by Robert W.
Tents have been used for longer than any other form of accommodation known to man. They were an essential part of the nomadic life on every continent on earth and are still fundamental parts of daily life for many people around the world. Tibetans have always employed a nomadic way of life, shifting their habitation with the requirements of the seasons.
The Tibetan tent is a unique structure. The material used is very thin and the exterior environment is still visible to those inside the tent. This is an important feature of the Tibetan tents that set them aside from other cultures' tents, which are usually comprised of thicker material to block out sunlight and sand (as in the case of nomadic desert tribes). The material is made from hand-spun yarn.
The top of the Tibetan tent has a wide opening which allows fire smoke to escape so that the inhabitants of the tent don't choke up. The hole at the top of the tent also allows sunshine into the tent, making the tent functional during the day. This is also a unique feature of Tibetan tents. Other cultures have solid roofs that make cooking inside impossible. The solid tent also makes the tent difficult to see in during the day.
The structure of Tibetan tents is simple and effective. Between eight and twelve wooden poles are used to create the structure of the tent. Often these poles are cut from nearby trees. The yarn tent is then held in place by yak wool rope. This rope is hand spun and often passed from generation to generation, testifying to its durability. The entire structure is a testament to the resourcefulness of the Tibetan people, using materials that can be sourced from the local environment, such as Yaks.
Apart from their construction, the most important parts of the Tibetan tent are the prayer flags that adorn them. Prayer flags are usually colorful pieces of rectangular cloth. Prayer flags are incredibly symbolic to the Tibetan people as they are used to bless their surroundings. Typically a Tibetan will get his dwelling blessed by a priest, but when the dwelling is nomadic, as in the case of tents, there are no priests on hand to bless it. For this reason nomadic Tibetans carry prayer flags with them and drape them over their dwelling to ward off evil spirits and protect themselves inside their tents.
Prayer flags originated in the Tibetan religion of Bon and use primary colors - sometimes block printed with words or images - to ward off demons. The Tibetans are a very spiritual people and they carry their prayer flags with them with great care because, to a Tibetan, they are the most important part of their tent.
As is commonly the case, the interior of a Tibetan tent is sparse and functional. Usually cooking equipment and sleeping mats are the only furniture inside the tents. However, a picture of the local lama (priest) and the 14th Dalai Lama are always found inside Tibetan tents. The pictures are not ornamentation, but rather important spiritual connections to their religion.
Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Tibetan Stories.