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From: China Tibet Information Cenrter 2005-03-12 14:09:00
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Rituals and Customs and Habits

The Tibetan race boasts unique rituals and customs and habits which they have developed in the long history of development. Exposed to a highly specific environment, and under the impact of living conditions and lifestyle, these rituals and customs and habits conform with the social tradition of the Tibetan race. Rituals here refer to those held to mark births, marriages and deaths.

(1) Birth Rituals

When one comes to the world, he/she will encounter the first ritual held to mark the birth. Prior to the Democratic Reform in 1959, the broad masses of women groaning under feudal serfdom enjoyed no personal freedom; instead, they were discriminated against. Although women in Bangjor Lhunbo village had one point of pride in: giving birth at home (which was not allowed in other Tibetan areas), they were denied of sufficient rest and rational care. Women nangzen slaves were given three days of maternity leave, and some rapeseed oil as a congratulation (the Pariha family did so to congratulate themselves on having one more laborer in the fliture). As nangzen slaves often lived in near destitution, they had no money to hold birth ceremonies for their newborn babies. In the village, nangzen children were not supplied with clothing and food before 13. After that, they had to toil like their parents.

After the Democratic Reform, the villagers enjoyed a new life. The situation improved with each passing day for pregnant women in terms of diet. However, they refrain from eating pienniu meat (pienniu is an offspnng of a bull and a female yak), believing this prolonged the pregnancy. Therefore, they turn to mutton, beef, chicken eggs and bone broth. When giving birth, many now go to county hospital or township clinic, which they are convinced is more hygienic. But giving birth at home still holds sway for many.

The birth ceremony is called Pangsai in Tibetan, with "pan" meaning fowls and "sai" cleaning away. The Tibetans believe newborn babies come to the world alongside fowls, and a ceremony should be held to wipe them out so that these babies would be able to grow healthily and mothers recover soon. Such rituals, evolved from a Bon religious ritual to worship the God, have been going on for more than 1,500 years. On the third day of the birth of boy (fourth day for a girl), households tied together through gyido association come for the rituals, bringing such gifts as qingke barley wine, buttered tea, meat, butter and clothing for the newborn. As soon as they enter the house, they present hada scarves to the baby's parents and then the baby. This is followed by toasting, presenting gifts, and examining the baby while offering good wishes. Some families throw in a pancake feast to entertain the visitors.

The newborn baby is not given a name until the end of the birth rituals. Generally, a Living Buddha or a prestigious senior villager is invited, but there are also cases when the baby is named by his/her parents. No matter who names the baby, the naming is performed in accordance with the will of the baby's parents for auspiciousness.

When the baby is one month old, a ritual is held on an auspicious day to take the baby out of the home. Before leaving, black ash taken from the pot bottom is used to blacken the baby's nose to ward off evil. Generally, the baby, donned in new clothes, is taken to the monastery for worshipping the Buddha and also for blessing.

(2) Wedding Ceremony

The wedding ceremony holds an important place in human existence. But in the past, Bangjor Lhunbo Village, controlled by the Parlha manorial lord, witnessed such a ceremony held for only a small number of tralpa serfs. As far as nangzen slaves were concerned, they could only dream. Two nangzens brought their belongings together, and that was all.

After the Democratic Reform in 1959, nangzen slaves gained a better life. This made it possible for their children to hold a wedding ceremony, and as time passed, these expanded in scale to match growing family strength. After the introduction of the reform and opening program in 1978, wedding ceremonies were definitely in vogue, sometimes lasting up to a dozen days.

While most young people in Bangjor Lhunbo village choose their own spouses, go-betweens still exist. But the young have the final say. When it is time for a young man to ask for the hand of a woman, an auspicious day is chosen. Both the young man and young woman are not supposed to appear, and members of the young man's family go to the female's family. The latter are given hada scarves, clothing or cloth materials, 50 kg of qingke barley, 50 kg of wheat, two or three kg of butter, mutton and three jars of qingke barley wine. The girl's parents are also given "milking money" and bangdian (aprons) as a token of sincere thanks for their bringing up the woman. The groom's family are responsible for the wedding feast. When the bride's family have prepared the feast, the groom's side will have to offer cash or some other form of thanks. As the courting happens when the male and female parties have agreed on marriage, the success rate is 100 percent. Both parties determine the auspicious date for holding the wedding ceremony. When the groom 5 side departs for home, the bride's family returns with hada scarves and gifts.

On the evening proceeding the wedding, the bride's side hold a farewell party for her. The groom's family sends a finely-decorated horse for her. If the two families live far apart, a horse-drawn cart, automobile or truck will be sent for the purpose. Generally speaking, there will be two or three people sent to greet the bride, bringing her and her family gifts including hada scarves, zanba cakes (roasted highland barley flour mixed with melted butter, powdered cheese and brown sugar, and shaped into square or round cakes), a front leg of mutton, clothing or clothing materials, and gift money. When the rituals are held, the bride sits in the middle. Flanking the bride are parents, other family members, relatives seeing the bride off, and people sent to greet the bride. When everyone is seated, the people sent to greet the bride present her with a piece of hada scarf and plant colorful arrows on her back. This is followed by gyido members of the family presenting hada scarves and gifts. By the end of the rituals, all drink and sing until next day.

The bride side transfers dowry or gifts prepared beforehand to people sent to greet the bride. They include valuable jewelers or daily necessities such as clothing, quilts, food grains, bicycles, sewing machines and other durables. On the morning of the next day, people sent to greet the bride support the bride out of her home at a time determined according to the result of divination, along with her dowry. At this point of time, there will be someone in the house of the bride holding colorful arrows and a milk kettle in one hand and lamb leg in the other and walking around to invite an inflow of money. He does so because legend has it that marrying one out invites loss of wealth.

The greeting4he-bride party proceeds under the leadership of one born in an auspicious year. Wearing white Tibetan robe, he holds the Eight Diagram Pattern. When coming across people who are fetching water or carrying materials on their backs, the party deems it a good omen, and will give them a small amount of money; when coming across those who are dumping garbage or carrying empty baskets, the party deem this to be a bad omen, likewise if it suddenly snows.

Prior to the arrival of the bride, the new house is beautifully adorned. Black and white stones are planted on both sides of the house, and a cushion is prepared for the bride to step off the vehicle. The cushion is stuffed with qingke barley, wheat and salt, and covered with five-color silk (tiger or leopard hide) painted with a swastika sign.

When the greeting party reaches the door, it lays a hada scarf on the white stone to the right of the door, and chants loudly: "Oh, for you! Thirty-nine towns, 99 slopes, bless us!" Then, the party moves to the black stone to the left of the door, and chants: "I am the reincarnation of the Buddha of 10 Places. Black eagle will be destroyed!" This is followed by knocking the black stone out.

After this, the party sings the praises of the cushion, door, dog and staircases of the host family. The newlyweds enter the room, sitting in the center. Around them sit the parents of the groom and relatives, members of families associated with the bridegroom's family through gyido relationship, and the marrying party. Members of the bride's side rise to sing praises of the Buddha shrines, Buddha statues, house pillars, wine jars and auspicious containers of the bridegroom's side, and present hada scarves to them.

The official ceremony is then held. Gyido members of the host family attend. Gifts presented include (no less than three jars of) qingke barley wine, (two to five lumps of) butter, (two to three cakes of) tea bricks, one whole-sheep of mutton (stuffed with 1-2 kg of wool), one bag (amounting to 40-50 kg) of qingke barley and one bag of wheat, gift money, clothing and cloth materials, plus hada scarves presented to the Buddha shrines, bridegroom, bride, both families, house pillars and wine jars. Gift-giving rituals take place over one or several days, and the duration of the wedding ceremony lasts three, five, seven or 10 days. Feasts are held during this period.

(3) Funerals

Tibetan Buddhists are preoccupied with the belief characteristic of a cycle of the previous, this and the next life. Therefore, a funeral, although tragic, is held to redeem the sins of the dead and bless his future. It is a link between death and life.

Tibetans hold funeral in a way different from others. Like other parts of Tibet, Bangjor Lhunbo Village adopts mainly the form of celestial burial. The body, wrapped up in white piece of cloth, is placed on an earthen cushion at the house corner. Buddhism holds that when the body is carried out of the house, its soul may not leave. When the earthen cushion is dismantled and thrown out of the house, the soul is taken away. Generally, the body stays in the house for three to five days before being moved out together with earthen cushion to a crossroads. When one dies in the village, members of other families mourn, bring with them a pot of wine apiece. When the body remains in the house, monks are invited to chant sin-redeeming sutras. When conditions permit, more than 100 butter lamps will bum.

Family of the dead hang one red pottery jar at the door. The jar mouth is adorned with wool or a white hada scarf, and inside the jar is burning zanba dough mixed with "three meat" (animal blood, meat and grease) and "three vegetables" (milk, cheese and butter). Within the first seven-week mourning period, family members refrain from combing their hair, washing the face, wearing any adornments, singing or dancing. Also during the period, no happy event is held within the family or at neighboring families.

The day before the dead person is moved out, neighboring families attend the mourning with Garmai Zundag, composed of one hada scarf, a handful of Tibetan incense, one sacrificial lamp and some money. People who maintain gyido ties with the dead have to bring with them other things including toiba seasonings cooked with zanba, milk dregs and butter. The funeral takes place very early in the day. One monk leads the way, followed by the body carried by the offspring. Others see the dead off from the door to far-away road, where one or two friends of the dead take the body to the celestial funeral ground. Kith and kin of the dead refrain from going to the ground.

During the first seven-week mourning period, monks are invited to chant sutras every seven days. In the fourth chanting, four to five monks are invited to burn incense to bless the dead to return to the world at an earlier date. In the seventh chanting, four monks are invited for Buddhist mass. During the day, relatives of the dead rinse their hair, wash their faces, make sacrifice to the Roof God, and replace the sutra streamers on the roof. All gyido come for the mass, bringing with them meat, butter, tea and wine. Over 100 butter lamps are burnt at home or in the monastery during the fourth and seventh chantings. Better-off families hold a mourning anniversary at home. By then, all gyido family members come with hada scarves, tea, wine, meat, butter and money. The host entertains them with food as a token of sincere thanks for their assistance over the past year.

[editor : ]
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