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Sange Village

Sange Village aka Wutun Brief History

Wutun (meaning from Tibet in Chinese) was originally named Sange (Tibetan for Lion), when the Chinese occupied the valley in the early 1950's they started to change all of the names of the villages and monasteries. The Tibetans living in the area are discouraged from using the Tibetan names.

Early in the 11th century an army was dispatched from Lhasa to expel the Chinese garrison from the valley. The army was led by General Tampa Shak Dor, Shak Dor means thunderbolt or dorje in the hand. After the garrison was driven from the valley the soldiers went to a meadow and celebrated their victory. Many of the soldiers (18 levels) stayed behind to ensure that the Chinese did not return. The valley was inhabited by Mongols and Chinese.  The soldiers that remained married the local women, the language that evolved was a combination of Chinese, Mongolian with a heavy emphasis on Lhasan Tibetan.

Later, in March of 1028, 4 of the 10 sons of General Tampa Shak Dor came to the valley to administer the governance. Three of his elder sons all had Sange as part of their name. Their names were Annal Ger Sange, Halter Sange and Sange Zhangsen, the 4th and youngest son to reside in the valley was Chogya Tar Dee. The village was named Sange for the 3 oldest sons. This name lasted until 1958 when it was changed to the Chinese name Wutun.

About Sange Village

The village has about 3000 residents living in the traditional compacted earthen walled compounds (see pictures later in this article). There are two monasteries in the village about 0.7 kilometers apart, the Upper and Lower Sange monasteries. Art and Buddhist teachings are the main schools at both of the monasteries. Every household in the village has at least one resident artist as well a family member that is a monk or lama at one of the monasteries (with the exception of the" mole" in the center of the village). There are 3 or 4 small stores in the village selling beverages, (you can get a 750ml bottle of beer for $0.25) eggs, noodles and assorted dry goods, one of the stores next to the one pool table pool hall is operated by monks from the monastery. There is also one pay telephone.

The main commerce is wheat and tangka painting. For many centuries prior to 1981 all of the land was held in communal ownership by the village. Each family would send members out each day to tend the fields, cultivating, planting, weeding, watering and harvesting. There was a designated Town Accountant that noted the number of members from each family that went out to tend the fields. Sange being a town of artists, and the artists are all male, left the women to tend the fields. So each day each family would receive one Garma for every member of the family that went into the fields. The Garma is a notation in the book for a unit of a days' work by one individual. At harvest time they would tally up all of the Garma's recorded in the accounting book and then also tally the Garma's for each family and divide up the harvest according to the Garma ratio by family. But first they would set aside 250 kg for the temple custodian. In 1981 the authorities decided to change this and divided the land amongst the village family according to the size of the family at that time, going to private ownership, a very communist thing to do.

The residences, whether in the monastery or in the village are similarly laid out. The most notable difference being that the monastery residences are done in neat rows with the entrances only accessible from the north side of the alleys in both the lower  and upper Sange Monasteries. 

The other notable difference is the village residential compounds are generally larger and have a greater range of sizes. In the village the alleys have a variety of widths and are never straight for very long, having a succession of turns and many angles other than 90 degrees. The compound outer walls are predominately compacted dirt. This is accomplished by building a pole frame that is tapered narrower at the top and attaching sets of boards on each side acting as forms for the tamped dirt. There are two boards set on each side one on top of the other, the upper board holds the dirt that is currently compacted, while the lower board keeps the just compacted layer in place. The dirt has some moisture, just enough to color the earth, but far from enough to make mud. This is pounded into a hardness consistent with cement by use of flat round stones attached to a wooden pole. This is the same technique that was used in the building of the Great Wall of China.  

Original Sange village wall
These two pictures show a portion of the original defensive wall in Sange village. This wall is probably 900 to 1000 years old.

Ojen Tsering standing in alley leading to Sange commons

The residences are rectangular compounds, with wall on all four sides; typically there is a single door of substantial size that opens onto a court yard after a covered walkway of 5-12 feet. In the village compounds there is usually one wall of this entry way that is piled floor to ceiling with the cattle manure fuel patties.  The buildings inside of this compound are either arranged in a ‘U’ or ‘L’ shape around the courtyard. In one corner on the entrance side usually is the john or toilet. This is a small space that is partially open to the sky with a pile of ash in one corner for covering the fecal material and a cement platform from which the bombs are dropped into the pit. This arrangement is good for developing balance and leg strength not normally required in the developed west. Toilet paper is not provided so clean shooting is necessary. The court yard is cement, brick or fitted stone and there is always a tree and many times a plot for a small garden in the courtyard


            Kitchens are very small and usually consist of a propane stove, an oven for bread baking, possibly a small table or counter and pots, pans and ladles hanging over head. The bread ovens are sometimes away from the kitchen and the living quarters near a storage room or occasionally outside of the compound in the alley. The bread ovens in the alley are communal in nature and used by several residents, this saves on fuel and time.

The rooms in the ‘L’ or ‘U’ shape structures within each compound are generational rooms, by that I mean that there are usually several generations living in each compound. Beds are not in the western sense of a separate movable piece of furniture, they are a platform with several wool carpets stacked. Many times underneath this platform there is a oven that is accessed from outside the compound, this oven then heats the bed and radiantly heats the room. In the winter one bed will generally be used as the dining room. Historically chairs and tables for eating did not exist. What we in the west consider carpets, rugs and hall runners the Tibetan considers beds, chairs and benches, these generally are not for walking on but for sitting or sleeping.  The food is sometimes placed upon the same surface that you are sitting on or on a small low table and eaten without individual plates except in the case of soup. Chop sticks are the norm and everyone eats out of the same communal dish. There is usually one room that is larger than all of the rest and this will be the common room. Water is stored in a covered baked earthen cistern usually capable of holding 35-40 gallons of water. Water is ladled out of the cistern on to a stand holding a pan or wash basin. The water is available every other day for a few hours from underground piping that comes to an underground cistern in the courtyard. In Sange the villagers and the monasteries alternate days of water availability: this availability is for only a few hours on the designated day, so it is incumbent to fill the cistern quickly and to have enough cisterns to handle the water requirements for the entire family for 48 hours.
            Many of the homes have satellite TV and all have access to electricity, which is available 90% of the time. 

One of the oddities of the village is the custom of using round cakes made of yak dung and straw to fuel their ovens and bed heaters. Most of the roofs have plenty of stacked small branches on the roofs; this I had thought was used for cooking and heat. The stacked wood is juniper and it is used for smoke and smell offerings once a month for prayer via the Wind Horse. The yak dung patties are made in the village commons into round patties about 10" in diameter, they are then put on a wall facing the sun to dry. When they are dry the patties are stacked inside of the entrance way to the residential compund and used for fuel through out the year.

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