It’s the third annual rum festival in Nassau, The Bahamas. Going on right now in the Fort Charlotte. Tickets cost $25 per day, or $60 for Friday-Sunday (pre-purchase online, I think). Tickets can be bought at the entrance to the festival. Fort Charlotte is about a mile from the cruise ship harbor. The stalls are all around the bailey of the fort making a natural path past the stalls. There are stalls selling rum, cocktails, rum cake, desserts, food, jewelry, plants (lettuce plant is not what I’d normally buy at a rum festival, but why not?), soap, tea, candy, t-shirts, and art. You can get samples, but mostly, it’s about shopping. There is music throbbing off the walls and pirates waiting to take a photo with you. There is even a Johnny Depp-look who is very willing to stare glaze-eyed into your selfie. Happening now, February 24-26. I’d recommend it if you like festivals, rum, and a street party… I bought jerk chicken and rum cake.There are also some voodoo elements… and cigars. Overall, not a great way to see Fort Charlotte because the dungeons and other parts of the fort are closed for the festival. But it’s a good use of the fort.
I’ll write more about the foods I tried in a later post. It was spicy!
Dzong… dzong… dzong. That’s the deep basal reverberating sound that the Bhutanese alpine horns make during the “tsechu” in the “dzong” which is the building where the festival takes place.
One year later, from a completely different mountain range (Bogota and Thimphu are at the same altitude) on the other side of the world, I remember the tsechu I saw when I went to Bhutan. “Tsechu” is the word for the “tenth day” in Bhutan.
In Bhutan, the second largest “tsechu” festival of the year takes place in April in the town of Paro. The biggest festival is held in the fall in Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. The tsechu festival is extremely complex which is evident from this sample itinerary:
“We can continue attending the Thimphu tsechu day 2 where you will get to witness Chamms (religious associated dances) like The Black Hat Dance (Shana), Dance of the 21 black hats with drums (Sha nga ngacham), Dance of the Noblemen and the Ladies (Pholeg Moleg), Dance of the Drums from Dramitse (Dramitse Ngacham), Dance of the Noblemen and the Ladies (Pholeg Moleg) and Dance of the Stag and Hounds (Shawa Shachi). Not all dances will be performed in the morning but we will be able witness at least two.”
Although I didn’t understand most of the stories being told, I enjoyed the colors and costumes. For the Bhutanese, the very act of watching the dances is good for their souls. It’s also educational. The monks who perform the roles of the gods and demons must be in excellent shape as the dance is a marathon. Also, of note, is that the costumes are never washed because washing them would wash away the spirits. After being used, the costumes are immediately packed down until the next time they are needed. No airing out allowed…
A popular dance is the Black Hat Dance which tells the legend of how the wrathful gods (good guys) draw out the demons by inviting them to a dance. Then during the dance, while the demons (bad guys) watch, the Black Hats take the bows and arrows from their large sleeves and kill the demons.
Everything, from dates, numbers, directions, hand motions, shawl knots, etc. have Buddhist significance in Bhutan.
Another thing that I found interesting about the festival, and Himalayan Buddhism, is that embarrassment is a tool used to open up the spirit to enlightenment. This was evident at the tsechu with the lively antics of the jester. The jester wandered around making lewd overtures and gestures, including climbing on to the laps of foreigners. I’m sure that his antics made for many a Facebook photo.
And speaking of embarrassment leading to enlightenment, my friend and I had our own enlightenment experience. My male friend and I both bought the cream colored large sash called a “kabney” that the men wear as part of the their formal attire with their gho (see photo). Then we went out in public wearing our kabneys as scarves. This caused embarrassment and my friend was “talked to” by some Bhutanese men. They were embarrassed on his behalf that he was wearing the sash without the proper traditional clothes under it. As a woman, no one said anything to me because it was clear that I was a clueless foreigner… after all no Bhutanese woman would ever wear this piece of male attire! We quickly packed them away, to be worn outside of Bhutan.
For the past six months, memories of a small kingdom, high on the roof of the world, keeps slipping into my mind. Oh, Bhutan, Land of the Thunder Dragon, how my imagination is painting you in colors of the sun! One of the wonders of a selective memory is the rose colored tint on everything. This is not completely the case with Bhutan. There were things I loved about Bhutan and things that I found less delightful (my apologies to my Bhutanese friends although they are too polite to object). I imagine that Bhutan is a bit like Tibet of yore (or Hollywood’s Tibet). Despite it being the land of Gross National Happiness (the king tells you that you are happy so you will be), it’s not all happiness and light (okay, there is is a lot of light).
With April just around the corner, when I think back to the gho-clad men, strong women, crisp air, and quiet spiritualism, my thoughts turn to the spring festival, or “tsechu,” in Paro. The tsechu is a multi-day religious festival and a dream for a photographer (and for those of us who like to take photos). More about the tsechu in a later blog post.
I had so many things from Bhutan framed that my framer asked me if I was Bhutanese. No, but thanks for the compliment.