Clothes with snow
The clothes worn by Tibetans are decided by the special environment and climate conditions they live in; their animal husbandry and farming lifestyle; and, of course, by style and fashion. The Tibetan robe is the main Tibetan clothing item. It is loose, comfortable and wide. Tibetan robes, hat and boots are mostly made of fur or Pulu woven wool. The Tibetan robe has an open front and long, wide sleeves that can hand down a 20 centimeters or so past the hands. In farming areas, the robe is usually made of pulu (a woolen fabric in Tibet), woolen cloth, silks and satins and cotton; while in grazing areas, the robe is often made of leather, and sometimes pulu, too. The Tibetan robes are rimmed with pulu, silk or other leather laces at the collar, cuff, front edge and lower hem. The women farmers wear sleeveless robe in summer. Within the robe people usually wear shirts. In general, men’s shirts are white, yellow or brown, while women’s are diversified. Around the waist women like to wear a colorful, patterned bangdian apron. [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org]
There are essentially two different kinds of clothes: those worn for festivals and special occasions and those worn in everyday life. The festival clothes are made from silk or cotton. The everyday clothes used in the winter are made from wool, often produced in Tibet, while everyday clothes used in the summer are made from cotton.
One features of Tibetan-Styled shirts is that the left shoulder is larger than the right. There are buttons or colored ribbons on the armpits to fasten the shirt. Men wear white shirts, and women, calico ones. Generally speaking, men's shirts have a high collar, while the ladies' are turndown collars with long sleeves.
The Tibetan love of colors is evident in the way they decorate their clothes and homes. Female aprons, known as "bangdians", are often adorned with geometric pasterns. Tibetans often wrap a bandanna or shawl around their mouths for protection against windblown sand and dust. Many people go barefoot or wear flip-flops. Rank used to often be indicated by the coloring and patterns on a person’s boots. Children sometimes have portraits of the holy men tucked in their caps.
More and more Tibetans are wearing Western-style, or as they are known in Tibet, “Chinese-style, clothes. More men that women seem to wear non-Tibetan clothing. Tibetans are discouraged by some lamas from wearing Chinese clothes.
Weaving, Wool, Fur and Clothing Materials in Tibet
Weaving is arguably the most developed traditional industry that takes place outside the monasteries. Many homes have a looms and many of the garments that people wear are made at home. Young women spin raw wool into yarn. Many Tibetan women still twist yarn by hand with a distaff, the same method employed by the ancient Greeks. Wide bands are woven into carpets by men. Narrow bands are used for belts.
Clothing is generally made from “nambu” — wool spun from yak or sheep hair and very tightly woven in narrow strips. Nambu is usually sold in lengths called "dhomaos." One dhompa is equal to the distance between a man’s two hands when he opens his arms as wide as he can. The finest wools are washed by hand while coarser material are washed with the feet. The clothes worn by lamas are made by men. A fine, durable material called "shema" is made from wool and worn by wealthy families. Favored dyes include red from madder or Bhutanese insects, indigo from India, yellow from rhubarb, and dark brown from walnuts.
Pashmina wool — the soft, warm fiber from Himalayan goats — has become world famous over the past couple of decades, It is sold in boutiques from Manhattan to Paris. In 2000, Nepal exported $103 million worth of pashmina wool. By last year, exports had slumped to $18 million. Traders say the main reason for the plunge was competition from inexpensive mass-produced imitations made from synthetic fabrics and cheaper wool. [Source: Binaj Gurubacharya, Associated Press, May 6, 2011]
Tibetans have traditionally liked to wear fur for warmth and as fashion statement. The Tibetan fondness for the furs and skins of tiger and other endangered animals has contributed to reduction of numbers of these animals. Clothing made from tiger skins have traditionally been a sign of wealth and status. The Dalai Lama spoke out against the wearing of animal fur, saying that wearing the parts of animals was inconsistent with Buddhism. This was turned into a kind of political statement of support, with those who chose not wear fur tacitly voicing their support the Dalai Lama. The Chinese by contrast have encouraged Tibetans to wear animal skins at festivals to create a colorful atmosphere. At festivals consequently little fur to be seen. A member fo a Tibet dance troupe told to wear fur at a festival told the New York Times, “The government told us we have to wear fur, but we’re not going to do it.. There are 32 people in our troupe, We’ve agreed that just one will wear a small piece.”
Women in Tibet are creating an incredibly soft wool — softer than cashmere — from yak hair that is used to make luxury shawls for designers like Sonia Rykeil, Hermes and Yves St. Laurent. More than 150 kilograms of cleaned and prepared yak wool is necessary to make a single shawl the size of an airline blanket. The hair is very short and difficult to spin into wool, and it takes a woman a month to spin two kilograms of wool, enough to make two shawls. The process is laborious but it brings much needed income to Tibetan yak headers who are among the poorest people on the Tibet plateau.
Pulu is a traditional Tibetan woolen fabric and the main material for making robes, boots, hats, and other Tibetans garments. Produced for more than 2,000 years, pulu is fine and thick, soft and smooth. It is made of Tibetan felt and usually white. Sheep wool is the raw ingredient. First, it is fluffed and combed. Then it is twisted into a thread around a spindle using the fingers. It is then woven with a wood shuttle loom into pulu. Pulu is thick and durable, warm, windproof, and rainproof. Robes made of pulu are water-repellent. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, kepu.net.cn~]
Pulu fabric is generally about 24 centimeters wide, and can be dyed black to be made into clothes, shoes and hats. It is typically comes in white, black, blue, red, reddish brown and green and is dyed red, blue or green when it is used as adornment. In addition to monochromatic cloth, pulu can also be dyed with cross-shaped designs. Pulu is found in many types. ~
There are many types of pulu, and these are commonly divided into two types: common pulu and close pulu. The yarns of close pulu are delicate and close. It is very soft and is said to have history of more than 2000 years. There are records about coarse cloth, plain coarse cloth and felt in the "New Tang Book o Tibet Biography". In the Yuan Dynasty, pulu was offered as a tribute. Pulus produced in Lhasa, Rikeze, Zedang, Zhanang, Jiangzi in Tibet, and Xiancheng, Batang in the western Sichuan are the most famous. Jiedexiu, small town in in Gonggar County in Tibet's southern mountainous region is often called "land of the Pulu". People there were making pulu 1,300 years ago, it is said.
Colors and Design on Tibetan Clothing
One prominent feature of Tibetan clothing is “accumulative parallelism” in colors and designs, Take the fur-lined robe in the pastoral areas for example. It is edged with small upright oblong pieces of green, purple, black, orange, yellow, and red cloth, increasing accumulatively to form colored bands. These colors, arranged in a colored band, gives people a vivid sense of leaping forward. The shoulders, lower hems, and cuffs of the fur-lined robes of women in pastoral areas are often decorated with black, green, red, purple, and other colored stripes arranged in a row to form staid and bold designs, which produces striking and exciting effects. [Source: chinaculture.org]
Another prominent feature concerning Tibetan costume and ornaments is that the colors used are in sharp contrast yet at the same time harmonious. The bold use of such contrasting colors as red and green, black and white, crimson and blue, and yellow and purple plus the ingenious employment of compound colors and gold and silver thread have produced the most lucid and harmonious artistic effects.
Many Tibetan robes of white pulu (a kind of plant-based fiber) have broad black cuffs, a collar, and a lower hem; to make the black edges more conspicuous, people wear white trousers. Red pulu and green pulu exist side by side on colored Tibetan boots. When women braid their hair, they use a woolen string of such contrasting colors as bright red and emerald, vermilion, and ultramarine, or pink and azure. Even the embroidery on songba (a kind of multi-colored Tibetan boots) is done with sharply contrasting colors. Contrastive colors are also applied to matching the robe with the girdle.
The disposition of contrasting and uniform colors on women's aprons is even more ingenious. Some aprons have broad colored stripes in sharp contrast, which produce a bold yet lucid style, while others have fine stripes of uniform colors that yield an elegant and mild effect. In some aprons, threads of a rather pure primary color or black and white colors are woven in between the laces of varied colors, and in some aprons the colored stripes are all based on one single color phase so as to form uniform colors of purple-red, black-gray, and so on.
Gold and silver thread and compound colors are used alternatively to give the colors of the costume and ornaments an overall harmonious effect. In the selection of the width of the colored stripes, the density of the colors, the range of the color changes, and the proportion of the primary and secondary colors, one can see the boldness, ingenuity, and the painstaking efforts in the designs.
Tibetan Men's Clothes
In the summer men dress in greasy chubas, baggy trousers and beat-up shoes and sometimes don crumpled Chinese-made cowboy hats. In the winter they wear huge embroidered sheepskin coats, belted full-length robes with sleeves long enough to serve as gloves, thick felt trousers, amulets, and thick padded boots made from strips of leather. Footwear sometimes has turned up toes like elves's slippers: the idea being they will less likely kill living things (namely bugs) that way.
Men’s chubas are made from wool, cotton or decorated silk and have sleeves that can be folded back. Most are ankle length but can be pulled up over a belt. Young men and men from Kham tend to wear short chubas. Those worn in Amdo drop just below the knee. Sometimes the chuba worn in the summer has the right sleeve tucked in the belt, exposing a long-sleeve, high-neck shirt.
Many men wear leather sashes, which have charms, tweezers for removing thorns attached to them. Cowboy hats are popular in the summer; fur hats made with fox, wolf or mink fur are popular in the winter. Men sometimes carry a knife and flint to make fires or wear two-foot-long swords, daggers or long knives with silver ornaments. In recent years it has become fashionable for men to wear towering hats made of fur and elaborately spiked and coifed hair with ivory rings. Monks with flashy sunglasses, riding motorscooters are becoming a common sight. In rural areas it is common to see men with tall fur hats, sheepskin coats, high boots and silver buckles.
Tibetan Women's Clothes
Women typically wear sleeveless chubas over wool pants, a woven apron, a wide woven belt and “suebas” (traditional boots). Women sometimes wear thick black coats and wide-brimmed felt hats and carry wood-frame rucksacks. Some women wear brightly colored cloaks on which bold appliques are sewn on in geometric patterns of contrasting colors, such as red and gold on a green background.
In the summer women wear bright, billowing skirts and bonnets or scarves around their head, sometimes adorned with good-luck symbols. In the winter they put on knee-length coats, or capes made from yak, goat or sheepskins.
Married women wear colorfully striped aprons and braid strips of colored cloth into their hair, and wear gold and silver ornaments, silver jewelry with coral and turquoise and a prayer necklace. Unmarried girls sometimes wear special garments that indicate the wealth of the girl's family so suitors can estimate the dowry they will receive.
In the summer, women from Kham and Amdo wear their chuba with the left sleeve exposed and the right sleeve tucked into the waist, revealing the sleeve of their blouse. Decorated boots made from felt or leather are worn. Those worn in Kham have turned up toes.
Many women swath their head with scarves to keep out the sun and dust.
“Chubas” (also known as “cubas” or “chupas”) are heavy, wraparound woolen or sheepskin robes or capes worn by both men and women. They are loose-fitting and folded across the body and held in place with a sash or belt. Both men and women drape the garment from left to right. Chubas are similar to the robes worn in Mongolia but looser. The left lapel is bigger than the right one. Some have very long sleeves that can be tied around the waist. Possession such as money and amulets are kept in an inner pouch. Sometimes chubas are quite filthy
In the old days virtually every Tibetan man wore a robe. Today, at least every man has one. From a robe other Tibetans can other tell where a person is from and garner other information about ethnicity and background. The Tibetan robe has long sleeves and a wider-than-usual waist. Its front is opened from the right side. The basic characteristics of Tibetan robes are: 1) wide fronts with wide waists and buttoned on the right side; 2) wide, long sleeves; and 3) the collar, edge of the front, cuff and the lower hem of the gown are mostly edged with fine and soft fur, pulu or colorful cloth. The sleeves are more than 30 centimeters longer than the arm and hand, and the lower hem stretches out about 10 centimeters over the instep, mostly edged with red or black strips or leopard skin as a form of decoration. There are no pockets.” [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org]
The Tibetan robes are very long. If needed they can be pulled up at the waist and tied with band. When they are hot, robe wearers can bare their right arm or both arms (sometimes this done to make it more convenient to work in the fields). At night the robe can be used as bedclothes. The long sleeves are commonly tied together. But in big gathering or parties, Tibetans often let the sleeves fly in the wind, like prayer flags or butterflies.
In the old days, different kinds of robes were associated with different ranks, while lamas wore kasaya (a patchwork outer vestment) in line with Buddhist rules. Nowadays, many Tibetan wear Western-style clothes but a large number still wear traditional Tibetan garments.
When a Tibetan man puts on his robe, he tends to wear only one sleeve and pull the other sleeve around his back to the front of it—a habit that has much to do with the weather. On the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau there is a glaring difference in temperature between day and night, and the weather changes unpredictably. “A mountain experiences four seasons in a single day, and the weather changes every ten miles,” as the local saying goes. In summer it could be chilly in the morning and hot at noon.
Tibetan people usually take off one or both sleeves when working during the day, and tie them around their waist. A shirt with long sleeves is worn inside of the robe. When men tie their belts, they usually pull the lower hem of the robe up to their knees. When women tie their belt, they pull the robe up a little bit and make the lower hem cover their ankles. Thus, a big bag is formed in the bosom and the waist, and many odds and ends can be placed inside this convenient space.
Types of Tibetan Robes
Generally, there are five types of robes. Those made of: 1) pulu woolen fabrics, 2) lambskin robes, 3) sheepskin robes, 4) woolen robes, and 5) light robes. Woolen robes are made with inner layers of sheep fur, so they are light and warm.. Light robes are popular in the agricultural areas where the altitude is lower and temperatures are warmer. They are cool and comfortable. There are two kinds of undershirts worn under the robe: 1) the kind with buttons on the right and 2) the kind with buttons down the front. Monks or those who have a predestined relationship with Buddha often wear undershirts in orange and light yellow.
Robes made of pulu woolen fabrics are common in the areas surrounding Lhasa, In the old days aristocrats and feudal lords wore these kinds of robes when participating in important activities and poor farmers and herdsmen wore them while working. They are stout and durable, useful in every season and can be used as raincoats. Pulu, See above
Lambskin robes are divided into two types: white and black lambskin, with the latter considered quite valuable. Lambskin is ranked by degree, according to the length of the lamb hair, the degree of curliness, and the quality of the skin. The same level of lambskin is used in making robes. Generally, more than 40 pieces of lambskin are necessary to make a medium-class lambskin robe. . Sheepskin robes can be made of goatskin or sheepskin. Women in agricultural areas usually wear goatskin robes. The quality of sheepskin varies in different seasons; and can be classified into winter sheepskin, summer sheepskin and autumn sheepskin.
The types of Tibetan robes also varies in different places of Tibet. Fur robes are generally found in pastoral areas. The men's robes can be plain without a cloth surface, but the front, cuff and edge may be edged with black velveteen, corduroy or woolen cloth about 10 to 15 centimeters wide. In northern Tibet, the edge of the front and the cuff of women's robe are generally sewn with five to seven strips using black, red, green, and purple. Because some strips are a little bit wider, the whole surface of the fur can be completely covered by the strips.
People wear leather robes in the northwest to keep out the cold, while pulu (a kind of vegetable fiber) woolen garments are favored in the milder southeast. While the garments are of different materials, they are both very loose with very broad cuffs and are very comfortable to wear. In the day, when it is sunny and warm, one can push up the sleeves to cool down; at night, one can sleep in the same clothes. [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org]
Tibetan Robe Features and Styles
Traditional Tibetan leather robes and pulu woolen garments have a belt around the waist, and when the belt is fastened, the front part becomes a hollow pocket in which one can put many daily necessities. One dispensable article in the pocket of every traveler is a wooden bowl, as it is very important to use one's own bowl. An average wooden bowl is cheap but good, and common people can afford it. In Tibet, everyone who leaves home for a trip carries a wooden bowl in this way. The wooden bowls of the balladeers are the largest and "can hold 4.5 kilo of butter tea." Whenever the balladeers perform in the open at fairs or in marketplaces, they place their wooden bowls at the side, asking for tips. Then, the wooden bowl has an additional use, to hold money or other things.
Tibetans take off one or both sleeves of their robes when working in daytime, and tie them around the waist. A shirt with long sleeves is worn inside of the robe. When men tie belt, they usually pull the lower hem of the robe up to knees. When women tie belt, they pull the robe up a little bit and make the lower hem cover the ankles. Thus a big bag is formed in the bosom and the waist, and many daily odds can be put into it. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]
The detailed style is distinctive for different places and can be divided into many types. Just in terms of the fur robe in pastoral area, men's robe is plain robe without cloth surface, but the front, cuff and edge are edged with black velveteen, corduroy or woolen cloth which is about ten to fifteen centimeters wide. Women's robe style, especially the decorations on the fur is different for different areas: in the northern Tibet area, the edge of the front and the cuff are generally sewed with five to seven strips with black, red, green, purple, etc arranged in order. Because some strips are a little bit wider, the whole surface of the fur can be completely covered by the strips; Women's robe of Hainan region in Qinghai has wide collar and waist. The sleeves are over 30 centimeters longer than the arm, and the lower hem stretches out about 10 centimeters over the instep, which are mostly edged with red or black strip or leopard skin as decorations. When they wear it, they carry the collar on head, tie the waist, and then put the collar down; Women's robe in Huangnan region usually has round collar, and robe reaches the instep; Women's robe in Haixi includes a kind of ceremonial dress in addition to common fur robe, Men's clothes and adornments in Gongbu which is a kind of brocade robe edged with lamb skin, satin or otter skin; Women's robe in Guoluo has 2 or 3 lines of hem and horn-shaped adornment; Women's robe in Gansu is often edged with very wide leopard skin, and it has a different way of wearing: the belly is tied at the back, and long end of the knot falls down over buttocks. ~
Tibetan hats come in various forms. Both men and women wear woolen or pleuche hats. Herdsmen like hats made of fox skin. Some of the are quite elaborate. Cowboy hats are particularly common on women.
Chloe Xin of Tibetravel.org wrote: “Tibetan people like to wear hats because Tibet has frequent windstorms, cold weather, and strong sunshine. The styles they choose are more than just to protect them from the elements, but also relate to status, genders and regions. The most common hat in Tibet is golden thread hat, also called "Xamo Gyaise" in Tibetan language. Typically, linings are made of felt. The top is decorated with golden silk and the edges are inlaid with silk ribbon. Hats are designed with four edges, with the front and back larger than the left and right. All sides are furlined. The golden thread hat made of fine materials are very warm and loved by both men and women. When worn by women, the two larger edges are placed inside, leaving the left and right parts outside. In snowy weather, all four edges are placed outside. However, the elderly usually keep all four edges outside. [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org]
“In cold areas of Tibet, like Chamdo, Tibetan people, nomadic people in particular, usually wear a hat made of fox skin, felt or leather, to ward off cold. The fox-fur hat made from the high level fox furs and particular silk fabrics, this kind of hat makes the young look handsome. Designed to deal with the cold weather in the highland, the brim is long and can be stretched to the shoulder to prevent cold air. All fox fur hat are handmade by herbs. Among the florid Tibetan trappings, the fox-fur hats are particularly remarkable.
“Felt hat may be the oldest hat in Tibet. Till now, people in Gansu and Qinghai provinces still wear this kind of hats. Taking the white felt as the main material, form into a high peaked hat with a narrow brim. The making process of felt hat is simple. And the modern hats in Amdo area and the summer felt hats in Gongbo area are developed from the original felt hats. They keep the form of the original one and improved by decorating by colorful materials. For Tibetan women, they wear a special hat called Sang Ge Si You in dustpan shape during summer. The framework is made by four bamboo stripes, sallows or chopsticks. The outside material is black cloth bordered by flowered satin or silk satin. The brim of the hat can hang over the forehead which is adumbral.
Although running shoes are becoming increasing visible under monk robes and women’s long skirt many Tibetans still wear traditional boots. Tibetan boots come in a great variety and have a multitude of names. According to the material, they can roughly be divided into three kinds: cowhide, corduroy and pulu. Divided from the specification and size, there are five sizes: large, two, three, four and five. All kinds of boots are straight without distinguishing left and right, and men and women's style, and they are divided into long leg boots and short leg boots, and unlined boots and cotton-padded boots. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities]
The toecaps can be square, round, sharp or hooked. At the back of various boots, a 10cm-long mouth can be opened for the convenience of taking off or putting on the boot. Boots feature belts that are beautiful woolen handicrafts of various designs. Each end is decorated by colorful ears. At the back of various boots, a 10-centimeter-long mouth is opened for the convenience of putting on and taking off.
Traditional Tibetan thigh boots have soles made from yak leather. The boot leg is embroidered with all kinds of designs and colors. Some have insteps are embroidered with silk thread into different designs, while others are edged with golden silk thread. There are cross-shaped designs on the head of cowhide and corduroy boots, and the sole of the boots is sewed with 5-7 layers of cowhide, the thickness of which is about 2 to 3 centimeters. The legs of corduroy are made of corduroy, and a layer of canvas and a layer of white cloth are lined in it, which is edged with red cloth. The head of corduroy boots is also made of cowhide. There are many kinds of pulu boots, and the sole is also made of cowhide, which differs in thickness from about 3 to 4 centimeters. The upper and leg are made of different colors of pulu, and all kinds of patterns are embroidered on them.
Boots of Changdu and northern Tibet are simple, honest, and tasteful, while boots of Shannan and Rikeze are delicate, careful, and refined. Boots in Lhasa region incorporate the strong points of different places, which have bright color and are elegant and poised. The Tibetan boots are not only beautiful and tasteful, but also comfortable and are worn and other ethnic groups as well as Tibetans.
Bangdian and Tibetan Women’s Aprons
Bangdian is a material used to make the striped aprons commonly worn by Tibetan women outside their robe. It is said that when a Tibetan women ties a bangian around her waist the bottom half of her body is like a rainbow. Bangdian have traditionally been symbols of married Tibetan women but today many unmarried Tibetan women also wear them. Bangdian is like pulu and other materials used make Tibetan robes, but is thinner, more delicate and come in smaller parcels. Tibetans use Bangdian to make waistcoats, aprons and satchels for women, or mount it on their robes. Modern people even use it to decorate walls of their parlors. [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org]
Bangdian is woven with wool-spun thread, which are then dyed and woven into strips. To make an apron, yarn is manually spun first, and then dyed, brushed and woven into strips, and finally the strips are stitched together. There are a great variety of aprons. The best ones are called "xiema" in Tibetan. They are elaborately woven from 14 to 20 kinds of dyed yarn. The second best apron variety is called pulu, the relatively common apron. The fabric is closely woven and delicate and the colors are bright. [Source:Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]
One outstanding feature of Bangdian is its contrasting colors. Colors of the same kind are used boldly and arranged ingeniously and harmoniously. Wide strips of some aprons with strongly contrasting colors are displayed together, some narrow strips with the same kinds of colors are combined, and some strips with pure primary colors are inserted into many strips with secondary colors. In terms of disposition, some colors are displayed from dark to light by groups, and some are random without being divided into groups, which results in rough and bright or refined and mild styles. ~
On festive and happy occasions, women wear bangdian around their waists, which is like a rainbow wrapping the body. Women in the farming and pastoral areas prefer strips of strongly contrasted colors, and women in townships like fine-spun strips of similar tonality for a graceful and mild manner. There are wide-strip bangdians and narrow-strip ones. The former class use sharply contrasted colors. They are bold and bright, and favored by women in the farming and pastoral areas. The latter class use similar tonality to create a graceful and mild quality. They are popular with women in cities.
Bangdians are mainly produced in Shannan, Shigatse and Lhasa, with the products made in Gyaidexiu Township of Konggar County in Shannan area being the most famous. Gyaidexiu is "the hometown of Bangdian," with an apron-producing history of about 600 years. Almost every household in the town weaves woolen aprons, which not only enjoy fame on the domestic market, but are also sold in India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Western European countries.
Tibetan Ornaments and Jewelry
Tibetans wear ornaments made of gold and silver as well as jewelry made of amber, agate, jadeite, pearl and ivory and fake versions of these materials. The traditional women’s headdress is called “bazhu” and “baguo”. Women decorate their hair with golden, silver or jade ornamnets and their bodies with “gawu”, a kind of Buddhist box. They also wear earrings, necklaces, bracelets and finger rings. At festivals, they dress themselves up and cover themselves with heavy-looking jewelry. Men sometimes carry swords and wear earrings and bracelets.
It is common to see Tibetan women wearing Tibetan head ornaments made from silver, coral, turquoise, semi-precious stones and animal bones. Often two or three decorative strips are put horizontally or vertically on the head decorated with large agate, amber, pearl, colorful jade and other gold and silver decorations. It is often difficult to judge a woman’s marital status by her headdress in pastoral areas.
Some Tibetan women cover themselves with spectacular jewelry: silver amulets, many necklaces of turquoise amber and coral, and long earrings. Coral is regarded as valuable because Tibet is so far from the sea. Zee, a kind of agate stone with black and white makings, is also greatly valued. Jewelry has traditionally been given as a dowry. Tibetans like turquoise and silver. They wear jewelry on their fingers and wrists, around their necks and in their hair. A traditional prayer necklace has 108 beads, the number of books in Tibetan Buddhist scripture. Earings are worn by both males and females. They have traditionally been tied on with chords. Most pilgrims were an amulet called a "gau" that holds a picture of the Dalai Lama or the owner’s protector god.
Tibetan ornaments and jewelry includes as rings, bracelets, necklaces, made of red and yellow coral, Tibetan carnelian, yak bones, Tibetan silver, Tibetan copper, turquoise and other natural materials joined together with yak-hide string. The most common Tibetan ornaments are broad and delicately designed silver bracelets, peacock-blue yak-boned necklaces inlaid with turquoise, and dangling earrings made of red coral and Tibetan silver. [Source: Chloe Xin,
Tibetans have traditionally chosen to braid their hair rather than cut it. An local saying goes, "only letting one's hair grow without cutting will one turn to somebody in the future."In the old days— and still today to some degree—men wore braid coiled on top of their head. Some cut their hair short, like a canopy. Women, when coming of age, begin to plait their hair into two braids or many tiny queues which are adorned with ornaments. These days many are adopting modern style hair cuts but some are also braiding the hair of Western tourists on the streets of Lhasa, charging between $5 and $10 per customer. for [Source: China.org china.org |]
Many Tibetans have really long hair. Women sometimes use yak butter to give their hair some sheen and have silver coins worked into their hair. Nomad girls braid their hair with turquoise, amber and coral. A traditional woman's hairdo has 108 braids, an auspicious number in Buddhism (See Symbols). This custom is particularly common in Amdo Many Tibetan men either shave their heads or have long, wild, matted and greasy braided hair. Some men shave the front of their head and have long curls running down their back, a hair-style popularized in the 9th century by the Tibetan king Langdarma. To keep from going snowblind in blizzard conditions Tibetan men with long hair pull their hair across their eyes. When the weather is fine they often wear their hair in a bun.
Tibetan head ornaments and hairstyles are fairly standardized, and vary according to different regions, ages and marriage status. For example, unmarried Tibetan girls like a single plait, with the root of the braid bound with a red hair string called "Xia Jiu" in the Tibetan Language. Often the braids are woven in a triangular and set on the head to look more elegant. Married women have a double braided, without hair support. The length of the red strings is longer than that of their hair plains. Often married women form two crossed circular braids on their the head, starting from the back of their heads, to looked dignified and mature. [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org]
In pastoral areas of Tibet, a Tibetan girl traditionally wore two braids in their childhood, three braids at thirteen to fourteen years old and five or six braids at fifteen or sixteen years old. When she become an adult, wears dozens of braids. During the coming of age the adult ceremony for a young girl, her parents and perhaps other relatives and some friends too tie her hair into dozens of braids, which means that she is old enough to get married. Then the girl dons a Patsu decoration and the colorful skirt Bangdian apron. Later, the girl's parents, relatives and guests present her with hadas (traditional white scarves) as congratulation. When the ceremony is over, the girl, followed by three or four relatives, goes to a temple to pray before a Buddha statue. When they come back, the girl’s family hosts a big dinner for the guests.
Regardless of age, all pastoral women have several small braids on their head, just like Uighur girls, and they bind these small braids into two and decorated them with red and green hair strings, along with pieces of coral, pearls, agates and nine-eye bead. They often wear two braids, which often are as long as their body and often dragged with their skirt edges. When they wear their braids circled on their head it looks like a jeweled crown. Elderly Tibetan spinsters wear hair jewelry and a hair style that is different from both married women and young girls. They have a single braid placed in circle on their head and decorated with pale red hair strings without of a hair support. Hairstyles differ in different places. In the Yushu region of Qinghai, Tibetan women regard long hair as beautiful. They plait their pitch-black hair into tens to hundreds of little braids, and every braid hangs down on the back with almost the same distance among one another.
Parallelism is expressed in the hairstyles of the Tibetans. Women in northern Tibet mostly wear their hair in rows of braids. With some women, the rows of braids start from the center of the forehead, go round the head, and then end again in the center of the forehead. Other women interweave their tiny plaits into a row of thick braids, which are then collected and tied in the back with ornaments. Even the ornaments are arranged in rows or strings.
Miss Tibet beauty pageants have been staged in Dharamsala. When they were first held many complained they were “un-Tibetan” and said they “aped Western culture.” Conservatives still frown on the bathing suit part of the contests. In one contest only five women participated. One contestant was forced to withdraw because she was part of a secret Tibetan unit in the Indian army that specialized in high altitude combat. A Miss Tibet has participated in international contests in Malaysia and Mexico but the practice stopped after Beijing objected.
In December 2007, “Ms Tibet” withdrew from a Mrs Tourism beauty pageant in Malaysia after she was told she could only participate as “Ms. Tibet-China” because of pressure from Beijing. She participated in the early rounds but quit when she was told she would have to wear a sash labeled “Ms. Tibet-China.” “I felt that this was not acceptable to me at all,” Miss Tibet, 22-year-old Tsering Chungtak, said. “The Tibetan issue is the same as ever...China is in control of Tibet and there is no freedom in Tibet.”
In November 2008, only two women entered the Miss Tibet pageant in Dharmasala,, which was won by Sonam Choedon, an attractive 19-year-old woman with high cheekbones and waist length hair. She edged out a 22-year-old receptionist. Both the Chinese government and Buddhist elders objected to the pageant and pressured girls not to enter. The Communist object to pageant because it seen as a sign of defiance to Chinese rule and expression of Tibetan desire for independence. Buddhist leader oppose it because it “apes Western culture” and mocks Buddhist philosophy because it promotes materialism and egoism and thumbs its nose at the idea of inner beauty.
A 25-year-old newspaper columnist that wanted to enter but didn’t told the Washington Post, “For Tibetan society, a beauty pageant is a very culturally sensitive thing. There was immense social pressure not to participate. The Dali Lama weighed in with humor, asking, “If there is Miss Tibet, why not Mr. Tibet? He could be handsome. Then it would be more equal.”
Contestants wear elaborate gold jewelry and floor-length chubas. There is a yoga competition and questions about Buddhist philosophy and Tibetan history. In the swimsuit competition the women not only to put up with stares from leering men they also have to endure chilly late autumn weather. The event loses money. The organizer pays the modest prize money out his own pocket.
Image Sources: Food and Drink: Weird Meat blog; Purdue University and Antique Tibet. Clothes: Purdue University, Snowland Cuckooo and Johompas.
Text Sources: 1) “Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China”, edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K.Hall & Company, 1994); 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 ethnic-china.com *\; 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