When Darkness Settles, Night-hunting Begins.

Sunset in Punakha, Bhutan
Sunset in Punakha, Bhutan

Bhutan is a country that is soaked in customs and traditions. While most customs and traditions don’t raise eyebrows, there is one that is a little unorthodox.

Yes, you guessed it right; we’re talking about Night-hunting. Night-hunting or the traditional culture of nightly courtship and romance that is practiced mostly in eastern Bhutan can be best rendered as ‘prowling for girls’. But, nevertheless, it is an integral aspect of Bhutanese culture. For generations of Bhutanese, in the eastern villages of Bhutan, it has been the only means of courtship.

Although practiced in Japan, too, back in the day, in Bhutan, it is distinctly rural in character and bears the signature of a closed society.

It starts as Men going out at night to quietly sneak into the houses of girls to engage mostly in sexual acts. The prowling can be solo or in groups depending on whether or not the man has spoken with the girl in advance.

A Traditional Bhutanese house
A Traditional Bhutanese house

Traditional sliding window shutters with only wooden latches inside make it easier for the man to get in. But if it isn’t that simple, men resort to sneaking in the door to climbing up the side of a house to enter a window.

However, the ‘hunt’ may be foiled for various reasons – wrong footing being one of them. This could wake up the whole family and the intruder could get chased away or be thrown out the window. While some parents chase the intruder or threaten him with marriage the liberal ones pretend to be asleep even if they know the prowler is around. This is more likely if they know the man is a suitor they would have for their daughter. In close-knit villages, it is not difficult to guess who the intruder might be.

Most men generally attempt to complete the task and make a quick exit especially if they are not ready for marriage. For, in some places, it is a custom that a boy discovered in the morning by the parents shall become the husband of the girl.

Today, however, the culture of night-hunting is vanishing slowly. With modern education, young people are no more keen on this traditional practice and would rather exchange in chatting, texting and proper dates.

In urban areas, among the educated elite, night-hunting is looked upon as tantamount to sexual harassment and the union resulting from it – as rape. Thus, there are new regulations in place to discourage this practice. On the legal front, for fathering a child, the new paternity law includes the penalty of 20% of the income per month until the child reaches 18. And, Bhutanese laws on rape are stringent, especially that of a minor.

While the intercourse is usually consensual, the flipside has been the problem of children growing up without ever knowing or seeing their fathers and, for the girls, the nightmare of single motherhood.

The positive side is that the growing culture of nuclear families, the requirement for marriage certificates, requirement of a father to register the child as a citizen, the increasing practice of wedding cultures are all leading to an increased stigma for single motherhood. This subsequently is leading to the fall in sex outside wedlock and practices such as hunting for girls.

But, having said that, it doesn’t mean the practice of night-hunting isn’t prevalent today. After all, it is deep rooted in the Bhutanese culture and we’re guessing it will be around for a long time still.

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