In September, I visited Bhutan on behalf of World Archery, and found it one of the most bewitching places on the planet. I wrote a very long piece about archery culture there, which has been split into three parts.
The first part is about the country and Bhutanese traditional archery:
Enjoy, when you have a moment. There’s plenty of pics in the piece, here are some of the other photos I managed to take, when I wasn’t wielding World Archery’s video camera (look out for the results of that a little later :)).
There was extraordinary news for the sport last month as the tiny Himalayan nation of Bhutan became the first nation in the world to institute a mandatory Olympic archery programme in every school. Kuensel reports:
All the schools in the country would initiate Olympic format archery programme with trained instructors by 2020… the long-term grassroots programme aims to build base for the Bhutanese archers in the recurve bow, the bow used in Olympics.
BAF’s General Secretary, Tsewang Rinchen, said SSIs, physical education teachers and games in-charge are being trained using a prototype of the recurve bow made from bamboo.
Since providing all the trainees with the actual bow was expensive for the federation, he said, a simplified version of the bow was made from bamboo and used for the training.
“On an average a recurve bow would cost Nu 100,000 ($1500) just for the body without any accessories,” said Tsewang Rinchen. “We have simplified and brought down the cost. We’ll further streamline the bow so that it will be easy for parents to make one for their kids.”
“We don’t have a programme promoting our own national game in schools, it’s ironic.”
Because of these limitations, he said the selection for the national team for international competitions are also done ad hoc.
“Through this programme we want to groom children from a very young age so that over the time we can produce quality archers and have a better chance against international counterparts,” added Tsewang Rinchen.
Just watched this documentary from the early 2000s about Bhutan featuring archer Tshering Choden, who competed for the Himalayan nation in the Olympics. It might be the only country in the world where archery is the national sport, but it takes serious dedication to be an archer in a region where the selection competition might be a terrifying 20-hour bus journey away.
Archery, luck, tradition and religion are closely intertwined in Bhutan. I’m willing to bet your local county tournament doesn’t involve specially composed songs sung by everyone’s wives, ritual magic involving menstrual blood, or a ban on sex the night before. The star of the film is really the extraordinary country and its culture, poised on the precipice of modernity – although it’s reassuring to see that rude jokes and playing cards for cash are cultural universals, amongst much else. Enjoy.
FYI: this seems to be a re-voiceovered version of a German documentary called Die Bogenschützin von Bhutan (The Archer Of Bhutan) – with a barely-edited English translation, and the credits stripped off for some reason. Anyway, enjoy.