NKathmandu, Nepal expedition Oct.16, 2000 Dana and Rand Jack

Jan 28, 2001

Tamang New Year
From Dana

Yesterday, only a few miles from Kathmandu, we were walking in the hills above the village of Sankhu with two friends when we heard a commotion below. Looking down, we could see a vacant field with people beginning to gather. A passerby told us that it was a Tamang Losar, or New Year's celebration, and that we were welcome. He then led us there.

The Tamangs are hill country farmers and laborers who have long been exploited and discriminated against in Nepal. Our friends, who have been here for ages, did not know that the Tamangs, like Tibetans and several other ethnic groups in Nepal, celebrate New Year's according to their own calendar. Our stumbling on to this was wonderful luck, though such luck comes to be an expectation when you traipse around the Nepali countryside.

This small out-of-the-way village is trying to maintain and revive Tamang culture. When they saw my camera, I immediately became the official photographer for the ceremonies. The organizer of the celebration took me in tow and steered me into the middle of things. To my horror he kept lining people up or stopping things so that I could get a picture. We promised to have copies of all of the pictures delivered to the village by a policeman from there who is a constable at the big police headquarters near the Fulbright House. That this was a small, local celebration with no other westerners in sight gave us a kind of intimate access we could not have had otherwise. Despite the fluent Nepali of our two friends Mike and Barbara, we never got the details of what was going on.

Pictures 1 and 2 are of dancing masked figures representing some sort of deity manifestation. The Tamangs are Buddhists and the celebration was in that tradition. In these and other pictures the background is an important complement to the focus of the picture.

Pictures 3 and 5 are close ups of the masked lamas. Since hair obscured the masks during dancing, the organizer and several spectators combed back the hair for these pictures. You will catch glimpses of two other elf-like masked figures, but we could never get a clue as to whom they represented. The answer was always simply lamas, identifying who was under the mask.

Picture 4 is of officiating lamas. They managed food offerings and butter lamps on a table with a tiny brass Buddha.

Pictures 6, 7, and 8 are of shamans, or wizards in the words of the villager who spoke English a bit.

Picture 9 shows three of the participants.

The four men with drums in picture 10 were referred to as "the singers," one of whom danced beautifully.

The final picture 11 shows some of the village spectators.