connects them to their ancestors.

A Lhop woman wearing traditional clothes. (Source: Denkarsgetaway)

 

By Rajesh Rai | Kuensel 

For the Lhops (Doyas) who live in Lhotokuchu Jigme and Lhotokuchu Singye, Dorokha, a unique culture of entombing their dead in their own lands still exist today.

According to the Lhops, the tomb which is also known as 'Rombu' holds significant value in their lives for it connects them to their ancestors.stors.

Who are the Lhops?

The Lhop popularly known as ‘Doya’ is considered the oldest aboriginal inhabitants who settled in the southwest of Bhutan. The local term ‘Lhop’ literally means southerner, a term mostly used by the people from Paro and Haa.

Most of the Lhops are concentrated in Dorokha, Samtse district. However, their history and origin have remained a mystery. According to the locals, most Lhops live in the three villages of Jigme, Singye and Wangchuck.

Most Lhops depend on agriculture, livestock farming and cardamom cultivation for a living. Besides that, they also grow oranges and maize. 

How do the Lhops bury the dead?

The Lhops who live on a slope that rises from the Amo chhu (Torsa) bank will put the dead body of a family member in a box made out of a special wood called Kimbu, walled by specific stones. The box is then put in the fields as tombs.

 

Source: Joshuaproject.net

 

The Lhops believe that they would then journey to a valley which they fondly call ‘Gahala’—their ultimate resting place after death. The Lhops point to a valley shaped by the two highest peaks at the farthest north as ‘Gahala’. Gahala is visible from Jigme and Singye and to cross that valley, being buried inside a Rombu is the only way to get there.

The Lhops cannot use others’ land, not even the government’s land to place the Rombu. It is mandatory to construct the Rombu in their private lands because a person would have to borrow and live in others’ land in Gahala in his afterlife if his Rombu is raised in others’ land.

Challenges facing this age-old tradition of burial

However, with the increase in population and land use, finding space for a Rombu is becoming a challenge. The Lhops say their lands are getting smaller and they have often pondered about this risk of shortage of land due to its use for Rombu.

 

Inside the kitchen of a Lhop's home

Source: Denkarsgetaway

 

“But until we die, we will keep this practise alive,” Sonam Tshering Doya said.

As Rombus cannot be dismantled, it is imminent that the Lhops would have to face land shortage in their struggle to the Gahala.

In his cardamom field, Doyi Tshering, 55 is also worried about population growth and its impact on Rombu and private lands.

“Lands are already getting smaller today,” he said. “If the government could give us land for Rombu, I think our community’s committee should identify one.”

Shopkeeper Jamten Doya, 52 have similar thoughts about Rombu.

“Inheritances have already decreased the size of the lands today,” he said.

 However, he said that even if the government allowed the Lhops to use government land for Rombu, they would still prefer to use private lands. “People are stubborn and would want to keep the Rombu inside their lands.”

Jamten Doya said that the community had already discussed asking for a government land once. “But we dropped the idea since it is not according to our custom. Rombus have to be constructed in the queue to whoever died earlier in the family.”

How is a Rombu constructed?

Rombus are found in the fields of every household in the Lhop community of Lhotokuchu Jigme and Lhotokuchu Singye. While some are situated far away, there are some which are close to their homes.

Only stones are visible from the exterior but the Lhops say a lot of work and procedures are involved in its construction.

There are several challenges they face in constructing a Rombu. First of all, it is a lengthy process. A deceased person is wrapped in a bamboo carpet. It would then be placed in a customised box which fits the body. The box is made of Kimbu (wood) tree, as other woods are not used for this purpose.

According to the Lhops, two small holes are left open—one at the head side of the box and one at the rear side of the body. If the box has other openings, they should be obscured by clay paste. The head of the dead is kept facing the Gahala.

This is a Rombu. The Lhops bury their dead family member in a stone wall with fencing and roof for protection. It is believed that their dear ones are buried closer to home. If the smell from the rot comes home, it is believed to be a blessing for the family. 

Source: Asteesmemoir.blogspot

 

The box has to be walled by a special type of stone from all corners, including the floor. Inside the walls, a stone oven would be kept. The Lhops believe that the dead will use the oven for cooking on the journey to Gahala. On top of a Rombu’s exterior, a plate and a mug are also kept.

A stone would also be placed on top of the rombu. It is for the deceased to get back and hold onto the stone during difficult times such as encountering calamities on the journey to Gahala.

In the summer, green grasses will cover the tomb and in winter the stones will be exposed. If the body of the deceased was not found, a Rombu would still be erected. The dead’s clothes would be used in place of the body and the rituals would remain the same.

“It is an ancestral practice passed down by our forefathers and it has to go on,” a villager from Lhotokuchu Jigme, Sonam Tshering Doya said. “It would be a tragedy not to practise this custom.”

 

This article first appeared in Kuensel and has been edited for the Bhutan Times.

 

 


Related Posts

Tales Of How The King Of Bhutan Drank Ara From The Hands Of...

Read about the painful stories of two women in Lhuentse who had been ostracised by fellow villagers for being ‘poison...

Oct 23, 2018 16:42

Bepzur Chukpo’s Mansion In Bumthang Is A Rich Depository Of...

While there are no existing written documents about the history of the house, people believe it to be the home of Zimpon...

Oct 21, 2018 16:54

Study Finds Homestays And Eco-tourism Helped Preserve Bhutan’s...

The evaluation found that 98 percent of the homestays used exclusive traditional products like local food products and...

Aug 25, 2018 16:17

Discover Raju’s Passion For Making The Traditional Bhutanese Bow...

The class VI drop-out earns at least Nu 8,000 a month by making bows and arrows.

Aug 08, 2018 16:09

Traditional Medicine Marks 50 Years Of Services In Bhutan

Bhutan's traditional medicine system was formally established on May 28, 1968.

Jun 08, 2018 15:08

63 Year Old Traditional Healer In Bhutan Has Fixed More Than A...

For more than three decades, Tashi Wangdi has been fixing fractures and sprained joints in Trashigang.

Jun 23, 2018 08:43

Latest

News

Bhutan’s Internet Addiction Rate Among The Highest In The Southeast Asian Region

According to a study conducted by a team of doctors, at least four out of 10 adolescents are addicted to the internet in Bhutan.

Nov 14, 2018 13:16

11 Things To Know About Bhutan's New Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering

Dr Lotay is the president of the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) party that won 30 of the 47 seats in Bhutan’s third general election held on Oct...

Nov 13, 2018 10:20

Features

Waste Paper Recycling Unit In Bhutan Employs Ex-Drug And Alcohol Addicts

The waste paper recycling unit also manages waste, helps to keep the environment clean and reduces the import of egg trays by 50 percent.

Nov 17, 2018 14:34

Laya Central School Faces Infrastructure Constraints For Its First Batch Of Students In 2019

The current infrastructure that caters to classes up to the eighth grade was built more than two decades ago.

Nov 15, 2018 13:54

Sports

Female Archer Dorji Dema Hopes To Inspire More Women To Take Up Archery In Bhutan

Dorji Dema, a mother of three is among the first women in Bhutan to play in an archery tournament.

Nov 05, 2018 08:11

Bhutanese Bagged Gold In Both Men And Women’s Category In The Scenic But Gruelling Laya Run

In a gruelling race where both locals and foreigners participated, Bhutanese won gold medals in both the men and women’s category.

Oct 24, 2018 18:01

Business

According To The World Bank, Bhutan Ranked 81st In Ease Of Doing Business Report 2019

The rankings were determined by sorting the aggregate scores on 10 parameters, each consisting of several indicators.

Nov 05, 2018 15:45

Bhutan’s First Entrepreneurship Festival Held In Thimphu To Foster The Spirit Of Innovation

A book entitled “Entrepreneur Stories” was also launched at the opening of the festival. The stories are expected to encourage young...

Oct 29, 2018 15:48

Travel

Discover The Wonders Of The Black-Necked Crane Festival – A Day Devoted To These Graceful Birds In Bhutan

This unique festival will leave a lasting impression on you. With more than a hundred villagers participating, see the fascinating masked...

Nov 09, 2018 21:39

The Theme Of Bhutan’s Jhomolhari Festival 2018 - Living In Harmony With The Ghost of High Mountains

The theme of this year’s festival 'Living in Harmony with the Ghost of High Mountains' is centred on the conservation of the elusive yet...

Nov 02, 2018 16:20

Lifestyle

Exploring The Usage Of Minerals In Traditional Bhutanese Medicine

One of the challenges in the usage of minerals as ingredients in traditional medicine is the rarity of minerals.

Nov 16, 2018 15:58

17th Annual National Design and Art Competition Held In Thimphu To Showcase Bhutanese Art

The competition had three categories – gho, kira and embroidery before 2017. Since then, two new categories - traditional painting and...

Nov 13, 2018 17:24

Subscribe to our newsletter

Never miss out on new happenings and news stories!