Forensic Fashion
(c)  2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1960 Khampa bandit

Subject: bandit horseman
Culture: Khampa Tibetan
Setting: banditry / guerrilla warfare, eastern Tibet mid 20thc.

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Romain/Romain 2006 p12
"The different tribes that compose the population of Tibet have each contributed to the creation of a nomadic world enhanced by Turkish, Mongolian, Indian, Nepalese, Chinese, and sometimes Western influences.  This is the result of many invasions over the centuries, but it is also due to the caravans that plied the 'Silk Road' and which were robbed regularly by the campas, the noble brigands of Amdo and Kham."

* Wolff 2010 p152-153
"The Khampa nomads of the eastern plateau have a well-deserved reputation as fierce warriors. They were a caste of mounted soldiers with a heritage of independence. It was part of their heritage that they went about armed. The Chinese realized how unpopular their reforms were with the Khampa and attempted to confiscate their arms. The Khampa refused to give up their weapons. Chinese reforms caused uprisings in Qinghai, Sichuan, and Yunnan and ignited the Khampa revolt that would last for would soon spread [SIC] to the entire country."

* Smith 1996 p407-408
"The attempt to force the introduction of democratic reforms in the Chamdo district was the beginning of the Tibetan revolt in western Kham.
    "Eastern Kham also erupted in revolt when democratic reforms were introduced. One reason for this was that 'reforms' included confiscation of weapons from the Khampas, for whom weapons were regarded as part of their normal accoutrement. The revolt began in Nyarong, led by Dorje Yudon, the wife of Gyari Nyima, chieftain of the area, who was in Dartsendo at the time attending a meeting at which the Chinese announced their reforms. The actual spark for revolt was the murder of the women and children of another official, who was also at Dartsendo, who refused to surrender their family's weapons. Dorje Yudon gathered the men of the Gyari clan and others of Nyarong and attacked Chinese outposts in Nyarong. She also sent emissaries to other areas of Kham, urging them to rise against the Chinese. Revolt soon became general in Kham due to Khampas' resistance to 'democratic reforms.' Tibetan attacks on the Chinese were initially successful due to the Khampas['] familiarity with the terrain and their martial skills, but the Chinese held out in their fortresses and began a massive introduction of troops to quell the rebellion. Soon, many of the Kham Tibetans were forced to leave their villages and take to the hills from where they waged a guerilla campaign."

* Hopkirk 1995 p253
"Armed resistance [to Chinese Communists] was now beginning to spread [in the mid-1950s], particularly in eastern Tibet, a traditionally lawless region inhabited by the fiercely independent and warlike Khamba tribesmen.  Supply columns were attacked, roads and bridges destroyed.  The Chinese hit back, demolishing by shellfire and bombing entire monasteries known to be the focal point of resistance.  Sacred buildings and monuments were desecrated.  In an effort to undermine their influence, monks were made to work on road-building and other construction projects, and also subjected to public humiliation.  Some were dragged from their cells and challenged to prove publicly that they possessed supernatural powers.  The result was that more and more Tibetans joined the guerillas.  At first resistance was mainly confined to the east, but gradually it spread to other provinces of Tibet."

* Schmid/Trupp 2004 p185-186
"In earlier times the Golok were notorious for the pillaging they committed on extensive raids and were viewed with fear on all sides.  In the 1950s and 1960s these nomadic tribes offered fierce resistance to the invading Chinese troops.  South of Amdo, the Khampa, a people who were until recently almost unknown to the outside world, live as herdsmen in the Kkham area, now a part of the Chinese province of Sichuan.  The Khampa were famous as courageous fighters -- they earned a living as dangerous bandits and specialized in laying ambushes for traders along the tea caravan route.  These events are hardly in accordance with stereotypical notions about peace-loving Buddhists, but have long since become a thing of the past.  However, the tribesmen have remained loyal to other traditional values such as frugality, selflessness and hospitality, and it was they who accompanied the Dalai Lama when he was forced to flee over the Tibetan border to India."


* Romain/Romain 2006 p15
"This fashion is a form of elegance, at once rough-and-ready and completely organized: scraps are used as patches to repair tears and layering is justified by the extreme cold.  The seeming anarchy which emerges from these different materials is intended and demonstrates that this baroque fashion is functional as well as providing a means of recognizing the social class of particular men and women.  ...
​   "The heavy sheepskin coats edged with fur and embroidered fabric are essentials, since they are genuine miniature portable tents to counter the icy winter temperatures.  But they are also an aesthetic choice, the result of careful thought and great expense -- such a pelisse costs the equivalent of three or four yaks."

* Logan 1996 p95-96
"... [Khampa] men ... wore Tibetan coats, knee-high boots, and felt hats.  Each one carried a long dagger stuck in his belt, and wore his hair elaborately braided and tied up with a wad of red silk string."

* Parker 2002 p129-130
"Laymen still wear the front-opening, crossover robe called a tuva that greatly resembles Manchu robes. The Manchus were a nomadic tribe before conquering China, and the two garments' similarities may point to a common Mongol importation of Chinese style."

* Harrold/Legg 1978 p164
"The men's chupa always has sleeves and can be made from wool, cotton or patterned silk, according to the season of the year or the occasion.  This chupa also has very long sleeves, which are folded back as required.  The chupa is ankle-length, but can be pulled up over the belt, giving a loose blouse effect.  Young men tend to wear their chupas shorter, as do the men from Kham, who wear them knee length, and those from Amdo, who have them just below the knee.  The chupa is worn during the summer months in the same style as that of the women, with the empty right sleeve tucked into the belt and showing a high-necked linen or cotton shirt with long sleeves.  Loose, baggy trousers are tucked into decorated felt or leather boots.  Large sheepskin hats are very popular as are those made from fox, wolf or mink fur." 

* Logan 1996 p103 fn19
"The 'cowboy' style of felt hat was introduced to Tibet by a real American cowboy-turned-Asian adventurer named Fred Schroder, who was sent to Kumbum Gonpa on behalf of Mongolia to negotiate with the Panchen Lama in 1913.  The august lama so admired Schroder's crush-center Stetson that Schroder gave it to him, and it was subsequently copied in local felt." [references omitted]


* Schmid/Trupp 2004 p186
"Although Tibetan nomads have few material possessions, they love to adorn themselves with precious objects such as heavy silver necklaces, magnificently decorated amulet boxes, turquoises and red coral, amber and cowrie shells.  Jewelry and other personal objects form an integral part of any dowry and are also used for barter.  One cannot but admire the brightly coloured hair decorations of the Khampa nomads, who weave red or black bands into their hair and decorate their pigtails with ivory clasps and silver ornaments.  The men also wear decorative strike-lighters, knives and amulet cases on their belts."

* Romain/Romain 2006 p15
"Accessories are piled on, from belts accented with silver to necklaces weighed down with ivory, not to mention the incredible earrings adorned with hard stones.  The mystical beauty of their bracelets, rings, and prayer beads (malas) is often the result of a kind of ethnic alchemy that mixes the sacred with the profane; the personal touches are apparent in the addition of amulets, strips of ribbon, and scraps of sacred cloth."

* Schmid/Trupp 2004 p209
"Magical powers are attributed to turquoises throughout the Tibetan cultural world -- they protect the wearer from certain illnesses and the evil eye, and prevent the shadow-soul from leaving the body.  A turquoise worn in an earring, for instance, prevents the wearer from being reborn as a donkey in the next life.  They also bring good luck and function as talismans.
    "For the Tibetans, the turquoise symbolizes the divine blue of the sky over the Roof of the World and the peaks of the Himalayas; consequently, the stones that are most highly valued are those with a clear, sky-blue surface.  In order to achieve this, they are polished until they acquire a silky patina.  Tibetans compare the turquoise's natural ageing process, which is accompanied by a graudal decrease in brightness, to the human experience of life and death.  Stones that are full of life have a healthy, light blue colour, but dead stones are dull and opaque, which is why a lively, bright turquoise is an indicator of long life for the wearer.
    "Red coral is second only to turquoise in its popularity with Tibetans.  The two elements, the red of fire and the blue of the sky, are often worn next to one another.  Coral promises wealth and beauty while turquoises stand for health and happiness."


* Warriors of the Himalayas 2006 p146
"[A]mong the Khampas of eastern Tibet, the sword was an essential part of male dress and remains an important element of traditional attire."

* Norbu 1986 p24 (describing his adolescence in Kham)
"We were all armed with rifles, swords and our usual daggers.  My father also had a Mauser pistol with a wooden holster and stock combination.  His sword was our prized family heirloom and was famous.  It was called Eternal Starlight.  This blade had abruptly ended many a life, and was considered to have magical powers.  It was a priceless treasure and had been in our family since time immemorial.  With my Russian rifle and sword, and draped with bandoliers of ammunition, I felt strong and truculent.  Woe betide any bandit or miserable Chinaman that crossed my path.  I was a man now -- I was sixteen years old." 

* Hua 2010 p118-119
"TIbetan people usually carry a string of metal knifes [sic], boxes or steel for flint and many other silver accessories around the waist.  Among them, broadswords and waist hooks are two kinds of unique accessories for Tibetan men and women.  Tibetan swords vary in length, from longer than 1 meter to 40-70cm, and even shorter than 40cm.  A Tibetan knife or sword has many functions.  A long sword could be used for self-protection and a short sword could be used to kill cattle and sheep, to peel off skin and to cut meat and vegetables.  A small knife could be used as tablewear.  In addition to being very sharp, Tibetan swords are also exquisitely decorated with delicate adornments.  The hilt part is covered with ox horn, animal bone or hard wood and then wrapped with silver or copper wires and covered with iron or copper sheets.  Some are decorated with silver adornments.  The materials used for the sheath are also very exquisite.  Sheathes [sic] are mostly covered with copper or silver and then carved with lucky patterns of dragons, phoenixes, tigers, lions and flowers.  Some are covered with sharkskin and inlaid with precious gems such as turquoise, coral and agate.  A more common practice is to inlay a piece of yak horn on the knife shank."