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People Profile

KHAM TIBETANS

People: Kham Tibetan (also known as Eastern, Northern and Western Khampa).

Location: Kham Tibetans are spread among four Chinese provinces. As many Kham are thought to live in the Sichuan, Qinghai and Yunnan as in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). There is a large concentration of Kham people in the western Sichuan, living as far east as the city of Kangding.

Population: There are more than 1.5 million Khampa with the Eastern Khampa forming the largest sub-group (1.2 million). The Kham are the largest of the three major Tibetan people groups (the other two groups are Amdo and Central Lhasa Tibetans).

Ethnic tree: Tibetan/Himalayan Peoples. People cluster: Tibetan.

Language: Kham Tibetans.

Religion: Ninety-five percent Buddhist. The Kham, like all Tibetan people groups, are devout followers of Buddhism. Buddhism was created by Siddhartha Gautama, who was born a Hindu about 560 B.C. in modern-day Nepal. Gautama became Buddha (or the “enlightened one”) after spending 40 days and nights sitting under a tree, searching for something. At the end of this search, he experienced the highest degree of god-consciousness — or “nirvana.” Gautama formulated a way of salvation based on the individual making the effort. This is the theory of the “Middle Way,” a spiritual path of salvation comprised of “Four Noble Truths”: 1. Suffering is universal. 2. The cause of suffering is selfish desire. 3. The cure for suffering is to overcome ignorance and eliminate selfish desire. 4. Suppress selfish desire by following the Middle Way — the “Eightfold Path.” The Eightfold Path consists of so-called right living: right viewpoint, right aspiration, right speech, right behavior, right occupation, right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditation. Buddha, like the Hindu teachings, believed in reincarnation, along with karma (the soul gains merits or demerits according to how the individual lives). Buddha taught that a person could be reborn as a human, an animal, a hungry ghost, a demon, or even a Hindu god. However, anyone who can follow the Eightfold Path can escape the circle of death and rebirth, and reach nirvana.

 The devil's in the details of Buddhist temple paintings.

Tibetan Buddhism has incorporated ancient occult practices as well as worship of mountain gods (the native Bon religion). Tantrism (a blending of Buddhism and the occult) is considered the official religion of Tibet and is also practiced in Nepal. The Dalai Lama is central to the worship live of the Tibetan. Believers have his photo on shrines in their homes, vehicles, and on necklaces around their necks. Monasteries dominate many villages, and monks and lamas exert a large influence. Providing funeral rituals is one of the important roles a monk plays in the life of an individual; these rituals guide the soul of the deceased to the next life form. However, monks are called on to deal with a number of problems ranging from sickness to crop failure. Monasteries are centers of Buddhist (or Bon) study, and provide a strong cultural link for people all around the Tibetan Buddhist world. Buddhists deny the existence of a personal God and say that God’s existence is irrelevant. They also believe Jesus was a good teacher, but less important than Buddha. Because Jesus is the “Living God,” Buddhists do not think he has achieved the same level as Buddha, who achieved nirvana and no longer lives. Fewer than half of 1 percent of Khambas are Christian.

Folklore: The Khampa have a fearsome reputation as the most hostile and violent of Tibetans, according to Operation China by Paul Hattaway. Hattaway quotes another writer’s accurate description of these people: “Tall and well built men, fearless and open of countenance, they resemble Apache Indians, with plaited hair hanging from each side of well modeled heads.”

History: The Khampa have a long history of conflict with the Chinese, who annexed most of Kham Province to Sichuan in 1720. “No Chinese dares to enter the territory for fear of being murdered,” it was reported at the time. Military clashes between the two groups occurred in 1918, 1928, and 1932. In 1950, the Chinese captured the town of Chamdo without firing a shot. The Khampa fled in terror when the Chinese set off a huge fireworks display on the outskirts of the town. (Chamdo, located at 10,500 feet, is home to a monastery that was built in 1473 and now houses 2,500 monks.) In late 1955, the Chinese authorities ordered the monks of Litang Monastery to produce an inventory for tax assessment. The monks refused to oblige. In February 1956, the Chinese laid siege to the monastery, which was defended by several thousand monks and farmers. Chinese aircraft bombed Litang and surrounding areas. In 1959, the Khampa in Lhasa organized a revolt against Chinese rule. “The fighting lasted three days with the Tibetans caught up in a religious fervor, not caring whether they lived or died,” according to Operation China. The Dalai Lama fled to India and into exile after Chinese troops crushed this revolt. In 1965, China established the Tibetan Autonomous Region.

Yak dung fires for cooking and heating.

Economy: About 90 percent of the people live on farming and husbandry. Farmers live in the valleys of Tsangpo River (Brahmapotra) and its major tributaries Kyichu and Nuuang-chu, producing barley and other grains. The great northern grassland, which covers half of Tibet, is the home of nomads, yaks and sheep. The yak is essential to survival for Khambas. They drink the milk (and also make it into cheese, butter, and yogurt), eat the meat, collect and dry the dung to burn their fires, weave the hair into shelters, and tan the hide for leather. Kham also eat tsampa, which is made of roasted barley flour, mixed with butter tea and eaten like dough. Nomads have no fixed abodes, and keep roaming along fine pasture together with all their belongings — tents and livestock. The remaining 10 percent of the population live in towns earning their living on business and handicraft. Khambas do occupy positions of government and other state jobs, such as teachers and doctors.

Overview: Sexual immorality among the Khampa is considered “normal behavior,” according to Operation China. Sexual diseases are common. This is a symptom of a culture that has been deceived by the lies of Satan. “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8). Literacy has improved among Tibetans since the so-called “liberation” by the Chinese, but it remains well below the general Chinese population: 76 percent in China overall vs. 30 percent in Tibetan areas. This makes the distribution of the Word difficult. Christians have been working in Tibet since Nestorian missionaries were sent in the 8th century. Catholic missions began in the 17th century, and Protestants started arriving in the 1900s. There were small numbers of converts from Buddhism and few churches started by those early missions. Legendary missionary Hudson Taylor said, “To make converts in Tibet is similar to going into a cave and trying to rob a lioness of her cubs.”

Lessons learned: invest time and energy into understanding the language, culture, and Buddhist beliefs (i.e. the Christian concept of being “born again” or a new creation is a bad thing to a people that believe in — and fear — being reincarnated over and over).

Climbing: The land in which the Kham live is rugged, primitive, and hostile. But the people are friendly and hospitable. The average elevation at which these people live is 14,000 feet. Trekking is a great way to reach and meet these beautiful people. This is considered one of the last frontiers of missions.


Sources: Operation China by Paul Hattaway; Joshua Project; So What's the Difference: A Look at 20 Worldviews, Faiths and Religions and How They Compare to Christianity by Fritz Ridenour; Jesus in a New Age, Dalai Lama World by M. Tsering; KhamTibetans.com.

Posted July 27, 2009

The Word

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.”
— Colossians 2:8 (NIV)

 

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