Overview of Tibet's Lhoba people
Can you imagine a whole community of people going around barefooted on a daily basis, in this day in age? Or try to imagine men carrying a sword around at all times, and women expertly weaving clothes, each for her own family. How about a culture who bases their calendar on their women's monthly cycle?? Far from an ancient, lost culture, the Lhoba people of Tibet continue their unique and time-honored culture even to this day!
'Lhoba' is an obscure term to many, but actually, the Lhoba are one of China's 56 ethnic groups and the term loosely identifies parts of southeastern Tibetan Autonomous Region where the Lhoba people reside. Most of the 2,300 people of the Lhoba minority live in Mainling, Medog, Lhunze and Nangxian counties of southeastern Tibet, while a few live in Luoyu, a small area of Tibet on the border with India.
Customs and Dress
From among these two geographic segments of Lhoba tribespeople living in Tibet, there are three distinct dialects that are spoken among them: Idu Mishmi, Bokar (Adi) , and Na (Bengni). The different Lhoba clans have differing customs, while all Lhoba people also share unique traits and customs that have come to define the Lhoba.
Lhoba houses are divided into a number of rooms for common use by the family members of the household and a fireplace occupies the center of the main room, around which the married family members sleep at night, while unmarried girls and boys sleep in separate rooms. One unique cultural taboo is that the wooden pillow belonging to the head of the house is not allowed to be used as seat by anyone, and guests are not allowed to enter the room which the master of the house uses to store his personal things.
The Lhoba men in Luoyu wear knee-length black robe without sleeves and buttons made out of sheep's wool, and they wear helmet-like hats made from either bearskin or woven bamboo strips laced with bearskin. They also wear ornamental earrings, necklaces made of beads, and bamboo plugs inserted into the ear lobe.
Lhoba men usually carry a sword or dagger and shields made of buffalo hide, and wear waterproof cane helmets on top of a braided knot of hair. Their weaponry includes straight Tibetan swords, daggers, and even bows and poisoned arrows.
Luoyu Lhoba Tibetan women wear narrow-sleeved blouses and earth tone skirts of sheep's wool. They also wear colorful adornments and a load of jewelry and metal trinkets. The weighty ornamentation worn by the women is a symbol of their wealth, and can include shells, silver coins, iron chains or bells, and silver or brass earrings. The women of these Lhoba tribes are expert weavers and make excellent coats and blouses.
Despite all the ornate jewelry, accessories, and decoration, both sexes usually go barefoot.
Lhoba cuisine varies across the regions they reside in, but some of the more common staple foods are dumplings made of maize or millet flour, rice, and buckwheat. In places near other Tibetan communities, the Lhoba have learned to eat tsampa, potatoes, buttered tea and spicier foods.
Many Lhoba are also smokers and heavy drinkers, such that Lhoba celebrations, like the celebration of bountiful harvests or seeking good luck for the upcoming planting season, are usually smoky, rowdy affairs with much wine and singing. Though the Lhoba are mostly farmers, they will barter and trade with neighboring Tibetans - trading goods like animal hides, musk, bear paws, dyes, and trapped game for farm tools, salt, wool, clothing items, grains, and tea from Tibetan traders.
As a result of constant trading with other Tibetan peoples, they have been increasingly influenced by Tibetans in their style of dress, and indeed, many Lhoba have even converted to the dominant Tibetan Buddhism of the region. In recent years, there has even been increased trading with Buddhist monasteries, causing even more mixing of their indigenous animist beliefs, which elevate the status of the tiger, with the prevalent Buddhist beliefs. Apart from these Buddhist similiarities and observances, the Lhoba also have their own unique festivals, such as Reh, when they seek to appease deities who were believed can control the peace and prosperity of the people.
The Lhoba people of Tibet are a small yet noteworthy part of of Tibet's ethnic landscape, living around and among the more well known Tibetan majority. When trekking on your next overland Tibetan adventure, look for the barefoot Lhoba along the way!
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Consider the following tours through areas where the Lhoba live today: