People and Society

Bhutanese society is made up of a number of ethnic and lingual groups. The three main ethnic groups are the Ngalops of western Bhutan who are believed to be of Tibetan origin who migrated to Bhutan around the ninth century. They speak Dzongkha which is now the national language of Bhutan. The Sharchops live in eastern Bhutan and speak Sharchopkha. They are of Indo-Mongoloid extraction and it is believed that they migrated from Assam or possibly Burma a few centuries ago. They are fully assimilated into the Buddhist religion and culture.

The Ngalops and the Sharchops are collectively known as Drukpas, or the people of Druk. The third major ethnic group is the Lhotsampas who are Hindus of Nepalese origin and speak the Nepali language. Having migrated from Nepal during the last century they are the most recent arrivals and mainly live along the southern foothills.

Besides the three main ethnic groups there are a few small minor groups such as the Doyas who are believed to the indigenous tribal people living in scattered villages in some parts of the country. Because of the geographic isolation of many of Bhutan's villages, there are a quite a few different dialects which are still spoken today. Except among the Hindu Lhotsampa communities in the south, there is no caste system and social and educational opportunities are not determined by rank or birth. Gender bias is also absent and Bhutanese women enjoy equal rights with men in every respect.

Many people still prefer to wear traditional clothes and it is the mandated attire in all government offices, schools and on formal occasions. Men wear the "gho" a robe the bottom half of which is hoisted up to the knees tied at the waist with a narrow belt to form a pouch which serves as a large pocket. The women wear the "kira" a rectangular piece of cloth which is wrapped around the body to form an ankle length dress that is held in place by brooches at the shoulder and a broad belt at the waist.