Friday, June 07, 2013

Bhutan 80 Years Ago: Historical Photos

The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge has shared a collection of historical photos from Bhutan over on their Flickr page.
"Frederick Williamson became Political Officer in Sikkim on January 4th, 1933. In June and July of that year, he and his wife, Margaret, made an official visit to Bhutan.

Williamson was stationed in Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet between 1930 and 1935 during which time he created a unique collection of photos and cine-films which offer insight into the lives of British envoys in the last decades of the British Raj."

The small number of page views for these photos suggests that this collection hasn't been shared around too widely so I'm sharing them here along with the original photo captions. Please enjoy these images of Druk Yul from exactly 80 years ago this month.

Tobgye’s schoolboys at Ha
“Tobgye’s schoolboys at Ha [photo taken by] (Tobgye)”
“The school was run by a young man who had been trained in India and the instruction given was both in English and Hindi.”
Margaret Williamson wrote in her Memoirs of a Political Officer’s Wife (Wisdom Publication, London 1987): “As we approached Ha we were met by cheerful company of school boys of assorted ages, all wearing purple or green chubas (tunics), who walked ahead of us into the village”
Ha, Bhutan
Photograph by Tobgye, ?14 June 1933

Camp - Coolies near Sharithang 14.6.33
“Camp - Coolies near Sharithang 14.6.33”
“At Sahrithang (11350 feet), our first halting place in Bhutan we found a huge WELCOME sign and a beautiful camp prepared for us.”
Notice Williamson’s umbrella tucked into the woman’s kabney (traditional Bhutanese scarf).
Photograph by Frederick Williamson, 14 June 1933

[I am troubled by the word 'coolie'. It's so dehumanizing.]

Archery at Paro 23.6.33
“Archery at Paro 23.6.33”
Archery is a male dominated game and women are not allowed to play the game. The man in the centre of the picture is trying to aim. While the others watch him. The archery players are all using the traditional bow and arrow made from Bamboo.
Paro, Bhutan
Photograph by Frederick Williamson, 23 June 1933

[Wondering if this is the same archery range currently used near the main town in Paro?]

The Penlop’s dancers
“The Penlop’s dancers [photo taken by] (Sherriff)”
This is a special dance which is normally performed during a ceremonial welcome for the guest of honor. The dancers were beautiful silk crowns and silk gho. In their hand they have small drums. They also have a long sword tired down their waist.
There is a popular belief that this men who dance in the ceremonial procession dance gracefully in front of the guest and they move around because their role is like that of a spy. While dancing gracefully they also try to see if there are any ambush or danger ahead for the guest.
The castle in the picture on the hill is know as Paro Ta Dzong (meaning ‘watch tower’). This has been converted to the national museum of Bhutan. We can also see lots of white prayer flags, which is very much a part of Bhutanese culture.
Paro, Bhutan
Photograph by George Sherriff, June 1933

['Penlop' is comparable to a regional governor I suppose.]

Dances at Paro guest-house 25.6.33
“Dances at Paro guest-house 25.6.33”
“Sword dance”. This is the “khri-ging” dance.”
Paro, Bhutan
Photograph by Frederick Williamson, 25 June 1933

[Do you think this "guest-house" in Paro is actually Ugyen Pelri Palace?]

The Penlop’s soldiers at the Paro guest house 25.6.33
The Penlop’s soldiers at the Paro guest house 25.6.33”
The four men in the back row with striped damki (aprons) and soft hats are probably saises. The rest are part of the Penlop’s ceremonial militia.”
Paro, Bhutan
Photograph by Frederick Williamson, 26 June 1933

Paro dzong 7750’ 26.-27.6.33
“Paro dzong 7750’ 26.-27.6.33”
“Our departure from Paro 28.6.33. Paro Penlop and F.W. The horse has a woven saddle carpet.”
Paro, Bhutan
Photograph by Tobgye

Interior of Paro bridge
“Interior of Paro bridge”.
“The painted inscriptions on the beams are ‘Om mani padme hum’, a famous Buddhist mantra translating as ‘Hail to the Jewel in the Lotus’. This bridge was washed away in the floods of 1968 and later rebuilt.”
Paro, Bhutan
Photography by Margaret Williamson

Dorji’s messenger with presents at Chandebi 5.7.33
Dorji’s messenger with presents at Chandebi 5.7.33”
“The gifts are probably ale and food. The messenger is seen carrying a palang (wicker and bamboo beer-pot) and two bangchung (food receptacles) wrapped in separate pieces of cloth. They most probably contain rice and/or parched wheat.”
Chendbji, Tongsa, Bhutan
Photograph by Frederick Williamson, 5 July 1933

[Maybe "Chendbji" is "Chendebji"?]

Peggy in dandy at Gyetsa 9.7.33
“Peggy in dandy at Gyetsa 9.7.33”
“... the Maharaja kindly sent a dandy (carrying chair) ahead for me, a splendid vehicle with brocade upholstery, and eight equally splendidly attired dandywallas to carry it”.
Gyetsa, Bumthang, Bhutan
Photograph by Frederick Williamson, 9 July 1933

["Dandywallas"!]

Monks at Ku-je, 16.7.33
“Monks at Ku-je, 16.7.33”
These monks are welcoming the royal party with rgya-gling (oboes), incense and dressed in fabulous brocades.”
Kurje, Bumthang, Bhutan
Photograph by Frederick Williamson, 16 July 1933

[Here's Kurje more recently.]

Archery at Bumthang 12.7.33
“Archery at Bumthang 12.7.33”
“Maharaja of Bhutan, Tennant, Peggy, Tobgye, Kumar, Maharani of Bhutan, Aji Pedon, Aji Wangmo.”
Bumthang, Bhutan
Photograph by Frederick Williamson, 19 July 1933

[If the year was 1933, the "Maharaja" of Bhutan must have been His Majesty Jigme Wangchuck.]

Top of Mön-la Karchung, 17,442’, 31.7.33
“Top of Mön-la Karchung, 17,442’, 31.7.33”
“Looking north from pass towards Kula Kangri.”
Mönla Karchung, Bhutan
Photograph by Frederick Williamson, 31 July 1933


You can read a little more about the Williamson party expedition to Bhutan here.

All photos here are copyright of The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge and are linked from the Flickr collection here.

Related post: Views of Bhutan 200 Years Ago

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