Photographer Nikki McClarron captures the intergenerational community as they uphold ancient, sacred traditions

Nestled in a mountain-wrapped village, 3,200 meters above sea level on the Tibetan Plateau in the Gansu province of China, live some of the remaining nomadic Tibetan families. Their lives are more modernized than their ancestors, now living in brick homes rather than the traditional baku (nomadic tent), yet the roots of their traditions remain the same with a strong sense of community, religion, and connection to nature. Most of the community is made up of herders working the land with their yaks and sheep. Since ancient times, the yak has provided Tibetan nomads with everything they need, from fuel, dairy, and meat to warm yarn made from their hair, which the nomads traditionally used to create the fabric of their baku tents. Master weavers in the community create fabrics from yak fibers for Norlha, a brand founded in the village in 2006.

Most families span three to four generations, living and supporting each other in their homes, with grandparents raising the youngest whilst the parents work. Life on the plateau is simple yet rich in happiness, through their sense of community, spirituality, and humor. The homes are filled with this feeling, with spiritual objects and brightly colored painted walls.

Whilst I was there, I was honored to be invited to a house blessing, where the local monks bless the home by chanting their prayers from 8am until 3pm. They go house to house in the village, blessing the homes over the course of a week. Usually, this happens two to three times a year at the beginning of the change of seasons. The monks begin the ritual by hand-making butter sculptures. They create the main sculpture with barley flour and water clay, painting them with red dye. The decoration is intricately sculpted out of yak butter and then artfully placed onto the barley sculpture. These are left in the prayer room of the home surrounded by lit butter lamps (candles made of yak butter) and incense whilst the prayers are carried out. Near the end of the prayers, one monk will take the butter sculptures outside to the home’s Sangtri ( a tower-like structure with a chimney). They place the sculptures in the mouth of the Sangtri with barley, yak manure, juniper, and silk. They then burn everything together and a juniper smoke releases into the air which carries the blessing around the home.

A special thank you to Norlha for your support with this project.

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