Tibet’s Tamaks known for blacksmithing
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.
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.
Villagers of Gyirong county in Tibet autonomous region dance to welcome visitors.
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.