Tongren (Tong Ren) Aboriginal Assembly in China

This was the big Day…the reason we were visiting Tongren in Qinghai Province at this particular time. The Shen Wu Assembly for Worship, in only held once a year..TODAY. This Assembly, called “Zhou Pu Le Rou” in Tibetan language, is a traditional old Ritual Festival incorporating religion, sacrifice and entertainment. Some of the numerous ceremonies and activities include: ritual dances, the beating of holy drums, singing of folk songs and the shaman going into trance all hoping to bring good luck for future offerings.

It is more correctly called the Tongren Shaman’s Festival dating back to pre-Buddhist influence. After today, the festival would continue in many of the small villages around Tongren presided over by each village’s local shaman. There would also be ritual piercing of cheeks of all the young men in the village, the men dancing a drum dance with pierced backs, and a shaman in a trance, climbing the dragon pole, then cutting his forehead with a knife. Quite wild and very different from any festival we’ve ever experienced. Don’t know about the piercing and cutting bits, and just hoped we had the stomach for it.

making festival preparation in Tongren, China

An early breakfast and Wang-Lee insisted we start walking towards the monastery. Immediately saw lots of people, heading in the same direction dressed in their finest clothes, and people on the hill coming down in a serpentine fashion. On the hill, we could also see prayer flags and smoke rising in the air from burning pine. This was altitude and we huffed and puffed as quickly as possible up to the monastery and looked for a place to sit and watch.

view of the mountain with burning Juniper for Tongren Festival, China


woman on her way to the Tongren festival, China

Sheila’s place in the Tongren monastery, China

There were men, women and children all preparing for the intricate rituals. Two shaman. Offerings of liquor, yogurt, yak butter and milk, tsampa, barley and rice to be placed at the altar….View image

yak butter offerings in Tongren Monastery, China

more Tongren festival offerings, China

bread altar offerings in Tongren Monastery, China

NOW…we saw western tourists. Photographers, Chinese and westerners, getting in the people’s faces, slipping into each others shots. I refered to them as the Tourist paparazzi. News agencies, camcorders, video recorders…and mass of activity. Eventually, I joined the paparazzi down there…trying to get my own best photos and look like I worked for CNN…

our Travels With Sheila correspondant photographing at Tongren Festival, China

Many dances. Men first, …View image…women second. Shaman in trance, scattering barley and rice (a blessing) and spewing liquor all over.

men dance first – naturally in China

…then a dance with stilt walkers, awing the little children…

stiltwalker dancer at Tongren Festival, China

…finally, the first women danced dressed in beautiful silk robes and wearing thousands of dollars worth of real coral jewelry…huge hunks of coral…

the women of Tongren, China

Met many women traveling by themselves, with and without guides including a woman from Hanover, Germany sitting next to me….

ex-Marine, and us on the upper level of the monastery at Tongren Festival, China

…and then ex-Marine saw a Chinese tourist wearing a Chicago Bull’s shirt who spoke English and was excited that we actually came from Chicago…

go Chicago Bulls in China

The big news of the day is Head Lama has told people that skewering their faces, backs and gashing head with knife is not good. Ergo, no piercing today. Just as well. That evening, I happened to be surfing through all the Chinese TV channels and couldn’t believe when one of them showed a documentary filmed at a prior Tongren Festival, skewering and all. Each young man would dance up to someone (not clear if it was a Shaman), open his mouth, and the person would stick what looked like a shish-ka-bob skewer through his cheek! Then, some dancers had these same skewers piercing their backs for the rest of the afternoon. The second to last part showed the Shaman climbing that Dragon Pole, taking a knife and slashing open his face! No blood with all the skewering…lots of blood on the Shaman. This documentary culminated at dusk with the “skewerees” returning to the “skewerer” while he pulled all the sticks out of their cheeks and back. All of this was filmed in detailed close-ups. Yes…we could definitely live without seeing this in person…but what a video it would have made.

Head Lama presiding over Tongren Festival, China

Even more dancers and around noon, the crowds started to thin out. Children carrying food and icies starting coming back into the monastery and a man started distributing food to all of the village elders sitting behind us on the 1st level of the Monastery. Found out where they bought their goodies when we left. There were stands outside the monastery selling icies/slurpies, fruit and candy. We left about 1pm and heard from others that the afternoon was pretty boring.

buying goodies to eat at the Tongren Festival, China -Specializing in Cheap Flights

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