The highlanders of Merak and Sakteng in Eastern Bhutan, located under Trashigang Dzongkhag, are a community of nomadic herders whose livelihood depends on animals, as it did for their ancestors. They have a unique culture, language, dress, and traditions, with a rich history dating back to the 13th century when they fled Tibet after assassinating a tyrannical chieftain. Led by Ama Jomo and Lam Jarepa, they settled in present-day Merak and Sakteng, with older members settling in Sakteng due to the difficulty of crossing Nagchungla mountain.
The Brukor and Nepo traditions, among others, originated after their settlement, as they relied on animals for survival, particularly yaks, cattle, and sheep, due to the harsh climate. Each household owns pastureland, and in the summer, they take their animals to graze in the higher mountains, and in the winter, they graze in the lower pastures. The number of animals a household possesses determines their status.
The people of Eastern Bhutan, called Sharchop, refer to the people of Merak and Sektang as Brokpa, and they share a traditional relationship that has been passed down for many generations. As winter approaches, Brokpas pack up and travel to lowland villages such as Chailng, Shonphu, Radhi, Phongme, Bildung, Bartsham, Bikhar, Kanglung, and Khaling, among others. There, they stay with their Nepos, with whom they have had a strong trading and social relationship since their ancestors. As a sign of hospitality, Brokpas offer butter and cheese to their hosts, who provide them with food, drinks, and shelter, forming a strong bond.
During their stay, Nepos help them exchange their animal products for grains, including prized yegpa (fermented cheese in a leather bag), fresh cheese, butter, dried meats, wool, and incense, using a barter system. Brokpa provide animal products in Sang or kilograms, and in return, lowland villagers provide grains in Bre or a Change of the agreed amount. After trading, they load the collected grains onto horses or Zo (a crossbreed between cattle and yak) for the return journey. Winter is the busiest time for Brokpas as they trade all their preserved animal products for grains, stocking up for an entire year.
With modern development, the tradition of Bruker and Nepo has undergone significant changes. Vehicles have replaced animals for transporting grains, and the footpath that was once widely used is now rarely used. The barter system has been replaced by the monetary system, and the Nepo tradition, once widely practiced by both communities, is no longer followed. Younger generations, after completing their education, are employed or migrate to urban areas for better opportunities. Some who remain in the villages have taken up business as an alternative to herding animals. These changes are noticeable in a once-isolated community, and the tradition of Brokor and Nepo is on the verge of disappearing, remaining only as history.