“There is no charm in playing archery on traditional bows and arrows when others shoot arrows from their imported compound bows, ” my friend tells me when I suggest that we play archery last week. “And until we can afford to buy important equipment, I decided not to play archery anymore.”
I could not believe this comment coming from a man who could literally go on playing archery for days on stretch when we were young. As children we remember having so much fun playing archery on our improvised bows and arrows. And as adults geared up for competitions with the teams from different villages, children would get busy too preparing.
Of course I could not play archery for a long time now, but that does not mean I have given up totally on the game. Far from it - just that I could not find an opportunity to do so!
Archery is the national game of Bhutan and we take so much pride in being the nation that lays so much emphasis on its culture and tradition. Of late archery has become even more popular in this country with the introduction of new form of archery played on compound bows. And no doubt archery is being played with interest and enthusiasm in Bhutan through all these non-stop competitions, the most popular being the annual Yangphel Archery tournament. It certainly has become a popular sport in urban Bhutan.
However, looking at the rate at which we are shooting arrows and the number of tournaments held in the country, especially going by the fact that some archers almost play archery full time now, it is discomforting to know that our traditional form of archery is sidelined slowly. To put it concisely, there is not as much interest generated as it is with the modern archery game. In other words, traditional way of shooting arrows is left exclusively to the villagers. Of course we have some special tournaments organized on traditional bows and arrows on some special occasions. But I think that’s it.
The way we are shooting arrows in towns and cities is, as I argued sometime ago here, is not our national sport. We all know that and we must accept it. But if we are truly preserving our way of life, our cultural heritage, in which we take almost exaggerated interest, we think it is time that we should start meaning what we say and doing what we say. I don’t know if you would agree with me -playing archery on compound bows definitely promotes the sport, but at the same time it makes traditional forms of archery outdated and almost antique.
One thing is certain. Only rich people can afford expensive foreign equipment while there is no choice for the common people but to wait and watch a few privileged play while they hang up their traditional equipment. It is entirely left as a village affair now. And some think it is out of fashion to play archery on traditional bows and shoot bamboo arrows. We are told that even the spectators do not take so much interest in watching traditional archery being played.
Thus, most archers end up watching others play their favorite game.
In this part of the country, there are only two archery ranges and while one is always occupied with people playing archery on imported equipment the other is thickly clothed in bushes and nettle plants.
This is a sorry state of affairs of our national game.
And in archery tournaments played on traditional bows and arrows, archers are prohibited from using carbon arrows. Further they are not allowed to use plastic feathers in the tournaments. Another restriction imposed is on the use of imported bowstrings, which are durable on bamboo bows. Well, we agree that we need to preserve our traditional game in the form that our forefather gave us. But we have on other hand a totally new game that’s played on imported bows and arrows, which rules the archery grounds today. What is the middle way?
And we have our environment policy of conserving our endangered species of birds such as mono-pheasants that are killed for feathers to be used as fletchers for the arrows. We need to find the way out and consider allowing plastic fletchers to be used because some archers have tried using them. They work fine. All we need is some black cello tapes. We might also consider the use of imported bowstrings and build more archery grounds reserved for traditional archers.
Otherwise one day in future our bows and arrows would be displayed only in the museums and the younger generation would have to listen to their elders explaining what they are and how they are used. If such were the state of our national game, it is a concern for us all. And who knows one day our people would mistake archery that’s played on imported bows and arrows as Bhutan’s national game. Would it make difference?
Let’s make our way of shooting arrows, if not more or as attractive as its foreign counterpart and let’s not leave our traditional archery solely in our villages.
Let’s conserve our environment and let’s preserve our national game.