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Ethnicity, Language, & Religion of Bhutan

Ethnicity

The people of Bhutan are ethnically diverse, with nearly half the population consisting of Ngalops or Bhotes, a group closely related to the Tibetans and who live primarily in the northern and western part of the country. Sometimes the ethnic Sharchop are also considered "Bhotes" on a cultural level, however are ethnically distinct as the Sharchops have numerous genetic connections with the people of Southeast Asia in addition to the Tibetans. The next ethnic group of note is the Nepalese people, most of who belong to the sub-group Lhotsampas; many of these people live in the southern part of the country and they are most closely related to other Nepalese peoples. There are numerous other small ethnic groups within Bhutan, many of whom are related to the Ngalops or Bhotes.

Language

Dzongkha is the only official language in Bhutan and is natively spoken by about a quarter of the population, most of whom are Ngalops or Bhotes; Dzonghka is a southern Tibetan language written in the Tibetan script. Sharchokha (or tshangla) is actually the most populous language spoken and is a again a Tibetan language. The other half of the population natively speaks Lhotshamkha and other languages; Lhotshamkha is a language also found in Nepal; it falls in the Indo-Aryan language family and is similar to many northern Indian languages.

As the official language, Dzongkha is learned by most of the people and is often times the language of communication between groups although in some parts of the country no one speaks this language natively so there is little motivation to learn it. English and other popular international languages are spoken in much smaller numbers. Very few people learn these languages and many of the people who do work in the tourist industry or government.

Religion

About three quarters of Bhutan's population is Lamaistic Buddhist, including most of the ethnic Bhotes and Sharchops. Among the last quarter, most of the people are Hindi, most commonly among ethnic Nepalese.

Buddhism is a religion or philosophy that encourages people to strive for enlightenment. Adherents believe that each being is reborn until enlightenment is reached, at which time they escape the cycle of birth and death. To accomplish this, every being must speak, act, and live in a positive manner; this is magnified with the force of karma, which dictates an individual's later life and/or their rebirth.

This page was last updated: May, 2014