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Folktales and Education: Role of Bhutanese Folktales in Value Transmission

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Folktales and Education: Role of Bhutanese Folktales in Value Transmission
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  47 Folktales and Education: Role of Bhutanese Folktales in ValueTransmission Dorji Penjore  *    Abstract This paper begins by introducing Meme ‘Haylain’ Happiness, a concept drawn from a Bhutanese folktale about an old man, Meme Haylay Haylay, who exchanges his turquoise for a song, and happily returns home singing the song. It challenges whether we are ready to  pursue happiness in our daily life like Meme Haylay Haylay who had realized that more happiness would flow from singing a song than  from guarding a turquoise. The paper then explores the roles of Bhutanese oral tradition in educating children who could not avail either monastic or modern education. It argues that modern education,which mostly provides secular, pluralistic, egalitarian and market values necessary for running economic, political and legal institutions and machineries of modern nation-state is deficient in many ways;and it is the oral tradition which fills this gap by inculcating universal,humanistic and Bhutanese values. It also discusses the main  functions of the Bhutanese folktales which are of trivial events, but embedded with multi-layered meanings of great moral and social importance, with experiences drawn from daily life. The common motifs of the tales are chosen to relate them to daily realities of Bhutanese people. Lastly, this paper comes out with some policy recommendations to promote, document, disseminate and study the Bhutanese folktales through mass media such as press, radio, TV,internet, and film industry. These are the surest means of preserving and promoting our unique culture.  What is Meme ‘Haylain’ Happiness? One of the most popular Bhutanese folktales, “Meme Haylay Haylay and his Turquoise” provides secret on how to findhuman happiness, or foolishness, as most would argue. * Researcher, The Centre for Bhutan Studies, Thimphu  Journal of Bhutan Studies  48 Meme Haylay Haylay and his Turquoise 1   Once upon a time there lived a poor old man called MemeHaylay Haylay. One day he went to dig a meadow. As heuprooted a stand of Artemisia plants with a great effort, hefound a big, round, shinning turquoise. The turquoise wasquite heavy that a man of his age could hardly lift it with onehand. He stopped digging and went home, carrying the heavy stone in his cane basket.On the way he met a man leading a horse with a rope.“Where are you going, Meme Haylay Haylay?'' the horse-manasked.“Don’t say Meme Haylay Haylay any more,” the old manreplied. “Meme’s fortune is burning today. As I was digging ameadow, I found this turquoise.”Before the horseman saw the jewel or uttered a word, MemeHaylay Haylay threw a proposal, “Will you exchange yourhorse with the stone?” The horseman stood speechless, for who in the world wouldbarter a turquoise for a horse.“Don’t joke, Meme Haylay! Your turquoise is priceless,whereas my horse is worthless,” the horseman replied.“Priceless or worthless, you talk too much. Let there be a lesstalk. If you are for the trade, take this stone and hand overthe rope,” Meme Haylay Haylay said. The horseman lost no time in throwing the rope and went hisway carrying the stone, feeling happy. Meme Haylay Haylay went his way, feeling happier than the horseman. That was not the end of Meme Haylay Haylay’s business.On the way, he met a man with an ox and exchanged hishorse with the ox. He then bartered his ox for a sheep, thesheep for a goat, and the goat for a rooster.  Role of Bhutanese Folktales in Value Transmission  49 He last met a man singing a melodious song. Tears of happiness swelled Meme Halay's eyes as he listened to thesong. "I feel so happy by merely hearing the song. Howhappier I would feel if only I know how to sing myself," hethought.“Where are you going, Meme Haylay Haylay?” the songmanasked him.“Today, don’t say Meme Haylay Haylay,” the old man replied.“Meme’s fortune is now burning. As I was digging a meadow, Ifound a turquoise. I exchanged it for a horse, the horse for anox, the ox for a sheep, the sheep for a goat, and the goat forthis rooster. Take this rooster and teach me how to sing. I like your melody so much.”After learning the song, Meme Haylay Haylay parted with hisrooster and went home singing the song, feeling the happiest,richest and most successful businessman in the world. ***  The audience’s reactions to the above story are mixed sincethere are many versions of the story. Variations resulted morefrom how people preferred to interpret and less from theirfrail memory. Two versions differ sharply in how they end. Inthe above version, Meme Haylay Haylay returns home singinga song, feeling so happy. In the second version, Meme Haylay Haylay meets a man playing a flute and exchanges his roosterwith the flute. While playing the flute, he steps on a pad of fresh cow dung and slips. When he gets up to his feet, hediscovers he can no more play the flute. He ends uppossessing nothing. In another version, he learns how to singa song and forgets it after skidding over a cow dung.Whatever the versions, Meme Haylay Haylay, like the greatBuddhist saint Drukpa Kunley, satirizes the conventionalbusiness practice of profit-making. Drukpa Kunley attackedthe “abuse of authority by privileged hierarchs, exploitation of the ignorant and superstitious, preoccupation with peripheral  Journal of Bhutan Studies  50religious concerns, wealth, and fame, and many other formsof ‘spiritual materialism;’” he worked “to free the humanspirit’s divinity from slavery to religious institutions, andmoral and ritual conventions,” believing that “totalrenunciation and detachment, including detachment from…religious institutions, were necessary conditions for perfecthappiness," and used “sex,” “outrage and laughter" etc as "theskillful means" "to shock people out of their lethargicacceptance of the neurotic status quo  of their minds, and outof their attachment to conventional forms.” 2  Meme Haylay Haylay makes a mockery of his bartercounterparts -- horseman, ox-man, sheep-man, goat-man,rooster-man, and song-man -- who bartered their happinessfor material possession. Perhaps Meme Haylay understoodthe futility of finding happiness through wealth accumulation,and that more happiness would flow from singing a song thanfrom guarding a turquoise. But most people portray MemeHaylay Haylay as a foolish man who is not to be emulated. Abad business is often compared to Meme Haylay Haylay’sbusiness, and a common sense holds that one should notemulate Meme Haylay Haylay. When the tale ends, audiencehas to make a choice between Meme Haylay Haylay and hisbarter counterparts. The great Buddhist master, Shantidevawrote:  The goal of every act is happiness itself, Though, even with great wealth, it's rarely found. 3   Individuals and families, societies and nations, dreams andvisions, systems and institutions, ideas and ideals can bedivided into two camps: Meme Haylay Haylay and his bartercounterparts. Are we winning like Meme Haylay Haylay, orsquandering like his barter counterparts in pursuinghappiness? In which camp do we belong? Are we ready toadopt the Meme ‘Haylain’ (my word) way of finding happinessin our daily life? But Meme Haylay Haylay is an alien, amisfit; everywhere outnumbered as in the story!  Role of Bhutanese Folktales in Value Transmission  51 Introduction to traditional education Bhutan is still an oral society. This is not surprising since “upto 70 per cent of the world's peoples are oral cultures,meaning they require or prefer to communicate throughnarrative presentations, storytelling and other traditional artforms.” 4 Modern education was introduced only in the late1950s, and before that, the monastic education system thatprovided Buddhist education was accessible only to a fewprivileged families. Women were excluded, with exception of afew nuns. 5 But folk composition, narration, acquisition,memorization, and the daily use of indigenous knowledgethrough oral mediums have been a continuous process. It isthe today’s equivalent of universal education. Children whocould not avail either monastic or modern education forvarious reasons have always resorted to the traditionaleducation system. Farmers use the oral tradition to expresstheir ideas, values, norms, beliefs, superstition, culture (orindigenous knowledge system), and to pass them onto theirchildren orally, and through active participation in andpassive observation of both formal and customary socio-religious, cultural and political institutions and events. They have used this indigenous learning system to acquire andacquaint with the local knowledge required for interactionswith man, nature and spirits.Bhutan’s success in education is mostly attributed to moderneducation system. The contributions made by family andcommunities are seldom mentioned because un-priced family services are always taken for granted. Every child has afamily, but students share one school. A family supplementsfor any deficiency that any elder family members discover inchildren’s values and characters through use of proverbs andfolktale morals as pedagogic tools. Parental influence startsfrom the day a child is born, while school comes later whenfoundations have already been laid. Most rural householdshave one or more family members in bureaucracy, businessor schools. But the secular, pluralistic and egalitarian values(understood synonymously with modern values) they 
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