The 2,965 people of the Lhoba ethnic minority
have their homes mainly in Mainling, Medog, Lhunze and Nangxian counties
in southeastern Tibet. Additionally, a small number live in Luoyu,
The Lhobas speak a distinctive language
belonging to the Tibetan-Myanmese language family, Chinese-Tibetan language system. Few of them
know the Tibetan language. Having no written script, Lhoba people
used to keep records by notching wood or tying knots.
People of this ethnic group were oppressed,
bullied and discriminated against by the Tibetan local government,
manorial lords and monasteries under feudal serfdom in Tibet. Being
considered inferior and "wild," some were expelled and
forced to live in forests and mountains. They were not allowed to
leave their areas without permission and were forbidden to do business
with other ethnic groups. Intermarriage with Tibetans was banned.
They had to make their living by gathering food, hunting and fishing
because of low grain yields in the region.
Life in the Past
Largely farmers, Lhoba men and women
are skilled at making bamboo objects and other crafts. They bartered
such objects and animal hides, musk, bear paws, dye and captured
game for farm tools, salt, wool, clothing, grain and tea from Tibetan
traders. Their pilgrimages to monasteries were good opportunities
Hunting is essential to the Lhobas.
Young boys start early to join adults on hunting trips. Upon reaching
manhood they tracked animals in deep forests either collectively
or alone. The game they caught was partly distributed among villagers,
partly used for bartering
and some was extorted from them by the manorial lords.
There were essentially two classes
-- "maide" and "nieba" -- within Lhoba society
before Tibet's liberation in 1950. The "maides" considered
themselves as nobles, while regarding the "niebas" as
inferior people who should be at their disposal. The descendants
of this latter class of people could not become "maides"
even if they became wealthy and owned slaves. They could only become
"wubus" -- a group of people having a slightly higher
position than the "niebas." Young men and women of these
different groups could not marry due to strict class distinctions.
The "niebas," who were slaves to "maide" owners,
had no means of production. They were beaten, jailed or even executed
if they were caught running away or stealing.
Women's status in their families, as
well as in society, was particularly low, and they had no inheritance
Customs, habits and dress of different
clan members vary. Men in northern Luoyu wear sleeveless, buttonless,
knee-length black jackets of sheep's wool. They wear helmet-like
hats either made from bear skin or woven from bamboo stripes or
rattan laced with bear skin. Barefooted, they wear bamboo earrings,
necklaces and carry bows and arrows or wear swords at their side.
Women have narrow-sleeved blouses and skirts of sheep's wool. They
also go barefooted. Apart from their silver or brass earrings, bracelets
and necklaces, the women wear a variety of waist ornaments such
as shells, silver coins, iron chains and bells. Heavy ornaments
are considered a symbol of wealth.
Diets also vary in different localities.
Staple foods are dumplings made of maize or millet flour, rice or
buckwheat. In places near Tibetan communities people have zamba,
potatoes, buttered tea and spicy food. Being heavy drinkers and
smokers, at celebrations the Lhobas enjoy wine and singing to observe
good harvests and good luck.
Many suffered from goiter, an endemic
disease caused by lack of salt. Some were undernourished and some
were born deaf and mute. Epidemic diseases were rampant due to the
poor living conditions. The population of this ethnic group kept
declining before liberation in 1951.
Conditions improved for the Lhoba people
after the liberation of Tibet in 1951. Production was boosted and
people's living standards and general health improved with loans
and relief extended by the government. The Lhobas, who previously
were serfs, got land, farm implements and draught animals. They
began a new life since the democratic reform carried out in Tibet
after 1959 when the central government put down an armed rebellion
launched by the reactionary elements of the upper stratum of Tibet.
For the first time they were treated as equals by society. Now they
are well represented in government at regional, county, district
and township levels.
With the help of their Han and Tibet
neighbors, they have adopted advanced, intensive farming methods.
They opened up land on hills and began cultivation of new areas.
Hunting, handicrafts and other sideline businesses developed at
the same time. Farming has been further improved as more capital
construction projects have been completed, improved animal and crop
strains adopted and scientific farming methods popularized.
Before liberation, most of the Lhobas
were illiterate. Some elderly people could not count. Now children
attend day schools while adults learn at evening classes. A few
young people are studying in institutions of higher learning in
the cities of Beijing, Nanjing and Lhasa.
People see films shown by film projection
teams sent by government or army units. Trained doctors and other
medical personnel have replaced the witch doctors who in the past
were invited to cast spells to chase ghosts and demons from the
sick, a practice that cost many lives. There are clinics and health
centers in Lhoba villages.
Transportation and communication have
been improved in the rocky areas inhabited by the Lhobas, with newly
built roads and bridges opening up more of the region.