Ebi Karmu on life in the past

Mingyur: Grandmother, you are eighty-five years old, right? Please, tell me about yourself. About your parents, where were you born, etc.?

Ebi: My mother passed away at the age of sixty, my father used to be an unze (master of ritual in the temple). He continued to work for the village as long as he could, and then passed away. Since he didn’t have any sons, he gave away his pechas (religious books) to his uncle’s children. I live alone, it is so boring, can’t go anywhere, but what to do.

Q: You said your father was an unze right? Do you remember anything from your young age, when you were around twenty?

A: When I was twenty, I used to work, grazing the livestock, worked on the field planting corn and potato, cooking and taking care of parents, we could not leave them then. As they grew old, they dedicated themselves to doing prayers and rituals. Now I am old as well, one must die one day, what to do, getting old now. I think, when you don’t have power, courage, and you grow old, your flesh is drying, bones are weakening, and your heart is weakening, too. Full of fear and boredom, it feels like being a nine-ten year-old child. I get so happy when my relatives come, when I am alone, there’s nothing except fear and boredom.

Q: When you were about twenty years old, you remember, right? How many people, how many neighbors were around here?

A: Yes, I remember a very big fearsome man, kind of dumb, I am not saying that because we had any grudge, or jealousy. I just mention him, because I saw six generations of his family, I saw that old man, his son, his grandson’s son, so on. The earthquake not only shook the houses, but it shook people’s mind as well, they have lost their manners, they do not respond properly.

Q: During that time, there were lamas and bonpos, right? Do you know how many bonpos were living in your village, do you remember?

A: There were some bonpos, really fearsome ones. They used to recite their mantras in a very nice melodious way. But everything is different now and things have changed. The kids, who go to school, don’t ask us about how to do mani (T. om mani padme hum, the six-syllable mantra of Chenrezi, the Bodhisattva of Compassion) and all, everything is changing and transforming. After fourty-fifty years all the people, who know the Tibetan script and culture, and all the lamas of today will pass away, and new culture will replace the one we have now.

Q: Do you remember, what was the culture, when a baby was born? Were there any celebrations or shabtens (rituals)?

A: Yes. We used to have nekor with three eggs, some rice and a bottle of wine. That was the only thing that we used to do, nothing more than that.

Q: Does the nekor tradition still exists?

A: Yes, of course. When someone gets sick, and the news spreads in the village, everyone goes to his/her house with three eggs, a plate of rice and a bottle of wine. People, who don’t have eggs, would take some money. The patient may get well or not, but the tradition is still there.

Q: When you were a child, there used to be chhepas (T. chos pa, Buddhist practitioners, who conduct certain rituals) right? Could you please tell me, what chhepas were doing during that time?

A: There used to be nemaskar, gewa, when people died, and nyungne and tshoya (T. tshogs ‘bul) as well.

Q: What about nara and chhetsus (T. tshes bcu)?

A: Melimchhim, Tshiri, Tarkeghyang and Denthang had nara festival, because they had gonpas (temple), but our gonpa was built later, it was an initiative by Dhojum Meme (Lama Sangay). (Dojum is a village between Nakote and Tshiri).

Q: What were people doing, while chhepas were doing the puja? When they were reciting pechhas (holy texts)? Were the others serving tea, cooking curry, or singing and dancing?

A: During nyungne (fasting practice), we welcomed lamas and the first day was called sokchung, we had only one meal that day. The second day was called kukpa, all day we would do prostrations, we were not allowed to swallow even our own spit, and not allowed to talk either. And the next morning, on the final day, first we had a dutsi (T. bdud rtsi), and jamdur (tsampa soup) and then we started chatting with each other. Lamas made torma (ritual cakes made of barley flour), recite the pechha, and then all night we would be dancing. And the person hosting the nyungne would give offering to the lamas for their service.

Q: Did you like dancing and singing?

A: Yes, a lot. I did a lot of dancing and singing.

Q: When your father was an unze, did he enjoy great respect from others?

A: He was treated well, he had many pechhas. He used to search for big pechhas, and I asked him, why he wanted those big pechhas instead of reciting the ones he had. He said he was looking for thoughts (T. sems) in those big pechhas, and now I understand, that we can find great thoughts in the big pechhas.

Q: Is there any difference between how nemaskar and gewa was conducted in the past and now?

A: No, everything is done the same way as before. Nothing has changed, but it might, when these lamas pass away. These rituals might disappear after fourty-fifty years.

Q: What were the main crops, when you were young?

A: Maize, potato, beans, paddy and we had livestock like buffalo, cow, sheep etc.

Q: Did you trouble your parents, when you were a child?

A: Maybe, I don’t remember much. I can only remember a little of my childhood, events that happened after I was eight-nine years old.

Q: What was your usual daily work that time?

A: I was grazing animals, playing, eating. If we had a school around, we could have gone there to learn, but we did not have one. The lama’s sons used to come to our house for learning chhey (T. chos) with my father, but I could not stay to listen, we had to go for grazing animals instead of learning pechha.

Q: It means, that all the lamas at the moment in the village are your father’s students?

A: Yes, they are. My father was unze of Meme Thilen Phurba. Meme Thilen Phurba died on my father’s lap. Meme Thilen Phurba was cremated by Bey Meme from Tshiri.