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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; this makes the small country fairly diverse.
Despite the diversity among the ethnic groups in Bhutan,
their ways of life are similar as they found homes in the valleys where waters were
present so foods could be grown and animals migrated for this same resource. Settlement
patterns are based on this geography and the people live off the land, even today.
Another commonality among the people is that nearly three-quarters of the population
is Buddhist (with most of the remaining quarter being Hindu). No matter the religion,
Buddhism and Hinduism have greatly impacted the people as they have dietary restriction
and a great respect for all life, including animals. These religions have caused
the people to eat very little meat.
Although these similarities are uniting, the differences 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 they
do so in their homes on a daily basis.
The government also has dress codes for the people and again this has created hostility
among the ethnic minorities who protest this as the clothing has no meaning to them
and many interpret this as demeaning and racist. 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.
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 or
Hindu beliefs is important to all groups.
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