The Sharchop are part of the Tibeto-Burman culture that penetrated Bhutan from the East. They refer
to themselves as Bhutanese and are racially Mongoloid, like the northern Bhutanese. However, their distinctive cultural traits
clearly link them with the peoples of Tibet, Burma, and Yunnan, China. Their language is called Tsangla and is part of the
Sino-Tibetan language family. Bhutan depends heavily on India for assistance and foreign trade. With new roads being built
between Bhutan and India, many Sharchop are learning to speak Assamese and Hindi, as they come into closer contact with the
people of India.
What Are Their Lives Like?
The Sharchop are part of an agricultural society and often
use a "slash and burn" method of farming. Since dense plant growth limits the use of land for agricultural purposes, they
clear the land by burning the vegetation. They grow dry rice on it for three or four years, then abandon it when the soil
is exhausted. Some groups, however, have settled permanently in large clearings in the forests.
Sharchop houses are
made of stone and wood, and are usually built on stilts in dispersed settlements along the mountain slopes. Larger settlements
have monasteries called dzongs, where prayer flags and prayer wheels are a common sight.
A local variety of cattle
known as mithun is a valued form of wealth and is sacrificed at religious ceremonies. Pigs and goats are also raised to sell
and to use as sacrifices.
Water pollution is one of the most significant environmental problems in Bhutan, as 70%
of the rural population do not have a pure water supply. If good water is scarce in a settlement, water from a nearby spring
or stream is piped in through bamboo conduits. Approximately 80% of Bhutan's people live without electricity, since much of
its power is exported over the hills to India. Because of the difficult mountainous terrain, many remote areas can expect
a long wait for power. Rural citizens pay little or no taxes, but they are obligated to work without pay on government projects,
such as building local schools and roads.
What are their beliefs?
Tibetan Buddhism exercises
considerable influence in Bhutan, and Buddhist priests are often supported by the community. However, the Sharchop have also
retained the popular beliefs and practices of their ethnic religion.
As in Tibet, sacred inscriptions are written
on prayer flags and planted near each house, and prayer wheels containing sacred syllables are kept in continuous motion as
the Sharchop walk or rest. Illness is always believed to be caused by the devil or spirits. Lamas (spiritual leaders) read
from the Buddhist scriptures to expel them.
In addition, elements of shamanism (the belief that there is an unseen
world of many gods, demons, and ancestral spirits) are reflected in magical ceremonies and superstitions. Omens and demons
are believed to have direct influence on life. Every village has its shibdag, or "god of the soil," which must constantly
be appeased, and each house has its god, tab-lha, who must not be offended.
What are their needs?
Bhutan did not open its doors to tourism until 1974 and still restricts the number of tourists that may visit each year.
Although they recently allowed Pepsi Cola to enter the country, there is still a ban on satellite television in an attempt
to protect what the monarchy calls a "fragile culture." This repressive government does not want exposure to Westerners and,
especially, to other religions.