English | Dzongkha Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Lhops keep their rombu tradition alive

Damcho Zam, Samtse
Dec 3, 2018

For ages, the Lhop communities in Samtse have been burying the dead inside a tomb, locally known as ‘rombu’. This unique culture of entombing the dead bodies in their own land is still practised widely in the villages of Jigme, Singye, Wangchuck and Sanglung-Satakha in Dorokha.

There is no single house in these villages without a tomb nearby. It is their only means to get to the ultimate afterlife resting valley, ‘Gahala’. Gahala is a valley shaped by two highest peaks located adjacent to their villages and it takes a whole day to reach the valley.

While only stones are visible from the outside, each and every procedure involved in constructing a rombu holds a significant meaning.

The dead person, before placing inside the box, is wrapped in a cloth. Two small holes are left open on the head and rear sides of the box. This is for the deceased to breathe and excrete. The box is then covered with a particular type of soil to prevent the emitting of a rotten smell. The rombu is then finally sealed with stones and a special stone placed on the top. It is believed that the dead will hold onto the stone during difficult times of their journey to Gahala.

“We use stones from our own community to build the tomb and the particular timber used for the box is found here. Even the white soil used to cover the box is available here. The long and unique stone placed on the top of a rombu is the most special of all. It is the only thing that could save the deceased from external calamities,” Jouchu Doya, from Singye village, said.

The lhops use their private lands for the burial because they believe a person would have to borrow others’ land to live in Gahala afterlife if their rombu is raised in others ‘land.

The rombu are raised in the queue according to the time the person died. The lhops prefer having them as close as possible to their houses.

Meanwhile, some years ago, a few lhops tried replacing the custom by cremating the dead. But locals say, the change was followed by misfortunes in their communities.

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