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Unique Tibetan cloth mask helps locals fight poverty

  • Source : VTIBET.com Author : Tenzin Woebom & Tenzin Chodron Time : 05/18/2017 Editor : Tenzin Woebom

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    Tibetan mask, also called "Bah" in native tongue, is one of the unique art treasures of Tibetan traditional culture. With more than thousand years of history, Tibetan mask has its distinctive regional characteristic and various forms. It is a hand-made craftwork that derives from religious art, which can be mainly categorized as religious mask, Tibetan opera mask, and mask for display. 



    Photo shows a religious mask for cham dace displayed at an exhibition hall in Tashigang Traditional Handicraft Cooperative of Dagtse, Lhasa, capital of Tibet. [Photo taken by Tenzin Woebom/VTIBET.com]


    Tibetan cloth mask  


    "These cloth masks we made can last for hundreds of years," said Shilok, who has been making Tibetan masks for over 20 years, holding a perfect 180-year-old mask that was given to him by his teacher.  


    Different from other masks, Tibetan cloth mask has strict material requirements and construction procedures.  


    "Making a perfect mask is just like raising a baby, which needs lots of patience. Tibetan cloth mask is mainly made of clay, glue and cloth. Wet clay is first molded and then air-dried. After the clay mould is thoroughly dried, paste mixed with glue and soft paper is applied on its surface. When the paste is scraped off, layers of cloth are glued on the top of the mask. " introduced by Shilok.  


    "It is further left to dry and we continue the same procedure for five more times. We only glue one layer of cloth a day as it takes time for the wet clay to dry before you add another layer. Next, we gently apply the mixture of incense powder on the surface and place the mask aside until it is air-dried. Afterwards, we use iron wire to fix the structure. Last but not least, we decorate them with colorful drawings and varnish them." Shilok added.  



    A worker of Tashigang Traditional Handicraft Cooperative spreads incense powder on the surface of a cloth mask. [Photo taken by Tenzin Woebom/VTIBET.com]


    Cultural protection and development


    Even though Shilok is very confident with his skill of making the cloth mask, he is still worried that the distinctive handicraft culture would be lost one day in the future. Therefore, he tries his best to carry the special outstanding traditional culture forward.


    "Many people think this is not a decent work, dealing with dirty clay and wet cloth all day. But actually, as long as you get to know how mysterious and profound the handicraft is, you will definitely fall in love with it. The traditional skill of making Tibetan cloth mask has its unique historical and cultural values. It should be preserved well and passed down." said Shilok with a smile.



    Shilok decorates a cloth mask with colorful drawings in Tashigang Traditional Handicraft Cooperative of Dagtse, Lhasa, capital of Tibet. [Photo taken by Tenzin Woebom/VTIBET.com]


    As a culture disseminator, Shilok has dedicated his life to the traditional handicraft culture. In 2014, Shilok has been listed as an inheritor of intangible cultural heritage of Tibetan cloth mask. As he says, "my mission is not just making the cloth masks, but telling people how wonderful Tibetan handicraft culture is." 


    "I tell the superb creative technique as well as deep cultural implications of the craftsmanship to my students and show them how to make a perfect and beautiful cloth mask. I hope I can help my students mastering all the skills I taught and savouring unique charm of the traditional Tibetan handicraft culture." 


    Asking about an apprentice of Shilok named Ngawang, he said, "Our teacher often tells us do not use our skills to satisfy a greed for money, but learn the traditional skill thoroughly and pass it down to future generations through intense efforts, so he was especially diligent in teaching us everything he knew." 


    Tibet’s Tashigang handicraft cooperative helps locals fight poverty


    As Chinese President Xi Jinping urged governments and enterprises at all levels to beef up precision poverty relief measures as the country plans to lift all poor people out of poverty by 2020, Tashigang Traditional Handicraft Cooperative implemented poverty alleviation measures with local characteristics and seek innovation in relief methods under the help of local government.


    Located in Dagtse county of Lhasa city, Tashigang Traditional Handicraft Cooperative is established in 2012. With a total investment of 2.4 million yuan, the cooperative plays a vigorous role in not only promoting the protection and development of traditional Tibetan handicraft culture but also helping the poor master skills and shake off poverty.


    Since the establishment of Tashigang Traditional Handicraft Cooperative five years ago, apart from professional skills training, the cooperative has always been emphasizing on life skills education for the local villagers' sustainable development, enabling them to obtain the ability of self-learning in a fast changing labor market.


    The cooperative teaches the needy skills for poverty relief rather than just offering money or materials, just as a Chinese adage goes, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."



    A fine Buddha statue made of clay is displayed at the exhibition hall of Tashigang Traditional Handicraft Cooperative. [Photo taken by Tenzin Woebom/VTIBET.com]  


    "By learning traditional handicrafts here, young local villagers from poverty-stricken families will gain the ability of self-development, thus reaching the goal of getting out of poverty," said Shilok, leader of the cooperative, adding, "In that sense, traditional skill training serves as an important weapon in the fight against poverty."


    According to Shilok, his cooperative started with 12 apprentices at the very beginning, currently has about 26 apprentices. In his word, "helping others find prosperity is my responsibility." With his assistance, more and more people from poor family in Dagtse county came to study and work in Tashigang Traditional Handicraft Cooperative.


    What's more, in order to pass on the traditional skills to these students from poor backgrounds, Shilok also invites master craftsmen to the cooperative to not only show students how to make an exquisite handicraft but tell them Tibetan culture, philosophy and knowledge behind it.



    A wonderful Tibetan mask is displayed at the exhibition hall of Tashigang Traditional Handicraft Cooperative. [Photo taken by Tenzin Woebom/VTIBET.com]


    When talking about Shilok’s plan for the future, he said, "those handicrafts like masks, Tibetan opera costumes, clay Buddha statues and Tibetan-style furniture etc. made in our cooperative are sold very well. Many monasteries and Tibetan opera folk art troupes ordered various kinds of Buddha statues, masks and costumes. In the next five years, we will continue to expand the scale of our handicraft industry, develop more tourism products, and try to double the workers’ salaries."


    "I am so glad and honored to study and work here. All the apprentices like me can not only learn the traditional skill but earn 3,500 yuan each month. I never imagined that one day I also could get rid of poverty as my family was one of the most poverty-stricken households in the village." said Jigmey Namgyel happily, a 23-year-old man from Dagtse county of Lhasa.


    After working in the cooperative for more than five years, Jigmey Namgyal now has high hopes for his new skill. "If everything goes well, I will probably start my own shop, or become a teacher," he said, "My two younger brothers will go to college, and my parents won't have to work so hard."

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