Tibetan Ornamentation- Khampa
The summer months have come to a close all too quickly and it is now September. And with that, on this Labor Day Holiday, Ontario’s biggest city Toronto buzzed with a beehive of activity satiating the senses of sight, hearing and taste via umpteen exciting festivals.
This last hurrah compelled us all to live it up, as though our lives depended on it. For soon the humdrum of daily life will be back upon us. Back to work, back to school, the end of nice, easygoing time and weather. All will be replaced by cold icy temperatures, shorter daylight hours, and the flu season. Then comes the dreaded snow…Uggg, winter is coming! (Pardon the private joke from this fan of the HBO series’ Game of Thrones).
And if you believe the Farmer’s Almanac, this winter will be a particularly harsh one! But I digress, in between the haste of cramming in as much summertime fun; there is also the hustle and bustle of shopping. And with winter attire acquired; why not splurge on something frivolous?
Recently my interests veered towards unique jewelry, the indigenous sort. Tibetan jewelry presented itself as a new area to be explored. I visited several vendors that offered some unique, antique and rare geometric designs encompassing pieces of turquoise and amber. There was one particular necklace that drew my attention; however, when I put it up against my neck, I felt a strange sensation. The feeling of a pair of hands choking me became more pronounced when the clasp was fastened. I couldn’t get it off me fast enough and, paying no heed to the special deal the vender offered for enticement, I hastily but politely exited the premises. As my steps took me to safe distance, now don’t laugh, I felt as though I’d dodged something unholy. I’m not averse to acquiring antique pieces and sometimes they can be quite interesting as I am a History buff. Still, my subsequent move was to pay a visit to another Tibetan vendor that I was sure sold new jewelry pieces. No pre-owned stuff after that scare. I selected a few pieces that appealed to my taste and were moderately priced.
Sometime later, I came across some interesting pictures on the internet about Tibetan Khampa Posted on Flickr by Better World 2010. The men and women were covered in plentiful huge chunks of amber, coral and turquoise jewelry. This was intriguing to say the least. Why be burdened with such weight?
Then I came across some even more fascinating info about legendary Khampa people living in eastern Tibet who never fall ill and live a long time. As seen in these pictures, they are usually tall, well built and fearless. The Khampa men often stood out in a crowd, same as the women; all decked out with gold and silver, amber and red coral accessories, with their long plaited hair and tanned faces. I read somewhere that their bright unrestrained laughter resonated in the air when in festivals they moved in clusters like the moving hills. I wish I was there to see it in person.
Intrigued, I prodded further: The indigenous group was said to reside on the mysterious snowy plateau and furthermore, they were believed to be the offspring of the god of war and the goddess of beauty. With such lineage, the women were sure to be beautiful and the men always, stoic and valiant. Clearly, surviving the hostile elements of nature has only strengthened their life-force.
There was even a mysterious legend about this indigenous group: It was believed that once, a long time ago in the Medicine King City, there lived the Medicine King. Impressed by the Khampa’s fearless and gallant nature, he often dispensed free medical treatment. Furthermore, he passed on to Khampa all that he knew, including all the herbal medicine and disease treatment methods. Since then, the Khampa had never fallen ill. More interestingly, all the panaceas (universal remedies, cure-alls, magic potions) came from the Medicine King City.
As great as this belief is, the disbeliever may attribute Khampa people’s lasting good health to their inherent good habits, the sensible and diligent care they have in the prevention of all diseases.
Meanwhile the whole Tibetan regions, its indigenous customs, ceremonial ornamentation, Khampa, are all a marvel to explore. Here is some more which I would like to share:
Did you know that different regions of Tibet have their own unique customs, dialect, and styles of ornamentation? The styles of ceremonial costumes worn by the rich families are as distinct and therefore easily recognisable in determining the region.
Headpiece’s elaborately studded with coral resemble a crown. Coral studded gold armlets, or Copal beads (‘sherpa coral’) may be used by both men and women in the place of coral, covering the length of their forearms and fingers in gold bracelets and rings.
The beautiful costumes of the Khampas are considered to be the main store of the family’s wealth and announce the social status of the wearers. They are handed down from generation to generation.
Till recently most Tibetan families were nomadic and had to move every few months because of the snowy seasons in the Himalayas so, being unable to store wealth in the form of estates or houses or land or in a bank, Khampas developed this practical and portable means of transporting and storing their wealth. These rich nomadic ornaments are set in colorful, chunky and bold designs.
Tibetan culture is very specific in determining the type of stone or ornaments that are to be used: these are usually amber, turquoise, coral and jade, because the stones are believed to hold spiritual power. There is also a firm belief that the stones provide good luck and protection from disease. Dyed red coral is the most sought after stone, but interestingly enough, Tibet is quite far away from any oceans and therefore coral must be acquired through trade. Archeological finds also revealed that the beliefs of spiritual protection being provided by coral, amber and turquoise probably originated from the ancient shamanic Bon religion, as the designs of pieces predates the arrival of Buddhism in Tibet.
Now these stones are always set in pure gold or silver that is naturally found in Tibet. Tibetans also consider these precious metals sacred and that they hold spiritual power of their own, therefore, mixing gold or silver will be a sacrilege. As a result, some costumes are worth somewhere between $10,000 all the way up to many millions of US dollars, depending on the quality of stones and antiquity of the ornaments. The costumes can weigh up to 44lb, much of that weight derived from the gold and silver amulet pieces attached in front, behind and on the head. These costumes are worn on annual festival days such as at the Litang Horse Festival.
These ornaments have the utmost sentimental value and significance, because they are the physical remnants of generations of their ancestor’s hard work or success. This belief has also been traced by the archeological finds all the way back to the 1st century AD.
Testament to this truth is unearthed ornaments that are found to be essentially the same in design and materials as those today.