People and Language
The populace of Bhutan is primarily divided into three broad ethnic groups – Ngalops, Sharchops, and Lhotsampas which comprises to 700,000 people.
The Ngalops make up the majority of the population, living mostly in the western and central parts of Bhutan. The Ngalops are of Tibetan origin, who arrived in Bhutan during the 8th and 9th centuries A.D., bringing Buddhism with them. They speak Ngalongkha, the polished version of which is called Dzongkha, the national language of Bhutan.
The Sharchops which literally translats as “people of the east”, live in eastern Bhutan and are considered to be the descendants of earliest major group to inhabit Bhutan. Their early ancestor tribes may have originated from Burma (Myanmar) and northeast India. It is also believed that Indo-Mongoloids (usually referred to as Monpas, which means non-Tibetans) migrated into Bhutan two thousand years ago from Arunchal Pradesh, Nagaland, northern Burma, and Thailand. The dialects they speak is called Tsahnglakha. Besides cultivation of maize, rice, wheat, barley and vegetables this group also rear domestic animals to supplement their living and their main cash crop being potato. Weaving is a popular occupation of women. They produce beautiful fabrics mainly of silk and raw silk.
The Lhotsampas are people of Nepali origin, currently making up 35% of the population. They came to Bhutan in the 19th and 20th centuries, mostly settling in the southern foothills to work as farmers. They speak a variety of Nepali dialects and are predominantly Hindu.
The Ngalops, Sharchops, and the indigenous tribal people are collectively known as Drukpas and account for about 65% of the population. Though the national language is Dzongkha, but English is the language of instruction in schools and an official working language for the government.
The other indigenous tribal person that comprises Bhutanese populace is:
Kurtoeps: Kurtoeps are the other category of people in the east. They inhabit the district of Lhuentse and the villages are found spread along the banks of Kurichu. The dialect spoken is called Choetsa-Ngatsa. Khoma women are expert weavers and are known for their skill in weaving the grandiose Kushithara.
The Bumthaps, Mangdeps and Khengpas: The people who speak Bumtapkha, Mangdepkha and khengkha respectively dwell in central pockets of Bhutan, namely Bumthang, Trongsa and Zhemgang. The Bumthaps cultivate buck wheat, potatoes and vegetables. A section of this population also rear yaks and sheep. They also produce fabrics of wool and yak hair. The Mangdeps basically depend on cultivation of rice, wheat, maize, vegetables, etc besides rearing some domestic animals. The khengpas also depend on agriculture similar to the Mangdeps. However, they are also known for the bamboo and cane craft.
The Layaps: To the extreme north are the Layaps who speak the layapkha and are said to have migrated from Tibetan plain. Like the Brokpas of Merak and Sakteng, they are semi-nomads whose source of livelihood is dependent on yaks and sheep the products of which they barter with the people of Wangdue and Punakha with rice, salt and other daily necessities.
The Brokpas: The other nomadic community is the Brokpas, the immigrants of Tsona in Southern Tibet. They are settled in the two villages of Merak and Sakteng in Trashigang in eastern Bhutan. Like the Layaps in northern Bhutan, the Brokpas are semi-nomads depending on yaks and sheep for livelihood. Living in the high altitude zones they hardly take up agriculture. They speak a different dialect and have their own unique dress that is made of yak hair and sheep wool. The Doyas: These are the other tribal community and are settled mostly in southern Bhutan. They are considered the aboriginal inhabitants of western and central Bhutan, who over the years settled in the present areas in Dorokha, Samtse. They have a dialect of their own and dress in their own unique style.