This excerpt is taken from another popular blog Tso Nyonpo (Kokonor). Caterpillar fungus, which grows on the plateau, is sold to the mainland where it is highly prized for its medicinal uses. It has now become a primary source of income for many families in Tibet, especially in Kham and Amdo areas where the fungus grows well. Because it brings in so much money, there have been fights among villagers regarding the ownership of disputed grassland areas where the fungus is found.
By Sonam Dorjee Lintsang
Since the 1980s, throughout the Tibetan plateau, one way of making quick money is harvesting caterpillar fungus. Once Tibetans learned to collect caterpillar fungus, they began to lose many traditional and cultural elements but it is still rarely noticed.
Many parents thought that keeping their children at home and sending them to pick caterpillar fungus was better than sending them to school, and this had a negative effect on education. In the thirty years since 1980s, many families have become dependent on caterpillar fungus to run their household economy, and consequently, their lives have become directionless as follows: Carpenters have given up carpentry and choose to make a living by digging up caterpillar fungus; blacksmiths have given up blacksmith work; artists have given up artistic work; farmers have given up farming; herders have given up herding and choose to make a living by digging up caterpillar fungus.
It is not only people in humble occupations such as tailoring who are tempted by caterpillar fungus, but also students who stop schooling to harvest caterpillar fungus. Taking their students’ actions as an opportunity, some teachers also leave work to harvest caterpillar fungus and do some business.
Moreover, some government civil servants want to make the equivalent of their annual salary in one month, so they also harvest caterpillar fungus to sell them. And it’s not just civil servants. Doctors also climb mountains to dig up caterpillar fungus. In some monasteries, even the monks pick caterpillar fungus and engage in some business.
Since the arrival of caterpillar fungus, elders can’t relax at home, and children can’t play in the playground. In short, the hearts of the business people who engage in various businesses in Tibetan areas are polluted by this caterpillar fungus. There are many cases where in the beginning, tricky business people from outside make friends with the Tibetans to build trust; raise their hopes with nice words and smiles; in the end, they cheat the Tibetans and leave them empty handed. In short, the caterpillar fungus creates incredible damage to the Tibetan culture and economy.
NOTE--Dhondup Tashi Rekjong has been the editor of Tibet Web Digest. He is also the editor of the popular Tibetan language blog www.khabdha.com. Born in Tibet, he has lived and studied at TCV in India and United World College in Norway. He is currently studying economics at Methodist University in North Carolina.
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