Brukor and Nepo Tradition of Highlanders of Merak and Sakteng with lower villages of Trashigang
The people of Merak and Sakteng are the Highlanders of Eastern Bhutan under Trashigang Dzongkhag. They belong to community of nomadic herders who depend on animals for their livelihood, since the time of their ancestors. They have rich history, unique culture, costume, tradition, dress and language. Their historical arrival to Bhutan dates back to 13th century, when they fled from the place called Tshona in Tibet after assassinating the wicked chieftain, who had ordered his people to remove mountain peak through labour contribution to have earlier sun rays to his palace. The contingent was led by Ama Jomo and Lam Jarepa accompanied by large number of people and animals. After taking many days of long journey, they finally reach the present day Merak(meaning set on fire) and Sakteng(meadow covered by bamboo). The older people were exhausted of long journey and faced difficulty to cross Nagchungla(Mountain pass) located between Merak and Sektang. Ama Jomo sent back the older people and they settled in Sakteng. She then proceeded the journey with younger people. After crossing Nagchungla mountain, she instructed them to settle in Merak.
Among many traditions, the Brukor (journey for food grains) & Nepo(host) tradition are believed to have started after their settlement, as they have to depend on animals especially yaks, cattle and sheep due to cold climatic condition. Traditionally, each household owns the pastureland in their name and they take animals for grazing to higher mountain during summer and lower pasture land in winter. They depend on animals for their livelihood and the status of persons depends on the number of animals they possess.
The people of Eastern Bhutan (Sharchop) call people of Merak and Sektang as Brokpa and they share a very interesting traditional relationship over centuries passed down from many generations. When the winter approaches, they were busy packing things for their journey to lowland villages(Chailng, Shonphu, Radhi, Phongme, Bidung, Bartsham, Bikhar, Kanglung, Khaling & etc). Reaching destination, they stayed with their Nepos(host). Most Brokpas have Nepos in different villages, with whom they have good trading and social relationship since from their ancestors. As a sign of meeting gesture, Brokpa offered butter and cheese to their host. Then the host provided them with food, drinks and shelter, which was a sign of strong bond.
During their stay in the village, the Nepo helped them in exchanging their products with grains. The products for exchange consisted of prized yegpa(fermented cheese inside leather bag), fresh cheese, butter, dried meats, wool & incense. They exchanged these items mostly with food grains such as maize, rice, wheat, buckwheat, vegetables, etc. The exchange was done through bater system, whereby Brokpa provided animal products in Sang(traditional Bhutanese measurement of weight) or in kilogram. In return the lowland villagers provided grains either in Bre(traditional measurement of grain) or Changdre of the agreed amount. After completing the trading, the collected food grains were loaded on horses or Zo (cross breed between cattle & yak) and they started their return journey. The winter was busiest time for Brokpas as they had to trade all the preserved animal products with grains and they had to stock grains for one whole year.
With the emergence of modern development, the tradition of Brukor and Nepo has also changed a lot. After connecting Merak and Sakteng by road, the vehicles have replaced animals for transporting grains.Today, people rarely use domestic animals for transpotation. The Jalam(footpath) that was widely used in the past is now hardly used. Even the barter system that was widely practiced in past is now replaced by monetary system. The Nepo tradition which was practiced by both the communities since ancestors is no longer followed today. The drastic changes had undergone in Brokpa community, where the younger generation after completing their education are employed or migrated to urban areas for better opportunities. Some people who are living back in the villages, have taken business as an alternative to the herding animals. The changes can be noticed to remote community that was once remained isolated for ages. The tradition of Brokor and Nepo is almost in verge of disappearance and it may remain only as History