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name Bhutan was given to the region by foreign visitors; the names Bottanthis,
Bottan, and Bottanter were all used in the 1500s to describe the
modern regions of Tibet and Bhutan. In the 1700s only modern Bhutan was called Boutan,
which evolved to the modern name. The name likely comes from the Tibetan word bod
referring to Great Tibet or the Sanskrit word Bhota-anta meaning the "end
of Tibet." Locally, the name of the country is pronounced closer to brug yul
or druk yul.
Bhutan is a fairly isolated and unknown country, in fact many people have never
even heard of this small country hidden in the Himalaya Mountains. Although isolated
by the mountains in the country's north, in the south the lands are fairly accessible
and various ethnic groups have settled in these river valleys. These mountain walls
running north and south have still divided the people by language, ethnicity, and
geography, making this small country fairly diverse.
Despite the many ethnic groups in Bhutan, their ways of life are similar in many
ways as most people live in the valleys where waters are present, the lands are
fertile, temperatures are more hospitable than the mountains, and many animals make
meats and byproducts available. From early history until today most people in Bhutan
live off the land as farmers, however later introductions, particularly in the form
of religion, has led to less meat consumption by most people.
Nearly three-quarters of the population is Buddhist (with most of the remaining
quarter being Hindu). Both the faiths of Buddhism and Hinduism have greatly impacted
the people as each has dietary restrictions and a great respect for all life, including
animals. These religions have caused the people to eat very little meat and they
have affected the people's culture and lifestyles in other ways as well.
Although these similarities are uniting, the differences among the people are great
and this begins with the various native languages spoken in Bhutan. The government
has only one recognized language and this is a source of anger among the people
as every group seeks the freedom to speak their own language and most people do
so in their homes on a daily basis.
The government also has dress codes for the people and again this has created disagreements
among some ethnic groups since this clothing has no meaning to them and many interpret
this as demeaning and biased. In fact, the government has attempted to dictate the
culture and way of life in numerous ways and with each attempt more division seems
to arise, yet the people comply with the government's requests and laws as most
people are peaceful.
In addition to telling the people what language to speak and how to dress, the government
has also restricted both technology and tourism. While these changes may seem to
be in poor taste, all have had both positive and negative effects. These laws maintain
a traditional culture and way of life based on using the resources the land gives
the people; they have also allowed governmental resources to be used to advance
education, infrastructure, and healthcare. However, these laws also restrict people
from increasingly advanced communication methods (television wasn't introduced
to Bhutan until 1999) and suppresses minority freedoms.
With recent changes to the constitution Bhutan is now a democracy and changes to
the culture and way of life could be drastic and sudden in the upcoming years as
laws are changed, revoked, or added. However, there seems to be a consensus that
maintaining a traditional lifestyle based on Buddhist and Hindu beliefs is important
to all groups.
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