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Spotlight on Culture

People that call this area Home

New Americans

Refugees from other areas of the world

The Bhutanese people

Cultural Profile of their country of origin- Bhutan

The traditional way of dress in Bhutan

Cultural Aesthetics of the Country

The country of Bhutan is well known for its traditions and cultural aesthetics. One of the things that make them stand out from other developing nations is their dress code behavior. Their traditional attire for men and women, known as Gho and Kira respectively, was introduced around the 17th century by the unifier of Bhutan as a nation-state, Ngawang Namgyal to display their unique identity. He made it mandatory for Bhutanese citizens to wear their traditional outfits, in an attempt to promote and preserve Bhutanese heritage. This mandate however, was not enforced as severely as it is now until 1990.

In 1990, the government and the king imposed this dress code as a mandatory etiquette, in effect instructing citizens on not only what to wear, but also how to eat, talk and bow down when they are in the presence of the government officials and the clergy. The people of different ethnic heritage that lived there at the time, like the Lhotsampas, resented this imposition and revolted against it. As a result, they were forced to flee out of Bhutan and unto refugee camps in nearby countries. Because of this, about 20% of the country's population live in exile now, a direct result of this "Bhutanization" policies enforced by the Royal Government- followed by land expropriation and persecution.

Dress Code in Bhutan- the Driglam Namzha

The Driglam Namzha is the official code of etiquette and dress code of the country. It instructs citizens in what they should wear in public and how they should behave in formal settings. It also has rules for a number of other cultural assets, like their art and architecture. In English, driglam means "order, discipline, custom, rules, regimen" and namzha means "system", but the term is usually loosely translated to "The Rules for Disciplined Behavior".

According to its rules, men wear a thick and heavy knee-length robe tied with a belt, a gho, which is folded to form a pocket in front of the stomach area. The female version of it is longer, and it's called kira. Women wear long-sleeved blouses called wonju made of silk, polyester, or lightweight cotton as a first layer, then the kira. Over them, they fold and fasten a large rectangular cloth, a kera- a woven cloth belt, used to tighten the outfit and to create an ankle-length dress. These keras come in many designs, colors and patterns, and are widely available to compliment the dressing style of both men and women. A short silk jacket, or toego, can be worn over the kira as well.

Cfynn, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Everyday gho and kira are made of cotton or wool, according to the season, and have patterns with simple checks and stripes in earth colored tones. For special occasions and festivals, sometimes people wear multicolored patterned kira and gho made of silk material, but the use of multicolored gho is more rare.

When visiting a dzong or a temple, and when appearing before a high-level official, there are additional rules. In those cases, the Bhutanese will wear their national attire, but adorn it with ceremonial scarves. Women wear a rachu, a long and narrow embroidered cloth draped over the left shoulder, worn as a mark of respect while attending formal gatherings or visiting temples, just over the toego. It is usually red in color with different patterns and designs, but the colors vary depending on the person's social standing and position. The men, on the other hand, wear a white sash with fringes called a kabney, made of raw silk. It is worn by commoner men, from the left shoulder to the opposite hip. Other colors are reserved for officials, royalty and monks, as the colors are assigned to them depending on their rank or social position in the nation. The king of Bhutan, for example, uses a quite distinct and bright yellow kabney. The color signifies to others that he is the highest authority of the nation. The council of ministers usually wear orange, the highest judicial authority wears green, and the district administrator wears red ones, with white stripes.

man wearing gho

This demarcation of colors signifies the status of the men in power, and it is used as a means of recognition from afar. Every man can wear a gho that's very similar to the others, but their distinct social status and position in the nation can only be established by looking at their kabney's color.

Sometimes common people wear another type of traditional scarf, or Khata. It is usually worn by those that practice or have a strong influence of the Buddhism religion. The Khata is worn in almost all important ceremonies, from celebrations of birth to mourning in a funeral. They are usually made of silk material, and commonly available in colors such as white and gold.

They also wear brightly colored boots called tsholghams. The Bhutanese don’t usually wear these boots during their daily life, but they are required to do so during certain ceremonies, festivals and on special occasions. They are very beautiful, carefully crafted with vibrant colors. They are usually knee-length, but there are modern versions with high heels or platforms for women, lhams, that reach just above the ankles. There are also half-tsholglhams, but they were created recently.

The boots have trademark upturned toes and consist of three individually-made parts that are sewn together. The lower portion of the boots is usually made of leather, and is white in color. The middle part has images embroidered onto it, often phoenixes or flowers. The upper portion is made of silk brocade or a woolen material, with more patterns sewn onto the fabric.

Traditionally, these boots were made of silk cloth (gechen). But over time, though the main design hasn’t varied that much, the materials used to make the boots have changed. Instead of thin leather soles, more durable and thick rubber soles are now used, making them more comfortable. People also make their own designs for their boots or add zippers as they please. The king has had his boots designed by Italian fashion house Salvatore Ferragamo.

Given the hard work it takes to make a pair of tshoglhams, the art of making them has been at risk of being lost forever several times, and it almost did in the 1950s. Right now, the only ones to wear the boots are high-ranking monks and officials, royalty, and dancers. Normal people buy at most two pairs of shoes in their lifetime, so artisans can't depend on the sale of these boots for a living- and their customers prefer more practical shoes as well, so the boots have very low demand to begin with. In the middle of the 20th century, there was an effort to preserve the art by the authorities, and so the tradition lives on.

To see a video of how these garments have changed through the ages, visit this facebook page. To see more pictures of this country and their traditional clothing, visit this page.

Stay tuned for more information on the Bhutanese and their 13 traditional arts and crafts, and more places and their people in future posts. Our area is blessed to be called home by many people of many cultures, and they deserve to be acknowledged.


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