Habitat of Tibetan Nature and Culture


Standing at the edge of a deep mountain valley, we, as modern scientist, might be forgiven for gazing across the middle distance, thinking that, at the dawn of the 21st century, we have finally arrived at some sort of enlightenment. Stripping away the soul of the world, we see great massifs of stone and ice, trees clinging to the slopes, people and other animals scraping away a living. We think we are seeing the world as it really is. The Tibetan cover art and words above offer some alternative insights. Several decades of logging operations and the more recent mass tourism development have combined to have major socioeconomic and ecological impacts on the communities in northwest Yunnan. As the result, the intrinsic connections between nature and local communities have become fragile and threatened. As enlightened practitioners of health and sustainability, we might think that we can help these people, that what they need to learn has something to do with efficient and sustainable resource use. Jisha, pictured on the cover, is one such threatened village where the Center for Biodiversity and Indigenous Knowledge (CBIK) has worked. A Tibetan community of 90 households located in northwest Yunnan, Jisha nestles within the recently nominated Three Parallel Rivers World Nature Heritage Site. As modern ecohealth practitioners, we can talk about the health of the high plateau in terms of community-based sustainable natural resources management and alpine wetland ecosystem protection. In our attempts to be holistic, we might even speak about local wellbeing as something more than, say, desirable agriculture and livestock production, but also including secured senses of place, guaranteed rights and accesses to resources, and the respect for, and protection of, sites of cultural and religious significance. All of these things are good, and certainly an improvement over some of the rude ways that landscapes have been treated for the past hundred years nearly everywhere in the world. Yet, if sustainable management and good health are the outcomes of our modern view of life, then how is it that so many traditional rural societies have managed to maintain and portray sustainable and convivial relationships with their environments for hundreds of years before the modern era? If we listen carefully to their stories, we may also learn something and, together, nurture a world that is better than could be imagined possible without the other, such as researchers, environmental activists, development workers, and policy makers. As high mountain dwellers, mountain worship is the most characteristic cultural belief and practice of Tibetan peoples. The spread of Buddhism on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau imbued their sacred mountains with new or even more important significance. For Tibetan people, the scale of the mountain is significant. Songre is a little peak designated for the spirit, with small shrines but no residential houses, worshipped only by a small village or even one or two families. Nieda/Reda (some use them interchangeably) is a whole mountain body, bigger than Songre, and shared by larger village communities within a small region; people may live on it, though some Tibetan communities view such a mountain as very spiritually sensitive. Nieqian/Niere is a holy mountain highly regarded by the Tibetan community at large—it refers to the entire mountain. Nieqian is a respectful term such as Nieqian Qomolangma (Mt. Everest). Translated Tibetan text from base of cover art. EcoHealth 1, 327–329, 2004 DOI: 10.1007/s10393-004-0147-x

DOI: 10.1007/s10393-004-0147-x

Cite this paper

@article{Jianchu2004HabitatOT, title={Habitat of Tibetan Nature and Culture}, author={Xu Jianchu and Li Bo and David Waltner-Toews}, journal={EcoHealth}, year={2004}, volume={1}, pages={327-329} }