Festival and Fiction:
Lomba by Pema Euden
Lomba is a young adult fiction novel about a journey to the spirit world which results in the appreciation of Bhutanese culture and society, and the discovery of true friendships.
What is Lomba?
The New Year celebrated in two western districts of Bhutan is commonly known as Lomba. It indicates the passing of the old year and the coming of a new year. It is on the 29th day of the 9th lunar month in the Bhutanese calendar. In Paro, Lomba celebration goes on until the 2nd day of the tenth month while in Haa it often goes on until the 15th day.
During Lomba a small ritual is done at home to chase off the evil and invite prosperity, happiness, and good health in the new year. A small human-like figure is made from wheat flour and dressed in small pieces of cloth from the national dress. These figures are later shouted at to chase away the evil.
Dough of small sizes are patted on different part/s of people’s body to suck off the negative energy and evil spirits. This dough is called ‘Chi Chi’. It is believed that the Lus take awat these negative energies for the new year to start with a good omen.
On the evening of the 29th day of the lunar month, an echo of ‘Lolay, Lolay’ is heard to thank god for the good year they had as they make new wishes for the New Year. The children go around in the evening carrying a long stick with a basket hanging on one end. The song is sung until the owners of the houses come out and place a hoentey (buckwheat dumplings) in the baskets.
Hoenteys are sweet buckwheat flour dumplings stuffed with cheese, turnip leaves, onion and ginger.
There is also a belief that if a person does not eat dinner on the night of the Lomba, the person will be taken to the Lus realm. This is one reason people eat alot of hoenteys for dinner.
Lomba, like any other festival, is a time for families to stay together and enjoy the passing of the old year.
Seday moves to Haa from Thimphu because her father gets a new job. She is not keen about moving and leaving her best friends behind. Contrary to the millions of thoughts running in her mind she gradually settles down and makes new friends.
Upon hearing about the traditions of Lomba, a festival celebrated in the two western districts of Haa and Paro, she finds out that if she sleeps without eating dinner on the first night of Lomba, she will be taken by the Lus (figures made of dough for the ceremony to ward off their suffering and sickness).
Seday challenges the traditions to prove her friends wrong about the Lomba belief. but later that night she finds herself being carried by the Lus to the spirit world.
Upon reaching the Lu’s realm she finds out that her conceited and obnoxious classmate Dawa Samdrup has also been brought into the Lu’s realm. They also meet Ap Rinzi who had been brought into the Lu’s world a year before but he thinks it has been fifty years. Time in the Lu’s realm is different to that of the human world.
The author has very wittily structured the world of the Lü’s and gives significance to the various activities people do out of fun and beliefs during the festival of Lomba. The chi-chi dough that is made to get rid of sorrows, sadness, misfortunes and bad energy is shown to be an asset to the Lüs as it gives them energy to fuel themselves and their world. The different branches used in the Lomba festivals is shown as sources of wood in the Lü world as they are planted and used for the Lü’s necessities. The piece of coin placed with the Lüs during Lomba are used by the Lüs to make special doors and furniture for the palace. These simple constructions have given depth and a good flow to the story.
This was an interesting read as many of the people take these traditions for granted, but Pema Euden has taken those traditions and constructed a world where all the contributions made in festivals are given a new meaning and a purpose. Seday portrays the plight of a teenager who struggles to fit into a new environment. Her stubbornness lands her in an unfavourable circumstance, but as she makes it through, her character grows more confident and realizes the value of the various people in her life.
About the Author
Pema Euden was born in 1996. She became the youngest author in Bhutan with her first book Coming Home in 2008. She studied in Yangchenphu Higher secondary School. She graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso. She maintains an active blog called Rants with Pema and has also made contributions to the University of Texas’s online magazine at El Paso. She has currently published two books: Coming Home (2008) and Lomba (2016).
Coming Home was Pema Euden’s first book which bagged her the title of Bhutan’s youngest author when it was published in 2008.
The book is about a girl named Tashi Choden, who meets some friends and eventually they mean the world to her. It is a coming off age story about a teenager in Bhutan.
This book encapsulates the struggle of a teenager who strives to deal with the changes while growing up. It explains the anxieties teenagers face while confronting the world. That is why this book may be relatable to teenagers of Bhutan.
(Final Year English Studies Student, Royal Thimphu College)