The Lhoba are China's smallest minority. 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. They are also known as the Loba, Mishi and Apatani (out of China). 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.

Most Lhoba are animists. They have traditionally killed chickens for divination purposes during weddings, funerals, planting and traveling. The Lhoba 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. Lhoba women smoke pipes.

There are about 3,000 to 4,000 Lhoba in China, with many more in northeast India, Myanmar and Bhutan, where they are mainly known as the Apatani. In China they live mainly in along the southeastern border of Tibet in Zayu, Menyu, Medog, Mainling, Nangxian and Lhunze counties. Most Lhoba in China live in the Luoyu area between Chayu in the east and Menyu in the west in southeastern and southern Tibet. Miling, Motuo, Chayu, Longzi and Langxian are most densely populated places. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences]

The Lhoba language belongs to the Tibetan-Myanmar language branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family. A small part of them know the Tibetan language and Tibetan letters. Having no written script, Lhoba people have kept a unique way of keeping records by notching wood or tying knots. The 1990 census counted only 2,312 Lhoba. A Xinhua article from 2011 said there 2,900. They identify themselves by clan names or names of localities.

Most Lhobas live in the high mountains and deep valleys near the big turn of the Brahmaputra River. The area is sparsely populated and thickly forested and communication and transportation are difficult. The Lhobas are adept at building trestle and log bridges, and using "Tianti (a very steep ladder)," "Liusuo (sliding cable)" and rattan nets. Many Lhoba live under quite undeveloped conditions and some of them practice very basic forms of agriculture supplemented by hunting and gathering. In the early 20th century, the British penetrated into Lhoba territory when they entered Tibet.

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.

Lhoba Population and Groups

Apatani woman

The Lhoba name include a number of peoples with a small presence in China whose language belong to the Tani cluster of languages (except the Yidu) of the Tibeto-Burman family. Most of the population of these peoples lives across the Chinese borders, in India (Assam and Arunachal Pradesh), Burma and Bhutan. The Lhoba minority includes many tribes, namely the "Bogar," "Ningbo," "Bangbo," "Degeng," "Ado," and "Tajin." Tibetans gave them the name them "Lhoba," which means "southerners." After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the Chinese government formally adopted the name "Lhoba" to describe them.

Lhoba numbered 3,682 in 2010 and made up less than 0.01 percent of the total population of China in 2010 according to the 2010 Chinese census. Lhoba population in China in the past: 2,970 in 2000 according to the 2000 Chinese census; 2,312 in 1990 according to the 1990 Chinese census. A total of 1,030 were counted in 1982. [Sources: People’s Republic of China censuses, Wikipedia]

There are about 40,000 Apatani in northern India, Myanmar and Bhutan.

Some ethnic groups or sub ethnic group categorized as Lhoba or Apatani include: 1) Adi; 2)
Apatani or Apa Tani; 3) Bogar or Bokaer; 4) Bunnu or Bengru; 5) Daflas, called themselves Bangni or Nising (maybe the same as the Chinese Bunni or Bengni); 6) Lhopa or Luoba; 7) Mishmish, with four main tribes: Bebejia, Chulikata, Digaru and Miju; 8) Yidu or Idu. [Source: Ethnic China]

9) The Miris call themselves Mishings. They are found scattered throughout Upper Assam (India) and the extreme southeast of Tibet. 10) Aka call themselves Hrusso. Akas is the name the Assamese gave them, meaning "painted," an allusion to the tattooed faces of their women. 11) Some anthropologists regard the Abors as Apatani or at least close relatives of them but most regard them as a separate ethnic group. There are about 100,000 Abors. Many live in the mountains along the Dihang Valley near Tibet on the Brahmaputra River in Arunachal Pradesh. Perhaps some live inside Tibet or travel there from time to time. They are closely related to the Miris to whom they call "brothers of the plains." There are four main subtribes: Padan, Pasi, Mingyong, Galong.


The Apatani are tribe of Chinese-Tibetan descent that lives around the Talle Wildlife Sanctuary in central Arunachal Pradesh in India and the Xibaxiaqu area of the Lhoyu region in southern Tibet. There are around 40,000 of them and they are regarded by many as Lhoba. They are farmers who like to hunt in the forest and catch small game with traps, bows and slingshots, but don't spend the night in the forest because they are afraid of spirits called bhoots. [Source: Jesse Oak Taylor-Ide, National Geographic, September 2000]

The Aptanis have been described as stout and well built and short to medium height. They are said to look more like East Asians—namely Tibetans— than Indians and South Asian. There are two main groups among Apatanis and they differ significantly in appearance. Traditionally there were seven large villages of Apatanis and most lived a settled existence.[Source: Encyclopaedia of Scheduled Tribes in India: Five Volume by P. K. Mohanty, 2006, webindia123.com +/]

Lhoba Religion

Nishi tribal with hornbill cap, maybe related to Lhoba

Some Lhoba are animists and some are Tibetan Buddhists. According to Chinatravel.com: Lhoba religious ideology centers on the premise that everything in the world is animate. That is, everything has its own spirit, and the spirits are immortal. The spirits are called "Wuyong" and are considered to be present everywhere in the world. All living things in the world are subject to the domination of "Wuyong". If someone happens to offend the spirits, misfortune and disaster are imminent. "Wuyong" has tremendous influence on the Lhoba’s way of thinking, work, and life, and continues to generate deep respect and worship. There are numerous taboos cited in Lhoba religious ideology, and they place certain restrictions on people's daily lives. [Source: Chinatravel.com\=/]

Each tribal village has its own holy stones that people are not supposed to touch, move, or sit on. The villages also have holy trees, which people are forbidden to cut. When it comes time for the annual religious ceremony, all villagers walk in a circle around the holy trees and stones three times, slaughter hens, and serve food and wine as a sacrifice to the Gods. Most Lhobas worship stones of strange shapes and special unique trees because they consider them to be the homes of the god of stone and the god of the tree respectively. Lhobas sacrifice wild chook to the Gods three times every year; once on New Year's Day, then during the spring animal inseminations, and finally during autumn harvest. \=/

Tiger and its Brother Man: a Lhoba Myth

According to the Lhoba creation myth: a long, long time ago, the world was completely black. Absolutely, nothing existed. Then, heaven and earth separated, and some people came down from heaven to the earth. Many years passed, and the Earth suffered a great earthquake. There were some men who could not come down to Earth. Some stayed in heaven and others flew only half the way, from where later they fell to the earth. In those years, on the Earth, there was a girl that lived with her uncle. At that time everyone depended on each other and lived a poor and simple life. When the girl reached marriageable age, there was nobody to whom marry. Then a lama passed by and said that the girl should marry her uncle . However, the girl didn't want to do that. She then clambered up tree to hide. She had hardly started when she felt pregnant. Her womb started to hurt as if she was being clawed from the inside. She jumped down from the tree. The moment she touched the ground she gave birth to a tiger first, and a moment later, to a man. The tiger was able to jump and run son after it was born but the but the man was like a baby, hardly able to even move. [Source: Ethnic China *]

One day after the brothers grew up they went to the forest to hunt. Soon the tiger, without much effort got a deer, but the man, no matter how much he tried, was not able to catch anything, even a rabbit. The tiger got very angry. He ran up to his brother, took him for the neck, and scolded him for being such a poor hunter. After several days, the tiger said to his brother man went hunting again. After capturing some wild animals, the man took two sticks and, rubbing them together, made a fire. He took the meat and put it to the fire to roast it. The smell of the roasted meat filled the forest. Soon the tiger showed and, with his sharp claws, snatched the man’s and ate it for himself. Realizing the meat was not enough to fill him up, the tiger said to his brother: "You are a fool. As soon as I finish eating this meat, I will eat you." *\

Frightened the man ran back to his house. Still panting he said to his mother: "My brother tiger wants to eat me." His mother said: "Your brother is an evil one, it is necessary to put an end to him." Then the mother thought a way of putting an end to her tiger son, and told it to her son man. The following day, the man told the tiger he wanted to go to hunting again. This time he took a bow and arrow, and placed a small insect on the back of the tiger without the animal realizing it. When they arrived a the river, the man crossed first, hiding behind a great tree. The tiger followed him and began crossing the river. Suddenly the insect began to bite the tiger on his back, producing great itching. The tiger was scratching with his claws. Seeing that the tiger was struggling in the swift current scratching, the man placed an arrow in his bow and shot the tiger. The tiger, now overwhelmed with pain and itching, could not swim against the current and drowned. The man returned home very happy and told his mother, who felt also very happy. With no tigers to eat them, men multiplied and took over the Earth.

The Apatani used to hunt tigers and leopards with spears made of poisonous bamboo but stopped doing so in 1975 out of respect to the cats. One Apatani told National Geographic, "The tiger is the brother of the human being. To kill a tiger is equal to murder...to kill any cats is a serious offense. The Apatani always cut the head off a snake they kill and bury it. If they don’t they believe the snake will come back and get them.”

Lhoba Festivals and Genital Worship

Lhobas in southern Tibet— except those scattered in Motuo and Milin—celebrate Tibetan New Year as of their own. The New Year Festival of the Lhoba has no fixed date. It takes place after one year' of laboring on a date figured out according to the Lhoba calendar. The Lhobas in some areas like holding wedding ceremonies during the New Year Festival, because it adds more joys and happiness to the already joyous occasion. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]

In the second Tibetan month, the Lhoba people in the west part of the Lhoyu area celebrate the Xudulong Festival with dancing and praying for good harvest. The celebration is led by a "Niubu" (a shaman), who dances and sings, waving a stick with a lot of colorful feathers in his hand. During the festival, every family takes out its wine and food and eats together with the others. The old, on these occasions, exchange songs about the ancient history of the tribe while young men and women exchange songs about their love and admiration for each other. Songs and laughter around an outdoor fire often lasts long after dusk falls. ~

On the fifteenth day of the twelfth lunar month, according to the Tibetan calendar, the Lhobas living in the east of the Lhoyu area celebrate the "Donggenggurumu" Festival. Before the New Year comes, they butcher pigs and cattle into pieces and give them to their maternal relatives as gifts. This may well be ancient custom related sharing their harvest. After the eaten, instead of being thrown away, the skull is put up on the front of the house as a symbol of diligence and wealth, which is passed down through generations. ~

Among the Apatani, a festival called "Molang" is celebrated in the twelfth or the first month according to the Chinese lunar calendar. A shaman chooses the date of celebration, on which young men, led by the shaman, dress up in their best clothes are tour nearby villages. When they pass a field, the shaman scatters rice into the field. The young men wave their long swords and hammers at copper trays, while an old man at the end of the line scatters rice powder. When they pass a field that is to be sowed, young men with male organs made of bamboo walk into the field and dance production dances. When they go to dance and sing in the square of a village, the villagers give them wine. The touring group of young men are expected to visit all villages of the tribe. This festival is a kind of fertility rite whose aim is to bring a good harvest based on the similarities between crop and human reproduction. In some communities, wood phalluses stand by houses to show a wish for more offspring. In the old days many ethnic groups in China had similar acts of worship; even now, traces of such activities remain in the festival os some southern groups.

Lhoba Life, Customs and Taboos

Lhoba girl

Customs, habits and dress of different clan members vary. Men in northern Luoyu wear sleeveless, buttonless, knee-length black jackets of sheep's wool. They wear helmet-like hats either made from bear skin or woven from bamboo stripes or rattan laced with bear skin. Barefooted, they wear bamboo earrings, necklaces and carry bows and arrows or wear swords at their side. Women have narrow-sleeved blouses and skirts of sheep's wool. They also go barefooted. Apart from their silver or brass earrings, bracelets and necklaces, the women wear a variety of waist ornaments such as shells, silver coins, iron chains and bells. Heavy ornaments are considered a symbol of wealth. [Source: China.org]

“While slaughtering the pigs, the housemaster will place some green branches in front of the door, which means no strangers are allowed to step into the house. Also, during this time the family is forbidden to lend anything to others. Inside, they are not permitted to walk near the oven with things like wool or leather. It is taboo for the slaughterer to say anything related to "death" or "existing no longer". Close approach to ovens, hearths, and firewood is also forbidden. [Source: Chinatravel.com \=/]

“Strangers are not allowed to enter a Lhoba's house within the first three days following childbirth or birth of livestock. When somebody is ill, entry is also forbidden. If the Lhoba's relatives or friends happen to call during these times, they must say "Never let ghosts and devils in!" three times before entering the house with the guide of the housemaster. If permission to enter is not granted by the housemaster, the guests are regarded as the aforementioned "ghosts and devils”, and are driven out swiftly. Quarrels can erupt from guests refusing to acknowledge the housemaster’s demand, or from guests failing to understand and respect this taboo.\=/

“Hunting dogs play a significant part in Lhoba life and culture. The Lhobas take dogs into their homes as family. It is not uncommon for dozens of dogs to be raised in each Lhoba family. Furthermore, the dogs behave and act kindly toward their family and don't bite people or bark. Though they are kind to people, the dogs are trained to defend the home ferociously against wild animals. Guests are forbidden to beat or scold the dogs, and are driven out of the home if they are inclined to do so. \=/

“While mending the house and performing seeding duties, the housemasters pray in a loud voice, "Health for both the family and livestock; health for the future generations; good harvests all the time!" Then they throw the mixed grain up into the sky carefully, respectfully, and seriously. Sneers or unfriendly comments against the housemasters are forbidden during the prayer ritual. |

“Pigs are considered to be the leaders of livestock, and are frequently sacrificed to the gods. Therefore, pigs are taken care of quite well. Their food troughs are protected from weather exposure and people are forbidden to relieve themselves in close proximity to the stalls. \=/

“Lhoba people never lock the door. Stealing and lying are considered to be the most insufferable and inexcusable of criminal acts. If someone is caught lying or stealing, they are punished firmly, often with excommunication from the village. Recidivism results in execution.” \=/

Lhoba Houses, Swords and Bows and Arrows

Lhoba houses are constructed during the months of August to December with the help of clan members. Construction of a house begins with a feast of rice beer, meat and rice offered by the house owner. Then the building materials are procured. Usually wood is used. The height of a house is the house is four meters from the floor and the house itself and about two thirds of a meter off the ground. Houses are closely situated and often their roofs touch each other. The floor and walls are made of beaten bamboo tied with split cane. The house is usually completed within two days. After finishing the construction of the house, two minor rites involving the offerings of chickens is performed. These rites are performed to appease the god of house so that the house lasts a long time and the residents enjoy the prosperity and blessing of the gods. [Source: Encyclopaedia of Scheduled Tribes in India: Five Volume by P. K. Mohanty, 2006, webindia123.com]

Lhoba group

Machete-like swords are prized by Lhoba men, not only as symbol of manly spirit, but also as common tools and important weapons, which are useful in the harsh natural environment that the Lhoba live in. Long swords are used for defense against wild beasts, cutting bamboos, building houses and rattan net bridges and cutting furs and skins. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities]

Bows and arrows are also indispensable to Lhoba men as important hunting tools. Skilled in both making and using them, they begin learning shooting arrows from a very young age. In making a bow, they are very critical about the type and age of the bamboo chosen, and have specifications for the length and thickness of the bow. They also show have great skill in making arrows and choosing of shafts and arrowheads materials. It takes about 20 days to make a good bow.

They Lhoba have a type of bow-and-arrow trap named a "Guma," which is laid on the ground where wild animals often appear. When a beast steps on the opening device, an arrow automatically shoot out towards its fatal point. It depends entirely on one's experience to set a "Guma." The arrowhead of "Guma" is made of a kind of pointed and baked bamboo rather than steel.

Skill in hunting is the pride of a brave hunter. An a young excellent hunter is regarded as a good catch by young Lhoba girls. To congratulate someone on the birth of a child, a bow and arrows are often given as gifts. When building a rattan net bridge, arrows are shot across the wide and rushing water of a river, bringing with them cables made of rattan or palm or bamboos.

Lhoba Eating Habits

Diets also vary in different localities. Staple foods are dumplings made of maize or millet flour, rice or buckwheat. In places near Tibetan communities people have zamba, potatoes, buttered tea and spicy food. The Moinba and Lhoba people of southern Tibet eat Assam macaques Being heavy drinkers and smokers, at celebrations the Lhobas enjoy wine and singing to observe good harvests and good luck. [Source: China.org]

All Lhoba men take flints along with them on the waist to make fire for tobacco and cooking fires. However, in some of their eating habits, we can still see some traces of their ancestors' history of eating raw meat. For instance, in making a pledge between tribes, blood wine is served. Every autumn during the harvest celebration, the Lhoba drink the still warm blood of a bull with ghee. They also regard the raw marrow of a wild bull as very delicious. Some of Lhobas put the raw flesh of a roe deer into sauce, and then mix with cayenne and ginger. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]

Roasting is the most popular way of cooking food for the Lhoba people. Both plant and animal food are prepared in this way. For instance, they put a whole fish into the fire and then cover it with heated ashes. Before long they have a well-cooked fish. Sometimes, after eating a part of a roasted large game animal, they the rest of it into pieces, and roast them for storage and too eat later. Pokering food is also a common practice of making foods. The Lhoba grind buckwheat, corn or Daxie (starch made from a palm arbor), mix it with water into a paste, and put it on a piece of burned stone. After both sides of the paste are cooked, it is put into the heated ashes of the fire and stays there until well-cooked. ~

The Lhoba people also have a very peculiar way of boiling foods. People of the Bengru and Sulong tribes often make Daxie into a thick liquid, and pour it into a gourd. Then, a stone heated until it was red hot is taken out of the fire and put into the gourd. The heat of the stone gets the Daxie cooked. They may also put some rice or other food together with water into a bamboo section, and then put the bamboo section over the fire. This is often how food is prepared for long journeys, because they can simply cut the bamboo and eat the food within when hungry. ~

The Lohba people are very hospitable and like drinking rice beer and tea. When a guest is warmly served something to eat, he is obliged to eat all the food. When a guest comes, they offer him wine; the host sips some wine and eats some food first to show his sincerity. The Lhobas view a guest that stays a long time as an honor, and regard it as a great shame if they cannot offer a guest lots of food and drink. People in the Talle Wildlife Sanctuary and Talle Valley make tea with black tea and dark rum. Talle Valley chicken stomach is mixed with egg and cooked in bamboo. The also eat banana tree blossoms.

Lhoba Clothing

The Lhoba value goods woven from bamboo. Men favor a wool woven sleeveless jacket that extends to the waist and round, helmet-like hat trimmed with bear fur or rattan. Women wear a short, round-collared, narrow-sleeved jacket and a tight tubular skirt that extends a little below the knee. From knee to ankle, the leg is wrapped in cloth puttee.

One characteristic of Lhoba clothing is that the fiber of wild plants and animal skins are widely used. In the past, skirts made of straw found in the Jizhua canyon were very popular. Now, although women have homespun skirts and dresses, they still like to wear a straw skirt outside to protect the cloth skirt inside. Lhoba of both sexes were waistbands, which can be made of bones, leather, or wool, and are tied into various colorful patterns. The waistbands serve as belts, not only to bundle clothes, but also to hang knives, fire-makers, and ornaments made of bronze or shellfish. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]

Lhoba women usually wear collar-less, narrow-sleeved coats, which are made from flax, with a small piece of calf skin outside. In addition, they like wearing tight barrel-shaped skirts and wrap their legs into leggings, bundled tight by plant strips. Women pay a lot of attention to their ornaments. They wear silver and copper bracelets, rings, and dozens of blue-and-white-pearl necklaces, which may weigh up to several kilograms. These items are often accumulated from the many years of exchanges between families. They represent the wealth of a family. Whenever there is a celebration, Lhoba women like to dress up and compete with each other. To carry stuff they use bamboo back-baskets.~

Men's clothing has traditionally reflected their hunting life in the forest. Most of them wear woolen sleeveless, belly-length black jackets with a piece of wild bull skin on the back tied with a leather strip. When it is cold they wear Tibetan Pulu (Tibetan woven cloth) robes and blankets. Men of the Bogar tribe wear helmet-like hats made from bearskin. The hat is laced with a ring of bearskin, whose hair spreads out. There is usually a square piece of bearskin on the back of the hat. The hat is hard and can be used for concealment in hunting. When outside, they carry bows and arrows and wear swords at their side. ~

Lhoba History and Discrimination by Tibetans

According to the Chinese government: Lhoba people “were oppressed, bullied and discriminated against by the Tibetan local government, manorial lords and monasteries under feudal serfdom in Tibet. Being considered inferior and "wild," some were expelled and forced to live in forests and mountains. They were not allowed to leave their areas without permission and were forbidden to do business with other ethnic groups. Intermarriage with Tibetans was banned. They had to make their living by gathering food, hunting and fishing because of low grain yields in the region. [Source: China.org |]

“Largely farmers, Lhoba men and women are skilled at making bamboo objects and other crafts. They bartered such objects and animal hides, musk, bear paws, dye and captured game for farm tools, salt, wool, clothing, grain and tea from Tibetan traders. Their pilgrimages to monasteries were good opportunities for bartering. Hunting is essential to the Lhobas. Young boys start early to join adults on hunting trips. Upon reaching manhood they tracked animals in deep forests either collectively or alone. The game they caught was partly distributed among villagers, partly used for bartering and some was extorted from them by the manorial lords. |

“There were essentially two classes — "maide" and "nieba" — within Lhoba society before Tibet's invasion by the Chinese in 1950. The "maides" considered themselves as nobles, while regarding the "niebas" as inferior people who should be at their disposal. The descendants of this latter class of people could not become "maides" even if they became wealthy and owned slaves. They could only become "wubus" — a group of people having a slightly higher position than the "niebas." Young men and women of these different groups could not marry due to strict class distinctions. The "niebas," who were slaves to "maide" owners, had no means of production. They were beaten, jailed or even executed if they were caught running away or stealing. Women's status in their families, as well as in society, was particularly low, and they had no inheritance rights.” |

Lhoba Development

According to the Chinese government: Many Lhoba “Many suffered from goiter, an endemic disease caused by lack of salt. Some were undernourished and some were born deaf and mute. Epidemic diseases were rampant due to the poor living conditions. The population of this ethnic group kept declining before liberation (invasion) in 1951. [Source: China.org |]

“Conditions improved for the Lhoba people after the liberation [invasion] of Tibet in 1951. Production was boosted and people's living standards and general health improved with loans and relief extended by the government. The Lhobas, who previously were serfs, got land, farm implements and draught animals. They began a new life since the democratic reform carried out in Tibet after 1959 when the central government put down an armed rebellion launched by the reactionary elements of the upper stratum of Tibet. For the first time they were treated as equals by society. Now they are well represented in government at regional, county, district and township levels. |

“With the help of their Han and Tibet neighbors, they have adopted advanced, intensive farming methods. They opened up land on hills and began cultivation of new areas. Hunting, handicrafts and other sideline businesses developed at the same time. Farming has been further improved as more capital construction projects have been completed, improved animal and crop strains adopted and scientific farming methods popularized. |

“Before liberation [invasion], most of the Lhobas were illiterate. Some elderly people could not count. Now children attend day schools while adults learn at evening classes. A few young people are studying in institutions of higher learning in the cities of Beijing, Nanjing and Lhasa. People see films shown by film projection teams sent by government or army units. Trained doctors and other medical personnel have replaced the witch doctors who in the past were invited to cast spells to chase ghosts and demons from the sick, a practice that cost many lives. There are clinics and health centers in Lhoba villages. Transportation and communication have been improved in the rocky areas inhabited by the Lhobas, with newly built roads and bridges opening up more of the region.” |

Coming of Civilization to One Lhoba Family

According to the Chinese government: Located at the foot of snow-peaked mountains near the south border between China and India, the Nanyi Township of Qionglin Village, a tranquil and picturesque place, is inhabited by Lhoba. The family of forty-six-year-old Ma Ya is one of the 30 Lhoba households in the village. They live in a two-storeyed house with many modern devices like television, washing machine, refrigerator, etc. In 2008, his family opened a household inn when Qionglin Village set up a scenic area. Their family inn soon went popular among tourists, and earned them US$922 per month at the tourism peak season from June to October. [Source: chinaculture.org, Ministry of Culture, P.R.China, May 19, 2011]

Yet just 50 years ago, before Ma Ya's birth, his father and grandfather still lived in the wood, depending mainly on hunting with bows and arrows, in the very form of a primitive society. As few knew their existence in the wildest nature, they were dubbed as "the tribe of mystery". In the 1960s, after the peaceful liberation [invasion] of Tibet, Ma Ya's father and some other Lhoba people moved out of the wood and settled on a land offered by the local government. By 1985, all the Lhoba people of the village have moved into free dwelling houses and started to breed livestock provided by the government, thus marking the brand-new start of their modern life. Instead of hunting and logging, their previous livelihood, local villagers of Lhoba now earn their living on stockbreeding, bamboo weaving, herbal medicine picking, and tourism. Under the benefits of many national policies preferential for minority groups, the annual income per capita of Nanyi Township reached 5760 yuan (885 U.S. dollars) in 2010.

"Before we moved here, most of the families even couldn't afford a pair of shoes." said Ma Ya, "At that time, I never imagined that I could own a hotel." Nevertheless, the changes are not taking place only in material level. Exempt from China's One-Child policy, Ma Ya has two children. His son Ling Dong studies at Beijing Institute of Technology, majoring in computer science, while his daughter Ya Duo goes to high school in Bayi Town of Nyingchi Prefecture.

Apart from free schooling, pupils were also provided with free board and accommodation, while top ones are offered chances to study in the cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Lhasa. According to the statistics from local authority, by the year of 2010, all children of Luoba ethnic group at school age received compulsory education.

Nowadays, there are few illiterates among young people in Qionglin Village. Some can speak and read both Tibetan and mandarine quite fluently. Now, the only worry that troubles Ma Ya is how to let his children understand the story of their ancestors and keep their culture alive. "Our children are lucky to be born at such a good age. But I'm afraid that changes are taking place so fast that they will forget where they came from."

Image Sources:

Text Sources: 1) "Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China", edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company; 2) Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~; 3) Ethnic China *\; 4) Chinatravel.com \=/; 5) China.org, the Chinese government news site china.org | New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated September 2022

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