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From: China Tibet Magazine 2005-10-19 13:01:00
by: Liu Zhoqun
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Living customs of Sherpa people

Marriage and Trial Marriage Building

The name system of Sherpa people in Tibet is similar to that of the Nepalese people. Sherpa people in Lixing have been living there for some 260 years; they originally came from Sharzebo of Nepal; but some others say they came from Garze of Sichuan.

When strangers meet, they will ask the family names of each other. If they have the same family name, they cannot joke with each other and cannot intermarry.

In the past, Sherpa people did not intermarry with Tibetans or other ethnic groups. But they could intermarry with Sherpa people with different family names within the Nepalese border, disregarding the restriction of nationality and district. For their marriage, there are some different situations. One is that the boy invites others to go to the girl’s home together to act as matchmakers, carrying wine and offering hada scarves. If all the girl’s family members agree with the marriage, they will invite the matchmakers to stay for dinner, and the couple can marry. The second way is that, when the boy makes an offer of marriage, if the girl’s parents agree with it but the girl does not agree, the boy will “take the bride by force”. The third way is that when the boy and the girl agree with the marriage but the girl’s parents do not agree, the boy will “take” the girl by force and hide her in mountain before begging her parents for their agreement. When he receives their approval, he will lead the bride home. Before marriage, the groom will give betrothal gifts to the bride’s family.

Sherpa people also have a marriage form that two brothers share the same wife. The wife has her own room with a double bed. The two brothers have their own rooms, and who will sleep with her is decided by the wife or by the two husbands. If there are four brothers in a family, the No.1 brother and the No.2 have a same wife, and the No.3 and the No.4 will share another wife. This is somewhat different than the old system in the Tibetan and Moinba areas.

Among the people with the Sherpa caste among the Sherpa people, there is a form of trial marriage. There is a traditional “Qomolangma Business Passage” from Dingri to Solhu and Kunbo in Nepal. In these latter districts, home to many thousands of people who fled at some time from Tibet, there are still many small wooden buildings for Sherpa people’s trial marriage today.

When a Sherpa girl reaches the age of 14, her parents will allow her to find boy friends of her own free will and assign a room for her. If the family is rich, they will build a wooden building particular for their daughter and let her live there alone. When she chooses a boy friend, she can lead him stealthily to the wooden building to sleep. Even if her parents know, they will not intervene and will ensure that the girl has a good knowledge of sexual behavior.

After living together for a while, if they are satisfied with each other, the boy will consign a matchmaker to send some earthen bowls of rice wine to the girl’s parents signifying that there is a formal engagement. After the engagement, the fiancé can openly live in the wooden building of the girl.

If either party is not satisfied with the other, the boy must leave immediately.

But most boys and girls can move onto the next stage successfully-namely, giving birth to babies. Only after this will the boy and the girl declare that they belong to each other. Then, the boy will make a formal marriage offer to the girl’s parent. After holding a ceremony, they will be confirmed as husband and wife.

If there exists some emotional crisis, after negotiation, the husband will give the wife some money for fostering children before leaving her or taking the children away. If the couple can go on with their harmonious life and are attached to each other, they can be confirmed in a life-long relationship of husband and wife, and then the wife will move to the home of the husband with their children before holding a ceremonial wedding.

A Sherpa man named Purba said “Usually, a girl of 14 and a boy of 16 can cohabit. But after one, two and three times of emotional confirmation, they can finally form a family, which will take 3 to 10 years.” 

According the explanation of Sangzhuma, a Sherpa mother in Solhu and Kunbo who was preparing celebratory food for her daughter’s fiance to make an offer of marriage at her home, “it is a simple truth there is no better way for young man and woman to learn and communicate with each other than sleeping in a same bed. Even if they sleep in a same bed, it is hard for them to learn and communicate with each other for a while. Hence the period of trial marriage should be long one until the time when they have a child and when they can endure the trust and test from bearing mutual responsibility.”  n

Sherpa People

Sherpa people are found to the south of the Himalayas and their name can be translated into English as “people of the Orient”.

Within our country, there are only a few Sherpa people living in Zam Port, Chengtang of Tinggyi, Tingri Rongshia and other mountainous areas along the border.

Sherpa men wear white coats made of wool with short sleeves and black wool lace. They wear a half-moon shaped chopping knife at the waist. Women dress in bright long-sleeved coats, colorful full skirts and a white wool vest made by hand. They wear a long pigtail with a red tassel, and enjoy wearing gold or jade earrings. They are good at singing and dancing and their dancing actions are similar to those of the Nepalese and Pakistani folk dances. On festivals or some such happy events, they gather together, to drink wine and dance through the night. n

Most Sherpa people believe in Tibetan Buddhism. There are two monasteries in Lixing and Chengtang respectively with the name of Gongbasaba and Lagang. Most people follow either the Saga or Geju Sect, although there are also followers of the Gelug Sect and Nyingma Sect. The disciples of the Sagya and Gagyu sects can marry and form families. They do not live in the monastery but farm monastery’s lands, and go to the monastery to burn joss sticks, lay offerings and chant sutras. Even the people who are not followers of the Gelug Sect adore the Dalai Lama and Panchen Erdeni.

They also worship ghosts and monsters and believe in astrology. In case of any great action, they will cast lots before making decisions.

Funeral if their relatives die, they will invite monks to chant sutras at first, and then cremate the body followed by a mound burial. If an adult dies, the body is placed in a special wooden box and then sent to the place for cremation on top of a pile of firewood. Two or three days later, some bone ash is taken and cast into rivers, and the residual ash covered by stones. If a child dies, the body is tied into a fetal shape of baby and left in a rock hole or a tree cave. And it will become adipocerous after long time.

The living customs of the Sherpa people are influenced by the natural environment and traditional culture, and sometimes are the same as the Tibetan ones. Most, however, are colorful and particular.

Food the staple food includes corn, rice, and zanba (roasted highland barley flour), as well as dry string rice, potato, noodle, deep-fried dough cake, etc. Sherpa people like to drink ghee tea, sweet tea, corn wine, Qingke barley wine, sour milk and spirit distilled from sorghum. They like to eat cooked food instead of raw meat, and like to eat fried dishes with staple food. Their favorite vegetables include potato, nettle (a perennial herbage having fine stinging hairs on the stem and leaves that cause intolerable skin irritation and swelling on contact), eggs, beef, mutton and a kind of small animal like a toad. They do not eat fish, dogs or veal. They do not have the habit of raising pigs but they eat pork. They will not kill cattle, and the beef they eat is got from the cattle that due accidentally or from illness. This habit may be related to the custom of Nepalese in the neighboring country. Corn is a common staple food that can be made into “Gongche”, half-dried thick corn congee, and can also be made into “Balu” or corn wine. In the past, they used their hands to eat directly from the rice bowl or food boiler. Now, many people use individual bowls and chopsticks within our country’s border. When cooking dish, they pay much attention to seasonings including fennel, capsicum, onion, garlic and curry; capsicum and fennel are indispensable seasonings. All these seasonings are pounded to pieces by a wood hammer or in a stone mortar.

Residence they live in wooden houses at ordinary times, and in shacks when herding. The construction of houses is particular. The top is usually in shape of a herringbone covered with scale board (that is, a wood sheet cleaved by an axe). They pile a deep wall around with stones, and build up houses by putting up girders on the wall. Most of them build two stories with the average height of some six meters. The second floor is usually divided into three rooms of kitchen, dormitory and storeroom. The first floor is used to store sundry goods or to pen cattle and sheep. The rooms are furnished simply. In the middle of the kitchen is a ghee barrel, aluminum boiler and various cookers and bowls and cups. Every household has a heated kang built up by laying flagstones for putting up stands to cook and eating food on the ground. They pay much attention to sanitation, and their rooms are clear and bright. Commonly, every household has a water closet.

Courtesy Sherpa people show their respect in two ways one is offering a hada scarf, and the other is touching their heads on the other person’s hand or knee. In the past, they had a habit of bowing, sticking out their tongue, and lowering the head. This phenomenon has not disappeared completely even today. Sherpa people think much of presenting gifts. In case of happy events, they will present gifts to congratulate each other. But the amount of gifts in return must be more than those received, and should be least double if it not to be viewed as disrespectful. Families will take note of all gifts they receive in order to decided what gifts to be presented in return. They attach importance to appellations. To seniors, they usually do not call their names directly, which would be viewed as insulting. They usually call his or her eldest child’s name added with father and mother later. Senior male eldership is called as “Mingmi”, meaning “grandpa”; senior female eldership is called as “Yimi”, meaning “grandma”; knowledgeable people are called as “Gela”, meaning “teacher”; and married women are called as “Como”, meaning “sister”.

Festivals and amusements Besides singing and dancing, amusements include “Chagar”, “Kebi” and card games. Chagar is a kind of gambling using 10 half dried walnuts. One person is the banker, and others have stakes. Victory or defeat is decided by face and inverse of the thrown walnuts. Kebi seems like the game of “Touhu”. A small pot is put at a distance, and players throw small coins into it. The winner is the one who throws the most coins into the pot successfully.

Sherpa people have some fixed festivals. For those within our country’s border, New Year’s Day is the most ceremonious and Tibetan New Year’s Day takes the second place. 20 days before New Year’s Day, every family starts to soak rice, and make cakes with cooked rice, which is called as “Keri” and “Xipang”. They will also prepare beef, mutton, butter, Pagyi (that is dry string rice), zanba (roasted highland barley flour) and potatoes. On New Year’s Day’s morning, every one will fetch a barrel of clear water from rivulets, and after reaching home, he or she will wash the face and change into new clothes with the implication of starting the new year in purity. Before dressing up in the new clothes, they will stroke their bodies to imply longevity. Then, they dress up new clothes, and all family members gather in a room to offer hada to the statue of a deity hung in middle of the room. A long board is laid under the statue for placing seven kinds of food including rice, zanba, cakes, deep-fried twisted dough sticks, clean water, oranges, and Pagyi. Surrounding the food is scattered zanba and butter sculptures. Before the gate of the house, a white sutra streamer 1 to 1.5 meters long is set up, the four edges stitched with colorful fine thread. It is all very bright and shining.

[editor : ]
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