Merak's Brokpa Yak Dance

 
The sacred Brokpa Yak Dance.

The sacred Brokpa Yak Dance.

Merak valley.

Merak valley.

 
 

The Brokpa yak dance is traditionally performed in the summer months in the spectacular valley of Merak. Two men cozy up inside a bisected wooly yak costume and respectively animate its front and back limbs. Several other men don colorful face masks that conceal their identity but seemingly offer a glimpse of their internal personalities.

Representing Thoepa Gali, the god of livestock.

Representing Thoepa Gali, the god of livestock.

Performed during annual festivals of the Merak and Sakteng communities, the origin of the Yak Dance has two versions, according to the village elders.

One version exhibition of the legendary tale of Thoepa Gali, the God of Livestock, while the other version says the dance is performed as a display of the respect for the yak, the principal means of livelihood for the community.

A protected albino yak in Merak.

A protected albino yak in Merak.

At first, observers are approached by the “yak.” They offer him white silk scarves (a common gesture of respect in Bhutan), and then feed him several Ngultrum coins. This makes the yak happy so he nuzzles the observers with his horns and flirtatiously dances closely. The masked men jump and holler as two nearby musicians clap symbols and pound drums. Now it is the masked men’s turn to take the spotlight.

Behind the mask.

Behind the mask.

Each one gathered in a row, they begin to perform a series of solos. Each solo is intricate, trance-like, and unique to the performer.

But modern reality has descended on these pristine communities too. The Brokpa Yak Dance, like many other sacred dances of the highlands, is losing its popularity and in dire need of protection and preservation since people are reluctant to take up these dances anymore due to lack of incentives.

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StoryBethany Betzler