Keeping ‘Harmonious Relations’ Through the Lens of Hosting and Hospitality in Bhutan
In this article, I introduce selected aspects of the concept and practice of thuenlam (མཐུན་ལམ) in Bhutan, the local term for maintaining ‘harmonious relations’. Most Bhutanese consider thuenlam an important prerequisite for successful co-existence and co-operation within society. I describe the views and experiences of my three Bhutanese fellow travelers on the way from Shingkhar, a village in Bumthang (Central Bhutan), to Zhongmay, a village in Lhuentse (Eastern Bhutan). While trekking along the ancient footpath that connected both valleys, I explore the different ways my companions keep thuenlam with a variety of neypo (གནས་པོ hosts) through the exchange of food and drink, gifts, and services. I furthermore draw on my interviews with Bumthap villagers and my field notes resulting from living and traveling with Bhutanese over many years. This account includes my perspective as a researcher who depends on the hospitality framework to establish thuenlam in the field. Hence, drawing on four years of dissertation research and over 23 years of familiarity with Bhutan, I focus on the informal etiquette, beyzhag (འབད་བཞག) and hosting traditions of day-to-day village life rather than the formalized and codified etiquette of driglam namzhag (སྒྲིག་ལམ་རྣམ་གཞག), the official Bhutanese code of conduct. Both nurture various types of thuenlam in society: the former, informal practices are organic and transmitted within the family and community; the latter, mandatory during official events and settings are taught at schools and in specialized courses.
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