Moinba tribesman Minorities in Tibet include Huis, Moinbas and Lhobas. Muslim Huis are sometimes employed as butchers, a trade that Buddhists are discouraged from practicing. See Minorities, China.
Qingahi Tibetans are given more freedom to practice their religion than Tibetans in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). Pictures of the Dalai Lama are openly displayed in temples, craft workshops and small stores in way unthinkable in the TAR.
Many minorities in eastern and southern China such as the Qiang and Naxi are closely related to Tibetans. As a general rule the closer a minority is to Tibet the more closely related they are to Tibetans. See Minorities, China.
The Bon-po people are Tibetans who live in small hamlets isolated valleys in eastern Tibet. They still practice the ancient, pre-Buddhist Bon religion and catch Stone Age horses with lassos when they need pack animals and set them free when they aren't needed. Book: The Last Barbarians by Michel Peissel (Henry Holt, 1998)
Many Tibetans have never seen Westerners, particularly ones with blond hair and blue eyes. Blue eyes are regarded by many Tibetans as an indication of blindness.
Good Websites and Sources: Ethnic minorities Tibet /www.tibetinfor.com : Khams : Kham Aid Foundation Kham Aid : Lhoba Ethnic China ethnic-china.com ; Travel China Guide travelchinaguide.com ; China.org (government source)/www.china.org.cn ; Websites and Sources on Ethnic Groups in China with a Tibet section (click Tibetans or the ethnic group you want) : Ethnic China (very good site with good academic articles) ethnic-china.com ; Cultural China (site with nice photos cultural-china.com ; China Travel chinatravel.com ; Wikipedia List of Ethnic Minorities in China Wikipedia ; Travel China Guide travelchinaguide.com ; China.org (government source) china.org.cn ; OMF international (a Christian group) omf.org ; People’s Daily (government source) peopledaily.com.cn ; Ethnic Publishing House (government source)e56.com.cn ; Paul Noll site` paulnoll.com ; China Highlights (on some groups) China Highlights
Links in this Website: TIBETAN PEOPLE Factsanddetails.com/China ; TIBETAN LIFE Factsanddetails.com/China ; FOOD, DRINK, DRUGS AND CLOTHES IN TIBET Factsanddetails.com/China ; TIBETAN HEALTH AND MEDICINE Factsanddetails.com/China ; TIBETAN FUNERALS AND DEATH Factsanddetails.com/China ; TIBETAN NOMADS Factsanddetails.com/China ; TIBETAN MINORITIES AND TIBETANS ABROAD Factsanddetails.com/China
Good Websites and Sources on Tibet: Central Tibetan Administration (Tibetan government in Exile) www.tibet.com ; Chinese Government Tibet website eng.tibet.cn/ Wikipedia Wikipedia Tibetan Resources phayul.com ; Open Directory dmoz.org/Regional/Asia/China/Tibet/ ; Snow Lion Publications (books on Tibet) snowlionpub.com ; Photos Tibet Photo Gallery Tibet Gallery Terra Nomada Terra Nomada ; Tibetan Cultural Sites: Conservancy for Tibetan Art and Culture tibetanculture.org ; Tibet Trip tibettrip.com ; Tibetan Cultural Region Directory kotan.org ; Tibetan Studies and Tibet Research: Tibetan Resources on The Web (Columbia University C.V. Starr East Asian Library ) columbia.edu ; Tibetan and Himalayan Library thlib.org Digital Himalaya ; digitalhimalaya.com ; Tibetan Studies Maps WWW Virtual Library ciolek.com/WWWVL-TibetanStudies ; Center for Research of Tibet case.edu ; Center for Advanced Tibetan Studies amnyemachen.org ; Tibetan Studies resources blog tibetan-studies-resources.blogspot.com ; News, Electronic Journals ciolek.com/WWWVLPages
Khampas and Amdo People
Tibetan horseman in full regalia The Khampas, or Kham, are a Tibetan tribe of herders and farmers who live in eastern Tibet and Sichuan. Known for their fierceness and skill as horsemen, they are generally larger and tougher than other Tibetans. Men often wear red turbans or fox-fur hats and robes trimmed with leopard and otter skin and carried scimitars, decorated swords or daggers in their belts.
The Khampas still pride themselves on being horseback warriors. Khampa men and women have very long hair, often braided and worn in buns or pony tails adorned with turquoise, wrapped in a red sash, or worn with red or black tassels. It is a big deal for a Khampa man to cut his hair. Traditionally only a man can cut the hair and no scissors are allowed near the head.
The Amdo come from northern Tibet and Qinghai Province. Women from Amdo wear lots of jewelry and have elaborately braided hair.
The Tibetans from Kham and Amdo have a long history off fighting the Chinese. See CIA.
The Gologs are a Tibetan minority whose name literally means "heads on backwards." Inhabiting remote areas of Qinghai Province, they speak a Tibetan dialect and are known for their ferocity and sour disposition. The first Westerner to meet them, wrote 60 year ago: "Such hostile and unfriendly people I have never met anywhere in the world; it seems that a smile never crosses their coarse features." [Source: National Geographic, Galen Rowell, February 1982]
Accorded to legend, the first Gologs (also known as Goloks, Golocks) were fierce warriors who were sent to the Khampas mountains in the A.D. 7th century by a Tibetan king to hold off a Chinese invasion. The Tibetan outpost they established eventually collapsed but the Gologs that lived there stayed on. Their language today is almost unintelligible to Tibetans and the version of Buddhism they practice has militant aspects.
A mountain climbing expedition in Western China headed by Galen Rowell hired some Gologs as guides. "While our expedition was generally accepted, it was rarely welcomed," he wrote. "Our Golog guides, for example, more often hindered than helped us. Although superb horsemen, they nonetheless managed to lose their mounts most mornings, just as we were getting under way."
Golog tribesman The Gologs live in yak hair tents built to withstand winds up to 70 miles per hour. Like the Tibetans, they subsist off barley, yak meat, tea and rancid yak butter, and use yak body parts for string, clothing, shoes and numerous other things. Gologs wear ragged sheepskins and woman have ornate headbands.
Golog women wear amazing costumes that look particularly impressive from the back, where a woolen mantle in placed. Weighing more than ten pounds and extending from their head to their hips, the mantel is covered with silver, breast-shaped cups, and overlaid with coral and turquoise beads. Golog women braid their hair into 108 strands, a number that holds mystical significance for Tibetan Buddhists.
Rowell once was startled when his Golog guide unsheathed his knife after walking around a religious shrine three times, and approached Rowell. "But it was for another act of worship," he said. "he cut a lock of my hair, a lock of his own, and another from his horse and bound all three to a pole as an offering to the deities.ˇ±
Originally the Chinese had hoped to build a railroad from western China to Tibet. But those plans were scrapped after the Gologs and neighboring guerillas drove off Chinese construction crews that had come to build the railroad line.ˇÎ
The Lhoba are China's smallest minority. They live in southeastern and southern Tibet and number only 2,300 people. They speak a Tibetan-Burman language and have no written language. They have traditionally been distinguished from other groups by the fact they wore no shoes. The name Lhoba was given to them by the Tibetans. It means °southerners." The Tibetans have traditionally viewed them as inferior and banned intermarriage with them.
The Lhoba (also known as the Lobas) practice agriculture, make a variety of items from bamboo and are hunters. They have traditionally traded animal hides, musk, bear paws and other items with the Tibetans in return for farm tools, clothing, salt, wool, grain and tea. Staples of the Lhoba diet are dumplings made with maize, millet flour, rice of buckwheat. Some have adopted the Tibetan custom of drinking butter tea. In the old days, Lhoba kept slaves.
Most Lhoba are animists. They have traditionally killed chickens for divination purposes during weddings, funerals, planting and traveling. Lhoba women smoke pipes.
Lhobas that live the Pemako region, where Tibet, India, Bhutan and Burma all come together, have been described as fierce animist warriors. They live in villages on high terraces above he Tsangpo River in an area of dense, wet forest with pit vipers and leeches and high mountains. The Lhoba believe some valleys are occupied by yetis and others are home to poison cults (made up of woman who poison people to obtain good fortune). The Pemako area is reached after weeks of jeep and foot travel.
The Moinba are another very small minority, with only 7.500 member, that lives in southeastern Tibet, primarily in Medong, Nyinchi and Cora counties. They speak a Tibetan-Burman language and intermarried with Tibetans, live among Tibetans and have adopted many Tibetan customs.
The Moinba live in an area with abundant rainfall and steep mountain slopes covered with dense forests. They grow rice, maize, millet, buckwheat, soybeans and sesame seeds and also hunt and herd animals and are considered skilled archers. Most marriages are monogamous although polygamy and polyandry were practiced in the past.
Staples of the Moinba diet are dumplings. Many drink Tibetan-style butter tea. The Moinba practice Tibetan Buddhism, but maintain some traditional shamanist practices. They follow the Tibetan calendar and practice water burial. Their version of sky burial involves burial in a tree.
Sherpas, Mustangese and Dolpo People
Sherpas, the famous high altitude tribe who live in the Khumba Valley around Mount Everest, practice Tibetan Buddhism.
Ladakhis and Bhutanese
Ladakhis, See India
Bhutanese, See Bhutan
Tensions Between Tibetans and Muslims
Muslim Huis Tibetans and Muslims, mostly Muslim Huis, are arguably the most bitter enemies in China. They get along even worse than Tibetans and Chinese. Animosity between Tibetans and Muslims was a major contributor to the tensions that produced the riots in March 2008. Many of the shops and restaurants that were attacked in Lhasa were Muslim owned.
Tibetans and Huis have often lived in close proximity and they have a long history of fighting, competing, intermarrying and collaborating. Muslim have traditional done butchering and tanning for Tibetans who eat meat and wear furs but are restricted by Buddhism from killing animals. The Huis also have a reputation for seeking their fortune in remote places that Han Chinese would never go and serving as intermediaries for illiterate Tibetans in markets.
Animosity between Muslims and Tibetans in Qinghai dates back to the 1930s when the Muslim warlord Ma Bufeng tried to establish an Islamic enclave in Qinghai. Tibetans were pushed off their land. Some were killed, or forced to convert to Islam. After the Communist takeover tensions were repressed.
Clashes Between Tibetans and Muslims
In recent years their have been dozens of clashes between Tibetans and Muslims in Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces as well as in the Tibetan Autonomous region. Most of the incidents go unreported. Neither the Chinese or the Tibetans want the incidents publicized. The Chinese don’t want their claims of a “harmonious society” undermined and the Tibetans don’t want their international image tarnished.
In the mid 1990s, Tibetans in Lhasa began boycotting Muslim restaurants and calling Muslims cannibals after someone reportedly found a finger in a bowl of coup. Rumors also began spreading that Muslim cooks urinated in the food and added their bath water to it. Seemingly ridiculous or trivial concerns set off biter clashes.
In February 2008, an altercation involving thousands of people began after a Tibetan child complained of the high cost of balloons sold by a Muslim peddler. In 2003, a Tibetan and a Muslim died, with the Muslim being stabbed to death with a kebab skewer, and Chinese troops were called in, during a riot that began with a dispute over billiards game.
In the summer of 2007 Tibetans rioted in the town of Guojia in the Golog area of Qinghai Province after a dispute in a Muslim restaurant. The incident began when a Tibetan customer complained that was a tooth in her soup. The owner of the restaurant insisted it was just a piece of lamb bone. By that time a crowd of Tibetans had gathered. When someone screamed, “Let’s trash this restaurant” the crowd did exactly that—tables, chairs and a television were tossed and kitchen equipment was smashed with bricks—before the crowd moved onto other restaurants and did the same.
After that incident Tibetans refused to eat in Muslim restaurants and Muslim taxi drivers feared going into Tibetan parts of town. After the riots in Lhasa in March 2008 about 800 of the town’s 3,000 Muslims moved out. Of those that stayed, many men stopped wearing skullcaps, women wore hairnets rather than scarves and the religious-minded prayed at home because the nearest mosque had been burned down.
Twenty Tibetans were arrested in connection with the Guojia clash, including a senior monk fingered as the ringleader who was sentenced to death.
Reasons for Tensions Between Tibetans and Muslims
A Tibetan doctor told the Los Angeles Times, “To be honest the Tibetans don’t have the business savvy of the Hui. The Tibetans have to sell their products to Hui. The Hui have to buy it from the Tibetans. I suppose because we are interdependent we resent each other.” It doesn’t help that the Huis often side with the Han Chinese in disputes involving Tibetans and support Chinese repression against Tibetans.
In some ways the Tibetans take their frustrations of being a minority on the Hui, another minority. London-based Tibetan scholar Andrew Fischer told the Los Angeles Times, “It is the dark side of Tibetan nationalism. It is as though the Tibetans are diverting their anger over their own situation towards another vulnerable minority.” A Muslim shopkeeper in Lhasa, said “they are used as a scapegoat for their grievances against the country.”
The increased mobility of people brought about by easing of travel restrictions have brought Muslim and Tibetans into contact with each more than ever before, creating more opportunities for tensions to rise compared to the Maoist era when travel restrictions kept them separated.
In Lhasa, many Muslims have bought Tibetan businesses and now own the majority of souvenir stands. Tensions over lost business opportunities are seen a major force behind the riots in 2008. A Tibetan businessman told the Los Angeles Times, You hear these stories about Muslims putting stuff in soup. But I think its all about business competition and economics.”
TIBETAN COMMUNITY ABROAD
Around 100,000 Tibetan fled from Tibet around the time the Dalai Lama left. Most settled in India, primarily around Dharamsala and Darjeeling. Some settled in Nepal, Europe and the United States.
There are about 200,000 Tibetans living abroad today. About 150,000 Tibetans have fled Tibet.Tibetans in exile have shown that it is possible to maintain a sense of community without occupying their homeland.
There are about 130,000 Tibetans in India today. They are promised protection from repatriation and are issued papers to work. Around 90,000 Tibetans live in Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama lives. Thousands more live in Nepal, Bhutan and other places in India.
There world second largest Tibetan exile community is in Nepal, where about 20,000 or so Tibetans live. Many make their living making carpets. In the past Nepal welcomed Tibetan refugees and allowed them to express their discontent but that changed when a Maoist government gained power in Nepal in the mid 2000s. In October 2010, Tibetans in Nepal were prevented from voting in a government-in-exile election by armed police that forcibly seized ballot boxes.
Tibetan Exiles in India
There were 110,000 Tibetans in India according to a 2001 census. An estimated 2,000 to 2,500 arrive annually. Tibetans in India can’t vote or get a passport but they are free to work and own property.
Dharamsala in northern India has been the home of the Dalai Lama and a large Tibetan community since the Dalai Lama fled China in the 1959. Located in the upper reaches of the Kangra Valley in the Himalayas and nestled between the dramatic Dhauladhar mountains, this charming town is known for its conifer forests, bungalows, prayer wheels, prayer flags, and Tibetan monasteries. The Daila Lama lives outside of town in McLeod Ganj. Dharamsala is full of Tibetan monks in maroon robes, old men in chubas and women in traditional Tibetan aprons. Some have said it was chosen as the site for the Tibetan community because it was so difficult to get to. In fact it was chosen for its beauty, scenery and the purity of the water.
William Dalrymple wrote in the Paris Review from Tsuglagkhang, the temple attached to the Dalai Lama residence-in-exile. “All around us Tibetan pilgrims were circling the prayer hall on the topmost terrace of the temple. Some, in their ankle-length sheepskin chubas, were clearly new arrivals, nomads from western Tibet, fresh across the high snowy passes; others were long-term residents of this Tibet-outside-Tibet: red-robed refugee monks performing the thrice-daily circumambulation of the Dalai Lama temple-residence. There was a strong smell of incense and burning butter lamps, and the air was full of the low murmur of muttered prayers and mantras. [Source: William Dalrymple, Paris Review, Spring 2010]
Problems Faced by Tibetan Exiles in India
Many Tibetans in India have problems. They have difficulty finding work and many become alcoholics. About half become monks and nuns. Many get jobs in Chinese restaurants in New Delhi or work as manual laborers. Refugees that try to return are often captured and tortured by Chinese authorities.
Tibetans that end up in Dharamsala find out the reality doesn’t’s always match the hype. Yes the Dalai Lama is there, one can speak one’s mind openly and there are no Chinese authorities to harass them but they also find there are not that many opportunities, people miss their friends and many just plain don’t like India much. One 39-year-old Tibetan woman there told the Los Angeles Times, “When I was in China my friends told me Dharamsala was a paradise, you don’t even need money...But life isn’t easy, and this place is quite dirty. I couldn’t believe the Dalai Lama would live in such a messy place.” [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, October 4, 2010]
A Tibetan shopkeeper said, “China has jobs; you can start a business without a lot of bureaucracy. You don’t get Delhi belly [dysentery] all the time.’ A restaurant manager and former monk said, “Superficially everything better in China. But mentally, there’s also a lot of pressure there. You have to think before you talk....But I really miss my family. I’d like to go back if I ever get the chance.” [Ibid]
Tibetans in India also have problems with the language, don’t like the food and a have hard time with warm weather which makes their traditionally woolen and yak-hid garments scratchy and uncomfortable. Some say their culture is threatened in India just as much by Bollywood movies and Indian permissiveness and it was in China by Chinese authoritarianism. In Dharamsala there is also the problem of spies and how they can make things difficult for family members back in Tibet. [Ibid]
Tibetans Fleeing to India and Nepal
Many Tibetans have fled their homeland in a harrowing journey from Tibet, though the snow-covered passes of Nepal, to Dharamsala. The escapees often travel by foot with nothing more than a blanket, the clothes on their back, some yak meat and a bag of barley. By day they hide behind rocks to avoid detection by Chinese authorities. At night they walk. They often run out of food and get within a whisker of freedom before succumbing to storms, deep snow and glaciers at the last pass into Nepal, 18,000-foot-high Nangpa La, 30 miles from Mt. Everest. Many lose their fingers and toes to frostbite.
In a speech to welcome a group of 300 Tibetans who escaped to India, the Dalai Lama said, "Tibet has survived these past 40 years of Chinese occupation because of your strength and determination. I know you have come here with great difficulty, and you have suffered on your journey. But by coming here you have shown not only your own but Tibet's determination. I give you my greetings, and my gratitude for what you have done."
The escapees who make it typically need 25 days to reach India or Nepal. They pay a guide around $100 and cross some of the world's highest passes with canvas shoes. Refugees who make it to Mustang, Namchee Bazaar or Kathmandu are interviewed by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), who then transfers them to India. The Dalai Lama personally meets with many of the refugees and often encourages them to return to Tibet.
As of 2003 there were about 25,000 Tibetan refugees living in Nepal. That year about 2,500 Tibetans made the difficult journey to get to Nepal. Most were turned over to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees who helped them make their way to India. In 1997, 2,639 Tibetans crossed from Tibet into Nepal and around 5,000 new arrivals showed up in Dharamsala, including 1,000 children. In 2002, the number of Tibetans arriving in Nepal dropped to 1,268. The decline was attributed to increase of police patrols on the Chinese side of the border.
In January 2012, AP reported: “Nepalese officials say they have detained 207 Tibetan exiles for illegally entering the country. Police spokesman Raviraj Shrestha said the Tibetans were detained while entering the capital, Katmandu, on buses. They arrived from India and failed to provide travel documents at the entry checkpoint. It was unclear where they were headed. Refugees from the Chinese-controlled Tibetan Autonomous Region are routinely detained by Nepalese police and usually handed over to the United Nations refugee agency. Many are passing through Nepal en route to India, where their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, lives in exile. Thousands more Tibetan refugees have settled in Nepal.[Source: AP, January 13, 2012]
Hardship and Death Fleeing to India
One escapee told National Geographic he and his infant son made it, but his wife died during the grueling trek and his father succumbed to dysentery soon after arrival in the lowlands. Another escapee told the Los Angeles Times that several members in her group died, including a 11-year-old girl that froze to death while being carried on the escapee' back.
In December 1997, four children and a 16-year-old monk died while trying to escape Tibet after getting caught in a blizzard and struggling through three feet of snow. One survivor who got as far as Kathmandu but lost his legs to frostbite told the Los Angeles Times, "Everyone was fainting, falling. The snow was at my chest, and I could not see. It would have been better to die." A woman who lost seven toes and was discovered by Scottish hikers near Namche Bazaar, said, "I was senseless. I kept thinking, 'I am going to die, and I will not live to see His Holiness."
Many of the Tibetan trekkers are children. One aid worker in Kathmandu told Newsweek, "Every winter, so many children die in the snow, while their parents back in Tibet think they are safe and happy in India." Many of the children leave because there is not enough for them to eat in Tibet.
Hannah Beech wrote in Time: Tsewang Dhondup, a trader from Kardze, fled his homeland after the 2008 unrest. Dhondup was shot while trying to help a monk who later died of bullet wounds. Wanted signs with Dhondup’s picture were posted in his village, but friends took him by stretcher high into the mountains. Maggots infested his wounds. Dhondup lived for 14 months on the edge of a glacier before escaping to India. His audience with the Dalai Lama, he says, was the most treasured moment of his life. But even he predicts that “once the Dalai Lama is gone, Tibet will explode.” [Source: Hannah Beech, Time, November 15, 2011]
Tibetans in Switzerland
In the 1960s, after the Chinese invasion, a handful of Tibetans were allowed to seek refuge in Switzerland, where some of them suffered extreme culture shock. One Tibetan man became so obsessed with saving money for lama beads for his after-life that he ate nothing but onions and bread for three months. A Tibetan child who lost an eye after being gored by a yak was happy to be in place where he could get a glass eye. [Source: National Geographic]
Tibetans who were transplanted to Switzerland in the 1960s often hoarded their money at home because they could not comprehend the purpose of a bank. When the finally put their money in an account they marked the banknotes with X's. When they withdrew their money and found it didn't have X's on it they complained to the manager.
Image Sources: Nolls China website, Purdue University
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated March 2012