Agay Phurba and the Dancing Cranes – A children’s book on black-necked cranes by youth
The Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) in partnership with READ Bhutan virtually launched a children’s book on the conservation of black-necked cranes written by a group of youth. The book titled ‘Agay Phurba and the Dancing Cranes’ was launched on 5th February 2022.
Coinciding with the 6th Birth Anniversary of His Royal Highness Gyalsey Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck, the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) in partnership with READ Bhutan virtually launched a children’s book called ‘Agay Phurba and the Dancing Cranes’ on 5th February 2022. The book is set for print publication and online accessibility in PDF once the lockdown lifts. It will be available in Dzongkha and English languages.
‘Agay Phurba and the Dancing Crane’ is a children’s book focused on the conservation of the vulnerable black-necked cranes and set in Trashiyangtse. The book focuses on the cooperative relationship between people and animals that is ultimately beneficial to both. It also highlights some of the human activities that are in conflict with wildlife and their environment.
The book was put together by 15 youths with help from national experts during a week-long story-telling and illustration workshop. The workshop was implemented by READ Bhutan under the TCB’s GEF7 Ecotourism Project ‘mainstreaming biodiversity conservation into the tourism sector in Bhutan.‘ Initially, the idea was to document existing folktales on the black-necked cranes in the community but the lack of local tales on the black-necked cranes in the community led to the team creating a realistic fiction.
The black-necked cranes have a sacred identity in Bhutanese culture and often appear in folklore and dances. Their arrival also signifies a good agricultural year for the locals. The youth contributors made a day visit to the beautiful Bumdeling Valley which lies about 8 KM from Tashi Yangtse to identify and document local tales.
Bumdeling Valley falls under the Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary and is one of the two popular winter homes (Phobjikha being another) of the black-necked cranes. In Bumdeling, the youths met Agay Phurba who has been looking after the cranes for the past forty-one years as part of RSPN program to take care of the birds and create awareness in the community.
The children collected a lot of information on the magnificent creature and returned to VAST Yangtse studio. They were divided into the writer’s group and the illustrator’s group and worked collaboratively on the story. Agay Phurba and the Dancing Cranes is the 11th book under READ Bhutan’s Bhutan Folktale Project.
Agay Phurba & the youths
The Bhutan Folktales Project was launched in 2016 with an aim to promote local stories and encourage youth to become part of the local content creation.
Bhutan is traditionally an oral society. Earlier when modern forms of entertainment were limited, parents and grandparents entertained and engaged their children by narrating folktales, legends and myths. Besides introducing social customs and traditional beliefs, folktales help readers learn and understand experiences, customs and rituals.
The project was first implemented in Yanthang in Haa and Rongthong in Trashigang. Four children’s books were published: How Turnips Came to Haa, Akhey Gyem from Yangthang in Haa, Sharchog Gyalpo & Ashi Yangchen and Thakchung Gadpu from Rongthong in Trashigang.
Encouraged by the success of the first phase of the Bhutan Folktales Project, READ Bhutan carried out the 2nd and the 3rd phase in 2019 and 2021 respectively publishing an additional of six children’s books from 3 different communities. They have published four books in each phase, in both English and Dzongkha languages. The Bhutan Folktale Project has been financially supported by international donors.
"This is the first time we are working together with a local partner on the documentation and publication of a children’s book. With financial support from the Tourism Council of Bhutan, GEF-7 Eco-tourism Project, READ Bhutan trained 15 youth in Tashi Yangtse to write and illustrate a book focused on the black-necked cranes in the community.
Through this initiative, the stakeholders aim to build awareness and educate the community, in particular youth and children on black-necked cranes and their habitat. We hope to engage all readers in the preservation and promotion of our rich natural environment and cultural heritage. 2000 copies of Agay Phurba and the Dancing Cranes will be made available in all the schools and resource centers in the country to inspire children and readers to learn about the vulnerable species and the importance of biodiversity and why we need to preserve it.” said Ms Kezang Choden, Country Manager of READ Bhutan
The project is partially funded by READ Bhutan’s donor the Singapore American School in Singapore. Though a children’s book, the facts in the story are relevant to readers of all ages and the publishers hope that it inspires readers to better understand the sacred bird species and help conserve them.
Bhutan is home to the black-necked cranes in winter months from October to mid-February and has been working towards its conservation for years. There is also a dedicated annual Black-necked Crane Festival held in Phobjikha Valley that includes cultural programs such as folk songs and dances (some with black-necked crane themes) and masked dances performances for locals and visitors to enjoy and also understand the importance of black-necked cranes conservation efforts.