Recently there was a fight between two villages in Tibet over caterpillar fungus. As a result of this fighting, a young man of thirty was stabbed and killed. These two villages, called Kude and Dornying Nyalung, were both in Rebkong in Amdo. There were even four or five op-eds written about this brouhaha on the literary site Tsanpo. Tsanpo.com is a new Tibetan language literary site with dedicated columns for writers where they can post their own writings, so Tsanpo has become very active and popular. Tsanpo has essentially become what Sangdor used to be. (It’s been about four months since Sangdor was shut down.)
The editorial board of Tsanpo wrote: “This site is not a space just for our editors nor a space for everyone to post their every grievance and complaint. Instead we have tried to create a free and open platform for our writers in the spaces in between these two extremes. Our many years of experience in maintaining such sites has guided us in creating this platform”.
Regarding all this fighting over land and water rights in relation to the caterpillar fungus, the writer Sonam Dorje Langtsang wrote an article entitled, “Where Are the Leaders in Charge of the Welfare of Rebkong People Hiding?” He said in the piece, “The local government officials ignore that national goals of harmony, cooperation and welfare. If the meat is fat, they eat it and if the wine is sweet, they drink it. But they won’t fix the disputes and force the people to resolve the fights. For example, last week a lot of people got hurt in a four-hour fight on a mountain between the nomad and farming people of Changlung in Rebkong. A few herders and some monks from the monastery tried to mediate but none of the public welfare security people or police or local officials came to mediate or stop the conflict. It was left to the wives of the men who were hurt to take them to the hospital. The question is, where were all the policemen who usually come in droves when twenty or thirty Tibetans gather in one place?”
Another writer called Palchen Dhondup wrote a piece about the Rebkong incident called “There is Certainly a Chaotic and Disordered Tibetan Character.” In it he said, “One cause for the blood feuds and all these injuries from al this fighting over land rights is that in these two counties, the county officials don’t educate the people about the constitution and the policies. Elsewhere too, as in these two counties, the knowledge of the law is very low. In all these many years, in prefecture and county, town, township and village, they have taught people to oppose splittism, to oppose disturbance to national unity and to oppose destruction, theft and robbery, and they have introduced people to the laws and policies of the regional autonomy; but they haven’t done anything to really create safety and security among the public or anything about people’s legal rights, and they haven’t take any steps or made any decisions to solve land rights disputes between different groups or people.”
Sonam Dorje Langtsang wrote an opinion piece called, “We Are Being Deceived by the Caterpillar Pungus” in which he argued, “It is since the eighties that Tibetans have found a method of making quick money which is called the caterpillar fungus. Since people learnt how to pick this caterpillar fungus, there’s been a harmful effect on Tibetan culture, arts and handicraft and business. Even now, very few people recognize this harmful effect.” He continued, “In particular, there’s more and more people who think it’s better to stay at home and pick caterpillar fungus rather than pay a lot of money to go to school. With the increasing number of households who don’t want to send their children to school, the state of Tibetan education has really suffered. In the thirty years since the eighties, most families have come to depend only on caterpillar fungus and the other livelihoods and careers of most villagers have disappeared. Those who knew carpentry have given up carpentry to rely only on picking caterpillar fungus. Those who knew smithing have given up smith-work to rely only on picking caterpillar fungus. Those who knew farming have given up farming. In the same way, the demon of caterpillar fungus has possessed tailors and mechanics and every other kind of worker doing an honest day’s work.
Since Tibetans learned how to harvest the caterpillar fungus, not only have the fights over land have become more violent but there are more conflicts between different villages and more family feuds and the situation is becoming very urgent. If we keep on depending only on the caterpillar fungus, we are putting our culture and economy aside and buying our own ruin and defeat.”
Thus, many aspects of society are changing in relation to the caterpillar fungus and there are various causes and reasons for these changes. There are also different opinions and thoughts regarding these changes. For example, when I was in Tibet in 1999, one caterpillar fungus fetched between 1 and 2 Yuan. Last year, one caterpillar fungus fetched between 25 and 30 Yuan. Of course there would be a corresponding change on Tibetan society, wouldn’t there?
(Translated by Tenzin Dickyi)