The Unique Culture of the Luoba Ethnic Minority
2018-05-28
One of the smallest of China’s 56 ethnic minority groups, the Luoba people live primarily in Shannan Prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous region, scattered throughout the Luoya Region of this part of southwest Tibet.
 
Almost completely isolated in the foothills of the Himalayas, the Luoba people were once virtually slaves of the ancient Tibetan government, and were left behind in economic and cultural development until the 1950s. Now, with a population of only around 3,600 people, this unique Tibetan people have become the subject of cultural protection by the Chinese government, following many years of work by one of their own people within the People’s National Congress.


 
The Luoba people are blessed with a wide variety of natural resources, from plants and animals to the local minerals found in the soil. With an economy based on subsistence agriculture and traditional hunting practices, the people have thrived over the last 30 years, increasing their numbers drastically from the previous population of just 2,900 in 2012.


 
Still believing in the ancient shamanistic religions of pre-Buddhist Tibet, the people believe that spirits dominate their world, controlling nature and their very lives, and bestowing happiness upon the people. And with no written system of language for their Tibeto-Burman vocabulary, their legends have been passed on from generation to generation orally, using their own form of Jiajin, a unique melodic verse used for telling legends and stories as well as traditional epics.


 
Their food and culture does closely resemble that of the rest of Tibet, although their main staples are rice and corn, with the addition of the local crop known as Jizhuagou, or “Chicken’s Claw” grain. The unusual grain is also used to brew their popular local yellow wine, and buckwheat pies coated with chili powder are a traditional dish among the Luoba people.


 
Culturally, the Luoba people believe that guests should be treated in a distinguished manner, and given the prime seats and best foods, and they place a high value on etiquette and hospitality. Traditional Luopba hunting is done using poisoned arrows, so all meats must be treated to nullify the poison in the flesh before cooking and eating. And at meals, the host normally eats and drinks a small portion of what is served to prove to guests that the food is now safe to eat. For the guests, it is offensive to leave food on the table, and everything must be eaten to show thanks to the host family.


 
There are some Luoba that observe the traditional Tibetan festivals, though most still live by their own lunisolar calendar, which means that there are really no unified dates for their own traditional celebrations in the Tibetan calendar. However, the celebration of the Luoba New Year coincides with that of the Tibetan calendar, and is the largest celebration of the year. Singing, dancing, and drinking are popular pasttimes at New Year, and the people slaughter pigs, sheep, and oxen to produce feasts to be shared with other people as part of their tradition of sharing blessings.
 


Most of the Luoba minority people live in the Douyu Township, in Nongzi / Longzi County of Shannan Prefecture, which is the traditional home of NPC deputy, Zhaxi Yangjin. The Luoba-born deputy to the People’s National Congress has been instrumental in the protection of the Luoba culture and way of life for more than ten years, and saw the traditional Luoba dress listed as a National Intangible Cultural heritage in 2008.
TAG: Culture of Luoba Ethnic Minority Southern Tibet of China

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