Clans And Tribes Organization Essay
This essay will attempt to explore in a preliminary fashion the organizations of the families of clans and tribes in Tibet, naming the different tribes and discussing some of the social caste divisions found in modern Lhasa. Introduction
Traditionally, Tibetan society is composed of two loose groupings: agriculturalists and nomads or pastoralists, although on the lands that are suitable for both types of activities hybrid farmer-herders dwell.
Perhaps related to this phenomenon, clans would generally consolidate their power in one valley or area, either deriving their name from that place, or subsequently bequeathing their family name to the place.
Dan Martin refers to them as the "Great Families."
Kings would marry several wives or consorts, usually one from each powerful family, in order to promote unity within the clans and prevent infighting, essentially by giving them a stake in the future of the throne through their offspring.
Much conniving and catfighting still ensued, however, as mothers and maternal uncles of the heirs fought to secure the throne for their progeny.
Traditional Account of the Origin of the Ancestral Tribes
According to the Tibetan myth describing the origins of the human race, the Tibetan people are descended from a monkey (their father, the embodiment of Avalokitesvara or Chenrezig) and a rock demoness (their mother, the embodiment of Tara).
As a result of this union, the major ancestral tribes of Tibet were formed, each tribe descending from one of these sons. Descent Narratives
However, through the descent narrative the clan is given not only a pedigree but the authority deriving from their divine nature. In a sense this can be viewed as a form of branding, in that the clan has reinforced their image and packaged it for presentation.
Early Western Anthropology/Ethnology
The latter record is a fairly close copy of the former.
Relying on these assessments without examination is somewhat problematic as the Chinese records speak from the point of view of their standards of civilization, tending to barbarianize the practices of the tribes which are discussed.
The T’u-ku-hun were a people who lived west of Koko-nor.
They are described as having constructed cities but abandoning them for favor of tents so they could migrate with their herds.
They ate barley and millet and had many yaks (R2, 20).
The Tanghsiang is the second large group, with its own subdivisions of large and small families according to the size of the herds.
They made yak tents and herded yaks, goats, and sheep (R2, 21)
The Kingdom of Su-pi or Nu Guo (Chinese for 'kingdom of women') is an area dominated politically and socially by women, which is stressed throughout the account (R2, 23) but has never been since proven to exist in a historical sense.
There are generally myths associated with each clan or tribe connecting them to the traditional accounts of the Tibetan people's ancestor Trido (khri do) and his three sons, Lepa (le pa), Linpa (glin pa), and Nubpa (nub pa).
The Se (se), closely associated with the Azha (a zha) tribe (R, 24)
The Ba (sbra or dbra) (R, 25)
The Dön (ldon, ‘don, gdon, sdon) (R, 31) associated with Minak (mi gnag) (R, 31)
The Tön (ston, gton, don) associated with Sumpa (sum pa) (R, 41)
The Ga (lga, sga, rga, dga’) (R, 46)
The Dru ('bru) divided into white, black and mixed (R, 48)
The Ma or Mu (smra, rma, dmu, rmu, smu) which corresponds with the clan name of the founder of Bon (R, 50)
The Wa and Da (dpa, zla) (R, 66)
The Go (sGo) (R, 70)
As her sources, she draws heavily on Goldstein's anthropological work as well as Ugen Gombo's (although clarifying somewhat their organization of the material), and also a Chinese journal named "Xizang Renmin Chubanshe."
This 1987 journal explores the different minorities of Tibet and is held in higher esteem than most Chinese sources (which are normally seen as incorporating government propaganda) due to the fact that there is no translation in English.
It was undertaken using China's 1950 survey of its' nationalities.
She argues that conceptions of clan's relations involve not only birth place (skye sa) but conceptions of knowledge holding and preservation, wherein the nobles act as keepers of high Tibetan culture.
Fjeld follows Gombo in stating that Goldstein must have elided the last two categories into one.
Taxpayers (trel pa) : free citizens who have rights
Inside (trel pa nang) : held contracts from nobles or monasteries to land
Outside (trel pa phyi) : outside of the land administered by the government, held rights to own land without obligations to work others' land (F, 26)
Duchung (dud chung) : held individual leases to the land, possibly lifelong, were entitled to the products of cultivation, paid taxes to the contract holder who owned the land, obliged to work on landlord's land
Mibog (mi bog) : Lease persons who didn't have contracts, received food without being bound to the land.
Serfs: no contracts, worked for food/shelter, belonged to lords’ house through same-sex descent, could be lifebound (tshe yog) (F, 27)
Due to the Tibetan idea that mouth contact and pollution are related, there are restrictions observed by some from interacting with certain classes considered unclean because of their occupations:The prohibitions observed include not eating with these groups, not sharing cups (mouth contact) and abstaining from sexual relations.
This is also due to the fact that these occupations are considered unclean by Buddhist standards because they involve killing or removing precious metals from the earth and thereby disturbing the lurking elemental forces (F, 28).
Fjeld observes that currently this practice is not rigidly observed and castes may intermingle and even intermarry.
The six Yabshi (yab shis): families into which Dalai Lamas have been born and descendents therefrom
The four Depön (de pon): descendents of historically important figures
The eighteen Midrag (mi drag): held political postitions
The majority, the Gerpa (ger pa): not usually holding political positions, become administrators of estates