Every July shamanistic festivals featuring ritual dances, holy skin drums, and food offerings are designed to appease the mountain gods and guarantee good harvests in villages around Tongren. After three frenzied days of communicating with ancient Mongolian army generals, reincarnations of the gods, the shamans go into deep trances.
Link to iPhone & iPad friendly version of multimedia audio slide show.
Although not officially Buddhist, the festivals take place in and around Tibetan Buddhist temples and monasteries, and attract hundreds of observers and participants. Wearing distinctive peaked hats with red tassels, young boys through middle aged men dance for hours, circling the walled courtyard. Senior men carry flags and banners. Young girls solemnly march, enduring heavy coral beads and silver medallions braided into their long hair.
Ethnic Tibetan dancer takes break during Tongren Shaman Festival, Qinghai Province, China
Villagers bring offerings, including long bolts of beautiful fabric that are tied horizontally from the temple’s decoratively carved timbers. Offerings of food arrive, small plates of tsampa, a Tibetan barley flour bread, fruit, flowers and candy. Offerings of liquor are drunk by the shamans, shared with dancers and finally poured on the ground.
I photographed this Tongren Shaman Festival by walking up a steep hill from downtown Tongren, a small dusty town two hours from Qinghai Province's capital Xining. The amazing sounds of goat skin drums, silver bells, brass cymbals and the “brrrrrrrr” of the frenetic shaman were all recorded in the field as I photographed the festivities.
View more multimedia audio slide shows from China, and Miami Multimedia Photography. Last summer I wrote almost daily from my trip to Qinghai, China.