Twenty years is how long it took for me to return to my village and to begin discovering first-hand things about my people, my culture and the area! Not long after that I attended the first retirement celebrations, which introduced me to the important milestone and right of passage.
It was the Spring of 1998. There were two celebrations, one that of a maternal uncle and another that of a distant relative. (A sad footnote to that is the fact that after twenty years of attending that uncle’s retirement celebrations, just a few months ago, I attended his funeral 🙁 🙁 , which was also a first.)
Once again, it would be twenty years before I attended the next retirement celebrations! My third and fourth retirement celebrations, they were held last month. The following videos are from one them, one from the retirement celebrations of a distant cousin.
The traditional retirement “age” of my people, the ethnic Tibetans from Tangbe in Mustang District, is 57. (Age is in quotes because the number does not actually represent the number of solar calendar years the person has been on this planet. It is so with us because of the way we count age.)
When I was growing up in Nepal in the seventies and eighties, I don’t recall anyone holding their retirement celebrations in Pokhara, where most who didn’t live in Mustang lived. Maybe they did celebrate them, just that I wasn’t there. After all, I was a student in Kathmandu!
BUT what I am sure about is that they probably didn’t hold it with such extravagance and pride as they do now. One of the reasons is that, before 1990, Nepali society made us feel ashamed of our heritage. We, therefore, did everything we could to hide it! Many from my community, in those days, would have probably not be seen dead in Pokhara or any urban center in the country in the attire you see everyone wearing in the video. Nowadays however, they even invite Hindu Nepali friends and colleagues to the celebrations!!
Getting back to learning about my own people and culture…living away from home and my community even as a student in Nepal (I spent my primary school years at a boarding school in Lalitpur and the rest in Kathmandu City, while most of my people lived in Pokhara and Mustang), being made to deny my heritage growing up (click here, here or here for more), and then spending most of my adult life abroad, I lost out on a lot of my own culture.
I don’t know any songs in Serke, my mother tongue, for instance. I don’t even understand the song featured in the video (the language of the song is apparently a mix of our mother tongue and Tibetan) nor do I know the steps to the dance. I hope to change that in time. Two more celebrations are coming up. They are scheduled to take place towards the end of this month, one of them in the village, where I have not been since 2009!
One never stops learning!
What do you think?