The Origin and Customs of Gongbo New Year
Among the traditional festivals in the Nyingchi area, the most representative is the Gongbo New Year.It is said that the people in Gongbo used to observe the Tibetan New Year, as the people in other Tibetan areas do. In 7th century AD, confronted with the attack of the Hor people from the north, the Gongbo King Ngagyi Gyaibo decided to lead the Gongbo men to the frontier. It was late autumn, and the men regretted leaving since the New Year was imminent. Being a reasonable leader, the king said, "We have to fight the battle but should not miss the New Year. I have decided to move the New Year up to the first day of the tenth month, for you'll have no heart to fight the enemy without spending the New Year, and when defeated we'll see no more New Year. So let's eat and drink to our hearts' content before going out to battle." So the Gongbo people spent the New Year in advance. With high morale, the Gongbo people were able to defeat the enemy. From then on, they started to observe the New Year on the first day of the tenth month of the Tibetan calendar.
According to the distinctive customs of the Gongbo New Year, on the eve of the New Year, every household will put festival foods _ co, a sacrificial offering made of zanba, deep-fried dumplings, beef, mutton, butter, milk dregs, brown sugar, dried peaches, apples, etc. _ on wooden plates, set them in the courtyard and feed their dogs. The Gongbo people believe that what the dogs eat will forecast the harvest in the New Year: eating co or pancakes means a good harvest, eating milk dregs and butter means a thriving animal husbandry, and eating dried peaches means that all family members will be happy and healthy... Then the family will sit together and eat gyida, a string of toasted dumplings made of flour, butter and milk dregs. Everyone will eat more than his or her fill, so that the ghost cannot carry them away.
On New Year's Day, people will take sacrificial offerings and wine, made of qingke, to the fields and present them to the Goddess of Harvest. A tall post will be erected in the field, with a flag hanging from its upper end and hay tied to its lower part. An altar will be set up in front of the post. The people will burn aromatic plants for auspicious smoke, sing and dance to pray for blessings from the Goddess of Harvest and a good harvest in the New Year.
There are many typical entertainment activities during the New Year. On the second day of the New Year, the men compete in shooting arrows while on horses. The wooden, cone-shaped arrowhead bears many holes so that the arrow makes a sharp sound when piercing the air, so the arrow is called a "whistling arrow." There are also wrestling, stone-carrying and tree-felling competitions. The women also have many games to play besides cheering the riders and archers. In the evening, a bonfire is lit on the square, and a big, wooden barrel is set beside it. Everyone who has come to dance will pour a pot of wine into it, and then dance and drink around the bonfire till dawn.
Another famous festival is the Bear-Fighting Festival in the Shiba Village of the Bomi area in Nyingchi. Every year, on the fifteenth day of the fifth month of the Tibetan calendar, every villager will dress in festival costume and go to the Tara Mountain to burn aromatic plants for auspicious smoke, praying for favorable weather and happy life from the God of Mountains and the Heaven. Then young women will gather and dance. Suddenly, seven "bears" will dash from behind the trees, waving barbed twigs while roaring. At the same time, three hunters will rush forward, and the interesting bear fighting starts. This custom originated from a religious activity in the 17th century, which was thought to be auspicious because bears had visited the event. Today, this religious ritual has become a folklore game that also popularizes wild life protection.
By comparison, the Eagle-worshipping Festival in the Benri Mountain holds more religious flavor. The Benri Mountain is worshipped by the Bon believers. The 1,200 year old Sagya Genqen Monastery in the mountain is the oldest temple of the Bon Sect, and has many worshippers. Every year, in the fourth month of the Tibetan calendar, many eagles can be seen hovering over the monastery. It is said that a famous monk claimed just before he died that he would reincarnate into 100 eagles and visit the monastery. To commemorate him, on the thirtieth day of the fourth month, all people will dress themselves in festival costumes and attend various religious rituals. They will dance the lively Gongbo Dance and pray for a good harvest and thriving life.
Being mountainous, Nyingchi has mountain people's customs. Gongbo hunters are good archers, and every traditional festival would not be complete without archery competitions. While the archers compete, singers and spectators sing and dance to boost their morale. This is a splendid scene of folklore in the Gongbo area. The Gongbo people use a special kind of arrow. Its head is made of iron and its tail made of eagle feathers. The bows that they use are all made of bamboo from Medog, which is hardy. The arrows are the "whistling arrows." Singing is mandatory in arrow-shooting competitions. The singers are the best from all the villages. They wear festival costumes and line both sides of the range, with men on the right and women on the left. When the archers from their own village start to shoot, they will sing the "Song of Arrows" in chorus, and at the same time dance vigorously to cheer the competitors on, pushing the festival and competitive atmosphere to a climax.