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Hampshire College

Publication Date

Fall 2004

Program Name

Nepal: Culture and Development


Since the Tibetan diaspora began in 1959, when His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama fled Tibet for India, many Tibetans have settled and started families in exile. Today, a large percentage of Tibetan refugees have been born in exile, and have therefore never seen their country. Within Tibetan exile communities, however, the importance of Tibetan identity is strongly emphasized and people are still very much invested in the plight of Tibet. As a result, there exist strong ideas about the reality of life in Tibet within the exile community. According Jamyang Norbu, “Though the Shangri-la stereotype is a Western creation, Tibetans, especially Tibetan refugees, are gradually succumbing to a similarly fantastic idea of their lost country.”

Many of the ideas about Tibet among refugees appear to be stipulated—or at least influenced--by the dominant discourse of the exile community. In fact, ideas about Tibet among refugees are often so uniform, that they could be considered cultural truths—that is, truths that depend more on a given culture or community’s acceptance of a piece of information or idea than on the factual truth of the idea. These truths—while of course not universally accepted in the exile community—are nonetheless reiterated throughout a person’s life in the exile community, and by the time someone is a young man or woman, he or she is able to discuss them with ease, and often with passion. And yet, for the vast majority of young exiles, Tibet is a place that exists entirely within their imaginations. Trinlay Dorjee, a 25-year old Tibetan born in India, explained that when people from the older generations take part in traditional rituals, it helps them to remember their country. “They feel like they are in Tibet,” he said. “But we don’t have anything to remember.”

This study focuses first, on the way that very young refugee children imagine Tibet and, second, on the roots of their ideas about the homeland they’ve never seen. Focusing on young children is a way to avoid—as much as possible—the rhetoric about Tibet that is so prevalent among older refugees. More importantly, for very young Tibetan exiles, who have spent only a short time as members of the exile community, many personal truths override the cultural truths. These personal truths represent the child’s fears, fantasies, misconceptions and gaps in their very short education. This study examines how effected young children are by the cultural truths of their community, and attempts to unearth their personal truths about Tibet while they’re still vivid.


Anthropology | Human Geography | Social and Cultural Anthropology


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