Lhops have a song about a black-necked crane and a hoopoe. It compares the birds, about the crane’s intelligence and elegance, and about the hoopoe’s stupidity.
Kunti Doya, 58, from Lhotokuchu Jigme, is effortless with this song. Today, she has taken time out from her dairy works to sing the song. Sitting besides her younger sister and father, amidst laughter, she explains the song.
“Black-necked crane knows it needs to fly south during cold,” she said. “It knows it needs to fly north during summer.”
But the hoopoe would go south during summer and north during the cold, Kunti continues.
“I used to sing from a very young age,” she said, adding she learned singing from her elders.
However, this cultural and ingenious song is in danger of extinction. The Lhop inhabitants in the slope of Lhotokuchu Jigme and Lhotokuchu Singye are aware of this and are concerned about the impending risks of losing their songs forever.
One of the main reasons Lhops worry about is that the younger generation is not keen in singing their songs. They are not keen in learning.
Namgay Tshering Doya, 22, said he had tried to sing the Lhop song many times. “But it is difficult,” he said.
The responsibility is with the elders.
Seta, one of the oldest Lhops among the community is among the very few today that has mastered the Doya songs. The 100-year-old from Lhotokuchu Jigme has his own reasons about their songs losing a slow battle to extinction.
“I don’t sing anymore,” he said. “People think I curse through the songs.”
Seta recalls it was his grandmother, who lived for 120 years, who taught him the Lhop songs. He was an orphan and the grandmother would always sing him the songs.
“Lhop songs are vanishing now,” Seta said, adding that it was also difficult for him to teach the younger generation due to age.
However, Kunti Doya is his hope. She learned from him, he said and has been able to grasp just 50 percent of what he has.
“I think other songs and skills would die along with me,” Seta said. “I cannot teach because of old age and people taking my songs as curse.”
The only hope
After its inception in 2003, Tarayana Foundation took its first field office to Lhop community of Lhotokuchu Jigme, Lhotokuchu Singye, and Lhotokuchu Wangchuck in 2004 for its first intervention project.
The foundation helped construct 85 houses so far.
Lhops were also trained in construction of the typical stone houses and provided free CGI sheets.
For income generation, the foundation facilitated micro-credit from which Lhops started growing cardamom. All those who availed credit facility have paid back. Today, cardamom is the main cash crop in the slopes of Lhop community.
Three ECCD facilities were also provided. A desho factory and a flour mill were also opened. These facilities are now run by the Lhops.
A Lhop Radio Community was also started, which helps the community to preserve their language through entertainment. Lhops can tune in for live calls and dedications.
The radio programme, which plays recorded Lhop songs has given the local songs a new hope for conservation.
Kunti Doya told Kuensel that she has recorded about 20 songs with the radio.
“There are chances our songs will vanish,” she said.
Meanwhile, outside his stone house, holding a walking staff, Seta sits carefully.
Seta wants to sing.
It is difficult for him to breath easily and takes sudden gasps. Seta snaps his fingers for a cue and an energy of a loud sound bursts. A melody, as primitive as it is original fills the air.
Rajesh Rai | Dorokha