Culture. We hear, see and live it everyday.
To many of us, discussing culture, its significance and its relevance has become a culture in itself. We identify with varying cultural expressions, both tangible and intangible ,and some as even extraordinary because it gives the society its identity.
And even though events shine light on culture such as the literature festival to the textile exhibition to the Asian parliamentary assembly, rarely do we ask what culture is and what it means to a society that has developed but hesitates to change. Often, we mistake culture for tradition and development for modernisation. But we do not question. We do not want to question. It is, we tell ourselves, our culture to not ask.
But as a developing society with an increasing literate population, we appear to have become indifferent rather than inquisitive. We understand that historic preservation shape collective memories but in our drive to preserve and promote culture and its practices, we overlook the history, the story, the narrative and their constructions.
Instead of seeking answers and holding discourses, we seek redemption in rituals that are becoming hallowed by the day. Our quest to preserve culture is today valued in monetary terms and symbolism. We collect funds for grand religious ceremonies but spare little for community lhakhangs. The recent case of Gangkha Soenam Tse L hakhang in Chukha is telling of a culture that we have now become. The issue of alleged fake religious personalities in Trashigang is as much a case of social behaviour and cultural norms.
When we talk of culture preservation and promotion, we look at the authorities that are the custodians of culture. But while the monk body appears too detached from the people, the department of culture remains attached to cultural symbols than people. Development in our case is a culturally bounded concept that emphasises wellbeing. But the recent GNH survey, which reported that our people are today healthier and happier also pointed out that there is more to do to strengthen our culture and traditions.
While this suggests that a more healthy and happy society does not necessarily translate into the strengthening of culture and traditions, there is also a need for the society to understand why this is happening. If we claim our culture and traditions as the way of life, then we must be able to situate them in our lives. At a time when observations are made of our diet being unhealthy and we becoming more anxious and suicidal, there is a need for us to understand the role of culture and traditions beyond the identity rhetoric.
We must be able to comprehend its nuances at a personal level to be able to contextualise it as a key to a country’s survival. We have seen much recommendations made to promote and preserve culture. We call on them to go beyond and do more.