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Continuing Customs of Negotiation and Contestation in Bhutan

Keywords: Bhutan , customs of negotiation

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A concern for the maintenance of traditional values and customs in the processes of modernisation within Bhutan is evident in much ofBhutan’s official documentation. The fundamental importance givento the maintenance and fostering of Buddhism, its beliefs andassociated institutions reflected in Bhutan’s rich culture, is constantly returned to and emphasized in commentary. Thus the establishment of the Special Commission for Cultural Affairs in 1985 “is seen as a reflection of the great importance placed upon the preservation of the country’s unique and distinct religious and cultural traditions and values, expressed in the customs, manners, language, dress, arts and crafts which collectively define Bhutan’s national identity” (Ministry of Planning, 1996, p.193). Equally the publication of a manual on Bhutanese Etiquette (Driglam Namzhag) by the National Library of Bhutan was hopeful that it “would serve as a significant foundation in the process of cultural preservation and cultural synthesis” (Publishers Forward, National Library, 1999).One strand of analysis that could be pursued concerns the veryconstruct of “traditional” and what is constituted as “within” or“without” that tradition. As Hobsbawm (1983) reminds us with respect to the British Monarchy, much of the ceremonial associated with it is of recent origin. Equally national flags, national anthems andeven the nation state, are, as Hobsbawm would have it, “ inventedtraditions” designed largely to “ inculcate certain values and norms of behaviour by repetition, which automatically implies continuity with the past” (op. cit p1). While it is clear that certain emblems of tradition within Bhutan are of relatively recent origin (e.g. the flag, the national anthem), there is also a strong core of traditional practices and cultural norms that stretch back into history although the use to which they have been put may have varied over time. Much of the recent writing on Bhutan has focussed on the more formal and materially evident aspects of tradition and culture –the religious institutions and their ceremonies, the monarchy, architecture and textiles (see Aris, 1994; Myers & Bean, 1994; Schicklgruber & Pommaret). Aris’s paper of 1994 (Aris, 1994) on patterns of conflict, mediation and conciliation within Bhutan is possibly the only writing on Bhutan, which looks at patterns of social interaction, although primarily at the level of political (and military) conflict. His fascinating paper on negotiation and mediation as customary Bhutanese practices, and their embeddedness in Buddhist doctrine, theocratic


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