Monday, August 4, 2014

Reading Notes: the Cultural and Social Context of Alcohol in Bhutan

From: Dorji, Lham ( 2012) " Alcohol Use and Abuse in Bhutan"  National Statistics Bureau, Thimphu 

In traditional Bhutanese society, people share drinks when they meet or depart. Alcohol serves as a consolatory treat during bereavement, as part of the relaxed atmosphere and pleasant sensation during festivals, a source of hospitality and as a reconciliatory agent during dispute. Festivals and other  important social events are organized with alcohol as a central enhancement substance.  The traditional offering of tshogchang to official guests as a welcome gesture is an example of the social function of alcohol. It symbolizes respect to the visitor and communal proclivity towards opulent hospitality.  
Alcohol has ritualistic and symbolic functions. It is used to please deities and as a vital substance of various offerings. In certain rituals, monks or lay monks, and nuns use alcohol thought Buddhist vows do not permit them to consume alcohol. In particular, chang used a libation offerings ( gser- skyems, literally 'golden thirst) connotes an elixir to quench thirst. Alcohol is a substantive drink consumed to quench thirsts in farming societies.  This seems to be the reason for drinking being often considered appropriate for those who are involved in manual toil than for those whose task involve mental exertion.  
Alcohol is used to ward off snakes and as protective substances from many evil, and as medicine to cure certain illnesses. Alcohol is a cultural artifact. The volatile, but valuable nature of the fluid has led to the production of a rich material culture like the production and use of chang palang, phob, etc to drink, store and transport alcohol.  
Alcohol is part of child birth observances.  Many mothers even consume alcohol as soon as babies are delivered to relieve pain and regain vigour. In many rural communities, children drinking is not been marked as a social taboo thought things are changing. It is likely that many children growing up in a drinking culture being to form their impressions about alcohol from an early age. This may be one of the reasons for their early acquisition of drinking habits.  


  1. Hi, I was in a summer course in Greece last summer. A group of friends conducted an ethnographic research in one of the village of Albania where they studied on the social life of mulberry trees which are used for producing a local alcohol (rakia). It was very interesting because they found that this local alcohol is very significant for the local identity. When I read your post I reminded that.

    1. Thanks for your comment. What did the mulberry alcohol taste like?