Written by MK East Rutherford Host
Overall, our first Machik Khabda in East Rutherford, NJ was very successful. Before we watched the movie, one of our participants, who also happened to be a Tibetan teacher, gave us a little briefing about Tibet since we had non-Tibetans in the room. Then, I went through my PowerPoint and talked a bit about what Machik is and all the different programs within it. During the discussion portion, everyone was very engaged and had a lot to say. I asked the questions directly from the discussion guide that was provided.
There was one scene which seems to have caught the attention of most people. It was the part where one of the volunteer teachers took out a written letter from his student and how her parents were not allowing her to go to learn Tibetan because her Chinese was getting worse. In the letter she was asking him to forgive her for missing class and that if he could continue to support her in learning Tibetan even though her parents wouldn’t allow it.
Right from the beginning, we talked about the language and how us students being that we are living in a country with great resources, unlike the kids from Hualong, are taking it for granted and that in some ways we are more privileged than most, yet many of us Tibetan students fail to utilize these resources. However, nowadays, more Tibetan youths are becoming aware and are doing the best they can to preserve every aspect of what it means to be Tibetan.
We also talked about the different dialects within Tibet. Many of us or the majority of the Tibetan who are born and raised in India, only speak U-key. Not understanding these different dialects creates an invisible barrier amongst us Tibetans. Even though it is a different dialect, it is still a Tibetan language and if we learn and make the effort to educate ourselves on all the different dialects within Tibet, it could allow us to grow as a community.
As for the religion, we talked a bit about the Tibetan Muslims and the estimated population of Tibetan Muslims. We also watched a little documentary on YouTube about the history of Tibetan Muslims. It was very interesting because I didn’t realize the quantity of our Tibetan Muslim community within Tibet and in exile. Our older participants who have resided in Tibet also mentioned that in Tibet, there is a large population of “Lhasa Muslim” and how everyone there is very respectful of each other’s religion. That there is mutual respect between Buddhists and Muslims. We concluded that it is more than possible to coexist with different religions and that our Tibetan youth should be taught or be more exposed about the different communities within our Tibetan population, being that it's only 6 million.
Since it was my first-time hosting Khabda, I thought that the discussion guide was very helpful and it not only helped me to engage with younger students but also with non-Tibetans who can relate to our situation. I learned so much and was able to connect with the people around me. I am sure the participants have learned and enjoyed just as much as I did. Everything went smoothly and thank you for this opportunity! ☺
Written by Katie Cunningham
Machik Program Intern & Rising Senior at Sidwell Friends School
I’ve listened to ANU's “Phur” over 75 times throughout my summer internship at Machik, but I nonetheless felt the lively energy and buzz around last Saturday’s Khabda. Once again, I was stunned by ANU’s talent, resilience, and ability to transcend language barriers. All non-Tibetans in attendance noted their music’s ability to bring tears to one's eyes without even glancing at the lyrics, which only further enhanced the emotion. Over the past eight weeks, I’ve researched Anu Ranglug, translated articles from Chinese to English to provide context for the phenomena that is ANU, and gathered various data points for our ANU infographic (such as YouTube hits for their videos). At the end of the day, I learned the most about ANU's music and its social impact by sitting down with a diverse group of people who share a common interest and curiosity for Tibet.
Amidst my research, I didn’t fully comprehend what ANU’s role in the wider community of "hip-hop" meant. Although the genre originated in the Bronx, New York City, it has spread to nearly every corner of the globe, including Tibet. While global hip hop artists acknowledge and honor the African American and Latinx community that launched the movement, local culture and sound are often incorporated into their music. ANU is no exception; Gonpa and Payag brilliantly blend modern rap and hip hop with traditional Tibetan folk music.
Throughout the history of hip hop as a culture, people from diverse backgrounds utilize this medium to articulate their lived experiences and stories which may often be completely erased or forgotten. As our DC Khabda group dissected ANU’s music videos, lyrics, and clothing brand, I discovered a new meaning behind their creative production. “Fly”’s underlying sociocultural message and ANU’s conscious decision to perform a cover of “Apologize” in front of a majority Chinese audience were stunning to me. Another layer that was uncovered during our discussion was their creative use of double-speak. 1376, in their accent, sounds like the Tibetan phrase, “What you think, you can accomplish.”
While ANU’s music, dance, and dress are upbeat, catchy, and fun, it also provides extreme value to Tibet and beyond.
Written by Lekey Leidecker
As the Machik team scoured the internet in Tibetan, English, and Chinese for information about ANU, who captivated Tibetan audiences inside and outside Tibet with their song འཕུར་ (En: Fly) in 2017, I kept wondering to myself: how can we get the world to care about Tibet and hip hop, or to even put the two in the same sentence?
In our process of outreach for each Khabda, we try to spread the word in a number of ways: through social media, through our networks, and are fortunate to have started receiving outreach from new folks who are interested in the featured topics.
This time, I remembered that our friend and collaborator, Deon Ben of Diné (Navajo) Nation, had shared something wonderful with me when we last met in November 2018, a convening of the Colorado Plateau Intertribal Conversations Gathering, held on the lands of the Isleta Pueblo and convened by the Grand Canyon Trust.
Deon, his parents, and additional Diné community members Sunny Dooley and Tony Skrelunas had just participated in Machik’s largest gathering, the 12th Annual Machik Weekend in New York City, and Deon’s parents, Violet and DJ, had heard a Tibetan song there that they’d enjoyed. I realized that the song was none other than ANU’s sensational crossover global hit འཕུར་ (En: Fly), meaning that the Ben family had joined a global cohort of ANU fans, and that the Gonpa’s beautifully worded sentiment of “extending your wings of freedom” had, unsurprisingly, reached Navajo Nation!
As I wrote the discussion guide for this Khabda, it was Violet and DJ who I had in mind: two Diné elders who actually share many traditions with the Nangchen community in Tibet where Gonpa and Payag are from: farming and ranching, deep relationships to place and homeland. How could I share more about ANU to people who, like our Diné friends, respond to ANU’s music but may not have the same knowledge about contemporary Tibet that I do?
So, why should you, or anyone else care about Tibet, hip hop, and ANU’s music? My answer is this: In a time of rapid change for Tibet and for the world, ANU illustrates the power of music to connect, uplift, and inspire. Like all good music, ANU makes the listener feel something powerful. The name ANU, also known as ཨ་ནུ་རིང་ལུགས་ (En: Anu Ranglug), is a Tibetan phrase in English loosely meaning “youthfulness.” It also evokes a spirit of energetic hopefulness, of joy, of “believ[ing] in the wonders of life.” We are blessed with ANU’s joyous and youthful spirit, and, as evidenced by their fan base, Anu Ranglug can happen at any age, anywhere.
Written by Tenzin Dickyi
Machik Program Intern & Rising Senior at Colgate University
The 4th Machik Khabda (MK4) was a really fun one to be part of. Not only did my parents get to be part of it, but I spent the last month listening to ANU’s music and learning so much about them prior to Khabda. While the Khabda in Washington, DC was held mainly in English, I am so grateful that my parents were there to experience it. They did not speak out during the conversation because they are very shy, but afterwards my parents could not stop talking about ANU. They wanted to know if my brothers knew who ANU were and had the song GAGA stuck in their heads for days. They were in awe of the Tibetan duo making waves through music. Neither of them listen to a lot of music nor do they think about the impact of Tibetan hip hop artists from Tibet, but this Khabda got them thinking about contemporary Tibetan artists. I enjoy Khabda so much because of the way it gets Tibetans and non-Tibetans of all ages thinking and talking about Tibetan creatives in Tibet.
During this Khabda, something that I couldn’t get out of my mind is the way that hip hop culture and Tibetan culture combine to make ANU’s music and clothing brand. Growing up as a Tibetan in the United States, I have watched my culture be appropriated. Even before I knew what cultural appropriation was, I remember feeling annoyed. I noticed that some people could profit from Tibetan culture without fully understanding or crediting the meaning and history. From this experience, I also learned to be sensitive to others’ feelings based on something I may have done. During Khabda, we talked about the the word “Tigga” and its use in Tibet. Someone at the Khabda brought up how a rapper who went by the name of “Rich Chigga” changed their name to “Rich Brian” after coming to the U.S. from Indonesia. They told us about how once the rapper learned about the history of the n-word, he felt uncomfortable keeping his former name. I think this is important to remember because it is possible that ANU and other rappers in Tibet may not have full access to the meaning and context of it all. ANU is clearly influenced by Black-American creativity, through clothes or music. Figuring out the difference between cultural appreciation and appropriation is difficult, especially in this special context. It is still something that I am thinking about, beyond the conversation that occured during Khabda. I am thrilled that Khabda gave everyone a space to explore these dynamics as well as learn about these incredible creatives in Tibet!
Written by Katie Jarrett
Machik Program Intern & Senior at George Washington University
This past Saturday evening our Khabda room filled with the voices of 20+ people who enthusiastically discussed the music duo, ANU, and the social impact of their music. Here in Washington D.C., we listened to ANU's songs and viewed their music videos, interspersing these activities with lively discussion. The conscious decision to listen to some songs without visual cues and then later watch music videos created an audiovisual sensory experience that helped to provoke creative thinking. Our Khabda focused on ANU in the broader context of rap and hip-hop; music genres that act as avenues of cultural and social expression. We even discussed the historical and cultural significance of hip-hop; making sure to honor the birthplace of hip-hop at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx.
We followed the path of ANU's development into a global phenomenon and the sociocultural meaning of such development. Frequently mentioned was the fact that ANU has existed long before this year's performance on the Chinese show "Singer," which some view as having catapulted ANU to fame. The "Singer" performance was discussed at length, especially in consideration to ANU's use of Tibetan, English, and Chinese languages. The perception of ANU by mainstream Chinese audiences is something that a commenter noted as having drastically changed the quality of the duo's music. Creative ability was clearly stifled as can be seen in the dramatic differences between the most recent music video and earlier ones. Within the context of modern day censorship, ANU's ability to continue representing classic elements of Tibetan cultural identity is inspiration and uplifting. To me, ANU's ability to retain such elements reflects stark realities of the difficulties of preserving cultural traditions in the face of overwhelming pressures of globalization and cultural homogeny. ANU is a member of a larger phenomenon in which artists use music as both a tool to disseminate cultural expression as well as a preservation technique for cultural traditions.
Many felt strongly that the challenges facing ANU's ability to retain creative expression are also reflected in how little information can be found in English on these two young men. As one of the participants said, "a creative group in Tibet today can tell us a lot about what's going on in Tibet today." Hip-hop is an extremely important cultural phenomenon as a place of expression, especially within the context of complex social media. ANU, as representative of how influential hip-hop is, has been extremely influential on young people (within the Tibetan community and even outside of Tibet). I found ANU's decision to center on the hip-hop/rap genre extremely brave; as one of my friends in Beijing once mentioned, the majority of music and media in the PRC and regions is oversaturated in the love song/story genre, because this is the easiest way to fly under the censorship radars. Hip-hop, with its long history as a form of social expression, can be an especially provocative genre.
One person commented that Tibetan music coming out of Tibet, when compared to Tibetan music in diaspora, has much more depth and purpose. When you listen to ANU, you listen to it but your consciousness, mental space, and heart are all somewhere else. This became especially clear to me through our Khabda when we alternated between listening to songs and watching the music videos. This way of music consumption reveals distinct layers of ANU's music. On the surface level is of course the lyrics, but visual elements are just as packed with depth of meaning.
ANU is an avenue to reality underneath dominant narratives about Tibet. Looking at Tibet through the lens of hip-hop gives us a unique way to understand the complexity of contemporary Tibet. Subsequently, the representation of Tibet and Tibetan culture through ANU is extremely important in its implications. Language usage in ANU's music, as mentioned before, holds an extremely important message. They're (referring to ANU) trying to say something, and it's working to a great extent. Very clearly, ANU represents the importance of music in cultural identity. This is especially apparent in the song "Phur". "Phur" is THE anthem, showing how identity can be exerted in different cultural forms. As was discussed during our Khabda, many of the terms in "Phur" have roots in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy containing connotations that are not necessarily conveyed in other languages. Equally so, the language in the song , how the roots of words are formed, of how words come together to form longer sentences, and the context of Tibetan culture all demonstrate the many different aspects that come together to form Tibetan culture. The message of the song also conveys a distinctive experience that Tibetans listening to might relate.
In conclusion, our Khabda on ANU became extremely involved and the enthusiasm of speakers was palatable. The people within our Khabda room happily talked for hours about ANU and the messages they convey. It was a very lively discussion, far away from where ANU actually performs, demonstrating just how impactful their music is.
ཕྱི་ལོ་ ༢༠༡༩ ཟླ་ ༦ ཚེས་ ༢༢ ཉིན་ཨ་རིའི་མངའ་སྡེ་ཨི་ལི་རྣོའི་གྲོང་ཁྱེར་ཅི་ཀ་ཀོར་མ་གཅིག་ཁ་བརྡ་ཐེངས་གསུམ་པ་དེ་ཚོགས་རྒྱུའི་གོ་སྐབས་འབྱུང། དེར་མཉམ་ཞུགས་གནང་མཁན་མི་གྲངས་ ༡༥ ཙམ་ཕེབས་སོང་ལ་འདི་ནི་སྔར་གྱི་ཁ་བརྡ་ལས་ལྡབ་བཞིའི་མང་བ་ཡིན་པའི་དགའ་འཚོར་ཆེན་པོ་འབྱུང། ཐེངས་འདིའི་ཁ་བརྡའི་བརྗོད་གཞི་ནི་མཁར་བྱམས་རྒྱལ་གྱིས་བཟོ་བསྐྲུན་གནང་པའི་གློག་བརྙན་ “དཔའ་བོའི་ལུང་པ” ཞེས་པ་དེ་རེད། གློག་བརྙན་འདིའི་བརྗོད་བྱ་སྙིང་པོ་ནི་བོད་མདོ་སྨད་བྱང་ཤར་ཁུལ་དུ་ཡོད་པའི་དཔའ་བོའི་ལུང་པའི་ཡུལ་མིས་མྱོང་བཞིན་པའི་བོད་ཀྱི་སྐད་ཡིག་དོར་རླག་ཏུ་འགྲོ་བའི་ཛ་དྲག་གི་གནས་སྟངས་ཀྱི་སྐོར་ལ་ཡིན། ཡུལ་དེར་ཕ་མེས་ཀྱི་དུས་སུ་ཕལ་ཆེར་བོད་རིགས་མང་ཡང། དེང་སྐབས་བོད་རིགས་གྲངས་ཉུང་མི་རིགས་ཤིག་ཏུ་འགྱུར་ཡོད་སྟབས། རྒྱ་གཞུང་གིས་བོད་མི་རིགས་ཀྱི་སྐད་ཡིག་སྲུང་སྐྱོབ་སླད་དམིགས་བསལ་གྱི་རོགས་རམ་དང་མཐུན་རྐྱེན་གང་ཡང་མི་གནང་བས་བོད་ཀྱི་སྐད་ཡིག་བེད་སྤྱོད་བྱེད་པའི་གོམས་སྲོལ་རིམ་བཞིན་མེད་དུ་སོང་བའི་ཉེན་ཁ་ཤུགས་ཆེན་ཡོད་པ་ནི་དངོས་གསལ་བདེ་པོ་རེད། དེ་མིན་ལུང་ཁུགས་དེའི་སྡོད་མི་ཕལ་ཆེ་བ་ཁ་ཆེ་ཡིན་པ་དང་གློག་བརྙན་འདིའི་རྒྱུད་བོད་རིགས་ཁ་ཆེའི་སྐོར་ཤེས་རྒྱུའི་གོ་སྐབས་བཟང་པོ་ཞིག་ཀྱང་ཐོབ་བྱུང་དྲན།
གློག་བརྙན་འདི་བལྟས་ཟིན་རྗེས་འཛོམ་ཞུགས་གནང་མཁན་ཚོའི་ཁྲོད་དུ་མྱོང་ཚོར་དང་བསམ་འཚུལ་འདྲ་མིན་སྣ་ཚོགས་འབྱུང་སོང། ཁ་ཅིག་གིས་ཧ་ལས་པའི་གནས་ཚུལ་ལ་དེ་འདྲའི་ཡུལ་ཁུགས་དེའི་བོད་རིགས་རྣམས་ལ་སྐད་ཡིག་སྲུང་སྐྱོབ་དང་འབྲེལ་འཕྲད་པའི་དཀའ་ངལ་དང་ཨ་རི་གཙོས་ནུབ་ཕྱོགས་པའི་ས་ཁུལ་དུ་འཚོ་གནས་བཞིན་པའི་བོད་རིགས་རྣམས་ཀྱི་དཀའ་ངལ་ཤིན་ཏུ་མཚུངས་པར་མཐོང། དེ་མིན་ཁ་ཤས་ཀྱིས་ནམ་རྒྱུན་དུ་ནས་ཕལ་མོ་ཆེའི་སྣང་ཚུལ་ལ་བོད་པ་ཞེས་པ་དེ་དང་ནང་པ་སངས་རྒྱས་པའི་ཆོས་ལ་དད་གུས་བྱེད་མཁན་གྱི་བོད་རིགས་གཉིས་དོན་གཅིག་ཡིན་པར་ཤར་པ་ཡོད་ཀྱང། གནས་ཚུལ་དུ་བོད་རིགས་ཁྲོད་དུ་ཡང་ཁ་ཆེ་དང་བོན་པོ་བཅས་ནང་པ་མ་ཡིན་པའི་ཆོས་ལུགས་ཉམས་ལེན་བྱེད་མཁན་ཡོད་པ་ཤེས་རྒྱུ་གལ་ཆེ་དྲན།
དེ་རིང་གི་ཁ་བརྡ་འདིར་ཕེབས་མཁན་གཞོན་སྐྱེས་ཁ་ཤས་ཀྱིས་རང་ལ་བོད་པ་ཡིན་པའི་འདུ་ཤེས་དང་འཚོར་སྣང་ཤུགས་ཆེན་ཡོད་སྐོར་བཤད་སོང། ཁོང་ཚོས་ཀྱང་བཙན་བྱོལ་སྤྱི་ཚོགས་ནང་དུ་བོད་ཀྱི་སྐད་ཡིག་གི་ཤེས་ཚད་ཉམས་རྒུད་འགྲོ་བཞིན་ཡོད་པ་དང། འདི་ཉིད་མི་ཉམས་རྒྱུན་འཛིན་དང་ཉམས་པ་སླར་གསོ་བྱེད་རྒྱུའི་ཐབས་ལམ་མི་འདྲ་བ་འཚོལ་རྒྱུ་ཤིན་ཏུ་གལ་ཆེར་མཐོང།
དེ་མིན་ང་ཚོས་སྤྱིར་བཏང་སྐད་ཡིག་དང་རྒྱལ་ཁབ་གཅིག་གི་ངོ་བོའི་བར་གྱི་འབྲེལ་བའི་སྐོར་མང་ཙམ་གླེངས་པ་ཡིན། བོད་སྐད་ལྟ་བུར་དཔེ་བཞག་ན་བོད་མི་རིགས་ཀྱི་སྲོག་རྩ་ལྟ་བུ་ཡིན་པ་ནམ་རྒྱུན་དུ་ནས་བཤད་ཀྱི་ཡོད་ཀྱང། ང་ཚོས་གླེང་མོལ་དེ་ཆ་ཚང་དབྱིན་སྐད་ཐོག་བྱེད་པ་ཡིན་ཡང་ང་ཚོར་བོད་པ་ཡིན་པའི་འདུ་ཤེས་དང་མི་རིགས་གཅིག་པའི་འཚོར་སྣང་སླུ་བ་མེད་པ་ཞིག་ཏན་ཏན་རང་རྒྱུད་ལ་སྐྱེད་འབྱུང།
མཐའ་མར་ཁ་བརྡའི་མཇུག་སྡོམ་དུ་སྔར་གཏོང་བའི་དྲི་བར་ལན་འདེབས་རྒྱུ་ཕར་བཞག་དེ་ལས་ལྷག་པའི་དྲི་བ་མང་པོ་ཞིག་སེམས་ལ་གསར་དུ་འཁོར་འབྱུང། འདི་ནི་ཤེས་ཡོན་དོན་མཉེར་ཅན་དང་རིགས་པའི་རྗེས་དྲངས་པའི་བདེན་པ་འཚོལ་ཐབས་ཀྱི་ལམ་གྱི་རང་བཞིན་ཡིན་པ་འདྲ། བཅས་དེ་འདྲ་བའི་གནད་དོན་མང་པོར་བསམ་གཞིག་བྱེད་རྒྱུའི་གོ་སྐབས་བཟང་པོ་དེ་ཐོབ་པར་དགའ་འཚོར་དང་སླར་ཡང་མཉམ་འཛོམས་བྱེད་རྒྱུ་ཡོང་བའི་རེ་སྨོན་ཤུགས་ཆེན་བྱེད་བཞིན་ཡོད།
Written by Tenzin Rabga, MK Chicago Host
We had a very vibrant and thought-provoking discussion following the screening of the film “Valley of the Heroes” by Khashem Gyal. Beginning with the subject matter of the film and the issues and themes addressed therein, our discussions branched out on to a variety of topics ranging from the role of language in our community, to the ways in which we can assure its preservation.
Many of the participants were struck by the similarities of the challenges faced by the residents of the Hualong community in tackling the loss of Tibetan language, and the ones faced by the communities here in the US and elsewhere in the diaspora. Despite the stark differences in the life style and the socio-economic situations, both of these communities are faced with the same fundamental threats of the inevitability of the loss of spoken and written Tibetan. We also delved into more fundamental explorations of the role of language in the formation of individual as well as communal/national identities. Clearly, ours appears to be inseparably tied to our culture and the notion of being a Tibetan, yet it was worth noting that we had the entirety of our discussions in English while still retaining a sense of shared community.
We also touched upon the deep connections between religion and our identities, how most of us think of ourselves as Tibetan Buddhist and how being Tibetan is almost synonymous with being Buddhists. However, as we saw in the film, there are others in our community, minorities who are not Buddhists, with an undeniable sense of Tibetan-ness.
Our discussions naturally led us into practical issues of ways in which to ensure that Tibetan language is preserved and passed on to the next generations of Tibetans born in exile, particularly in the west. Many of the younger individuals in attendance shared their experiences of benefits of immersing themselves in the community and spending prolonged times in Tibetan societies in order to retain their language usage and abilities. Amongst the slightly older individuals there was an imminent sense of urgency and uncertainty regarding ways to introduce and instill a sense of appreciation for the Tibetan language in their children.
As with many such discussions surrounding fundamental issues of personal and communal identities, we were left with more questions to ponder than with answers to seek solace in. However, we were all very encouraged by the initiative and the eagerness with which we were able to gather and have this very intimate and candid discussion about issues of shared concern and importance. Of the many suggestions and opinions, we felt that it was important, as we navigate these terrains both individually and as a group, to try and carve out our own paths and reach our own realizations as to the importance of Tibetan language and culture, and find conducive ways to ensure its preservation for the generations yet to come.
Written by Katie Cunningham
Machik Program Intern & Rising Senior at Sidwell Friends School
After greeting Khabda-goers at the door of Machik headquarters in Washington DC, I was eager to sit and watch Khashem Gyal’s Valley of the Heroes, despite having already seen it a week prior. The second time around I was even more grateful for Khashem’s extreme bravery in highlighting two major contemporary changes-- language loss and Islamic practice in Tibet -- in one documentary. I explained my fascination with the color-coded subtitles differentiating between languages within communities and even families with the group, which consisted of Tibetans and non-Tibetans alike. We discussed topics ranging from how language is a part of one’s identity and what this change means for the future of Tibet, but the conversation was dominated by the exploration of the dangers behind a singular narrative.
Young Tibetan men and women shared their childhood beliefs that Tibet was mountains and yaks and prayer flags, but Khashem’s film brilliantly shattered those stereotypes by redefining Tibet as a culturally and religiously diverse region. While the Tibetan Muslim community may only account for 0.4% of the population, it is important to recognize their existence and importance.
I was inspired by Machik’s third Khabda and its attendees, and cannot wait to see what Khabda 4 holds!
Written by Khando Langri
Machik Program Intern & Senior at McGill University
Machik’s third Khabda showcasing Tibetan filmmaker Khashem Gyal’s documentary Valley of the Heroes was the first event I have ever attended which curated content in a way that fosters global discussions about Tibet. Valley of the Heroes is an intimate portrait which explores memory, language and place by filming everyday life in a Tibetan Muslim community in Hualong County. In interviewing people from different generations, from elders all the way to children, Khashem shows us the radical transformation of the way of life of the people of the community. Language is the axis of the film, site of both trauma and resilience. Khashem exposes us to the complex relationship community members have to both Tibetan and Chinese, the former taught in makeshift schools by volunteers in an attempt to preserve culture and the latter acting as the language of upward social mobility. This film allowed us to have a better understanding of Tibet’s contemporary languagescape and discuss it as a group in a respectful and nuanced way.
What moved me the most was seeing a Tibetan mosque and more broadly how Islam shapes Tibetan landscapes. This urged me to interrogate my own understandings of Tibetanness and reconsider who I think about when I think about Tibetans inside Tibet. I am beginning to realize that Tibetan identity is vibrant and diverse. Having a space that allows Tibetans and allies to explore the multiplicity of Tibetan experience and identity such as Machik Khabda is truly exciting and I look forward to future discussions!
Written by Quinn Lehrman
Machik Program Intern & Rising Senior at Sidwell Friends School
Khabda was my first work experience at Machik. It was an introduction to the six weeks I planned to spend drafting letters, writing blog posts (like this one!), and fostering discussions about Tibetan culture. As a white American living in a western bubble, there wasn't much I could tell you about Tibet coming into Khabda. I hoped that Saturday's Khabda discussion might shed some light on Tibet. I realize now that I was initially looking for a way to generalize Tibetans. I wanted to develop a description of the "model Tibetan" that I could give to curious friends and family members such as, "Tibetans are Buddhist herding people who spend their lives on mountains and river valleys." This is the sort of stereotype that I expected to have by the credits of "Valley of the Heroes" by Khashem Gyal. I ended up with a better understanding of Tibet's diversity and realized that even some Tibetans are new to some of this cultural variety.
"Valley of the Heroes" focuses on a community in Hualong County, in Amdo, eastern Qinghai Province. Being a majority Muslim area, its people defy the stereotype that Tibet is an entirely Buddhist nation. Having very few preconceived notions about the Tibetan people, this diversity wasn't nearly as surprising to me as to the Tibetans in the room. After the film concluded and the discussion began, one of our visitors commented on the shock she felt upon seeing a Tibetan Muslim for the first time. She described the portrait of Tibet that her immigrant parents had painted for her since she was a child. She pictured a valley of Yaks and happy Chuba-wearing people sipping water from snow capped mountaintop streams. A Tibetan wearing a Taqiyya was a sight that didn't fit this image. Even Tibetans that had been previously quiet in the discussion shared that they identified with her sense of surprise. These people were infinitely more knowledgeable about Tibet than I, yet they had just discovered a completely new side of their people.
An explanation for this confusion was quickly proposed. Tibet is spread out, both geographically and population-wise. Communities are often many hundreds of miles apart, and it's through this geographic isolation that new dialects and differing religious practices may form. I walked into Machik Khabda searching for an answer to the question "who exactly are Tibetans?” and Khabda instead left me with no simple answer to that question. To do justice to the cultural diversity of Tibet, it is necessary to have an evolving understanding of Tibet and its people. I hope that I can use valuable discussions like Khabda to develop a deeper and more complex view of Tibet.
Written by Tenzin Dickyi
Machik Program Intern & Rising Senior at Colgate University
This past weekend I attended my first Machik Khabda, both as a Program Intern with Machik and as a curious mind. The idea of Khabda is something that I am familiar with in an academic context. Reading, viewing, or experiencing a work of art, something someone has created and then going on to discuss it with peers is usually something that I look forward to, but also creates a lot of anxiety for me. I’m not the biggest fan of speaking in big groups, but this experience was different. I was talking about a film about Tibetans in Tibet, made by a Tibetan, talking with people who are Tibetan or who care about Tibet. Although nervous to speak up in this group, I had many thoughts and questions stirring in my mind as I watched The Valley of the Heroes by Khashem Gyal.
I had high expectations for this film because of what I heard from people about Khashem and his work. While these expectations were fulfilled, I thought the film would speak more to Islam in Tibet. Just the sheer fact that Kashem Gyal was able to create a film about both language and religion is incredible. Both are sensitive subjects, but Kashem still went on to document them. The idea of language loss is something that I think about often because I do not know how to read or write in Tibetan either. It was inspiring to see the community in the film step up to address a problem they see in their society. When I was young I did not care to learn how to read or write in Tibetan because of the pressure I felt to speak English and do well in school. As I got older and began to reconnect more with my Tibetan-ness, I started to blame my lack of knowledge on my surroundings and not needing to learn. However, this film showed how important the preservation of language, and in turn culture, is for Tibet and Tibetans.
I thought it was incredible how Kashem used different colors for subtitles to distinguish the Chinese from Tibetan languages. While I could not understand most of the Tibetan in the first place, it was nice to know when Tibetan was being spoken and when Chinese was being spoken. The different colored subtitled also showed how the two languages, in certain parts of Tibet, are interchangeable in conversation due to the bilingualism of the people. It depicted how often, in this area, Chinese is used in Tibetan households and exactly how prominent the language loss is. There were some people born just a few decades apart and their first language was completely different. As someone at the Khabda highlighted, it was crazy to see how fast the local language switched from Tibetan to Chinese.
In addition, seeing Tibetan Muslims was really interesting to me. A year ago, I had no idea that Tibetan Muslims existed, let alone the fact there are mosques in Tibet. Seeing Tibetans who practice a religion other than Buddhism was eye-opening to the fact that not all of Tibet is Buddhist, as people often believe. My family has painted a picture of Tibet that depicts it as mountainous and green with yaks roaming around. However, Tibet has many different people living there. David G. Atwill speaks to the exclusion of Muslims in Tibet’s narrative in his book Islamic Shangri-La. Atwill highlights how, after a few generations of Muslims presence in Tibet, Tibetans in Tibet viewed them as Tibetan. However, visitors to Tibet consistently labelled them as non-Tibetan. Khashem’s film opened up conversation about deconstructing an homogenized idea of Tibetans and what what Tibetans do in Tibet.