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Animals play key role in Tibetans' lives

Animals play key role in Tibetans' lives

For Tibetans, the largest nomadic herding range on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau stretches from the western part of Southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, northwestern Qamdo, Yushu and Golog of Northwest China's Qinghai Province, to Shiqu, Serda and Hongyuan in Aba and Garze prefectures of Southwest China's Sichuan.

Ancient Tibetans began to live and thrive in this part of the world some 1,000 years ago.

Throughout the ages, they have developed ways and means to cope with fierce weather and developed their nomadic culture.

Tribal people

The locals all believe in Tibetan Buddhism. The Qoiling Monastery is the largest of its kind in Ngari Prefecture in western part of Tibet. The abbot of the Garyu sect monastery was so famous that the locals gathered more than 120,000 yuan (US$ 14,000) for his soul boy and even a car when he passed away a few years ago at the age of 80.

The nomadic Tibetans there often group themselves into tribes. There have been five major tribes in Gegyi, Ngaqu Prefecture, including Changdui, Lhoma and Baco.

Each tribe had 70-100 households. In addition, there were some small tribes such as Sadegu. As their ancestors came from the Kham and Amdo areas, they were called Khamgegyi.

After 1959, this area was renamed Chaka meaning an area by the Salt Lake while Lhoma was divided into two parts administratively, with one part falling under the jurisdiction of Yarang.

Three other tribes joined together to become one district and three townships.

Modern advances have also changed some traditional ways of life.

For instance, some households in Sergo township of Gegyi previously allowed their sons to marry their daughters.

However, most do not do so today.

But parents still follow their own will in managing their children's marriages and married couples do not live independently from their parents until one or two years later when they have one or two children.

The youngest son of a family never leaves his parents.

Traditional festivals have continued.

People in Chaka of Gegyi perform a folk dance called Chaka Zhogoshie, which is especially popular on the Tibetan Lunar New Year's Day - which fell on February 9 this year. Zhogo means a pastoral area or herders and Shie singing and dancing

Every year, on the 15th day of the eighth month on the Tibetan calendar, the locals gather for sacrificial ceremony called Desang in Tibetan.

In the morning, dressed in their finest clothes, the local nomadic Tibetans worship Buddha on the top of local mountains or in monasteries. Their sacrifices include aromatic grass, roasted highland barley called zanba and qingke barley wine. They pray for good harvests.

In the afternoon, they perform Zhogoshie dancing until dawn the next morning. There are anything from several dozen to 100 dancers. Men lead the singing while others dance. This is followed by women signing and dancing. While doing so, they move in a clockwise direction. As they move at the fastest speed, the singing and dancing party reach its peak.

Indispensable yak

Customs and traditions aside, yak occupies an important place in the lives of the nomadic Tibetans.

For them, yaks are so valuable that they call these animals "Norbu," meaning treasures.

They make butter, sour milk and wild bull horn milk kettle from yak.

Yak meat is the local nomads' main source of protein.

They make cushions, ribbons and tents and weave ropes from yak hair, sometimes also using sheep wool.

Once we travelled to/from Coqen to Gaize, covering a total distance of 650 kilometres. It is a scarcely populated area. All along the way that stretches 650 kilometres we encountered only two households. When we entered their tent houses, we found the hosts sitting on cushions made from yak hide.

Yak hide is also turned into bags and yak dung is an essential fuels.

Yaks also find their way into artwork, such as monastery murals and rock carvings.

According to classics of the Bon religion, yaks came from heaven to the top of Gangdese Mountain. Of the Buddhist warriors, one had a yak's head.

Docile sheep

The yak, of course, is not the only important animal in the lives of the nomadic Tibetans. The herders love to raise sheep, and some also raise horses. There are families each raising more than 80 heads of domestic animals including a dozen horses.

The herders do not raise horses as a source of income. In theirs eyes, horses are a symbol of riches. Men who do not ride horses are considered to be of a low social standing. During horse races, all of the horses are elegantly adorned.

The herders raise sheep for meat and wool. Before the peaceful liberation of Tibet in 1951, wool was exported to India and Nepal in return for cloth, rice, sugar, fruit and other daily necessities.

After 1951, the herders sold wool to local commercial administrations, which in turn sold it to inland areas.

Gegyi herders do not like to slaughter any sheep aged from one to four years and they hate to slaughter sheep they raise themselves.

When there is no one who can help with slaughtering, they will manage to kill it without using a knife or a club.

Before using a knife, they will chant the Six Syllable Prayer and use a prayer tube to touch their foreheads. And they will try not to let their chests become stained with the blood of the sheep they slaughter. Women will stay away while men do this generally on the 15th and 30th days of each month, except for October and November when they will slaughter one sheep per week in order store enough meat for winter.

To store meat for winter consumption, they eat the intestines first and freeze meat outside in open air before bringing it back indoors.

Generally, they wrap the frozen meat with animal hide. Animal breasts are considered to be of the best quality and used to entertain guests or to be consumed mainly by the old and men in the family. Lungs are strictly for the dogs.

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