Tibetan Ethnic Minority

With a population of more than 5 million, Tibetan nationality mainly live in Tibet Autonomous Region in southeast China, and neighboring provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan. The areas where Tibetans live in compact community are mostly highlands and mountainous country studded with snow-capped peaks, one rising higher than the other. The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau rising about 4,000 meters above sea level is run through from west to east by the Qilian, Kunlun, Tanggula, Gangdise and Himalaya mountain ranges. The Hengduan Mountains, descending from north to south, runs across the western part of Sichuan and Yunnan provinces.

1. History

The Tibetans first settled along the middle reaches of the Yarlung Zangbo River in Tibet. Evidence of the new and old stone age culture was found in archaeological excavations at Nyalam, Nagqu, Nyingchi and Qamdo. According to ancient historical documents, members of the earliest clans formed tribes known as “Bos” in the Shannan area. In the 6th century, the chief of the Yarlung tribe in the area became leader of the local tribal alliance and declared himself the “Zambo” (king). At the beginning of the 7th century, King Songzan Gambo began to rule the whole of Tibet and made “Losha” (today’s Lhasa) the capital. From the 10th to 12th century, Tibet fell apart into several independent regimes and began to move towards serfdom. The Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) founded by the Mongols in the 13th century brought the divided Tibet under the unified rule of the central government. Areas inhabited by Tibetans were liberated one after another after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Tibet proper was liberated peacefully in 1951.

2. Religion

Most Tibetans generally observe Tibetan Buddhism or a collection of native traditions known as Bön (also absorbed into mainstream Tibetan Buddhism). There is a minority Tibetan Muslim population. There is also a small Tibetan Christian population in the eastern Tibet and northwestern Yunnan of China. Also there are some Tibetan Hindus who mainly live in China, India and Nepal. Tibetans places Mani stones prominently in public places, which play a major role in the lives of the Tibetan people, conducting religious ceremonies and taking care of the monasteries. Pilgrims plant prayer flags over sacred grounds as a symbol of good luck. The prayer wheel is a means of simulating the chant of a mantra by physically revolving the object several times in a clockwise direction. Tibetan Buddhists chant the prayer “Om mani padme hum”, while the practitioners of Bön chant “Om matri muye sale du”.

3. Language

The Tibetic languages are a cluster of mutually unintelligible Sino-Tibetan languages spoken by approximately 8 million people, primarily Tibetan, living across a wide area of eastern Central Asia bordering the Indian subcontinent, including the Tibetan Plateau and Baltistan, Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, and Bhutan the northern Indian subcontinent. Classical Tibetan is a major regional literary language, particularly for its use in Buddhist literature. The Central Tibetan language, Khams Tibetan, and Amdo Tibetan are generally considered to be dialects of a single language, especially since they all share the same literary language, while Dzongkha, Sikkimese, Sherpa, and Ladakhi are generally considered to be separate languages. Although some of the Qiang peoples of Kham are classified by China as ethnic Tibetans, the Qiangic language are not Tibetic, but rather form their own branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family.

4. Life

Tsampa, yak butter tea and Tibetan barley wine are the staple food for Tibetan people. People also like dairy products and air-dried beef and mutton. Castle-like house is the most representative one in Tibet. They are often stone-wood structure of primitive simplicity, looking dignified and stable. In the pasturing area, people usually live in a yak hair tent. The tent is usually square-shaped supported by eight upright pillars. Generally speaking, they wear short upper garment made of silk or cloth with long sleeves inside, wide and loose robe outside and long boots of cattle hide. Tibetans deem Hada as the most precious gift, which is a strip of snow-white scarf made of yarn or silk, symbolizing goodwill and respect, as well as festivity, arrival and departure of guests, etc. Polyandry is practiced in parts of Tibet. However, monogamy is more common throughout Tibet. 

5. Festivals

The most important festival in Tibet is the Tibetan New Year, on January 1 of the Tibetan calendar. Shoton Festival(watch online video of Shoton Festival)is the liveliest festival in summer. Shoton, meaning Yogurt Banquet in Tibetan language, was originated at Drepung Monastery as a celebration of the end of lamas’ month long retreat. Saga Dawa Festival is the most significant religious festival in Tibet. It is celebrated on April 15th in Tibetan calendar and continues for the whole month. What’s more, there are Tsongkhapa Butter Lamp Festival, Horse Racing Festival, etc.