Nomadic Herding on the Tibetan Plateau

For nomads on the Tibetan Plateau in western China, herding is the most important task. Nomads move from pasture to pasture to find better grazing areas, which typically result in better milk, better butter, better meat, and healthier herds that bring better income. The life of a Tibetan nomadic family revolves around herding practices, which often contribute to accumulation of wealth and social standing. Among Tibetans, the yak is the most important animal in the herd, though nomads also tend sheep, goats, horses, and sometimes even pigs. Second in importance to nomadic herders are sheep, which provide wool, meat, and hides. Also important are horses, which are used for transportation and play a major part in many religious and cultural festivities, such as horse races and horsemanship skills contests. They also play a supporting role in helping herders to tend grazing yaks. Unlike sheep, horses are not raised for their meat, and unlike yaks, they are not milked.

Questions for Discussion

  • Discuss the word “nomad.” What does it mean? What do you associate that word with?
  • What stands out about the lifestyle of the people in the video? Is it similar to anything you have experienced or read about?
  • Which animals seen in the video are familiar and which are new to you?
  • What did you learn about horses from the video? Why are horses important in Chinese culture and in the history of trade along the Silk Road?