Migration From Eastern Bhutan During The Early 19th Century
According to historical socurces, Orgyan Drodül Lingpa (b. 1757), recognised as the 5th reincarnation of the Kagyü master Gampopa, was a key 18th-century religious figure actively involved in the exploration of Pemakö. By the end of the 18th century, due to his priest-donor relation with the king of Powo who controlled the region of Pemakö, Orgyan Drodül Lingpa travelled down the Tsangpo gorge. In a dream he received instruction to build a temple on a nearby hill. The foundation to Rinchenpung was laid in 1806 and the temple became the centre of religious life in Pemakö. It is reported that he, “ took under his wing assemblage of inhabitants of Klo and Mon”and his teachings and activities became widely known. Today, a larger group of Pemakö’s population correlates its migration history with the agency of Orgyan Drodül Lingpa. According to local Pemakö oral traditions, there was an important Lama in Lhasa whose name was Gampopa. Hisfame had spread widely in Tibet and at the time when he went to Pemakö many people from eastern Bhutan accompanied him. These people not only “were encouraged by the legendary reputation of these ‘hidden lands’”, the reason “to flee there in the 19th century to escape from oppressive taxation in the area of eastern Bhutan and elsewhere”.
Local oral accounts describe this situation as follows: “The Mön king was very cruel. People had to work very hard for him. They started to look for a new place to live and so left Mön and thus they came to Pemakö. First a few came and later more and more followed. ” On their way, these migrants were held up by local non-Buddhist populations described as ‘Lopas’ (Tib. klo pa), who only allowed them to pass through their territory after paying a toll. Being unable to pay, the migrants had to stopover and their journey was delayed for almost two years. After their arrival in Pemakö the migrants leased a plot of land near Metog from the local Lopa, but the land was covered with trees and bamboo and inhabited by demons and spirits. After these evil forces were expelled from the land the migrants used the wood and bamboo to build houses and they cultivated the land. The good news circulated and more than one hundred households followed. In 1913, roughly a century after this major Bhutanese and Mönpa migration movement occurred, George Dunbar visited the Pemakö region and reported that: “About a hundred years ago a band of emigrants from Darma crossed the main range, it is conjectured by the Doshung La, and settled in the valley about Marpung, which is probably the oldest settlement. ” From Marpung these migrants gradually spread “ousting the earlier inhabitants from the best land on either bank of the river, but permitting them to remain on their holdings in the unproductive tracts lying immediately below the gorge and about the 29th parallel”. Even though these migrants counted themselves at the time as the fourth generation settled in Pemakö29, their ties with Bhutan seem to have remained strong in certain respects, since they once in their lives went back to Bhutan to pay respect to the Trongsa Penlop. The historical timeframes in the above accounts correspond to what Bailey was also told in 1913 by a man from Kapu, who claimed his grandfather to be one of the original migrants from Bhutan about hundred years earlier, but which Bailey interprets as “just another way of saying ‘a long while’”. Bailey’s impression was that this time period “had not been so long that the immigrants were truly settled”.
However, in the early 1880s, Kinthup, one of the Panditexplorers, reports several settlements and monasteries between Pemaköchung and Mayum, and we can assume that at the beginning of the 1880s the Buddhist migrants had established them as a recognisable group in the region. By the start of the 20th century, their settlement area stretched from Payi to Kopu on the right bank of the Tsangpo gorge, and from Pango to Mayum on the left bank. Several of the non-Buddhist groups were engaged in conflicts with Memba settlers over the limited resources of land and food, and according to the situation they formed alliances among each other that were renounced as quickly as they were tied. Bailey reports that, “bout the year 1905 the Abors raided up the valley and burnt the village of Hangjo below Rinchenpung and penetrated as far as Giling. Up to this time the Powo administration had allowed the frontier villages to settle their accounts with the Abors as best they could, but now became alarmed and sent troops down the Tsangpo valley to help their subjects on the frontier”. These battles and the victory over the local non-Buddhist populations are still part of Memba memories in Pemakö. In order to consolidate their authority, the Powo administration established an outpost, the Kala Yong Dzong, at Nyereng in the Yang Sang Valley around 1908. This military takeover of the valley and the outpost offered security for Buddhist pilgrims and settlers coming down from the Tsangpo and Chimdro Valley. During the following decades, this Powo Tibetan influence in the form of tax collection and trade control extended as far south as the villages of Karko and Simong. Nevertheless, the main areas of settlement were, at least up to the beginning of the 1940s, located on the upper stretches of the Tsangpo Valley and, as Godfrey reports after a flight over the area up to Namche Bawar, only few scattered “Bhutia” villages were recognisable further down stream.
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