Contributed by Sangay Wangchuk, Congress Organizer


Participants at the opening ceremony of the 14th Congress

In May 2012, Montpellier-France, the Toka Toka (Darrel Posey walking stick) was handed over to Bhutan by the 13th International Society of Ethnobiology (ISE) congress organizers. It was indeed a great privilege for the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment. Hosting the 14th ISE in Bhutan not only provided a huge opportunity to Bhutanese but also to congress participants to further revive, strengthen and appreciate some of the fading indigenous and cultural practices in the fast changing world. It also played a vital role in fulfilling the Royal Government of Bhutan’s policy to empower the community in the sustainable use of natural resources and further promote the ethno-biological knowledge for better conservation of the biological resources of the country. The congress also provided ample opportunities for indigenous communities across the country to participate, share and learn about complex inter relationships between human and biological environments that exist worldwide.

Since time immemorial Bhutanese have lived very closely with their surroundings. They survived depending on the natural resources, living with and respecting them. Traditions and cultures of Bhutanese revolve around nature and environment, thus, to recognize the important role earth and environment played to the Bhutanese communities and indigenous communities across the globe, the theme Regenerating biocultural ecosystem resilience and traditional knowledge Chi Nor Zom Bu Ling – was selected for the 14th ISE congress. Chi Nor Zom Bu Ling means One Earth for All in Dzongkha (the national language of Bhutan).

The over-arching theme was supported by the following sub-themes :

  1. Living Well: Environment, Sacred Heritage and Livelihood
  2. Protected Areas, Ecotourism and Community Involvement
  3. Intergenerational Learning/ Transmission of Knowledge
  4. Ethnobiology and Ecosystem Services-Broadening the Conversation
  5. Influencing Governance Policies (Community-based natural resource management, gender, participation, citizen science.)
  6. Ethnobiology in Mountain Communities
  7. Mindfulness, Ethics and Mental Ecology)

After consulting an astrologer, the opening ceremony of the congress was conducted on one of the auspicious days of the Bhutanese calendar (the 4th day of the 4th Bhutanese month corresponding to June 1, 2014). The opening ceremony started with a traditional Marchang ceremony to appease the local deities for good luck and successful completion of the congress. The organizers and participants were extremely lucky for the opening ceremony of the congress was graced by Her Royal Highness Ashi Chimi Yangzom Wangchuck. The opening ceremony witnessed an address by HRH Ashi Chimi Yangzom Wangchuck and the Bhutan declaration on climate change and mountain indigenous people. More than 100 indigenous people and traditional farmers from 25 communities in 10 countries developed the Bhutan declaration during one of the pre-congress activities held in Jangbi-Trongsa and Ura-Bumthang.


Participants at the opening ceremony of the 14th Congress

The 14th ISE congress saw participation from 6 continents. Participants included academics, scientists, students, farmers and policy makers, making a diverse group of participants. There were 308 international participants from 56 countries in addition to 90 from Bhutan. The Congress included a wide range of formats for people to share their knowledge, ideas and experiences, ranging from talking circles, to film viewings and discussions, cultural performances, field trips, oral presentations and poster sessions. The Congress was highly interactive and participatory. The congress witnessed 38 scientific sessions with 174 presentations; 8 SUNG (story telling) sessions with 35 presentations and 88 poster presentations.

The 14th ISE congress comprised three main events: the pre-congress workshops, the main congress and the post –congress field trips. The two pre-congress meetings were the emerging ethnobiologist meeting and the mountain community initiative workshop. Towards the final two days of the congress, a biocultural and film festival was organized. During the festival there were 35 stalls displaying arts and crafts from the various indigenous communities of Bhutan; crafts from Taiwan; and crafts from Makkivok-Canada besides musicians from Bhutan, Brazil and Taiwan interacting and performing. The festival also witnessed the screening of 14 short films.

We believe that by the organization of the14th ISE congress we achieved the following:

  • Promotion and preservation of rich biocultural diversity and indigenous traditional values in realizing the Royal Government of Bhutan’s efforts towards achieving the philosophy of gross national happiness.
  • Restoration and promotion of vanishing indigenous knowledge and practices of natural resource management.
  • Promotion of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) for better management of rapidly degrading environments/ecosystems.

The 14th ISE congress also provided an opportunity for high school students from Bhutan and France to interact with each other. During the congress seven students and three teachers from Jean Monnet High School, France, interacted with nine students and two teachers from Jakar Higher Secondary School, Bhutan. Their main topic of discussion was “Does quality of environment affect the happiness of Bhutanese and French People?” The outcome of their interaction was also presented during the congress. This interaction proved beneficial for both the groups because of which, students and teachers from Jean Monnet High School invited students from Jakar Higher Secondary School to France with the objectives to promote student exchange program; learn about sustainable environmental conservation and to learn about research methodologies. The students and teachers from Jakar School shall be visiting France in January 2015.

One of the pre-congress meetings, the Mountain Community Initiative workshop, was conducted from May 26 to June 1, 2014 wherein there were over hundred indigenous people and traditional farmers from 25 communities in ten countries. They came together with civil society organizations and research institutions and gathered in Jangbi and Ura with an objective to understand the impacts of climate change on the livelihoods and cultures of indigenous people living in the mountain region and to develop responses to tackle this problem. The workshop came up with the Bhutan Declaration on Climate Change and Mountain Indigenous Peoples.

After having been the custodian of Toka Toka for two year, we finally handed over the Toka Toka to the 15th ISE congress organizers. It was handed over to the representatives from Uganda, who shall be the organizers of the 15th ISE congress in 2016. Our contribution to the Toka Toka tradition was inscribing the names of all the past congress venues and years on the Toka Toka, which shall now become precedence and responsibility of next congress organizers.

While we have no doubt that all our organizing committee members, volunteers and our supporters gave their best to make the 14th ISE congress a success, we are sure that we might have not been able to attend to all our participant’s needs. We are aware that there have been some logistical issues during the congress and field trips. We would like to thank all our participants for their patience and cooperation rendered to us whenever we were not in the position to attend to their needs right away.

We would like to thank the Royal Government of Bhutan for granting an approval to organize the congress in Bhutan and also the ISE for constant support in making the congress happen in Bhutan. We are also highly indebted to Her Royal Highness Ashi Chimi Yangzom Wangchuck for having graced the opening ceremony of the congress. The congress was a grand success because of the generous support we received from our donor agencies. We would like to thank our major supporters, the Christensen Fund and the Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation. We are also highly indebted to WWF-Bhutan, GEF, YVES Rocher, SFS and everybody who helped us in one way or the other to make the 14th ISE a success.

Hosting of a congress helped the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment to promote its mission to provide a forum for collaboration among local community, tertiary institutes, universities and other organizations on a topic of importance to national, regional and international significance. The congress serves as a stepping-stone to achieve our long-term vision of understanding the important relationship, which human beings share with their environment and other organisms.

As we begin the New Year, we would like to wish each and everyone a very happy and prosperous year ahead. Our heartiest wishes are also to the next congress organizers, we hope that they shall deliver what we have not been able to achieve. Good luck and god bless you all.

Tashi Delek