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xEurasia Odyssey

Lugu Lake Addendum

CHINA | Sunday, 13 October 2013 | Views [947]

Bay of the Goddess

Bay of the Goddess

Addendum to Lugu Lake:

Finally met someone who spoke English and who could help me understand the Musuo culture a bit more.  Sadama is 24 and works in the central Tourist Office for Lugu Lake Town.  She learned English from German filmcrews who have been coming to the lake for over a decade.  This past year one of the crew members and his American wife invited her to Germany and to Bregenz in Austria for three months. Her German is almost non-existent, but her English is quite good. She would like to be an English tour guide, but she can’t pass the exam as she cannot read or write in the new language. Being a tour guide would give her many more opportunities than she currently has, but there is nowhere around the lake that she can study English.  Her situation brought home the importance of good access to education in these rural areas.  She didn’t go to school when she was a child as at that time, children, esp. girls, were expected to stay home and work in the fields. This has since changed, but has left her in a bit of a bind. There are a couple of generations who could really benefit from Continuing Education courses if they were available. On the other hand, she is much more fluent than the other guides I have had over the past few months, and I was thrilled to get to know her. 

Sadama explained that the standard information about the Musuo is slightly misleading as it is intended to make their culture a curiosity in order to get tourists to come.  The region doesn’t need fake stories, it is so beautiful that the landscape alone is enough of a draw.  One of the fallacies was that the Musuo walking marriage starts after the coming of age ceremony.  It doesn’t.  While kids may have boy and girlfriends before about 17, walking marriage doesn’t start until about then.

During the Cultural Revolution, the practice was abolished, along with most of the legends and ancient artifacts, but since about 1986 there has been an interest in reinvigorating the traditional cultures, including that of the Musuo.  There has been a push from the government to reinstate both Dabas and the locals Lamas. 

She explained that only men can be dabas and there are only a few left as no one wants to follow that path any longer.  It is also very difficult to do so as now everyone must go to school and in the past those who wanted to become a daba would apprentice with a practicing priest for a number of years before going out on their own.  Nowadays, no one wants to do this.

Only the lamas are allowed to make the murals and paintings, and to interpret them, which is why even Sadama couldn’t explain the stories on the murals outside the tourist office to me properly.  What I could get was that they were scenes from Musuo history and legends, including a story of the 7 fathers and 7 stars, 6 in the sky and one below the earth under the waters.  One of the murals looks like it is Padmasambhava, and as this region follows the Black Hat tradition, the great yogi is worshipped, although this may not be intended to be his image.  There is a mural of a fire prayer and the worship of fire, as well as scenes of making wine and of carrying water, singing, dancing, and of the former ancient King.  Gemu is on the last panel riding her white mare.

Sadama had a different version of the Gemu legend than the ones I had heard before.  According to her Gemu was a very beautiful girl who all the boys and men wanted to marry. She wasn’t interested in any of them, however. She was renown for her wine-making skills, so she said that whoever came and drank her wine and didn’t get drunk, that she would marry him.  Her wine was so good, though, that everyone did imbibe too much.  Then one day when she was at a festival she saw a young archer who was very handsome.  The two immediately fell in love.  But the god above wanted Gemu for himself, so he forebade their marriage.  Hulung warned Gemu to run away and save herself, but she wanted to stay with him no matter what happened. He threw the necklace his mother had given him for protection to Gemu, but she didn’t catch it. The great god in his anger turned both of them into mountains who could see each other but never touch.

The festival on July 25th  involves 9 fires placed strategically around the mountain.  Corn, rice and beans are mixed together and put into the lake and various places around the mountain as well.  The mixture just cannot be put anywhere where people live or work.

Sadama invited me to a barbeque with a number of her friends at the Bay of the Goddess.  It was fascinating to see how the events unfolded.  Six of the girls had spent the morning getting their hair washed and cut; once the last one was done, we headed to the market.  Everyone purchased something for the meal, then they convinced the owner of the salon to drive us all to the Bay, which is about 8 km from town. Once at the site, we started with the fruit I brought, then went onto noodle soup, then various kinds of meat, incl. pork, chicken and yak, potatoes, squash, tomatoes, then as a last course, freshly caught fish. In between the courses, the group sang songs, joked, played poker for what looked like an awful lot of money, and generally had a very good time.  Sadama explained that life is good on Lugu Lake.  While no one has a lot of money, they also don’t stress about anything and party almost continuously.  It’s a very different, and very healthy, lifestyle.

But this is not to say they don’t work.  The Musuo work very hard.  The fields in this entire region are cared for by hand.  Each stock of corn, each head of lettuce, each apple, is harvested by hand and put either onto a basket carried on the back or in a cart.  The fields are huge, so family groups take on a section at a time.  After the food has been gathered, they then clear out the brush, again by hand, that can be used either for fodder or for some other purpose. Nothing goes to waste. 

This lake is a very special place as are the people who live here.  It truly is among the most beautiful places on the planet.



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