• The death of a well-known Tibetan singer, Dubhe, whose best-known song ‘Faraway Friend’ is a tribute to the Dalai Lama, has prompted an outpouring of praise for his work across Tibet including gatherings of Tibetans both in Tibet and in exile to celebrate his life. The responses to his death demonstrate the determination among both a younger generation of Tibetans and their elders to keep their cultural identity alive.
  • A well-known Tibetan writer who is also a monk from Kirti monastery in Ngaba, Lobsang Jamyang (pen name: Lomik), has been sentenced to seven and a half years in prison.

Dubhe singing ‘Faraway Friend’

Response to Dubhe’s death reflects pride in cultural identity

The singer Dubhe, who was affectionately known as the ‘Cuckoo of the Snowland’, died on February 27 in hospital in Chengdu. He was 49. During his hospitalization, Tibetans from across Tibet offered to pay medical costs as a gesture of appreciation, and in a poignant statement of thanks, Dubhe had promised in a note that circulated on social media to perform some new songs when he was discharged.

Following his death, numerous Tibetans gathered in different parts of his home area of Amdo to pay their respects, sing his music, and talk about his life.

“Without him, half the music is gone,” wrote Dungkar Yonten Gyatso, in a posting translated by High Peaks Pure Earth.[1] “He had influenced and nurtured a new generation of singers and musicians, who are now composing and singing like Dubhe. Many artistes have covered his songs and hence we can certainly call him the father of Tibetan music. His message through his music to those who cannot read or write is also beyond comparison.” Dungkar Yonten Gyatso also wrote: “When he was in the hospital, people ranging from high lamas to street beggars voluntarily contributed to his treatment. One doubts if a high lama, who supposedly works for others benefits, would gain such respect and solidarity. The fact that people had such affection and admiration for Dubhe is a sign that people have such deep hearts.”

(Photo: High Peaks Pure Earth)

(Photo: High Peaks Pure Earth)

In Tibet today, writers, singers and artists play an increasingly important role in the broader community. They express a sense of loss, dispossession and grief about the situation of Tibetans due to China’s repressive policies and the current restrictions and, importantly, they celebrate a shared national and cultural identity, encourage a sense of solidarity, and express hope for the future.

Dubhe was known for setting to music the work of well-known Tibetan writers and poets, including the popular ‘The Sound of Unity’ by Sherten[2] and ‘Land of Snows’ by Dekyi Tsering.[3] Tibetan scholar Lamajabb, at the University of Oxford, wrote: “Popular songs provide a channel for voicing dissent, while also reinforcing Tibetan national identity by evoking images of a shared history, culture, and territory, bemoaning the current plight of Tibetans and expressing aspirations for a collective destiny.”[4] Underlining the connection between Tibetan traditions and contemporary preoccupations, Dubhe would sing in traditional Amdo style and introduced the mandolin to Tibetan music.

In one of his most popular songs, ‘Faraway Friend’, was a metaphorical allusion to the Dalai Lama, and the hopes of Tibetans to see him in Tibet in their lifetime. The song, translated into English by ICT below, conclude with the following: “In the near future/From the reunification of Tibetans living here and abroad/There will be a golden age for celebration/of the good fortune of your swift arrival/Faraway friend, there will be the good fortune of your swift arrival, friend.”[5]

In one of several poems written by leading Tibetan writers to commemorate Dubhe’s life, Kyabchen Dedrol used imagery evoking a traditional Tibet to emphasise both the sadness – epitomized in the separation from Tibetans in exile due to the political situation – and the joy inherent in Dubhe’s songs: “Dewdrops form in the braids of a beautiful nomad girl/On the peak of a distance snow mountain/The moon glows and stars sparkle bright/The roar of a whip invokes the darkness/To erase the last rays of the evening/[…]That was when the melodies of Dubhe’s songs/Lit up the dark black tents/Intensifying the heaviness of missing those in exile/Intensifying too the joy that carries life ahead.”[6]

Faraway Friend, sung by Dubhe

Although high in the shimmering sky,
The golden sun is smiling,
The dark pain of separation,
Was never extinguished
Faraway friend, it was never extinguished, friend.

Although the pure heart of the white moon
Is brightening in the innocent sky,
The dewdrop of medicine of loving kindness
Was never offered to you,
Faraway friend, it was never offered to you, friend.

The great full moon,
Do not travel alone again,
I am missing the respected faraway friend who remains in my heart,
Faraway friend, I am missing you, while you remain in my heart, friend

Through the clouds above you,
We send songs of your absence
But the messenger
Was destroyed by the wind of calamity,
Faraway friend, it was destroyed by the wind of calamity, friend.

Already half of my short human life,
In the midst of an unpredictable samsara,
Faraway friend,
I remain in hope waiting for you,
Faraway friend, I remain in hope waiting for you, friend

In the near future
From the reunification of Tibetans living here and abroad,
There will be a golden age for celebration
of the good fortune of your swift arrival.
Faraway friend, there will be the good fortune of your swift arrival, friend.

A few weeks before Dubhe’s death, Tibetan writer Tashi Rabten (pen name: Theurang), who was released last year (2015) from a four-year prison sentence following his work on a banned literary magazine Eastern Snow Mountain (Shar Dungri), wrote a poem for Dubhe called ‘Never-ending river’. The poem, which was translated by Bhuchung D Sonam for High Peaks Pure Earth, is included below in English.[7]

“Never-ending River” For Dubhe

By Theurang

Wind drifting above the clouds
Sniffs the fragrance floating on mountains peaks,
Footprints appearing on the banks of a river
Dances like nodding stalks of flowers,
Wings of vultures paint the dawn on the horizon
Sound of wisdom shakes the evening’s river,
Snowstorms of the night over the black tents
Tongues of flame carry away petals of pangyen metok[8]
Teardrops of a doe fall on the meadows
Howls of mastiffs scatter amidst the windstorms
Patterns on the snow woven from hairs of wild yaks
Melodies from the sun and the moon descend
Showering in the fragrance of milk and fur,
Voice steeped in the aroma of butter and dried cheese,
Lyrics plaited with rays of the sun and colors of rainbows
Floating on the water pail of the mother earth
Throbbing on the stirrups of the wisdom horse
Dusk, darkness, distance and a million other things
Grief, hope, aspiration and a million other feelings
falling, falling, flowing, falling, falling.
February 4, 2016

Tibetan monk and writer sentenced to 7.5 years in prison

In an indication of the dangers for Tibetans in expressing views in their writing, news emerged from Tibet that monk and writer Lobsang Jamyang (pen name: Lomik), 28, has been sentenced to seven and a half years in prison. According to two monks from Kirti monastery in exile in India, Lobsang Jamyang’s hearing took place behind closed doors at Wenchuan county court in Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture after he had been held in detention for more than a year, “suffering ongoing mistreatment”.

Lobsang Jamyang was arrested by police on the streets of Ngaba county town (in Sichuan, the Tibetan area of Amdo) at around 11.30 pm on April 17, 2015. At the time of his detention, he was studying Buddhism in the Prajnaparamita class at Kirti, which he had joined at a young age. Kirti Monastery is the important and influential monastery known for being the location where the wave of self-immolations began in 2009 in Tibet. Lobsang Jamyang had also taken part time courses in non-religious studies at the famous Larung Gar religious institution in Serthar, Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Sichuan Province) and the Northwest Minorities University in Lanzhou, according to the exile Kirti monks.

Cover of Lomik's book "The Yellow Fog"

Cover of Lomik’s book “The Yellow Fog”

In 2010, he wrote a book called “The Yellow Fog” that was published from Xining, according to the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy. Lomik also contributed articles to popular Tibetan language websites in Tibet such as Chomei, Sangdhor, and Tso Ngon. His more recent articles are titled “Story Shackled By Iron Chains”, “Weapons Target Writers of Ngaba”, and “Until I Die, I Will Express My Views”.[9]

According to TCHRD, Lobsang Jamyang may be accused of “leaking state secrets” and “engaging in separatist activities”. His family members were not informed about the trial and were not provided any details on the exact date of his sentencing.

Along with other popular Tibetan writers including the well-known blogger Shokjang, recently sentenced to three years in prison,[10] Lobsang Jamyang had participated in a number of panel discussions such as Siling Zsa Nyimei Khadha (‘Xining Sunday Debate’) at the Qinghai Nationalities University, a minority nationalities’ university in Xining. In Ngaba, he organized public debates on topics such as “Revisiting Dondrup Gyal,”[11] and “Sunday Discussions”. TCHRD reported: “In his hometown of Meuruma [Ngaba], he organized a public debate on the subject ‘Denial of Free Expression.’ Lomik was able to encourage many Tibetan youngsters through these debates.” (TCHRD report, May 9, 2016).

Lobsang Jamyang’s sentencing demonstrates the increasing dangers for Tibetans as a result of the deepening oppression in Tibet – a new generation of Tibetans is paying a high price with their lives for peaceful expression of views in a political climate in which almost any expression of Tibetan identity or culture can be termed ‘criminal.’ At the same time, he and other courageous young generation singers, artists and writers are leading a remarkable cultural resurgence, producing new songs, literature, poetry to define their identity and as a means of countering the Chinese state.[12]

ICT reported yesterday that Dubhe was in his sixties. This was incorrect; he was 49 and is changed to reflect this above.

[1] Posted on the website www.highpeakspureearth.com on February 28, 2016

[2] ‘The Sound of Unity’ calls on Tibetans traditionally of all three provinces Amdo, Kham and U-Tsang to unite and to draw strength from each other. The lyrics are translated by High Peaks Pure Earth, at http://highpeakspureearth.com/2010/two-songs-about-tibetan-unity-mentally-return-and-the-sound-of-unity/

[3] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uF-M353a21Y

[4] ‘Singing the Nation: Modern Tibetan Music and National Identity’ by Lama Jabb, a scholar at Oxford University, in Revisiting Tibetan Culture and History. Dharamsala: Amnye Machen 2012, 1-29. This paper was first published online in 5HYXHG¶ (Etudes Tibetaines, No. 21 (Oct 2011), http://himalaya.socanth.cam.ac.uk/collections/journals/ret/pdf/ret_21_01.pdf See also https://www.wolfson.ox.ac.uk/sites/www.wolfson.ox.ac.uk/files/Lama%20Jabb%20Publications%20.pdf. Lamajabb is the author of a leading book on Tibetan literature Oral and Literary Continuities in Modern Tibetan Literature: The Inescapable Nation (Studies in Modern Tibetan Culture), Lexington Books, 2015. Also see: ICT report, ‘The Teeth of the Storm’, https://savetibet.org/the-teeth-of-the-storm-lack-of-freedom-of-expression-and-cultural-resilience-in-tibet/

[5] Youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTCLXsO-mvQ&list=PL55D96018E0BFA46F&index=40

[6] Translated by Bhuchung D Sonam for High Peaks Pure Earth

[7] http://highpeakspureearth.com/2016/half-the-music-is-gone-without-him-tributes-to-the-late-tibetan-musician-dubey/

[8] Translator’s Note: ‘Pangyen Metok’, literally meaning ‘ornament of meadow’, is a bright blue flower that generally grows abundantly on meadows of the Tibetan plateau.

[9] Biographical details from TCHRD report, May 9, 2016, http://www.tchrd.org/tibetan-writer-sentenced-to-7-5-years-after-more-than-a-year-of-secret-detention/

[10] ICT report, April 4, 2016, ‘Popular Tibetan blogger asserts innocence in appeal from prison’, https://www.https://savetibet.org/popular-tibetan-blogger-asserts-his-innocence-in-letter-from-prison/

[11] A famous Tibetan poet known to be the first of the modern era, who committed suicide at the age of 32 in 1985. He is still hugely influential among young generation Tibetan writers. Tibetan historian Tsering Shakya wrote about his ground-breaking poem ‘Waterfall of Youth’, saying: “The poem fervently appealed to Tibetans to embrace modernism as a means of regenerating their culture and national pride, and beseeched the youth to shake off the past and march proudly towards their future.” See: http://highpeakspureearth.com/2011/waterfall-of-youth-dhondup-gyal-music-video-by-yudrug-green-dragon/

[12] ICT report, ‘The Teeth of the Storm’, https://www.https://savetibet.org/the-teeth-of-the-storm-new-report-documents-dangers-for-free-expression-of-tibetans-and-resilience-of-a-new-generation/