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Merak - Sakten (Sakteng)
A closer look at the Brokpas of Merak - Sakten
The geographical location
Located in the two eastern most geogs in Trashigang dzongkhag and wedged between the glacial valleys of Greater Himalayas, and bordering the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh in the North and North East lies Merak and Sakteng. At about 3000 m above sea level-the lower limit of glaciation in Bhutan - even during the summer months the Brokpa habitat is a glacially sculptured landscape.
While Merak is an upland valley along Nyera Ama Chhu Sakteng is located on the lower valley along Gamri Chhu. According to the demographic of the geogs, Merak has about 213 households with a population of 1,908 while Sakteng 330 with about 2,126 residents. Together they form 0.12 percent of the total population of the country. Gender ratios in the two geogs vary from 1141.4 males per thousand females in Merak to 1051 males in Sakten. "The gender ratio of both the gewogs are higher than that of the country because of nature of Brokpa economy which requires more manpower," said the study.
Brokpa people:
The Brokpas: Clinging to age old traditions
I what is considered the first comprehensive study of one of Bhutan's most remote tribes - the Brokpas of Merak and Sakten interesting facts of this wellknown yet obscure nomadic tribe comes to light. Conducted by a group of Sherubtse students the study looks at the various aspects of Brokpa life from its locations to its ancient roots, customs and traditions.


The Brokpa origins

Folklore, travel and intrigue surrounds the Brokpa origins. Their story begins during the reign of King Songtsen Gombo in 640 AD, in the land of Komley Roksum in Tibet, where there lived a local ruler named Yezang Penpo of Tsona. According to Brokpa folk lore, one day the king ordered his people to destroy the mountain peak that blocked the sun so it could shine brightly on his fort. The people worked for several days, months and years, in vain. Over the years out of sheer desperation the people, led by a young woman called Jhomo, murdered the king and fled Tsona into Bhutan.

Those who fled Tsona was divided by Ama Jhomo into three groups. The first group was known as Sharpa Dengze (Eastern group) who settled down in Sakteng near a place called Domego Mirtsheng in Arunachal Pradesh. The second and third group-the Lhopa Dengze (Southern group) and the Nuppa Dengze (Western group) settled down in Lung Zempo for many years, where the ruins of the stone houses are still visible.

Brokpa people
After a few years the Lhopa Dengze and the Nuppa Dengze moved to Sakteng and later started making their way to present day Merak. However, with the harsh geographical conditions and the tough journey only a few proceeded to Merak led by Ama Jhomo and Lam Jarrapa. When Ama Jhomo's group reached Merak, the plateau of Merak was full of trees which had to be cleared and burnt down for the settlement. Thus, the place got its name, Methra (meaning to set on fire in dzongkha), which was later changed to Merak.

Sakteng meanwhile got its name from the vegetation in the area - Bamboos. The Brokpas named their area Sakteng the 'Plains of Bamboo'.

Over the years the Brokpa settlements in Sakteng spread to areas like Borangtse, Borangmang, Tengmang, Pusa, Thakthri and Manidungur, Murphey, Jongkhar and Tholong. These movements were largely fuelled by the search for warmer climates for agriculture and for easier access to trading. In Merak the first phase of settlement took place around Merak and Gengor later spreading out to the lower regions of Khiliphu and Chaling. However, according to the study, the proper settlement in Merak and Sakteng were established after 240 years during the tenure of the third Jekhenpo Tenzin Rabgay.

Contributed by KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper
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