The Laru Mountain God Festivals - a brief introduction
Every year villagers around the Repkong Valley, in China’s QingHai provence, hold special festivals and ceremonies for the local Mountain Gods.
This series of images comes from a few of these villages that I visited in July 2011. Each village hosts a three day festival, with the sequence extending for about two weeks.
Although they are often referred to as ‘Shamanic Festivals’ it may be more correct to refer to the people who channel the spirits of the local mountain gods as lhawa (trance mediums), since they are used by the spirits to communicate with villagers, whereas shamans use trance to communicate with the spirit world.
These are certainly culturally rich events involving complex dances in colourful costumes, offerings of food, alcohol and splendid cloth, with decorated banners and ritual piercing and cutting.
While villagers are practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism, these festivals seem to reflect earlier anamist practices and I saw no monks in the villages at this time. Some writers refer to the villagers as Tu Zu (Tu Minority), a mixture of local and Mongolian people who regard the mountain gods as former Mongolian generals.
The festivals are well attended by the locals and are certainly a potent indicator of the strength of culture in this area and the locals capacity to revive and rebuild after the Cultural Revolution.
Unfortunately some of the visitors and photographers who attend are not respectful of the local hospitality. A couple of the villages have now started to charge a small fee to photographers which at least gives some return to the community. I hope some information and cultural education will in time become a part of the fee so that visitors can know something about the festival as well as what is inappropriate, especially since guides seem to offer little guidance. Now that I am home I have noticed many things in my images that I have misunderstood or have no idea about and I think that is a serious shortcoming. Below are a couple of useful references I have since found which at least give some background to similar festivals.
Mountain Gods and Trance Mediums: A Qinghai Tibetan Summer Festival Kevin Stuart, Banmadorji and Huangchojia Asian Folklore Studies Volume 54 1995 219-237
Katia Buffetrille (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katia_Buffetrille) is a french ethnologist who has studied and written (in French) about one of the villages. I have not yet tracked her work down.
I will aim to update this introduction as I find better information.
Robert van Koesveld.