Culture: Elsewhere in the world, sunflower is cultivated for oil extraction. This is not the case is in Bumthang. They cultivate sunflowers for the seeds. The seeds are a popular snack for the Bumthaps.
Once matured, sunflower seeds are harvested, dried and packaged. The seeds are eaten raw.
Packaged seeds are sold in the town as well as in the villages. Both men and women chew sunflower seeds.
The trend is more prominent during public meetings.
Bumthaps can be seen constantly chucking seeds into their mouths. Heaps of empty husks form in a short amount of time around them.
The speed at which they crack open the husks in their mouth, separate the husk from seed, and then spit out the husks, is impressive and a practice that takes skill.
Sunflower seeds are shared by placing packets of them between themselves. Some pull them out of their pockets, hemchus, or handbags.
Rinchen Tshomo, 44, from Ganjue in Tang, who was chewing sunflower seeds during a recent public meeting said the habit is common among Bumthaps. She said people chewed seeds when free at home or during such meetings.
“We plant sunflowers in our fields but they finish fast as even children eat them,” she said. The Bumthaps purchase seeds from each other after their own fields have been depleted. Rinchen has already finished what her fields have produced and is buying seeds from others.
“I don’t cultivate much sunflowers and it’s not even enough for my children,” she said, adding that this is because they do not have the patience to wait until the seeds mature.
Rinchen said chewing sunflower seed husks hurts the tongue, as the tongue has to help the teeth crack it open.
The inexperienced take time to crack the seeds and cannot separate it from the husk without the help of hands. “Getting addicted to sunflower seeds is no different from people getting addicted to doma,” she said. “I feel incomplete when there are no sunflower seeds to chew on,” she said.
With a baby in her lap, Chimi, 28, was chewing sunflower seeds during a meeting in Kizom village recently. She had with her two packets. A packet costs Nu 20.
“I control chewing sunflower seeds by buying less,” she said. “I go on chewing until it is finished.”
Sonam Youden, 57, from Kizom village said she cultivated sunflowers mainly for her family. But she does package some seeds to sell during public gatherings. “I don’t earn much selling sun flower seeds but it helps,” she said. A packet weighing about 250 grams is sold at Nu 20.
Karma, 50, also from Kizom village said the practice of chewing sunflower seeds was around since she was a little girl. “Chewing too much of sunflower seeds causes headaches,” she said.
She pointed out that people used to cultivate sunflowers on small portions of land when she was young but that today people have dramatically increased the amount of land used to grow the sunflower.
Nima Wangdi | Tang