Baima Tibetan: living in a Earthly Heaven
A friend of me living in Aba Autonomous Prefecture, He Wentao once told me that if you wanted to know about the whole Tibetan nationality, you must learn about Baima Tibetan in Jiuzhaigou, Aba Prefecture, which boasts a long history and rich culture. When you visit there, you’ll find it a goldmine full of national and provincial culture heritages, especially the Meadow village there.
I always collect inspirations in Tibetan region, but I know no more than that Baima Tibetans always wear a flouncing white felt hat with a white feather on it. Comparing with the rich culture of Baima Tibetan, what I know seems kind of ignorant.
In the Dragon Boat Day, 2012, my friend Li Ping and I flied to Jiuzhaigou to visit the holy land for Baima Tibetans, the Meadow village. Before our travel, we failed to find the exact location of the place. In the Jiuhuang Airport, we got the help of the local government and finally find the village. So if you want to go there, you do need to follow a guide to the treasure of culture hiding in the deep of woods. The original road from Jiuzhaigou to the Meadow village was collapsed, so you have to detour to Wen County in Gansu Province. Driving for more than 40 km in the Jiuzhaigou-Wen County Highway and turning right at the bridge of Hannan village, Shijiba for 6 km, you’ll find the Meadow village.
The Meadow Village lies in the valley of the Baishui River basin of the Daminshan Mountains in the eastern part of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, bordering upon the famous Jiuzhaihou Scenic Area. Water in the Baishui River pours down from the high hills, constantly running like a winding Hatha. Hundreds of mountains stand around the village, with ravines and gullies criss-cross. Due to Baima people’s protection and care, the Meadow village maintains a good ecological environment-the high mountains are clothed with green and luxuriant primeval forests and booming flowers; singing birds can be heard everywhere; the fruits of walnuts and pears are dangling on the branches; cold breeze brings freshness during summer. The height of the village is only 1400 meters that is fit for holidays and the idyllic beauty is so poetic that inspires people to remind of the poets of Tao Yuanming, a well-known idyllist.
Baima actually comes from Chinese; while in Tibetan language, it refers to “Beima”. “Bei” is what BaimaTibetans call themselves; “Ma” means soldiers or army; therefore, “Beima” means Tibetan army. The main landscape features of the Meadow village are steep mountains, long deep gorges, lush woods and rapid rivers so that people can only settle alongside the rivers, on the hillsides and in the gorges, which can be seen from the distribution of Baima people. In a broad sense, Baima Tibetan refers to Tibetan living in Meadow and Wujiao Village in Jiuzhai County, Muzuo and Mupi Village in Pingwu County and Shijiba and Tielou Village in Wen County, etc. The whole Baima nationality now has a population of about 40,000. However, the real origin and the clan problem of Baima Tibetan still remains a heated issue in the academic circle, which I knew from some scholars who specialized in the study of it, for the reason that Baima people don’t have their own written language, though their oral language is quite similar to other Tibetan languages, which results in its word-of-mouth culture.
A widely accepted version of the Baima Tibetan origin is that when the Tubo (one branch of the ancient Tibetan) army arrived in this region, they called themselves “Beima”, which gradually became the general designation of all people settled there, including Han people. In the Tang Dynasty, as the Princess Wencheng, a niece of the Emperor Taizong of Tang Dynasty, married Songtsän Gampo, the king of the Yarlung Dynasty of Tibet, Han nationality built up an alliance with Tibetan in order to end up the long-lasting war; therefore, the two nationalities began the frequent and friendly intercourse. Due to some errors of the translation from oral Tibetan to written Chinese, different communities of the Baima Tibetan own different names, for example, “Daga” is the name of Baima people settling in Wen County “Doubu” Pingwu County and “Xianggai” Meadow County. “Xianggai” in Chinese means “above” that is in accordance with the geographic features of the distribution of Baima people.
Baima people live in the valleys of the cold highland so that they build the houses down the hillside and they make a living for farming, ranching, hunting and collecting. The main traditional dress of Baima people is robe in white, black or with floral prints. And Baima women always wear a colorful floral robe and a jade-like fishbone as an ornament with copper wires around their waist.
The primitive way of production and lifestyle forms Baima people’s nature worship and their character of diligence and courage, which also breeds the simple and unsophisticated Baima culture. They live in the deep forests, on the fertile grasslands and in the broad valleys, herding cattle and planting buckwheat and barley. To entertain themselves after laboring and injecting some fun to their life, they create folk dances like toasting dancing, circle dancing and Zhou dancing also called auspicious mask dancing, which fully reflect the character of this nation. Besides, Baima Tibetan in Meadow Village also boasts other forms of unique traditional customs and cultural arts like panda dancing and the Tumo Festival (in which people daub soot or ink on their face to get rid of the evils), which is regarded as one of the artistic miracles of Chinese culture attracting both domestic and overseas scholars to take up research.
The unique folk culture in Baima is shaped by local people’s talent in singing and dancing, their inherited cheerful disposition as well as the special geographic features. Every Jan. 1st in lunar calendar, Baima Tibetan will send their best wished to others in the traditional way, like giving a toast, singing and dancing, and celebrate the bump harvest and pray for the growth of cattle. Gezhutayi, a Tibetan friend I met in the journey, has invited me for several times to come back to Meadow Village on Jan. 15th to celebrate the three-day carnival of the Tumo Festival, which can present the essence of the Baima culture.
There is an old saying echoing down in Baima region: “Hada brings you auspiciousness and happiness, while Tumo brings you peace and health.” If you are smeared with soot or ink and thrown high in the air by Baima people, calm down for the reason that this means you are the most respectable guest for them and you are blessed by God of Auspiciousness who can protect you from the evils and give you happiness and health.
1. Best travel time: Jan. 15th—Jan. 17th (carnivals in the Tumo Festival).
2. Self-driving: about 7h from Chengdu.