LIVESTOCK IN THE
COMPLETE ECONOMIC DEPENDENCE ON LIVESTOCK is the feature distinguishing the drokba's way of life from that of villagers. Livestock products directly provide food, clothing and shelter, and indirectly (through trade) yield grain, tea, ironware, and manufactured goods such as sneakers, aluminum pots, and clothing.
The yak is the quintessential Changtang animal: cold and high altitude adapted. Surprisingly, the nomads' generic term for yak is not yak at all but nor-a word that normally translates as "wealth." The term yak is actually reserved for only the male nor7 while female nor are called dri.
The yak is unique to the Tibetan plateau and surrounding areas. Its thick outer coat of coarse hair, soft undercoat of cashmerelike wool, and subcutaneous fat layer prevent heat loss and permit it to live year-round in the open. We have seen them grazing at 18,000 feet in winter in areas where the temperature regularly drops to 40 degrees and -50 degrees F at night. Indeed, the well-adapted yak does not thrive in warmer temperatures at altitudes much below 10,000 feet.
Adult male yak weigh between 440-550 pounds, and are about four feet tall at the shoulder and four-and-a-half feet long. Females are 20-25% smaller. The Tibetan yak provides "heavy transportation": it is extremely powerful and has great endurance even at the highest altitudes. It is the only animal that can carry the nomads' heavy and bulky black tents, each side of which weighs about 100 pounds, and do so through snow and crossing passes at 20,000 feet and higher. Yaks can also be saddled and ridden, and function as a kind of poor manís horse. Although they have quite a comfortable gait, they are slow compared to horses and we found them somewhat difficult to steer because the reins are strung through their nose hole rather than attached to a bit.
Male yak are the only livestock that are left untended in high mountain valleys where they graze by themselves. They usually do not wander too far from where they are left, so when they are needed for transportation, it is not difficult to locate and bring them back. Dri, on the other hand, are herded on a daily basis like sheep and goats.
Since our research required interviewing and examining the nomads in all of the various homebase and satellite encampments, we frequently traveled with yak. Normally, the nomad we hired to move us would get the yak the day before our departure and tie them up on a tether line overnight to ensure that they would be there first thing in the morning. However, our traveling plans were delayed several times when the yak were not found where they were last left, and had to be searched for in the adjacent valleys. The first time this happened, the nomads told us that even though the yak hadn't arrived that evening, they would certainly get there early the next morning so we would still be able to depart by 10-11 o'clock. When we awoke the next morning to find the weather clear and sunny, we decided to save some time by taking down our tent and packing in anticipation of the arrival of our yak. But nine o'clock and ten o'clock passed with no sign of the yak. Then the unpredictable Changtang weather decided to highlight our poor judgment by first clouding over and then raining, forcing us to put up our tent and unpack in the midst of the storm. Our 15 yak finally arrived at 4 p.m., the drenched herder explaining that the yak had moved farther than normal and that he did not immediately find them. We never again broke our camp until we saw the carrying yak with our own eyes (or at least through our binoculars).
Yak provide food, shelter, and clothing for the nomads. Their coarse belly hair is spun and woven into tent material, and their soft cashmere like wool (called kulu) is used for ropes and blankets. Their hide is used for the soles of boots and, of course, yak provide large quantities of meat, as much as 175-275 pounds from an adult male. In addition, the females provide relatively large quantities of milk throughout the year.
A single yak is worth much more than a single sheep or goat -roughly six sheep and seven goats traditionally were bartered for one yak. However, because of the amount and quality of the vegetation available in Pala, yak comprise just 12% of the Pala nomads' livestock, and are not as important for the overall economy as sheep.
Tibetan Changtang sheep have adapted to life at high altitude with more hemoglobin and larger lungs than lowland sheep, as well as a dense and long coat of wool. They too provide meat, milk, wool, and the skins needed for the nomadsí winter clothing. They are also used for transporting goods: adult males can carry 20-30 pounds of grain or salt in a saddlebag similar to that used for backpacking dogs in the U.S. There is also a lively trade in the animals themselves, the nomads exchanging sheep with villagers for grain and goods, and to pay them for work such as tanning skins.
Goats thrive in this area. Like the sheep, they have higher hemoglobin, more red cells, and breathe four-five times faster than their low-altitude relatives. They provide more milk than sheep and for longer, and their skins are used for the nomads' heavy winter clothing. Traditionally, they were less valuable than sheep because there was no market for their hair or cashmere and little for their meat since villagers prefer mutton. Recently, however, their economic value has skyrocketed as a consequence of the emergence of a thriving national and international market for cashmere (discussed below).
The availability and quality of animal products vary throughout the year, and the nomads' traditional production strategy has accommodated to this by: 1) converting temporary abundances into storable forms that can be used throughout the year; and by 2) collecting products at peak quality. Dairy products exemplify the first strategy; meat, wool, and cashmere the second.
Sheep, goats, and yak give different amounts of milk and for different lengths of time. Wanam explained the essence of his dairy production:
You have to understand that although our yak, sheep and goats all provide milk, the sheep and goats do so for only part of the year (sheep for three months and goats for four-and-a-half months in summer). Only the dri (female yak) give milk year round. Thus, while I get lots of milk from my animals in summer, I get very little in winter.
We measured the milk from his 155 milking goats/sheep and 11 female yak, and found that he gets about seven gallons a day at peak yield in mid-summer when all three are giving milk, but only about three quarts a day in winter.
So we drokba transform a large portion of the summer milk abundance into butter and cheese since these can be stored and utilized later when the fresh milk is insufficient for our needs. They can also be sold whenever we need other products.
The nomads, consequently, consume virtually no milk per se. Instead,
they first make yogurt the same way we do by bringing milk to a boil,
cooling it somewhat, adding a "starter" and letting it sit covered overnight.
By the following mid-morning they have a rich, tart, and smooth yogurt
called sho. The women chum most of it into butter, setting aside a portion
for the day's meals. Households with large herds usually keep the yak
(dri) milk separate because it yields the yellow butter that is preferred to
the white butter of sheep and goat milk, but most simply mix all their
An hour or so of lifting and plunging a wooden paddle in a chest-
high wooden churn, about 12 inches in diameter standing alongside the
tent, produces butter. In wintertime, when very little milk is obtained,
two- to three-days' worth of yogurt may be saved to process at one time,
and churning is usually done in the tent in a container made from a
sheep's stomach. The churner blows air into the stomach to inflate it,
pours in the yogurt, and then shakes it back and forth on her lap until the
butter forms. The resultant butter, which is about 6.5% of the weight of
yogurt, is sewn tightly into sheaths made from sheep's stomachs where it
stays fresh for about a year, enabling the nomads to spread the caloric
value of their dairy products to the seasons when milk is scarce.
After the butter is removed from the yogurt, the leftover liquid ("buttermilk") is boiled and strained to yield a cheese that, when fresh, resembles crumbly white farmer's cheese. This represents another 23% of the weight of the yogurt. A little cheese is consumed fresh, but most is sundried into rock-hard bits and stored for use in winter and spring. Cloths spread with drying cheese are a common summer sight, attracting birds, cats, dogs and children, all hoping to sneak a tasty morsel. Dry cheese lasts for years. We still have cheese from 1985 in perfect condition. The liquid left after the cheese is removed, the whey, is sometimes consumed by the nomads, regularly fed to the dogs, and boiled to make the women's black make-up (doja).
Doja is made by boiling whey until it becomes a dark and thick concentrate. Some of this is applied immediately (with a small tuft of wool) while the rest is stored in a can or wood box. A single batch of doja can last for weeks or even months. Reusing it is simple. A few drops of water are added to the thick concentrate which is then reheated at the edge of the fire. As many of the photographs in this book illustrate, doja is carefully applied by women on their forehead, nose and cheeks with a small tuft of wool. Men do not use it at all. Nomads generally say that it protects the skin against the sun, but it actually is used more as a cosmetic to enhance beauty. Young girls start applying it around 10 or 12 years of age and continue to do so until their 40s and more rarely, 50s, and it is most frequently applied by women who are concerned with appearance, e.g. single girls of marriageable age and newly married women. Like their counterparts in the U.S., women put it on when they want to look particularly attractive. For example, on several occasions we saw women whose husbands were expected to return that evening from a trip wash, braid their hair, and put on doja.
Although the nomads typically say their way of life is easy because livestock provide all their needs for them, pastoral production really takes time, work and skill. Obtaining and processing milk exemplifies this. It is almost exclusively the responsibility of women who milk the animals, make the yogurt, and churn the valuable butter. In summer (June through August), when sheep and goats are milked twice a day, the yield per animal is highest, and the largest number of animals are giving milk daily, dairy work may require six hours. Starting shortly after daylight, the adult and teenage women emerge from their tents carrying wooden pails and ropes of braided yak hair to begin the sheep milking. As her companions keep the herd swirling slowly about her, one woman grabs her animals by the homs and pulls them one by one, each facing the opposite direction, and loops a section of the rope over the neck in a crochet-fashion slip knot. This
creates a long line that looks like two long interdigitating lines of animals facing each other. Each animal is held fast by a single long rope tying it to its neighbors facing the opposite direction.
Once the animals are securely tied face-to-face, the milkers rinse their hands and start milking. This method of tying the animals immobilizes them in a line-up for an hour or two while the milkers work their way down the line, usually twice, each milking only her own animals (which are tied next to each other) bending at the waist and reaching the udder from the back. Separate households may herd together but almost always keep their milk separate. After milking is finished, a woman pulls the loose end of the rope tying the animals and the "slip-knot" unravels the row of crocheting to free the animals at once. The process is then repeated with the goats.
Milking the dri is a bit more complicated. The one- to three-year-old calves are tied every evening, the wooden peg worn on a string around their necks fastened to a loop on a tether line pegged into the ground. This prevents them from suckling and keeps their free-ranging mothers from wandering too far during the night. In the morning, the dri are rounded up and, one at a time, hobbled with a short rope around their forefeet. The milker then unties its calf which races to its mother. It is allowed to drink for a moment to start the milk flowing, and is then dragged away and rated. After milking, the calf is untied and allowed to forage with the mother all day
After several hours of milking and an hour or so of churning, there is a midday pause of about five to six hours when other chores are done, including preparing tsamba, fetching water, spinning and weaving wool and making yogurt. The evening milking session for sheep and goats (but not dri) lasts an hour or two, ending usually after sunset. From October to May, only the morning milking of the dri has to be done.
Milking time, however, is not all work. Usually several families at an encampment tie their animals together in a single lineup and the women of the camp gossip and laugh while each milks her own animals. Milking invariably also brings out their children who play alongside the animals as if on a playground.
Some play at being animals, walking on all fours holding discarded yak horns in their hands, while others make believe they are antelope, hopping around holding pairs of elegant antelope horns to their forehead. Older siblings may race around carrying babies piggyback, or putting them down to practice tottering to mother and back. Those leaning to talk are encouraged to do so. One little girl, coached by her mother and sisters, learned to say 'Cynthia" very well, giggling delightedly as she did so. Others practice counting by enumerating the animals in line.
Children often try to "help" the milkers in sweet and humorous ways, one trying to push back a sheep that has fumed out of line, another slapping a rump, while another earnestly holds the end of the rope tying the animals head to head. The nomads are exceptionally affectionate and loving with their children and many of the tender moments we witnessed took place at this time. One tranquil summer evening Nyima gave a ladle to her five-year-old daughter who had been imitating her by tugging at the udder of the next animal in line. The girl, now with a milk container just like mom, diligently, though without any skill or much success, ,'milked" the goat for a few minutes and then carefully balanced the ladle on our scale so we could weigh the milk, just as we did for the adults. Then she poured her few drops into her mother's wooden pail receiving a big hug and kiss for her effort.
Since women normally do all of the milking, churning, cooking, and collecting of dung fuel and water, our first summer with the nomads seemed to confirm the widespread urban Tibetan stereotype that women do aU the work in nomad society while the men sit around "relaxing." When we asked the nomad women whether they sometimes resented the men's lack of help in the milking cycle, many could hardly understand our question, so alien was it to their view of a 'natural" division of labor. Nyima, who has seven children and a large herd to care for, one day responded to our suggestion of inequality and oppression with an air of incredulity. "But of course I don't resent having to do the milking and my other tasks. The men have their work to do as well and I wouldn't want to change with them. I'm always here by my children and tent and do not have to undergo the hardship of long-distance travel as the men do when they go on their journey to collect salt from distant takes, or when they go to trade in winter with villagers a month away"
At first we found this hard to believe, but the more we traveled among the nomad campsites, Nyima's attitude became somewhat more understandable. When nomads travel they continue regardless of the weather: neither rain, nor snow, nor hail compels them to change their plans-they load up and move on with their animals until they reach their destination. Walking with them all day in blizzard-like conditions, and watching them repeatedly load and unload the rambunctious yak, wearing no gloves, yet tying and untying knots in sub-zero temperatures, we gained appreciation for the women's point of view which sees their division of labor as complementary rather than exploitive. And in fact, some men occasionally do help out with "women's" tasks such as churning and even milking if their household is shorthanded or the woman is sick.
The men, similarly, accept their role as travelers and traders, despite the hardships and dangers involved. The same men who lounged around the encampment while the women milked, and did not think to help with many of the daily tasks, were always ready to load up some yaks, saddle a horse, and travel to another campsite a day or two away for even minor reasons, oblivious to snow, hail, or rain.
The first time we moved with the nomads we did not realize this and told them we would like to leave the next morning if it were not raining. This brought only blank stares which we perceived as meaningful only in retrospect. Sure enough, the next day we awoke to find it raining. As we lingered over breakfast tea in our dripping tent, the nomads walked up with the yak all saddled, ready for us to break camp, load up, and move out. We had no choice but to do so, and later simply adopted their tactics. The unpredictability of the Changtang's weather actually made this reasonable since it is likely to change from rain to sun, and then perhaps to hail or snow, and back to sun over the course of a single day.
Just as summer is the time of dairy plenty, winter is the time of meat dbundance. Most households slaughter a sheep or goat in late August to celebrate completion of the wool shearing, but almost all other meat is harvested all at once at the start of winter. One old nomad neighbor of ours explained the reasoning behind this: ,
We kill now because this is the optimum time. The good summer and fall grass has helped the animals build up the stores of fat that give the meat its good taste, and the animals have not yet started the inevitable winter-spring loss of weight.
The nomads think of their livestock as capital. At worst, they try to draw on the interest alone, using only the yield of annually recurring animal products and "spending" (bartering or slaughtering) no more livestock than reproduction replaces. Ideally, they try to increase the capital fund by selling or slaughtering fewer head of livestock than are added to the herd through birth. Disaster for the nomads occurs when high mortality confronts a family with the need to eat or sell off part of its capital to survive, knowing full well that this could start a downward spiral ending in impoverishment. Neonatal mortality is particularly insidious because it reduces the flow of new females into the herd and thereby threatens the ability of the herd to replenish itself. Nomads typically try to preserve their capital when this happens by temporarily working for others to meet basic subsistence needs. This reduces their need to sell and slaughter livestock and gives them hope that the inherent capacity of their goats and sheep to reproduce quickly-newbom female kids and lambs begin to reproduce annually in their third year-will allow them to restore their capital level (their herd) after a few good years.
The annual winter slaughter is the time when such decisions occur, and therefore the time when the future composition of the herd is determined. It is, therefore, one of the junctures at which the family head's experience, skill, and values come to the fore. The nomads can do nothing about herd mortality which is a chance element in their production system, but they can control the composition of their herd by deciding which (and how many) animals to cull each year.
While non-reproductive animals are slaughtered first, even barren females and old males are valuable because they yield wool and hair annually, can be used for transportation, and are a source of meat. They will not be culled if a household's meat needs are already met or if the overall herd size cannot sustain the loss. Because of this, the number of animals slaughtered for food varies with the wealth of the household-the more animals a family has per person, the more it can sell or HI without cutting into its capital. Thus, while the average number of sheep/goats killed for meat per person was 4.4 in 1986 through '88, the richest families slaughtered about eight to ten animals per person and the poorest only one to two per person. About nine percent of the total livestock in Pala was culled for meat in 1987.
Most people tend to think of "native" peoples living in remote locales such as Pala as being homogeneous-as sharing identical values and attituc-leb. Nothing could be further from the truth in Pala. While these nomads all shared something we can call Tibetan nomad culture, like us they have very different personalities and values. This is very striking with regard to their attitudes toward herd management. Some are eager to acquire the symbols of success and status (for example, silver flint strikers, new shirts made from colorful Hawaiian-style cloth, a horse, saddle rugs, tape cassette recorder, and so forth), and are willing to trade or kill extra livestock to obtain these immediately, even though it cuts into their herd capital. They assume the reproductive power of their herd will make this up the next year. Others are more interested in increasing their herd capital. They are willing to defer gratification, preferring to wear a torn shirt an extra season over trading a sheep for a new one. They speak disparagingly of the nomads who are highly concerned with conspicuous consumption, while those who like the good things in life ridicule the affluent conservatives for living poorly despite their wealth. Most nomads agree with those who forego luxuries today to build wealth for the longterm, but the differences are as significant as they are among ourselves.
Once the decision is made about which animals to slaughter, the killing is generally completed over the span of a few days. Most nomads, however, do not physically do their own slaughtering because killing bring,5 bact karma. As Buddhists, they believe that reincarnation is determined by one's karma, i.e., by the balance of merit (good deeds) and demerit (bad deeds). So they avoid the demerit that goes to the person who actually does the killing by hiring other nomads to do this. Traditionally, these were either from a small category of "polluted" nomads or were simply poor nomads who needed the wages. They performed this and other "unclean" tasks such as castrations and ear-brand cuttings.
The strength of these values was brought home to us vividly once when we were out of meat in Wanam's encampment. With 1,000 sheep and goats in front of us, we had to wait two days until one could be slaughtered. Wanam, reciting prayers with his rosary, explained to us, "I will of course sell you a prime sheep, but right now there is no one in our encampment (of three tents) who slaughters. I will send a message to the camp on the other side of the lake and ask Dorje to come and kill the sheep."
Slaughtering the animals in late November/December not only ensures that each animal yields the maximum calories, but also enables storage without spoilage. December's cold and aridity freeze the carcasses whole-there is no need for special processing such as slicing or drying or smoking. Sometimes the inner core of a large hunk of meat such as a rump of yak does not completely freeze, but it remains unspoiled until at least the following June when the warmer weather initiates deterioration. For most families summer spoilage is not a great problem since their supply of meat is usually exhausted by then.
Slaughtering just once a year, however, creates a storage problem. A household of five (the average size in Pala) will average 22 carcasses, heads, skins, and so forth to store, while a rich household may have about 45-50 carcasses to deal with. Not surprisingly, these nomads have always had a strong desire for storerooms.
OTHER LIVESTOCK PRODUCTS.-
WOOL, HAIR, SKINS,, AND
The nomads' herds provide more than meat and dairy products. Sheep yield wool for weaving and barter, skins for clothes, stomachs into which butter is churned and sewn for storage, and intestines, organs and blood for sausages. The animals themselves are valuable trade items. In 1987, one sheep sold for about 50-75 pounds of barley (roughly two- to three months' supply for one adult). A pound of wool, the principal marketable sheep product, brought the nomads about six pounds of barley in 1987. Since Tibetan sheep are sheared once a year (in late July) and yield about one pound per animal, the wool from roughly 45 sheep provide enough grain for one adult's subsistence for a year. Wool is spun into thread and then used for weaving cloth and sewing. It is also used to make felt, to braid ropes, and even to place on wounds.
Each encampment selects an auspicious day for shearing by consulting the traditional Tibetan lunar calendar published nowadays in book form by the Tibetan (Traditional) Medical College in Lhasa. It not only indicates the extra days that are included (or deleted) to make the 360day lunar cycle (30 days per 12 month) keep par with the actual change of seasons, but also the auspicious and dangerous days as calculated by Buddhist astrology Households cooperate and/or hire shearers to complete the work in a single day since this simplifies the logistics. This is a happy time for the nomads, analogous to farmers' harvests, as it represents the culmination of a year of husbanding their sheep. They slaughter an animal at this time and enjoy rice and unusual foods, for example, tii. This is a rich mixture of mostly butter, cheese, molasses, and tsamba that resembles stiff cookie dough in texture.
Animal fleeces are as essential as meat because they are sewn into the nomad's basic garment, the lokbar, Lokbar resembles a long-sleeved, belted robe with the full fleece facing inside and the waterproof hide on the outside. They are worn ground-length by women and hitched up to the knee by men, and are extremely heavy. Adults' lokbar are usually made from 10 tanned adult sheep or goat skins and weigh twenty to twenty-two pounds. Children's lokbar are also heavy; a seven-year-old's lokbar, for example, weighs six to eight pounds. Men do the actual cutting and hand stitching of the garments, tailoring being one way men supplement their income. The outside of the women's lokbar is decorated with eight to ten horizontal stripes of brilliantly colored felt sewn onto the skin. Men's lokbar have a single black stripe at the hem of the skirt and the sleeves. The sleeves of the lokbar are cut to hang eight to ten inches below the hand, functioning like gloves when the hanct is not being used. Lokbar double as blankets at night, the nomads curling up inside them. In winter, some men also wear sheep or goat-skin trousers (with the fleece on the inside), although most wear heavy wool trousers woven by the nomad women.
There is a constant need for skins to make new garments since the efficiency of these lokbar decreases as the fleece wears thin. Ideally, one should have a new lokbar every three to four years, but it is difficult for poor families to sustain this, and one of the indicators of poverty in Pala is the need to wear old and worn lokbar in winter and spring. Old lokbar, however, are not thrown away.They are fine for summer and fall when the weather is less severe, and are used for many more years like this. And adult lokbar may be cut down and remade into childrenís lokbar.
Thirty to forty lamb and kid skins make a luxury summer version of the same garment that weighs only half as much. These are in short supply since no nomad would think of deliberately killing his kids and lambs for their skins, and their availability depends on natural mortality. Lamb and kid skins (with their fleece) are also used for the standard men's and women's winter hat, although more wealthy males usually have fox-skin hats.
Considering the importance of skins to the nomads' survival, it seems curious that they do not tan their own skins. They regard tanning as work fit for farmers, whom they call poda, a social category they consider fundamentally different from themselves. In 1987 they paid farmers one live sheep for every 10 skins tanned. Every May, after the plowing is completed in the farming areas, teams of villagers fill the trails, moving north to nomad country where they work and/or trade with the nomads. Every generation one of two of these villagers (who ar-e actually semi-nomads in the sense that while they have fields, they also maintain herds of livestock) marries a nomad girl, stays, and becomes a nomad himself. The opposite, however, does not occur-nomad women do not marry into farming villages, mainly because they have no experience and skill in any of the essential farming work that village women must do. In early September, the trails fill up with villagers making the month-long r-eturn trip home for the harvest. This time, however, they are driving flocks of sheep and goats-their earnings for the long summer of work.
Goats were considered less valuable than sheep in the past because there was no market for goat's hair (in contrast to wool) or kulu (cashmere), and little market for goat meat. But goats are more hardy than sheep and are considered to provide some insurance against losing an entire herd in a very bad year. Goats also give milk for six to eight weeks longer than sheep and give more milk per day, and their skins are generally considered to be warmer than sheep skins. The value of goats, moreover, has increased dramatically over the past three to four years as a result of the development of a lucrative international market for cashmere.
Cashmere is the soft down or undercoat of goats. It is analogous to the soft hair Americans comb out of their long-haired dogs after winter. Like us, nomads use combs with long teeth to obtain this kulu. We found it astonishing to see them sitting in the dirt, combing out this unattractive undercoat, knowing that it might end up in Bloomingdales as a $400 sweater. The nomads make no terminological distinction between goat's kulu and the soft undercoat of yak (and dogs and antelopes). Yak kulu, however, has little economic value since the legal definition of cashmere in the West restricts it to the kulu of goats. Thus, whereas one pound of goat's kulu brings 29 pounds of barley, the same amount of yak kulu brings only about four pounds.
The nomads obtain, on the average, only about a quarter pound of cashmere per goat, but the high value of cashmere products has made the economic value of goats equivalent to that of sheep. Since the price of cashmere is rising much faster than wool, goats may well end up the basis of a new affluence for the nomads. This is already being reflected in herd composition, whereas there were three sheep for every two goats in 1981, in 1988 the ratio was one to one.