The Drokpa World: An Introduction to The Valley of Black Foxes
By Kunchok Kyid
In the Tibetan language, Drokpa (འབྲོག་པ།) is the word for nomadic pastoralists. Thousands of years have gone by since generations of drokpas have been living and thriving on Tibetan plateau. There is a common drokpa saying, མགོ་ནག་བརྟེན་ས་སྤུ་ནག སྤུ་ནག་བརྟེན་ས་སྤང་རྩྭ། -- which means that people depend on nornag (ནོར་གནག, livestock), and the nornag depend on grasslands. In the drokpa world, this clear perception of interdependence and the interconnectedness between people, animals and nature shapes everyday practice in every dimension of life. Drokpas not only cherish and sustain a harmonious relationship with their surroundings, they also regard their nornag with care and compassion.
Droksa (འབྲོག་ས།), is the general name for pastoral lands in Tibetan. It is where the drokpas have been living and herding their nornag for centuries. However, it is a common misconception by the outsiders that drokpas are people who wander the earth and possess no concept or acknowledgement of ownership in relation to the land. Such a misconstrual denies how vital the land is to the drokpas and in turn justifies settler colonial presence on drokpas’ lands as “rightful”. Drokpas’ attachment to the droksa is too strong to articulate. If there is no droksa, there is no drokpa.
Since the early 2000s, a resettlement policy has been in place to relocate and sedentarize drokpas under the guise of providing a better, “modernized" life. This unfortunate policy ignores the epistemic claim that a drokpa has on their droksa land. It neglects the fact this relationship to the land holds powerful meaning for a drokpa's sense of being. This policy has not only displaced many drokpa communities, it has also disrupted the continuity of the drokpa way of life in this world.
The Valley of Black Foxes, featured in this Khabda, is a story about drokpa resettlement by celebrated Tibetan novelist, Tsering Dondrup. The story has received widespread attention inside Tibet. In this story, the author highlights the narratives of the resettlement from a drokpa’s point of view. For drokpas, mobility has been an intrinsic aspect of life, yet for Sangye’s family in the The Valley of Black Foxes, the move to Tsezhung county town put an end to any mobility at all. It was an abnormal experience, and they were forced to question themselves for the first time about the untold purposes of this resettlement. They found they had to ask other endless questions, none of whom could answer their questions adequately; to maintain their drokpa traditions, they had to pay extra to profit-driven people who didn’t even appreciate their culture; to survive, the newly arrived drokpas had to endure new and unfamiliar struggles that consumed their energy to fulfill the agenda of “development”.
The Valley of Black Foxes is not a story of a single family; it reflects the unspoken experience of countless drokpa families and entire communities across the Tibetan plateau. Today, the ongoing implementation of resettlement policies and projects puts hundreds of thousands of drokpas in Tibet at risk and in vulnerable positions.
Kunchok Kyid was born in a drokpa family in Dzorge, eastern Tibet. She is currently a Machik Fellow.
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