Before They - Photography Project by Jimmy Nelson

Tibetans

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Tibetans
The approximate 5.5 million Tibetans are an ethnic group with bold and uninhibited characteristics. Archaeological and geological discoveries indicate that the Tibetans are descendants of aboriginal and nomadic Qiang indigenous cultures. The history of Tibet began around 4,000 years ago.
“Better to see once than to hear many times”
Prayer flags, sky burials, festival devil dances, spirit traps, rubbing holy stones, all associated with Tibetan beliefs, evolved from the ancient shamanist Bon religion. The costume and ornaments communicate not only the habits, but also the history, beliefs, climate and character of the people.

Potala Palace, Lhasa

Augustus 2011

Tibet is known as the ‘roof of the world’. Five mountains exceed altitudes of 8,000 metres, including Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak. Lhasa is the political, economic, cultural and religious centre with an abundance of cultural relics. Tibet accommodates 1,700 monasteries,
some of which date back to the 8th century.

The approximately 5.5 million Tibetans are an ethnic group with bold and uninhibited characteristics. Legend has it that the ancestors of the Tibetan people are a monkey and a female ogre. However, archaeological and geological discoveries indicate that the Tibetans are descendants
of aboriginal and nomadic Qiang indigenous peoples.

The history of Tibet began around 4,000 years ago.

Markham, Eastern Tibet

Augstus 2011

Though not void of practical considerations, most Tibetan traditions, such as the many festivals, are related to Buddhism. It is said that the traditional Tibetan opera (Lhamo) stems from the 14th century, when a lama, Thangthong Gyalpo, staged the first performance with seven beautiful girls to raise funds for iron-chain bridges in order to improve transport of goods and facilitate pilgrimage. Tibetan opera then became popular throughout the region.

Performances are held during festivals marking different occasions. Buddhist teachings and Tibetan history are the sources of inspiration for
the operas. Different masks reveal the role of the performers, whether they be king, queen, lama or deity.

Khampa Nomads in Nan-Tso

August 2011

Animal husbandry is the main occupation of most Tibetans and they continue to lead a semi-nomadic life, living in thick black yakhair tents lined with bags of precious barley and surrounded by their grazing flocks.

The ubiquitous yak is the most useful animal, although sheep are also reared for meat and wool, and most families have a number of goats.
Tough little mountain ponies are a means of transport and mare’s milk is a treasured delicacy and cure-all.

Khampa Warriors

August 2011

The cuisine of Tibet reflects the rich heritage of the country and people’s adaptation to high altitude and religious culinary restrictions. The most important crop is barley. Dough made from barley flour (tsampa), is the staple food of Tibet. Meat dishes are likely to be yak, goat, or mutton, often dried or cooked into a spicy stew with potatoes. Mustard seed is cultivated in Tibet, and therefore features heavily in its cuisine. Yak yoghurt, butter and cheese are frequently eaten, and well-prepared yoghurt is considered something of a prestige item.

Ganden Monastery

August 2011

Tibetan Buddhism is the main religion of Tibet. Religion is a daily, if not hourly practice. Tibetans spend much of their time in prayer or spinning prayer wheels, which is believed to be almost as spiritually meritorious an activity as prayer. Like all Buddhists, Tibetans adhere to non-violence, do good deeds, present gifts to monks and aspire to have gentle thoughts.

Tibetan Buddhism absorbed elements of Bon when it developed in the 8th century AD. The Bon religion is an ancient shamanist religion with esoteric rituals, exorcisms, talismans, spells, incantations, drumming, sacrifices, a pantheon of gods and evil spirits, and a cult of the dead. It has greatly influenced Tibetan Buddhism. Prayer flags, prayer wheels, sky burials, festival devil dances, spirit traps, rubbing holy stones - all of which are associated with Tibetan beliefs - evolved from the Bon religion.

Artprint available

- Jimmy Nelson

Buddhist Monks

August 2011

Tibetan costume and ornaments communicate not only the habits, but also the history, beliefs, climate and character of the local people, and they have undergone few changes throughout history. The most striking feature of Tibetan costume and ornaments is the large variety, not only in material (including brocade, fur, leather, silk, wool, cotton, and many more) but also - depending on the wearer’s location and occupation - in design.

Jhator meaning ‘giving alms to the birds’

Augstus 2011

Sky burial is a funerary practice in Tibet, wherein the deceased is placed on a mountaintop and exposed to the elements (mahabhuta) and wildlife - in particular to predatory birds. In Tibet, the practice is known as jhator meaning ‘giving alms to the birds’.

In much of Tibet, the ground is too hard and rocky to dig a grave, and, due to the scarcity of fuel and timber, sky burials are often more practical than cremation.

Khampa Warriors

August 2011

Polyandry is practised in parts of Tibet. A typical arrangement involves women marrying one or more brothers of her first husband. This is usually done to avoid division of property and provide financial security. However, monogamy is more common throughout Tibet.

Monks in Tibet

Most Tibetan clothing is made of animal fur, with sheepskin being most common. The traditional woollen fabric is Pulu. Cotton garments are welcome in summer. Tibetan costumes are brilliantly coloured. Women in the pastoral areas are particularly fond of bright colours. Tibetans love ornaments more than any other ethnic group. Ornaments are the symbol of assets and social status. They wear all kinds of jewellery, such as necklaces, hairpins, earrings, and bracelets, made of shells, animal bones, gold, silver, pearls, jade and other precious stones 

Ganden Monastery, Tibet

Herdsmen need clothing that they can easily move in. Their robes are loose enough to serve as a quilt at night and allow the free movement
of the arms during the day. When sunshine raises the temperature, they can easily free one arm from the sleeve to help adjust body temperature. By and by, wearing a robe with one arm bare has become a symbol of the Tibetans’ uninhibited character. Made of sheepskin, fox skin, or beribboned golden satin, Tibetan caps are of great aesthetic value. Boots are so long that they sometimes reach the upper part of the leg. The insteps are often embroidered.


Artprint available

- Jimmy Nelson

Monks in Monastery

Tibetan traditional medicine is one of the oldest forms in the world. It uses up to two thousand types of plants, forty animal species and fifty minerals. Sky burial is a funerary practice in Tibet, wherein the deceased is placed on a mountaintop and exposed to the elements (mahabhuta) and wildlife - in particular to predatory birds. In Tibet, the practice is known as jhator meaning ‘giving alms to the birds’. In much of Tibet, the ground is too hard and rocky to dig a grave, and, due to the scarcity of fuel and timber, sky burials are often more practical than cremation.