DHARAMSHALA: Around 40 tourists and local Tibetans attended a talk by Mr. Gabriel Lafitte at the Tibet Museum in Mcleod Ganj on 19 November. The talk “Is the Nomadic way of life coming to an end?” was organised by the Tibet Museum, Department of Information and International Relations. (Watch video of full talk)
Tibetan nomads have lived on the Tibetan plateau in their traditional nomadic lifestyle for the past 9000 years. For centuries, the Tibetan nomads and herders have successfully maintained a sustainable and mobile lifestyle, traveling from winter to summer pasture lands and from autumn to spring pasture lands. The grasslands on the Tibetan plateau represent one of the last remaining agro-pastoral regions in the world. The mobility of Tibetan nomads and the sustainable land-use have made the Tibetan landscape humanly habitable for many centuries.
Mr Lafitte said that “To me, the Tibetan nomads are the foundation of the whole Tibetan civilization.” Even His Eminence the Karmapa is also born to a family of nomads in the remote highlands of the Tibetan plateau, he said.
He also mentioned that the greatest historic achievement of Tibetan nomads can be compared to pastro-nomads of other countries in the world which all tend to share few common characteristics such as they all live in dry land , an area not wet enough to sustain agriculture and areas where the climate is extremely unpredictable. Nomads are specialist in living off uncertainty and unpredictability. Moreover by todays standard, extensive land use that characterise the achievement of Tibetan nomads would be regarded as simply a waste of time.
He also presented few contemporary arts depicting the nomadic way of life capturing their love of grassland, nomadic lifestyle and the influence of Chinese version of modernity on Tibetan nomads, including the art of Tibetan Drogma by a very famous Tibetan artist in Tibet name Dadon expressing her love of grasslands.
To plunge into the daily life of Tibetan nomads, Gabriel suggested that the documentary ‘Summer Pasture’ is really helpful in understanding the way of life of nomad which is under threat.
“In the name of modernisation, the Chinese authorities levied the policy of forcibly migrating the nomads and resettling them to newly constructed concrete settlements regarding it as the first step to modernity. In reality there are hardly any promised services materialised. They are deprived of all the basic necessities, vocational training , schooling for their children, employment and leaving them lead a life of dependency. People have basically nothing to do. Their traditional skills have long gone. They spend their time playing snookers and gambling. The failed Chinese policies have turned these Tibetan nomad into a complete human waste,” He said.
As China now insist on modernising the nomad, it insist on inducting them into the world of the straight line. They push them towards contemporary kind of mobility while the traditional kind of mobility is cancelled. Nomads were forced to move into places of resettlement camps considering it as the first step to modernity insisting on the importance of straight line.
China has defined nomads as existence of life little better than the life of animal. From the Chinese point of view, the crucial distinction between civilised and the barbarian is that civilised person shuts their animals in a pin and brings food to the animals and uncivilised person let their animals find their own feed and follow their animal. A lot hangs on these definitions of barbarism.
He frequently meets many Chinese experts, professors and scientists who have never been to Tibet and they rely on interpreting data generated by satellites which enable them to rule the grasslands.
On one hand Tibet is losing its self-sufficiency in food as the land has been depopulated and miners are moving into the depopulated areas. Meanwhile Tibet is also major source of meat production. With the high inflow of Chinese migrants, growing chinese towns and cities in Tibet animals are feeded on the grains and imported American soyabeans so that they gain maximum weight. The nomads are simply are surplus to modernity who are no longer needed. The existence of nomad is now considered something of embarrassment.
‘Is the nomadic way of life of Tibet coming to an end’ is a question of great concern. It is a high time to save the very foundation of Tibetan civilization which is under threat, he concluded.
Gabriel Lafitte has worked with Tibetans since 1977, most recently as a trainer for the Tibet Policy Institute and Environment Desk of the Central Tibetan Administration. After staying with nomads in Tibet, he discovered a skilful way of life that uses the vast grasslands of Tibet productively and sustainably. Gabriel is now working on a book and website that will comprehensively explore the lives of nomads now required to abandon their lands and herds, and live utterly dependant on the state for everything, in new concrete settlements. Gabriel is based in Australia, but a frequent visitor to Dharamsala. He is also author of: Spoiling Tibet: China and Resource Nationalism on the Roof of the World, from Zed Books, which was launched recently in Dharamsala.
He firmly believes that depopulating the Tibet is the best word he can think of to define a process that has been instituted by the Chinese state after sixty years of experimenting with how to socially engineer the modernity of grasslands which he would argue have generally resulted in nomads getting poorer and poorer, becoming more and more marginal even Tibetan culture becoming more marginal as well.