Keeping Tibet’s nomadic lifestyles alive
Unlike many nomads in the remote grasslands of the Tibet autonomous region who embrace modern technology in their daily lives, Nyandan is a lover of antiques.
For more than a decade, the native of Amdo county has collected a variety of nomadic antiques in the northern Changthang grassland, from saddles and harnesses to jewelry and Tibetan carpet, products made of woven yak hair and silver knives.
“I feel like something is amiss if I don’t take at least one look at my collection each morning,” he said.
Thanks to the region’s rapid pace of social and economic development, as well as new advances in technology, an increasing number of traditional Tibetan goods are being replaced.
These same pressures mean once widespread local customs and oral traditions are also in decline.
In the 1990s, Nyandan was a Tibetan antiques merchant, collecting products from the grassland to sell in Lhasa, the region’s capital.
But since the 2000s, he has stopped selling the items he finds — opting to collect and preserve them instead.
“As a native nomad, I have loved nomadic culture since I was a young boy. I always loved stones and old nomadic objects,” the 46-year-old said.
In 2009, he was invited to work in Amdo county’s culture bureau as traditional culture preservation assistant, because he could speak Mandarin and loved traditional nomadic culture.
“I knew the importance of the culture, so I could act as an intermediary between the nomads and the government,” he said.
“Our ancestors created a magnificent culture through their daily life and work, and many of these products have become important cultural products today.”
As everyday objects fall out of use, knowledge of the techniques used to produce them also fades away, increasing their value and importance, said Nyandan.
His dream is to build an exhibition hall for Tibetan nomadic folk culture, so that he can put his collection on display.
“If possible, I would have it in Lhasa as the city is an attraction for many different kinds of people and the center of Tibetan culture,” he said.
The traditional nomadic way of life in Tibet has undergone many changes in recent years.
Horses, once the main form of transportation on the grassland beside yaks, have largely been replaced by motorized vehicles and are mostly kept today only for the region’s annual horse race festivals.
Meanwhile, the nomads’ diet, which was previously dominated by roasted barley flour and meat, has been enriched with all the different kinds of vegetables available at market.
“The fast pace of life nowadays is an obstacle to the continuation and preservation of these ancient nomadic cultural relics,” said Nyandan, adding that elements of folk culture such as folk tales, stories and riddles are disappearing as well.
“As a nomadic man myself, I consider it a great pity that our folk culture is vanishing,” he said.
Nyandan introduces his collection in the hall of the culture bureau of Amdo county.