FIERCE FRIDAY

FIERCE FRIDAY: KHAMPA

It's party up top for this week's Fierce Fridayer, a Khampa nomad from between Litang and Xiangcheng in China's Sichuan province.

Khampas are so named for their homeland, the historical region of Kham which takes in large parts of the Tibet Autonomous Region and Sichuan province, as well as smaller areas of Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan provinces. Though usually designated as part of the 'Tibetan Nation' ethnic group, the Kham region alone is home to 14 groups culturally and linguistically distinct from one another and from the wider classification. 

Khampas are nomads and usually herders, and are reputed to be warriors as well as accomplished horsemen. This latter skill is celebrated each summer with horse racing festivals across the Tibetan plateau, including a prominent one in Litang, Sichuan province. Given the isolated nature of many Khampas' lifestyles, these festivals are an important means of maintaining cultural continuity and of establishing a socio-economic hierarchy among the group. Increasing tourism around the festivals is also an important income source for many Khampas.

I was lucky enough to attend such a race outside Zhongdian one summer a couple of years ago, and I will never forget the feeling of being so immersed in an event central to another culture. Above are some images from that festival.

Main image by foto_morgana on Flickr