Ajahn to Ajahn: Cultural and Mutual Learning


Bulang, like other ethnic communities of Xishuangbanna in Yunnan Province, is facing environmental degradation and social challenges. Yet, over the past decade, they have been exploring the core aspects of their culture and are now acting on social issues.

PCD has started exploring approaches to sustainable livelihood with Bulang since 2003. Over the years, our collaborative project with the Centre for Indigenous Documentary and Cultural Perspective and Mueng Nam Group for Community-based Sustainable Development expanded from one village of 200 people to six villages with 3,000 people. The exchange platform element of the project has included 18 villages of Xiding Township in Xishuangbanna.

Since 2013, we have supported Bulang villages to hold six annual cultural exchange meetings attended by more than 60 villages. With the approval and support of local government, Bulang villages have already developed their own mechanisms to design, coordinate and facilitate these meetings. The application to host the meeting is open to any interested village, and the participating communities make the final decision collectively. Several months before the annual exchange, Ajahn (Bulang for “teacher/s”) from various villages meet with organisers and the current host village to plan the meeting and draft the invitation list.

More than 100 people from 16 villages participated in the 2017 meeting, reviewing the previous year’s action plan, touring the community to discuss case studies, and making a collective action plan for 2018. The exchange does not end when the annual meeting finishes. Villages often invite each other for exchanges during the year.

Zhanglang Village, which has been our partner for more than ten years, received Ajahn, village officials, community leader and others from Manwa Village at the end of 2017. As they toured the village, sharing their experiences of preserving ancient trees, and discussing challenges they faced, villagers from Manwa community were deeply inspired and felt motivated to organise more exchanges with other villages.

These various exchanges have strengthened links among villages. In 2017, Zhanglang, Nongpeng and Bulangxiding joined to revive the Dasangkang traditional market to celebrate the 2018 Sangkang New Year together. The three communities have reinstated the practice of Ganbai (Dai for “joining festival activities”).

Training is key for fruitful exchanges: 22 Ajahn from various communities have attended training sessions. In 2018, they followed tradition and participated in Khao Watsa Festival (a Buddhist festival celebrated by Dai, Bulang and many other ethnic groups). Everyone felt inspired.

Through these exchanges, villagers have come to a deeper understanding of Bulang culture and various realms of community life. For instance, after young villagers of Zhanglang participated in an exchange, they inspired their community to preserve their forest: Zhanglang has come to appreciate that their village is protected by the spirits of the forest and that their trees cannot be cut down for economic benefit at the expense of the environment. Therefore, they decided to remove tea bushes planted by 20 households in the nearby nature reserve and have banned the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides in their tea plantation. Manbie Village was similarly inspired by a previous exchange to Bulangxiding and Manmai where they saw chickens roaming among the tea bushes and were inspired to grow eco-friendly tea. By now, Manbie has more than 300 acres of tea, and farmers are not allowed to use chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

The network among Bulang villages is rooted in traditional culture yet connects with daily life,offering useful support and exchange. The power of an individual or a single community may be weak, but by uniting together, communities no longer feel isolated and can also come closer to reaching the goal of sustainable living.

(from Annual Report 2017-2018