Intangible Cultural Heritage of Asia and the Pacific

Loden entrepreneurs runs a textile workshop in Khoma © Loden Foundation

Safeguarding Culture for Happiness in Bhutan

The Loden Foundation

The Loden Foundation is a pioneer organization in Bhutan bridging cultural heritage with socio-economic development. Loden literally means ‘the intelligent one’ and is an epithet of the Bodhisattvas, who work for the world using wisdom and compassion. Loden first started as a modest child sponsorship scheme in 1999 to help poor students go to school. Since then, it grew incrementally to become a leading NGO in Bhutan. Led by a group of people with shared visions, concerns and interests, Loden has three programs supported by a wide network of donors, volunteers, management team and partners.

Loden Education Initiative

Loden has founded five preschools to provide a safe and enjoyable environment to grow while their parents go to work. Based in clustered rural communities, the facilities blend modern childcare techniques with traditional practices of upbringing. Loden also supports many dozens of children from poor families to go to school and offers university scholarships to deserving students to pursue education in areas Bhutan stands in need. So far, Loden has supported 182 children in school and 50 in colleges.

Loden Entrepreneurship Program

Since 2008, Loden launched its entrepreneurship to help minimize youth unemployment and economic dependency. It provides motivational sessions and basic training in business to young people. The training is followed by a competition for interest and collateral-free seed funds. Once an entrepreneur starts a business, Loden regularly monitors and mentors the business. Through this program which has trained over 7,000 young people including those in educational institutions, and funded 175 social entrepreneurs and 16 student entrepreneurs, Loden has managed to benefit over 40 cultural practitioners in hospitality, textile, art, crafts, medicine, and food. Through the entrepreneurship program infused by ethical, responsible, and sustainable Buddhist values, the foundation also aims to promote a culture of intelligent business and right livelihood.

Loden Cultural Program

Bhutan is well known for its rich culture and pristine nature. Having remained an isolated country until half a century ago, Bhutan prides in the integrity and continuity of its cultural heritage. However, with the full pursuit of modernization and the onslaught of globalization, the cultures of Bhutan are fast changing, and many even vanishing. In the past 15 years, the Loden Foundation has carried out nationwide projects to document the cultural heritage of Bhutan and today remains unparalleled in digital documentation of Bhutan’s cultural heritage.

Digitization of Written Heritage

With support from the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) of the British Library, Loden carried out digitization of manuscripts in the library of Gangteng monastery in 2006. Since then, with further support from EAP, the University of Cambridge, University of Hamburg, and University of Vienna, Loden has today digitized the manuscripts in 44 archival centers across Bhutan with the dual aim of preserving the books in digital copies and making digital copies available to readers. The program has produced over four million pages of texts in over two million digital images. Copies of the digital books have been deposited with the National Library and Archives of Bhutan, the State Monk Body and other institutions for safekeeping.

Documentation of Oral Traditions

In the course of digitizing remote archives, the Loden culture team realized the endangerment of Bhutan’s oral traditions and the urgency to record them. Thus, in 2013 with support from Arcadia Trust and University of Virginia, the foundation launched a nationwide project to make audiovisual recordings of intangible cultures including oral creations, religious practices, cultural events, arts and crafts, folk knowledge and customs, games and sports, and languages and dialects.

Loden has produced some 3,260 hours of audiovisual recordings of such intangible cultures. Many old cultural experts who shared their talents and knowledge have since passed away making the recordings invaluable heritage. Most of the recordings are currently accessible via the University of Virginia, but it is our plan to make all our recordings and digital images accessible from a server in Bhutan.

Photographs of Arts and Artifacts

In parallel with the digitization of books and creation of audiovisual recordings, the team also created a large collection of photographs of Bhutan’s art, artifacts and architecture. With changes sweeping across the country, cultural objects and artifacts are disappearing as much as the knowledge of their production and use are lost. Loden has compiled over 150,000 photos of cultural objects and practices with metadata.

Making Cultural Knowledge Relevant

Our efforts of documenting and safeguarding must meet the purpose of enhancing human wellbeing in general and the welfare of the cultural practitioners in particular. To this effect, Loden has conducted proper study of Bhutans’ cultural heritage, classified cultural forms into specific categories, assessed their significance and viability, and carried out projects of implementation. The foundation has published four books and a couple hundred essays on culture, and launched projects that involved direct application of cultural knowledge. The conservation of the lake in Tali village by leveraging ancient beliefs and community practices is a good example.

The Loden Foundation strives to safeguard, formulate and apply Bhutan’s rich cultural heritage towards fulfilling Bhutan’s goal of Gross National Happiness.