Thursday, March 6, 2014

Happy Losar (Except for you guys)

We from Overlooking Tibet would like to wish everyone a happy Losar.  We had a Losar post, but in Tibetan culture it's bad form to scold during the first 3 days of Losar, so we decided to wait.

Some of you may have noticed that last month, about one day off of Chinese New Year, many Khampa and Amdowa Tibetans posted about their Losar celebrations, as did Tibetan practitioners of the Karma Kagyu school.  Every year this causes a bit of confusion and discussion, especially among Tibetans residing in exile where (except for especially devout practitioners of the Karma Kagyu School and people from Kongpo) Losar is pretty standardized (and even in these two cases, they usually celebrate "standard/phuglug Losar" as well.)

But this year, I got to see this:

Followed not long after by this:

T is the only Tibetan anywhere in this conversation.  Everyone else, most importantly A, the original poster, is a westerner.

I started with annoyance, then moved to disgust at her move of publicly shaming Tibetans in Tibet for celebrating the new year on the timing it is celebrated in their region. I then moved on to rage when she went so far as to call them "collaborators".  For what? For celebrating Losar on a different date?  Then "Chinese Losar in Serta: Some Tibetans celebrated with Chinese army" (emphasis my own.)  Excuse me? Chinese Losar?

First: Brief lesson.  Losar is widely celebrated across different dates in Tibet. Many parts of Eastern Tibet, such as Minyak in Kham and several different areas of Amdo, have historically celebrated Losar one month early, nearly or exactly coinciding with the Chinese New Year.  Is it Chinese new year? No. It coincides.  There are a lot of overlaps between the Tibetan calendar and the Chinese one.  For example, it's the wood horse year all across Asia, not just Tibet. Not just China!  Mongolian new year also falls within a few days of Chinese new year, similar to the Amdo Tibetan new year.  Would she also like to argue that the Mongolians have lost their culture and are collaborators?

Another group that celebrates Losar on a slightly different calendar which usually falls within 2 days of Chinese new year are followers of the Tsurlug calendar.  Even the Official Website of the Tibetan Astrological And Medical Institute, founded in Dharamsala by the Dalai Lama acknowledges the validity of the Tsurlug calendar as one of the "two major traditions of Tibetan astrology." (The other is the more mainstream, and slightly newer Phuglug calendar, which coincides with the Chinese new year every other year anyway).

Kongpo Losar generally falls between October and Decembera nd is widely celebrated by Kongpo Tibetans in Tibet and exile. It is radically different from Phuglug Losar, but since it doesn't fall near Chinese new year ever, it is never a source of controversy.

Second and worst: Who does A think she is to publicly shame and condemn Tibetans?  She reports that last year Lobsang Sangay asked Tibetans not to celebrate Losar, who is she to condemn them for celebrating this year?  There has been no call from inside Tibet that I know of (or in exile for that matter) not to celebrate Losar!  Why should they have to give up their holiday and chance for enjoyment?  Worse yet, she makes herself out as the victim in this scenario "I feel devastated in my desire to help the preservation of Tibetan culture. Looks like they really do not mind."  What?  By celebrating their holiday according to their regional calendar she feels "devastated"?  Who does she think she is? The holder of Tibetan culture?

These photos, she acknowledges, were sent to her by friends on WeChat. I think it's a safe assumption, based on her own comments, that they were sent by Tibetan friends enjoying Losar and wanting to share their enjoyment of the new year with her.  I wonder how her "friends" would feel knowing that she is referring to them as "collaborators"? I wonder how they would react to her using their uncensored photos, sent in conversation of celebration, to publicly shame Tibetans?

Does she really think she's aiding the "unity" of Tibetans by accusing Tibetan celebrants of being collaborators?  By condemning the unique cultural practices that differ across Tibet?

But you know what? It's Losar. So on behalf of us at Overlooking Tibet, whether you celebrate Phuglug Losar now, Tsurlug, Amdo Losar or Tsagaan Sar a month ago, or Kongpo Losar in autumn, Happy Losar.

1 comment:

  1. For once this blog is right on. This kind of judgmental attitude towards the Tibetans I know drives me crazy. Research culture more deeply before you jump to criticize is the basic message. The larger message, even larger than the lesson about different calendars and Phuglug/Tsurlug etc., is that culture changes and evolves. Sometimes the reason for that is the influence of a (hostile/propagandistic/dominant) power such as the Chinese gov't, and sometimes it's just because natural evolution is the way that culture stays relevant. And by that I mean that if Tibetans want to celebrate Losar in a way that has evolved from the traditional (and I've seen huge changes just in the dozen years of Losars I've been around), then LET THEM celebrate in their own way. A dogmatic desire to freeze cultural expression for Tibetans is just objectifying them, not appreciating their culture.


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