Ti­bet’s Ta­maks known for black­smithing

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By PALDEN NY­IMA and PHUNGTSOG TASHI in Lhasa, Ti­bet

Lo­cated on the south­ern side of the Hi­malayas in the Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion, Gyirong county has been called a gar­den hid­den be­hind Mount Qo­molangma.

Sur­rounded by snow­capped moun­tains, the av­er­age el­e­va­tion of the county is more than 4,000 me­ters, and it bor­ders Pokhara, one of the most scenic places in neigh­bor­ing Nepal.

A spe­cial group of peo­ple live in this county; they have been living in Gyirong val­ley for a cen­tury, but they had no na­tion­al­ity un­til 2003.

They have been iden­ti­fied as Ti­betan Chi­nese since 2003. Be­fore that, lo­cal Ti­betans called them Sokwa or Garmi, lit­er­ally mean­ing black­smith, and th­ese days they are known as the Tamak group.

Tamak means cav­al­ry­man, and rel­e­vant his­tor­i­cal records show that the Tamak group de­scend from Nepal’s Gurkha — once part of Nepalese forces.

When Gurkha in­vaded Ti­bet in 1791, a group of 100 sur­vivors could not re­turn to their moth­er­land, and they be­came to­day’s Tamak.

Lo­cal Ti­betans do not en­tirely agree with the leg­end; they be­lieve Tamak peo­ple are not descen­dants of the Gurkha.

Ti­betans be­lieve the group with South Asian fea­tures is Sokwa or Garmi; the bor­der Nepalese peo­ple call them Garmi as well.

“Be­fore 2003, we had no na­tion­al­ity; we were hav­ing a va­grant life that we had no houses, no land, no an­i­mals, and no schools,” said Gyaltso, 68, the old­est man in the vil­lage.

Ac­cord­ing to Gyaltso, when his fa­ther first came to Gyirong, he was only 13 years old, and he was born there af­ter­wards.

Gyaltso said they made a living by work­ing as black­smiths and ser­vants for Ti­betans, and per­formed work such as cul­ti­va­tion, har­vest­ing, herd­ing, car­pen­try and as couri­ers.

“The fam­ily pro­vides us food, but we were not al­lowed to have diet to­gether and live in their house; we were dis­crim­i­nated against,” he said in de­scrib­ing a typ­i­cal ex­is­tence for the Tamak in the past.

Since they were ac­cepted as Chi­nese cit­i­zens on May 5, 2003, they have been rec­og­nized as Ti­betan, and the lo­cal gov­ern­ment and peo­ple call them Tamak or Ta­mang.

Cur­rently, there are more than 50 house­holds with about 170 peo­ple in the Tamak vil­lage.

The vil­lagers speak Ti­betan, and most of them can speak Man­darin. A few el­ders speak some Nepali.

As their vil­lage has many out­siders com­ing for work, mar­riages be­tween Tamak and out­siders have be­come com­mon­place.

As Gyaltso said, their reli­gion is Ti­betan Bud­dhism, and their cus­toms are al­most the same as other Ti­betans. Tamak peo­ple are renowned as skilled black­smiths, and al­most ev­ery fam­ily has black­smithing tools.

Nor­mally, they make ar­ti­cles for daily use, such as pots, axes, knives, sick­les and bronze baldric of Ti­betan women.

The smithy is a sim­ple 10- square- me­ter hut. The lit­tle hut has a frame of sev­eral pieces of wood, a plank on top of the frame, and sev­eral heavy stones on top of the plank.

The smithy is a sim­ple struc­ture, but it is a hot spot in the vil­lage.

Lo­cal res­i­dents said that peo­ple come and go the whole day. A vil­lager with a piece of scrap iron may go to a black­smith at any time.

Apart from vil­lagers bring­ing raw ma­te­ri­als when they come to make a tool, they also come with bar­ley wine and other snacks.

“First, the vil­lagers have to make sure they of­fer enough bar­ley wine, food and cig­a­rettes to the black­smith, and they pay the bill at the end of the trade,” said Lhakpa Tser­ing, a res­i­dent in Gyirong.

Be­cause the group had no chance for nor­mal school ed­u­ca­tion un­til 2003, res­i­dents older than 25 are mostly il­lit­er­ate. Many of them can­not write their own names.

Cur­rently, the chil­dren in Tamak vil­lage have a right to re­ceive nor­mal school ed­u­ca­tion. More­over, they ben­e­fit from tu­ition waivers, free meals and board­ing.

Data show that the town­ship pri­mary school has more than 15 pupils, and some chil­dren from the vil­lage go to col­leges in other prov­inces.

In 2004, the gov­ern­ments of Ti­bet and Gyirong in­vested 1.47 mil­lion yuan ($239,374) for a hous­ing project in the Tamak vil­lage, and thanks to the project, all vil­lagers got their own houses in 2004.

With an in­vest­ment of 180,000 yuan by the gov­ern­ment of Xigaze, all fam­i­lies were equipped with hous­ing and daily ar­ti­cles.

PALDEN NY­IMA / CHINA DAILY NY­IMA / CHINA DAILY PALDEN

Gyaltso, 68, the old­est in Tamak vil­lage, said their reli­gion is Ti­betan Bud­dhism, and their cus­toms are al­most the same with other Ti­betans. Chil­dren of Tamak vil­lage now have a right to re­cieve nor­mal school ed­u­ca­tion with tu­ition waiver, free food and bor­d­ing.

PALDEN NY­IMA / CHINA DAILY

Vil­lagers of Gyirong county in Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion dance to wel­come vis­i­tors.

CHEN WEN­RONG / XIN­HUA

New houses have mush­roomed in Tamak vil­lage af­ter the Ta­maks were ac­cedpted as Chi­nese cit­i­zens on May 5, 2003. Be­fore, they had a va­grant life with no houses, land or schools.

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