Abstract:

By Kyle Gelnett

“In the Land of the Lamas” is about the story of Trashilhamo living in Tibet during the late 19th century and 20th century. She grew up in Bameh with two brothers, Tsering and Norbo. Tsering, escorted by his father Dorje Semden, leaves to become a monk in Batang. Trashilhamo is set up for a marriage to Norbo (same name as her brother) who is from Bamehgong. A month before this marriage can take place, Trashi travels west with two others but along the way she is taken by Chinese robbers (Lolos). While floating down a river, the only bandit with her falls and drowns in the river. The boat crashes at a small town where there are some missionaries who take care of her until Gezang, a man from her village who is searching for her, finds her and takes her home. Upon returning to her home, Trashi has a new found appreciation for the gospel because of the generosity of the missionaries and the book they gave her. 20 years later Trashi is married with two children and lives in Ranang. War breaks out between the Chinese and the more militant Tibetans. Her husband is captured and decides to kill himself with poison, so she flees to Dardsendo with her son but does not survive the journey. She dies with her son reading the gospel to her and she feels at peace. The book emphasizes Christian morals and beliefs and is written as a conversion story of a Tibetan from Buddhism to Christianity.


Summary:

“In the Land of the Lamas: The Story of Trashilhamo a Tibetan Lassie” was written by Edward Amundsen in the early 20th century and follows the life of Trashilhamo throughout eastern Tibet. The narrative has a more western feel than other Tibetan life stories and incorporates a strong push towards Christianity and somewhat against traditional Tibetan Buddhism. This is through the authorship of Amundsen who has written from a missionary standpoint. At times it did feel as though the Christianity agenda and the frequent western colloquial writing style somewhat tainted the overall Tibetan mood of the book, making it seem inauthentic at times.

The story begins with Trashilhamo waking up in her native village in the valley of Bameh-gong. Her family, consisting of her father, Dorje Semden (“True Hearted”), her brother Norbo (“The Jewel”), and her mother Palma, were all getting ready to send her youngest brother Tsering (“Long Life”) to a nearby temple to begin his training as a monk. They were all sad to say goodbye to Tsersing but believed it to be a good journey through life, one of honor and duty. During this ceremonial event, the author injects one of his more western point of views into the story, stating:

“The offering up of his promising young son Tsering to God (as he thought), like Abraham of old, that he might serve Him in the sacred office of a lama or monk. It was a personal act of obedience, and yet, was he not severing dear little Tsering for life from home and from all he had learned to love there; cutting, wrongly cutting, the tenderest ties of human relationship? Poor, misguided Dorje.” (pg 18 Amundsen)

The author’s opinion on the matter seems so out of place within the story and as I said early, dejects from the overall Tibetan feeling. I thought it important to show by example at least one of the author’s “western injections” and will leave them out for the remainder.

Once the ceremony of Tsering leaving the village is completed, Dorje escorts his son east to the Batang Monastery. He undergoes his initiation to become a monk (“Traba”) and is given a new name, Ngawang (“Magic Power”).

Trashi, back in Bameh-gong, is meeting her soon to be husband for the first time. The man’s name is Norbo, like her brother, and he is the son of the Chief of Ranang. A noorin (mother’s “milk price”) of a pony, garments, silk, and 200 rupees were given to Trashi and her family in hopes that her father would accept the gifts and give his blessing on the marriage. Dorje wrote a reply, accepting the proposal for marriage in two months and gave it to the Ranang messenger.

In the meantime, Trashi, her brother Norbo, and a man from their village named Gezang travel south east towards the “winter pastures” with a few livestock and things to trade. They encounter four men on horseback riding from the north end of the valley who seize Trashi and bind her. Gezang tries to fight them but he cannot stop them before they ride away with Trashi. The riders are Chinese robbers known as Lolos or Nosus. They make their way to a nearby river and steal a small boat in which Trashi and one of the Lolos get in and start paddling downstream to meet the other robbers who are on horseback. The river had many rapids and it was also night-time making it difficult to traverse. The paddling Lolo falls off the of the boat and drowns, leaving only Trashi who is tied up, alone in the boat. She crashes ashore a village the next morning.

The locals of the area speak mostly Chinese and Trashi and is taken to the village temple to rest outside of it. While she is resting at the temple she makes friends with a Tibetan horse dealer and he invites her to stay with her while she heals. She is told that she is a months journey from Bameh-gong and thus decides to accompany the kind traders on their way to Talifu for trade.

Once in Talifu, Trashi becomes quite ill. The Tibetan traders she is staying with invite a local lama to help aid her by performing some rituals and reciting some of the dharma. Two nearby missionaries, John and Harry, decide to try to help the young girl when they see that the lama has not been successful. They invite her and the Tibetan trader she met at the temple back to their tent to help her rest get better.

Meanwhile Gezang and Trahi’s brother Norbo, who had been present when Trashi was kidnapped, had hired 6 Drogpas (“Nomads”). They scouted down the bank of the river looking for Trashi and her captors. One of the Lolos who Gezang had injured in the initial fight was found barely alive near a self built pyre downstream. They questioned him and received answers as to which direction the other Lolos went. The pyre by the man had been built by him and his Lolo friends before they left him there to complete his own cremation. He begged Gezang and his men to allow him to die by cremation and after some dispute they decided to grant the man his wish.

Further down river Gezang and his men came across the rest of the Lolos who, not knowing what had happened, were still waiting for their Lolo friend and Trashi to arrive in their small boat. The Lolos were no match for Gezang and his hired men and the fight was quickly over. However the tied up Lolos couldn’t help Gezang with the location of Trashi because they themselves did not know what had happened and where the boat had gone. So Gezang pushed on to the next closest village still in search of Trashi.

Upon reaching the next village, Gezang found a large company of Tibetans, well armed and under the command of Trashi’s father, Dorje. After hearing the news of his daughter he had rounded up all the men he could to help find his daughter but they as well were not having any luck. Together Gezang and Dorje continued to the winter pasture and completed the livestock trading that they had come for. With still no sign of Trashi, Dorje and most of the Tibetans head back to Bameh-gong and Gezang offers to keep searching.

Trashi has been staying with the missionaries for a while now and has even been given a book of the gospel, which she holds in high regard because of the kindness and hospitality of the missionaries. Soon Gezang comes upon the village where Trashi is staying and finds his long lost friend. They both thank the missionaries and soon head back to Bameh-gong. Once home, Trashi shares with her family the news of the friendly missionaries and the gospel book they gave her. However they are uneasy about the new book, and particularly her monk brother Tsering tells of it’s bad omens and even tries to burn the book.

Some 20 years later, Trashi is living in Ranang and is married to Norbo with two boys. The country of Tibet is split with war between the Chinese and the Tibetan lamas. Many small skirmishes break out between the two factions, resulting in more unrest amongst the locals. Trashi’s husband, Norbo, was captured by the Chinese and decided to drink poison and kill himself.

To evade more civil conflict, Trashi and her oldest son Tondrop flee to Dardsendo. On their way they encounter robbers but are able to evade them by quickly riding away when they threaten them. Unable to make it all the way to Dardsendo, they stop in Litang to rest. Trashi is quite ill and asks her son to read her the gospel book she had treasured for so many years. The familiar reading of the gospel eases Trashi’s mind and she is able to die in peace.