Video/Audio Open Access
Bodt, Timotheus Adrianus. 2020. Grammar of Duhumbi. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-40947-7. https://brill.com/view/title/55767
Kesang was one of the last bon-po, practitioners of the traditional religious system in the Chug valley. This religious system has no ‘name’, but comes under what is often called ‘Bon’. The locus of propitiation is on the opposition between the high, in winter snow-clad mountain peaks phu (Tib. phu) that represent purity, cleanliness, goodness and beneficial powers versus the low-lying marshy, swampy areas da (tib. mdaḥ) that represent pollution, disease, evil and malevolent forces. In between these two there is a plethora of other local deities, many of which are local representations of the lha-srin bde-brgyad ‘eight classes of deities and demons’ also found in Tibetan Buddhism, but many of whom also represent deified human beings who have taken on some negative or positive force. It is the role of the bon-po to maintain the balance between the phu, the ‘good’ and the da, the ‘evil’ and hence prevent damage to humans and their livelihoods in the form of diseases, natural disasters, death etc. The phu-da religious system is not limited to the Chug valley, but, in various forms, can also be found among the related Khispi, Sartang and Sherdukpen people, as well as among the Tshangla speakers of West Kameng and eastern Bhutan.
The main ritual conducted by the bon-po is called zhiwa (Tib. źi-ba ‘peace’) or jomo soykha (Tib. jo-mo gsol-kha ‘propitiation of the Jomo). It is conducted once before the 20th day of every Tibetan month. Jomo is the main female deity in the area (see also the files concerning the on-site Jomo propitiation). During this ritual, the bon-po first invites the Jomo and all other deities and spirits to attend the offering. He then offers nyingba (Tib. sñiṅ-ba ‘old’), also called lemchang, a mixture of rice, maize, finger millet (traditionally also wheat, barley, broomcorn millet, foxtail millet, buckwheat and amaranth) that has been kept fermenting for a long time. After that, he offers tochang, freshly cooked rice (Tib. lto-chaṅ ‘food-liquor’), and after that darcok (Tib. dar-lcog ‘prayer flags’), small twigs with triangular-shaped flags made of traditional paper. He then conducts a prediction for the coming month, by making three heaps of a mixture of grains, and interprets the way in which these grains pattern. He then sends off the assembled deities.
Bon-po Kesang died in early 2016. His son Tow Tsering has taken over his role, but does not seem to know the ritual as well as his father. He may well be the last of the bon-po in Chug valley, given that no one has come forward to learn from him.
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Tim Bodt: monpasang (at) gmail (dot) com