Luoba Ethnic Minority (Photo by Chen Haiwen)
The 2,300 people of the Luoba ethnic minority have their homes mainly in Mainling, Medog, Lhunze and Nangxian counties in southeastern Tibet. Additionally, a small number live in Luoyu, southern Tibet.
The Luobas speak a distinctive language belonging to the Tibetan-Myanmese language family, Chinese-Tibetan language system. Few of them know the Tibetan language. Having no written script, Luoba people used to keep records by notching wood or tying knots.
People of this ethnic group were oppressed, bullied and discriminated against by the Tibetan local government, manorial lords and monasteries under feudal serfdom in Tibet. Being considered inferior and "wild," some were expelled and forced to live in forests and mountains. They were not allowed to leave their areas without permission and were forbidden to do business with other ethnic groups. Intermarriage with Tibetans was banned. They had to make their living by gathering food, hunting and fishing because of low grain yields in the region.
Largely farmers, Luoba men and women are skilled at making bamboo objects and other crafts. They bartered such objects and animal hides, musk, bear paws, dye and captured game for farm tools, salt, wool, clothing, grain and tea from Tibetan traders. Their pilgrimages to monasteries were good opportunities for bartering.
Hunting is essential to the Luobas. Young boys start early to join adults on hunting trips. Upon reaching manhood they tracked animals in deep forests either collectively or alone. The game they caught was partly distributed among villagers, partly used for bartering and some was extorted from them by the manorial lords.
There were essentially two classes -- "maide" and "nieba" -- within Luoba society before Tibet's liberation in 1950. The "maides" considered themselves as nobles, while regarding the "niebas" as inferior people who should be at their disposal. The descendants of this latter class of people could not become "maides" even if they became wealthy and owned slaves. They could only become "wubus" -- a group of people having a slightly higher position than the "niebas." Young men and women of these different groups could not marry due to strict class distinctions. The "niebas," who were slaves to "maide" owners, had no means of production. They were beaten, jailed or even executed if they were caught running away or stealing.
Women's status in their families, as well as in society, was particularly low, and they had no inheritance rights.
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