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Coinage in Bhutan

Keywords: Bhutan , Coins in Bhutan

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Abstract:

In Thimphu, and elsewhere in Western Bhutan, it is still possible to find many examples of the old copper coins, known as Matam, Chetam and Zangtam. Old silver coins can also be found, although less frequently. Very little, however, has been written about the background to these coins - whomade them, where and when, and how they were used. The purpose of this article is to set out what I know about these old Bhutanese coins, not only to present the information more widely, but also in the hope that there will be people in Bhutan who will be encouraged to provide additional evidence from oral tradition, written records, or from any othersources. Elderly people may still be alive who remember such coins being struck, but unless their memories are recorded soon, the information will be lost forever.Before the 1950's, there were no urban communities in Bhutan, and coins only played a small part in the economy of the country, serving mainly as a store of value, and as ceremonial gifts or donations. Silver coins, usually foreign coins, also served as the raw material from which jewellery and “pan” boxes were made. Day to day life mainly involved subsistence farming, supplemented by barter. Taxes were paid either in kind or in services, and land rent was paid as a share of the produce, again in kind.Some insight into how coins were used in the old days can be obtained from Karma Ura's books, 'The Hero with a Thousand Eyes' and 'The Ballad of Pemi Tshewang Tashi.' For example, Pemi Tshewang Tashi gave a silver coin, called norzangphubchen, to Aum Jayshing Jaymo as a thank you for the hospitality given1. Then in 1944, Dasho Shingkar Lam offered a silver coin to His Majesty, when he was firstregistered as a tozep, and noted that previously the customary gift on such an occasion had been three copper coins2. In 1947, when the King was travelling to Ha, at several points villagers greeted His Majesty with the customary gift of a basket of rice with three hard-boiled eggs, and they received a coin in exchange. Only in 1952 weremoves taken to increase the role of money in general, and coins in particular, when senior courtiers and secretaries began to be paid in cash, rather than in kind.

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