Amongst the serene hills of Panchachuli in Munsiyari, there exists a museum dedicated to a Himalayan society that does not exist anymore: the Bhotiya tribe. The Museum Man or the curator Sher Singh Pangtey, known as Massab, established the Tribal Heritage Museum in 2000.
Museum man from Munsiyari
Munsiyari in Johar valley in Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district is home to the Bhotiya tribe, also known as Shaukas. Their main occupation was trade. For centuries they moved between Munsiyari and upper Himalayan villages, trading grains, jaggery and mishri for salt, borax and wool from Tibet. It fed their families and nourished their livelihood. “The death of trade disrupted the economy. The Bhotiya people saw no need for seasonal migration and looked for other means of livelihood in the lower Himalayas. The government notified Bhotiya as a Scheduled Tribe (ST) community in 1967 to help the distressed tribe achieve education and employment,” says Pangti. Eventually the Bhotiya culture died. People started to move out for government jobs.
Pangti was a history teacher in Munsiyari when the idea of the museum came to him. He began his adventure of recording and documenting the Bhotiya history. He personally travelled to all 14 upper-Himalayan migratory villages of the Johar valley on foot and collected objects.
The museum is registered as a society and government’s cultural department gives funds to it. The younger generation of the Bhotiya tribe were throwing away the traditional items as plastic was slowly replacing everything. Thus, the museum features wooden items like bowls, kettles, spoons and vanity boxes made of durable wood of Shangar tree. Items such as pens made from mud, Tibetan brick tea, traditional dresses, salty tea and brass hookahs are also some features of the Tribal Heritage Museum.
Sher Singh Pangtey’s initiative to restore his culture is commendable. The museum is a mirror to the lost society and to the loss of its rich culture. Pangtey’s efforts to restore the loss of legacy of a true Bhotiya society has been compensated.