The notion of “nomads in exile” sounds almost contradictory. They lead migratory, impermanent lives by choice—or at least they did before the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Many now live in India, still very much tending their herds just as their ancestors did before them. However, it is a struggle to preserve their Tibetan language and customs. Tsering Wangmo introduces viewers one nomadic Tibetan family and their reluctant encounters with globalization in the short documentary Tibetans Nomads in Exile Resistance (trailer here), which screens during the 2018 Margaret Mead Film Festival.
It is hard enough to maintain a traditional nomadic lifestyle in the post-modern world (just look at the Mongolian nomads in the narrative-docu-hybrid Zud), but adding on the oppression of an outside invader is just not fair. Nevertheless, the Jigdol Wangmo follows tries to do their best (but they yearn for the lush grazing that was once found in Tibet). The eldest brother is already an adult, who is respected by his seniors for his skill with horses and knack for fixing mechanical devices. However, it is the middle daughter Karma, who has a potential future in the modern world.
Like many nomadic children, she attends one of the Tibetan schools founded and funded by the government in exile. The majority of her peers are day students, but there are still a number of boarders from nomadic families. They educate their students so they can engage with the world, but schools also keep the Tibetan language alive.
Wangmo’s film is a straight forward work of reportage, but it still captures some pretty stunning images of Ladakh and the surrounding Himalayas. It also clearly establishes the exiled Tibetan government’s greater claim to legitimacy than the Chinese puppet regime, whether or not that was the filmmaker’s intention. The evidence is there to see of the efforts of the exiled Lamas and officials to provide for their people. In contrast, even native Beijingers should not any kind of constructive help from the ruling Communist Party.
It is a shame that families like the Karma’s are separated from their homeland. This is undeniably a human tragedy, but also represents an ecological catastrophe. Whereas the nomadic herders were wise custodians of Tibet’s once pristine lands, the Mainland occupiers have been rapacious in their exploitation and despoilment (a fact alluded to, but not explored in depth late in the film). Recommended for anyone interested in Tibetan culture and the diasporic experience, Tibetan Nomads in Exile screens this morning (10/21), with Rituals ofResistance, as part of this year’s Margaret Mead Film Festival, at the American Museum of Natural History.