Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Living by traditional bow and arrow in Bhutan

Living by traditional bow and arrow in Bhutan

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A Bhutanese archer aims at a target at the Changlimithang Archery Ground in Thimphu on August 25. ARUN SANKAR/afp

Living by traditional bow and arrow in Bhutan

EVERY weekend Bhutanese Pema Dorji channels his inner Robin Hood and aims for the bull’s-eye, but not without generous sips of the local brew and a leg-kicking dance and song routine.

The likes of Dorji make up the vibrant archery scene in the small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan where the traditional sport is a way of life for its 800,000 people.

Competitions are held across the country on various auspicious days each month before culminating in national championships attended by hundreds of raucous fans.

“Alcohol and archery go hand in hand,” said Tashi Dorji, the research and development officer with the Bhutan Indigenous Games and Sports Association (BIGSA).

“We drink to gain confidence. We have a belief that if we drink we can hit the target better,” the 25-year-old said, barely hiding a sheepish grin.

The game they play pits two teams of 11 players each who try to hit the maximum number of bull’s-eyes on a fixed target a full 140 metres (yards) away.

A war cry rings out each time the target is hit. Players in traditional “gho” dresses dance and sing folk numbers – different ones for winning and losing.

The crucial drink breaks see archers gulp down locally brewed whisky before locking horns again on the field where colourful flags flutter in the breeze.

Poison arrows

The beloved national sport is steeped in legends about how bows and arrows were used to hunt prey and destroy demons and evil spirits.

Stories also abound about how the Bhutanese fought the rifle-armed soldiers of the British army in the 19th century using arrows dipped in poison.

Archery was popularised by the first king of Bhutan Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuk (1862-1926) and it continued to flourish under royal patronage through the years.

But it suffered a decline after the reclusive nation decided to pursue economic development and open its doors to modernisation, eventually allowing in television in 1999.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A Bhutanese arrow maker heats a bamboo stick as he makes an arrow at the Bhutan Traditional Archery shop at the Changlimithang Archery Ground in Thimphu. afp

“TV made modern sports available, sports like football and volleyball which are cheaper to play. Suddenly there was competition for our traditional sports,” said Kinzang Dorji, president of the BIGSA.

“Children had a wider choice unlike the generations before them,” he told AFP.

In addition, the advent of more advanced compound and recurve archery has meant Bhutanese archers used to traditional equipment made of bamboo reeds have struggled to find their feet in international competitions.

Bhutan has sent archers to every Olympics since 1984 but a medal has eluded the nation.

Some say the Bhutanese lack the fiercely competitive streak needed to do well in the sport.

The likes of Ygyen Dorji beg to differ though.

“The rivalry is quite intense. Opponents often plant women in the stands to distract the rivals,” said Ygyen Dorji, a mental health counsellor and archery enthusiast.

“The ladies mimic you, try to pull you down and one has to concentrate hard as pride and honour are at stake.”

Fellow participant Karma Tshering said Bhutanese archers were not aspiring to global acclaim.

“Anybody can shoot with the sophisticated modern bows with the help of release aids and all,” said Tshering.

“It’s the traditional archery which is more challenging, you have to focus on both your body and mind,” he said, adjusting the sashes on his waist which he won for scoring maximum points during a game at Thimpu’s national sports stadium.

The Bhutan Archery Federation recently started a programme to train and encourage children to take up the sport.

In a shot in the arm for traditional archery, two Bhutanese athletes won gold medals at the historical World Archery championship held in August in Hungary.

“It was a great experience to compete with some 300 archers from all over the world,” said gold-medallist Damcho Wangdi.

“It showed traditional archery can be revived as many countries in Europe and Asia have some history of playing with bows and arrows.

“And with our rich archery history and culture Bhutan can lead the way.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Over $3M in traffic fines collected in two months

    Traffic police officers collected over $3 million in fines throughout the Kingdom during the past two months when officers strictly enforced the law in accordance with a May sub-decree, officials said. As incentives, law enforcement officers received between 200,000 and two million riel ($50 to $500) each. The figures

  • More than 10,000 workers suspended

    More than 10,000 workers at 18 factories in Svay Rieng province have been suspended because of Covid-19, said provincial deputy governor Ros Pharith. Home to 11 special economic zones, Pharith said Svay Rieng has not been spared as the pandemic takes a toll on the global economy. “There

  • Oz lauds Kingdom’s passage of money laundering laws

    In a press release published by the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh on Monday, the country applauded Cambodia’s stance on transnational crimes as well as its promulgation of an anti-money laundering law and a law on combating proliferation financing. The praise came after King

  • Lotus face masks designed to cover globe

    A French designer in Cambodia has produced ecological face masks from lotus fibre to supply local and international markets with an eye on preserving ancestral techniques and supporting Cambodian women in rural communities. During a trip to Asia, Awen Delaval, an eco-friendly fashion designer, was

  • Accused not treated equally, says CCHR

    The Cambodia Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) has urged the Court of Appeal to do more to ensure that an accused’s right to a fair trial is fully respected. In a bulletin released on Monday, the CCHR said it had monitored 273 cases at the

  • Planning ministry hands out cash to 420,000 poor families in Kingdom

    The Ministry of Planning has identified 20,000 more poor families in the country, bringing the total to over 580,000, while over 420,000 of them have received the government’s cash assistance. In the meantime, many social security cards from families not deemed to be poor have been revoked.

  • Investors’ $14.4M projects approved

    New investments from local and foreign sources continue to pour into Cambodia despite the Covid-19 pandemic remaining a lingering threat to regional and global economies. This comes as the Kingdom’s gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to contract between one and 2.9 per cent this

  • NagaWorld casinos set to reopen, schools to follow

    NAGACORP Ltd has requested that it be allowed to reopen its NagaWorld integrated resorts in Phnom Penh after the government recently approved casinos to operate again, provided they follow Covid-19 prevention measures set by the Ministry of Health. Mey Vann, the director-general of the Ministry

  • Rubber exports stretch 17%

    Cambodia exported 97,175 tonnes of natural rubber in the first five months of this year, surging 17 per cent compared to the same period last year as the Covid-19 pandemic stretches on, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries official Khuong Phalla told The Post on Thursday. Phalla,

  • ASEM supports Kingdom’s proposal to postpone meeting amid Covid

    The 13th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM13) scheduled to be held in Cambodia in November has been postponed until mid-2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation press statement released on Saturday said. The decision was made during a two-day meeting