Shouting messages from hilltop for 43 years

By Narendra Dhakal

katuwal photo barpak gorkhaGorkha, May 2: A lurid yell came shattering the silence of the hills of Barpak on April 24, 2019. The shout echoed through the epicentre of the 2015 earthquake at 11 am and carried with it a message in the local language: “Speaker of the House of Representatives Krishna Bahadur Mahara is arriving in the village to mark the fourth anniversary of the earthquake.” 

The voice behind the scream belonged to local Bud Bahadur Gurung, who has been working as Katuwal (oral messenger) in the area for 43 years.
Gurung’s is an old voice that began carrying messages from 1977. That voice has aged, lending itself to all sorts of messages from the Panchayat era to the current republican setup, but has not changed. Gurung still continues his career of Katwal.
And he could not be any prouder: “The villagers only believe the messages that I disseminate.” Be it official notices from the local wards or social events like a wedding, birth or death; Gurung is an integral part of the local communication in Barpak.
It is not that other means of communication are not available. Barpak is a very well-connected village by any standard, with internet-enabled mobile phones and television sets present in almost every household. It also has its own community radio station. “Yet, the Katuwal tradition is alive and well here,” a jubilant Gurung grinned.
However, if Gurung had to point out a flaw in his profession, it would be the lack of free time. With a microphone in his hand and a portable speaker strapped to his waist, the 64-year-old has to run along the hills, visiting village after village, beaming messages of any new happening in the area.
Gurung is referred to as Baje by the Barpak locals and immediately crowd around him, eager to hear what new announcement he makes.
“We instinctively know something has happened whenever we see Baje arrive,” said one local Sammaya Ghale. “Even when we cannot physically see him, we still come out of our houses to listen to his voice.”
In exchange for his Katuwal services, the 1,500 households of Barpak pay Gurung with food items every seven months. “They (the households) pay me one mana (roughly 0.5 kg) of food items each,” Gurung informed, “These food items generally include maize, paddy, wheat, millet etc.” Those who don’t have agriculture or live elsewhere send Gurung Rs. 100 each.
Gurung has an assistant Kanchhi Gurung, who collects the food and money, which is enough to sustain their families.
However, Gurung is terribly worried that the decline in Katuwals in other parts of the country will catch up to Barpak soon and is anxious that he may be the last Katuwal of the area. 

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