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Valentine’s Day, Tibetan Style

Tibetan couple

Photo credit: @tibetanportraits

Valentine’s Day has yet to make inroads in Tibet. Perhaps there are whispers of it now in the big cities, but it is hard to imagine it being a thing in rural areas.

How then does love work in Tibet?

Well, the mountains provide ample opportunity for girls and boys to meet secretly while herding animals, or there’s always a chance to steal time when a girl is sent to the mill to grind flour… But don’t hold hands or kiss in public! Keep that behind closed doors please.

Singing (men on one side, women on the other) also sets the stage for a courtship. The men in particular often go to great efforts to dress up, paying a lot of attention to their hair and their jewellery. Young men often wear their hair long, neatly braided into colourful tassels, and they may wear gold or silver earrings and elaborate necklaces.

But Tibet is huge (did you know that it encompasses an area greater than western Europe?), and there are significant regional variations in courtship and marriage patterns. For centuries, Tibetans who lived on the highest plateaus probably constituted one of the most isolated ethnic groups in the world. Because of this, the people there developed unique culture and traditions. Presumably this is how polyandry (the practice of a woman taking more than one husband) came into being, a system that is extremely rare in other parts of the world.

Whether she takes one husband or three, traditionally marriage has always been arranged between parents in Tibet, and women in particular have had little or no say in the matter. This system, as elsewhere, is changing, but it is still unusual for children to marry without their parents’ consent.

Yeshi was the first person in his corner of Tibet to ever marry a foreigner. For every person in my family who questioned my decision to take up with a nomad from the Tibetan plateau, there must have been dozens in Yeshi’s village who considered him way crazier. But hey, true love works in mysterious ways, and in some ways the diversity of social structures in Tibet gives more room for manoeuvre.

We are working this Valentine’s Day, as this year February 14th falls on a Thursday, which is the day of our pop up at Silvie. Calling all the lovers! You can dine in or take away for a cosy night at home. We will be in the house with all the usual favourites, plus some steamy specials.

#tastetibet #tibet #polyandry #tibetan #marriage

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