William Woodville Rockhill.

The land of the lamas; notes of a journey through China, Mongolia and Tibet online

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with the fingers closed, and say Ange above sea level. This agrees well

tumbo re, " It is the thumb," i. e., it is with previous observations. Prjeval-

the first. Second class is expressed sky, some twenty miles west of this

by holding up the index with the re- point, makes its altitude 13,100 feet ;

mark.4»M7e'ra/i&an?;andsoondownto and A K , at Tuden gomba

the little finger, which means that it (Ch'ttde' gomba?), some thirty miles

is the poorest of all, Fa-ma re, " It is lower down, 11,975 feet,
the last."


snow caused us much discomfort, though we wore the
horsehair eye-shades used in the country, 1 and by the time
we made camp in the Ranyik Valley, three of us were
nearly blind. The descent from the Taglung la, the highest
pass crossed on the whole journey, was comparatively
easy, though the valley for the first few miles was covered
with small angular stones, over which the jaded horses
stumbled and slid. Near the head of the Zonyik Valley
we saw a herd of some twelve argali, but the snow was
so deep, and any exertion so exhausting, that I did not
even attempt to get a shot at them. These were the only
specimens of this kind of sheep I saw in Tibet proper,
although I was told that they were common in the wilder
gorges along the Dre ch'u.

Leaving the Ranyik lung-ba, where it took a south-
easterly direction, we climbed the next day the Nyi-ch'en
la (altitude, 16,450 feet), on which we found a great deal of
snow, and, a few miles on its south side, entered the valley
in which is Jyekundo. When about two miles south of
the pass, we stopped near some tents to eat our midday
meal. We had hardly lit our fire, when a man and a
woman came to us, and offered me a little bucketful of sour
milk, some fresh butter and cheese. This pleased my men
immensely; they said it augured well for the reception
we would receive at Jyekundo, for nothing, they hold,
is a better omen, than to receive a present on arriving
at or nearing the journey's end. In this connection I
am reminded of another popular superstition of Tibet.
If a person on going out, meets another carrying an empty
pail or bowl, he will turn back, for it is a bad sign; but if
the first person he meets, carrying anything, has his bowl
or bucket full, it is a sign of good luck and very often

J-See illustration, p. 175.


he will give the bearer a k'atag or a small present. In the
same order of ideas may be classed this people's custom of
always putting something in a vase, bowl, or pitcher when
making a present of it, for to give it empty would be
unlucky. 1

Some six or eight miles below these tents we saw, after
rounding a rather sharp bend in the road, the brightly
colored walls of the lamasery of Jyekundo, crowning
a high, steep hill, at the foot of which was an irregular
mass of flat-roofed, mud-plastered houses, composing the
town, and looking like old brick kilns. 2 Behind the lama-
sery rose precipitous mountains of dark slaty rocks, with
here and there stunted juniper and cedar trees growing
in the clefts ; and farther away a long line of snow-clad
peaks, an eastern continuation of the range I had re-
cently crossed. Below the village the river flowed swiftly
by, through a grassy bottom, where herds of yak and
ponies were grazing; and women were trudging back-
ward and forward between the river and the town, carry-
ing barrels of water on their backs. Altogether it was
a pretty place, and I looked forward to a week or two
of rest in it with great pleasure, but was doomed to dis-

We took up our lodgings in the courtyard of a house
belonging to a young woman to whom an admiring T'ung-
shih had given it, and tried to make ourselves as comfort-
able as possible under a broad shed which covered one side
of it. Hardly had we started the fire to boil our tea than
the yard was filled with people eager to see what goods

1 When selling grain or flour, the " Embassy to the Court of the Teshoo
vender puts back a little in the meas- lama," p. 215 : " The peasant's home
ure, so as "not to cut the root of is of a mean construction, and resem-
trade" {tsa che ma-nyori). bles a brick kiln, in shape and size,

2 Captain Turner, I find, made this more exactly than anything to which
comparison as far back as 1783. See I can compare it."



we had for sale, for, learning that we were not traveling on
official business, they concluded that we must be traders.
My people told them that I was a T'ung-shih on rny way
to Ssii-ch'uan, but the fact of my traveling without ula
puzzled them not a little ; this was
something they had not been accus-
tomed to, an official traveling at his
own expense and paying for all he
required! Fortunately none of them
had ever seen a foreigner, so, though
my features were not like those of
work). the men with me, they never imag-

ined that I was anything else than a Chinese, but one
from some remote part of the empire with which they
were not acquainted. My men did their best to keep them
in this opinion, feeling that on my safety depended then-
own. Fortunately, also, there were in the town some
ten or eleven Chinese traders from Ta-chien-lu, and also
one of the party of my fellow-traveler in the Ts'aidam,
Fu T'ung-shih, and they exerted themselves to their
utmost to dispel the suspicions of the people and lamas,
and to further my plans. As soon as they found out that
I was not an official who could or would squeeze them,
they came promptly to see me, and having arranged
a uniform story to tell the people, went and spread it
about the town. The Hsi-ning Chinaman said he had
known me for years, and that if any discourtesy was
shown me it would certainly bring them trouble.

As far as the people were concerned, this was enough ;
they soon became very friendly and were eager to do
anything I desired. We luckily bought from some of the
natives enough tsamba and butter to last for a day or
two, and also hay for our horses ; for on the morrow the


courtyard was empty, and one of my new friends came and
told us that the chief, or Ponbo, of the district, who was
also the abbot of the lamasery, suspecting me of being a
spy from the fact that I was not provided with the pass
from the Hsi-ning Amban which all travelers from China
carry with them, had issued orders forbidding any one
trading with me. Whoever disobeyed was to be severely
beaten, or, if a lama, his nose and ears were to be slit,
and a reward of ten bricks of tea was to be given to
the informer. As a reason for these orders, the Ponbo
said that it had been revealed to him by his books on
divination that I was a man deeply versed in magic art,
with the power of bringing back to me, within three
days, any money or goods paid by me to others, to my
own great profit and their manifest loss. Hence these
measures were necessary for the people's protection.
This taboo was to be in vigor until he could return from
Tendo, for which town he started at once to consult with
other chiefs on his future action. This gave me eight
days of respite in which to decide on some plan for con-
tinuing my journey southward, for in less time than that
he could not possibly return.

Jyekundo (altitude 12,930 feet) is at the confluence of
two small streams whose united waters empty into the Dre
ch'u not many miles to the east of the town. The larger
of these two streams comes from the south, and is called
the Pach'i ch'u; the name of the other, which flows from
the west, I did not learn. The town contains about one
hundred families (400 persons), 1 some three hundred lamas,
and a floating population of several hundred in which are
a number of Chinese and fifteen Mongols with their wives.

1 The number of children in Tibetan families rarely exceeds two. That of
Nam-ts'o Pur-dung, in which there were six, was considered abnormally large.


A few miles south of the town is another lamasery,
Changi gomba, with some 300 inmates, and in the little
valleys in the vicinity there are, perhaps, from fifty to
seventy-five tents and scattered houses, all of which may
be counted in with this town, which is the chef-lieu of a
semi-independent district. 1

The importance of Jyekundo from a strategic and
commercial point of view is considerable, as fairly good
roads (for Tibet) radiate from it all over the country. 2
Commercially considered it is a distributing point for the
Chinese trade in the northeastern part of K'amdo, and is
the only town in that region where Chinese merchants are
allowed to reside. The trade of this place, though large
for the country, is not valuable; yak hides, lambskins,
musk, gold dust, a few deer horns (lu jung, in Chinese),
and a little wool are the principal exports to China. Only
a small part of the tea trade is in the hands of the Chi-
nese, nearly every native that owns a bunch of yak
engaging in it more or less. To judge from the stock in

1 The Mongols referred to on p. 205 reaches Lh'asa in nine days. Another
are sent to Jyekundo by order of leads to Ch'amdo, in about ten days,
the Hsi-ning Amban to learn Tib- Still anotherpasses by Tumbumdo and
etan, act as an escort to Chinese Tendo, and going through the Golok
officials, and look after the ula from country comes to Sung-p'an t'ing in
the Ts'aidam. They remain here for northwestern Ssu-ch'uan. The capital
three years, and have official rank. of Derge is reached from Jyekundo
There are two from Dsiin Ts'aidam, insixdays,andfromthattownBat'ang
two from Koko Beileh, three from is only eight days farther south.

Taichiner, one from Am6 dsassak, A K gives the name of this

two from Tolmukgun (Mohamme- town as Kegedo, but no one recognized

dans), one each from Erk6 Beileh, this. It is sometimes called Jyek'or,

Wangka, Mori wang, and Dungkor- but the name is probably written

wa (Tankar). Hgyas rgyun mdo, pronounced Jya-

2 The most important road starting gun-do. The termination do, mean-
fi'om this point is that leading to ing "confluence, a pair," is frequently
Ta-chien-lu in Ssu-ch'uan, which I pronounced da in eastern Tibet, and
followed. Another leads across the possibly go, as in Lagargo. Kou,
steppes on the west to Nag eh'u-k'a, another frequent termination in
where it meets the " northern route " names of places, appears to mean
(ehang lam) from Hsi-ning, and thence ' ' stream or valley."



trade of the Chinese at Jyekundo, the wants of the people
are few and inexpensive ; lastings, shirtings, flour, tea,
vinegar, red leather, tobacco, and ehinaware are the prin-
cipal goods sold or exchanged by them for the products

The copperware and saddlery used in the country are
manufactured at the capital of Derge (Derge dron-cher), or
at Lit'ang, and the few pieces of ironware required come
from Ta-chien-lu. Traders from Lh'asa visit Jyekundo
every year when on their way to Ta-chien-lu, and supply
it and the whole of eastern Tibet with cloth (truk), out
of which the gowns of the wealthier class and all lamas'
clothes are made.

The Chinese traders are mostly Shen-hsi men from near
Hsi-an Fu. They are known in western China as lao-
shan, and are by far the most enterprising of their class
in northern and western China. They are authorized to




trade in Tibet by the authorities of Ssii-eh'uan, who
grant them yearly permits, a system un fortunately not
known to the Kan-su officials, who by their forty days'


permits have stifled all trade between their people and
Tibetans and Mongols. These Chinese are mostly agents
of Ta-chien-lu houses, and reside permanently at Jye-
kundo, several of them at the time of my visit having
been there for the last five years. The profits of the
trade are, they assured me, considerable, but the uncertain
tempers and general untrustworthiness of the natives,
who from one moment to another change from best of
friends to bitterest foes, make their sojourn among them
a most uncomfortable one.

From this point on my journey until I reached
Ta-chien-lu, Chinese silver bullion was not received;
only Indian rupees were current. When a smaller piece
of money was needed, which did not frequently occur,
at least in my case, rupees were chopped in half or
quartered. I had considerable difficulty in inducing the
lao-shan traders to exchange forty or fifty taels of silver
for coin, as they assured me it was absolutely of no
use to them unless they found some one wanting it
to make ornaments. My gold, purchased at Peking for
Tls. 20 an ounce, was here at such an extremely low price,
Tls. 13 or 12.5 an ounce, that I had to keep it. 1

Gold-washing is one of the commonest occupations
throughout the country, as every stream seems to contain

1 In eastern Tibet rupees are discount. When counting money, Tib-
called either by their Chinese name, etans dispose it in piles of five coins
yang-ch'ien, i. e., "foreign coin," or each, but I could not learn what unit
p'iling gomo with exactly the same five rupees represented,
meaning, go-mo (sgor-mo) signifying As to the price of goods in this local-
"a flat disk" — not "woman's face,'' ity, musk sold for twenty rupees a cod
as E. C. Baber was told (see " Travels of about an ounce weight, tea (shing-ja,
and Eesearches in West China," p. i. e., wood tea — more wood than tea)
198). A rupee is valued by the Chinese one rupee a brick of about five pounds,
at Tl. 0.3.2 or 0.3.1. The trmika of wheat flour twenty-seven rupees a
Lh'asa, worth Tl. 0.1.5, known as Chinese bushel (fo«)>tsambaor barley
gadan trarika from the name of the three quarts (a s7fe»!r7) for a rupee, gold
mint at Gadan gomba, is not current dust forty to forty-five rupees an
in eastern Tibet except at a heavy ounce, sheep three to four rupees a


in its sands particles of the precious metal ; and, though
the quantity collected by any individual washer is un-
doubtedly small, the total amount procured annually can-
not fail to be of great value. When passing at Zonyik
ch'iirten, on the Dre ch'u, I saw a man trudging along
with a gold- washer's cradle on his back, and, entering into
conversation with him, learnt that he was going home
after four days' work on the bank of the river. He told
me that he had been fairly successful, so I asked him to
show me his gold. He opened the needle-case hanging by
his side, and, taking out a little cotton rag, exhibited about
ten cents' worth of gold dust mixed with a considerable
quantity of hornblende.

Mining is not allowed in Tibet, as there exists a deep-
rooted superstition, carefully fostered by the lamas, that
if nuggets of gold are removed from the earth no more
gold will be found in the river gravels, the nuggets being
the roots or plants whereof the gold dust is the grains
or flowers. 1

head, horses seventy-five to a hundred "All the streams and hills in the

rupees, Chinese blue or white cotton Li-t'ang district contain gold dust [lit-

a fathom for one rupee. The only erally, bran gold and sand gold], but

foreign goods for sale 'were shirtings the lamas will not allow the people to

and lastings (the latter known to collect it, fearing lest the vitalizing

the Tibetans as yii-ling, their Chinese fluids of the earth (t'i-ch'i) be perni-

name). Tibetans measure by to, or ciously affected thereby." William

span; tru, or cubit (from the elbow de Rubruk, op. «'t,p.289,evidentlyre-

to the end. of the middle finger), and fers to this superstition when he says :

domba, a fathom (both arms stretched "Isti (Tebet) [sic] habent multum

to full length) . Apiece of native cloth de auro in terra sua, unde qui indiget

has usually nine domba in it. Their auro fodit donee reperiat, et aeeipit

scales are the ordinary Chinese steel- quando indiget, residuum recondens

yard, for which they use the Chi- in terra. Quia si reponeret in the-

nese name c/io-feM. For dry measures sauro vel in area, credit quod Deus

they have one corresponding approxi- auferret ei aliud quod est in terra."

mately to the Chinese slieng and called See also Appendix, on the origin of

bo ; a 60 full of anything is, however, precious metals in Tibet, as described

called k'ci (Jc'al). in native works. The Chinese have

1 A Chinese description of Lit'ang, very similar ideas about mining or

"Li-t'ang chih liieh," p. 18, says: digging in the earth.




The occupations of the people of Jyekundo, and of all
the other towns and villages I visited in this country, are
few, simple, and as a general rule not very irksome. The


women weave a narrow woolen stuff called la-wa, the finer
qualities being used undyed to make summer gowns, and
the coarser to make bags ; they also manufacture boots, the
soles of raw hide, the vamps of leather or coarse cotton, the
tops of colored pulo, usually red and green for women, and
red or variegated for men. But " packing " water up from
the river, spreading out and drying yak dung for fuel,
parching and grinding tsamba, and sewing clothes, are their
every-day occupations. The pursuits of the men are con-
fined to distant journeys on their own accounts or simply
as yak-drivers, to hunting musk-deer, and washing gold —
in which latter the women participate. A very few men
are smiths, making silver or gold ornaments, 1 repairing
guns, kettles, saddles, etc. ; but the best silversmiths are
found in the lamaseries, where they make vessels for

1 The chatelaine in the cut on p. 166 was made at this place. The iron
seal in the same cut is a very fine piece of Dergt5 workmanship.


church service, images of gods, etc. There, also, may be
found wonderful illuminators and copyists, and men able
to do any kind of work, tailoring, printing, sculpturing,
and doctoring.

It is not too much to say that more than half of the
time of nearly every man in the country is spent away
from his home, and this renders the custom of one woman
marrying several brothers less objectionable than it would
be in a richer country where the conditions of life are
different. Polyandry is perhaps the most striking antith-
esis between the pastoral and the agricultural Tibetans.
Chinese authors have ascribed its origin to the superior
physical and mental faculties of the women, an explana-
tion which would hardly meet with the approval of anthro-
pologists, however correct may be the premises from
which they start.

Prom what natives have told me and from my personal
observations, which show that polyandry exists only in
agricultural districts, I am able to offer a plausible and
probably accurate explanation of the prevalence of this
curious custom. The tillable lands are of small extent
and are all under cultivation, so it is extremely difficult
for any one to add to his fields, which as a general rule
produce only enough to support one small family. If at the
death of the head of the family the property was divided
among the sons, there would not be enough to supply
the wants of all of them if each had a wife and family.
Moreover, the paternal abode would not accommodate
them. The secular experience of the whole human race
showing that several families cannot live in peace and
concord under the same roof, the only solution of the
problem in this case was for the sons of a family to take
one wife among them, by which means their ancestral


estate remained undivided, and they also saved considera-
ble money. 1

Among the nomads, where existence is not dependent
on the produce of the soil, where herds of yak and flocks
of sheep and goats are ever increasing and supply all
their owner's wants, this necessity of preserving the fam-
ily property undivided can never have existed. Hence
we find polyandry unknown among them ; monogamy,
and perhaps a very few cases of polygamy, is the rule
where they are found.

Families are generally small in Tibet, three or four
children, but more generally two. One or more children
in every family enter the church, and as there are very
few nuns (at least in eastern Tibet), the numbers of women


and men are probably about equal. So while polyan-
drous marriages are frequently met with, they are not, I
believe, by any means as numerous as we have been led
to suppose. In Derge, the most thoroughly agricultural
region in K'amdo, polyandry is the most prevalent, but
there, as in other regions, polygamy is also met with
among the richer classes. If it be furthermore remem-
bered that temporary marriages are recognized through-
out Tibet, whether contracted for six months, a month,
or perhaps a week, and that these unions are not held
immoral, we may safely assert that, as regards their
marriage relations, this people are little removed from
promiscuity, which is but "indefinite polyandry joined
with indefinite polygamy." 2
The offspring from these polyandrous marriages treat

1 This explanation of polyandry is on the primitive unregulated state of

not offered as elucidating its origin, savage tribes. See Herbert Spencer,

but rather its continuance in the " Principles of Sociology," H, 645.

country. Its remote origin is, I be- 2 Herbert Spencer, op. cit, II, 642.
lieve, rightly ascribed as an advance


as father whomever their mother teaches them to recog-
nize by that name ; the other husbands are the children's
" uncles." l Family names are unknown in Tibet, and
children are spoken of as of such and such a woman;
hardly ever is the father's name mentioned.

"Whatever be the marriage customs prevailing in a
locality the wife is procured by purchase, as among the
tribes of the Koko-nor, and as soon as the woman has
entered the home of her husband she assumes control of
nearly all his affairs ; no buying or selling is done except
by her or with her consent and approval. She is the
recognized head of the house. This preeminent position
of women in Tibetan society has been from of old one of
the peculiarities of this race, of which parts have fre-
quently been governed by women, as evidenced by the
history of the state of eastern Tibet, called Nil Kuo by
Chinese historians, where a queen always ruled, the male
population being only warriors and tillers of the soil. 2 At
the present day the large principality of Po-mo, near
Sung-p'an t'ing, is governed by a queen. 3 Tibetan polyg-

1 It is interesting to note that also that of the early Christian mis-
while the Tibetan language is com- sionaries in the country. ThusGeorgi,
paratively rich in words expressing "Alphabetum Tibetanum," p. 458
father, mother, brothers, in relation (quoting probably Father Andrada),
to age or to sisters, uncles, and aunts, says of it : "Ab hoe turpitudinis genere
it has only one for " nephew or alieni sunt viri nobiles, et cives
niece" — and this is also used for honesti." Orazio della Penna, "Breve
grandson and granddaughter — and Notizia del Regno del Tibet," p. 71,
none to express "cousin." The word speaks as follows: "E circa limaritaggi
pon (spun), " brothers, or brothers and tra le persone non molto comode vi e
sisters," is sometimes used to express un pessimo abuso, non pero ordmato
this relationship. della legge, ma introdotto dall' abuso,

2 See Appendix, infra. ehe quanti fratelli sono in una casa

3 Many learned and worthy lamas pigliano una sol moglie per tutti, at-
whom I have questioned on the sub- tribuendosi la prole aquello, di cui la
ject of polyandry have assured me donna asserisce di aver conceputo, ma
that it is a sinful practice, solely questo ordinariamente non succede
attributable to the very lax morality of tra persone nobili e comode, quali
the people, and by no means a recog- prendano una moglie sola, e talim
nized institution. This opinion was grandepiud'una, ma diraro." Female



amy is, as previously remarked, confined to the wealthier
class and principally the chiefs, and has been introduced
by intercourse with China and India. 1

Before dropping the question of Tibetan women, I
must note one of their most peculiar and objectionable
habits, that of smearing their faces with a thick black
paste, composed of grease and cutch, called teu-ja. 2 They
say they use it as salve to protect their skins from the
dry wind which would chap them and make them rough.
The lamas tell another story : they say that Demo Bin-

Online LibraryWilliam Woodville RockhillThe land of the lamas; notes of a journey through China, Mongolia and Tibet → online text (page 16 of 31)