Pygmy Grand Canyon Fairyland Yunnan China
by Richard D. Fisher
Developement is progressing very fast in the China/Tibet/Myanmar borderlands. After this summers “elections” in Myanmar and Chinas strong push for development in it’s far western provinces roads, schools, electronic communications, health care and tourism is reaching even the most remote corners for this long hidden land. The local people are very pleased with the “progress” as it brings them so many “befits” that so much of the developed parts of China and indeed the developed world enjoys from their point of view.
Remains of a glacial foot print base now a beautiful mountain marsh meadow in resplendent fall colors. Upper Nu Jaing River headwaters on the old road to Dulong Yunnan China.
Our goal now is to reunite what remains of the migrant Trung tribal group in Myanmar with their tribal fellows in the China border lands. The first step now is to make sure they are genetically in fact linked. We have completed the China side of the sample collection in October 2011. Now that Burma is finely opening up our next goal this winter is to visit Dawi on the Myanmar side of the extreme mountains and canyons lands.
Although much has been made of Dawi and his disappearing tribe of Tyrone pygmies over the years very little science has been done in regards to this issue and virtually none if any humanitarian work has taken place on their behalf. The tribe now faces complete extinction in Burma.
Our first objective is to immediately address his humanitarian and health needs as a human being. Our second objective is to work with him and his Tibetan tribal co-members to respectfully and with informed consent do basic scientific studies such as genetic testing. Additionally, we hope to gather as much of the history of Dawi’s family migrations during the last one hundred years and see if any of the other Qui-pa or Zhu Ru/T’rung remember or can relate oral history for the historical record. Last, yet most importantly, it is our goal to see if Dawi would be invited to return to his ancestral homeland on the personal invitation of individuals living there.Dawi has told visiting anthropologists that he does want to visit his ancestral homeland in Tibet “to find a wife.” Whereas nothing was done to help him reach his personal dream he may perhaps be too old to marry and have children now. It should also be noted that people from Burma visit the Tibet borderlands each and every day for trade commerce and medical care. We believe that if he decides to stay he will need formal paperwork and visas, etc. but we do have people who are qualified to address these issues.
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Rare deep mystical forest of the most remote part of the eastern tail of the Himalayan mountain range.
The last village at the current end of the road which is driving north to Tibet very nearby and it is said on to Myanmar.
The last village and our first true pygmy. Still days walk north of the current road end. Mr. Sho La standing in the red trousers said he was just over 60 and healthy. He did not appear to have any genetic challenges like dwarfism or mental handicap common with these isolated people.
Mystified yet peaceful curious people meets their first not so tall western visitor maybe ever. Sweet spirited gelflings, hobbits or pygmy s…beautiful people by any name. Lady Do San is one of the several surviving tattooed woman living in this remote “pygmy” Grand Canyon.
All little people standing tall.
Sho La try’s his first tasty canned peach maybe ever? He did know how to eat it so I cut it up with my Swiss Army knife and stabbed the slippery morsel with a chop stick.
Wa–open wide Mr Sho La. Missing a few teeth looks like. But still happy and going strong.
Sho La volunteers some inside of the cheek cells to help identify his lost tribal brother “Dawi” of Burma.
Now Sho La the last healthy Dulong Pygmy is really happy as he shows off his trusty crossbow. He shot both of the chop sticks I brought with me far into the bush. I can tell you he really had fun that morning and he it showed it! And I forgot all my discomfort from the rough frontier life and really enjoyed myself fully with my new found friends! What a day, at long last!
Lot’s af very little people abounding in this wilderness on the Tibet/China/Burma frontier.
Gelfling princess with ethnographic photographer Richard D. Fisher. October 2011
Progress and development rolling in fast. These people aren’t kidding around. They are pushing forward day to day. Every one seems happy as the local people get training and even the skilled jobs running the heavy machinery.
No messing around here. Drilling blasting holes high up on the cliff face.
Concrete blocks of progress…giddy up-mules!
The real deal for better homes and gardens in their view anyway. They sure work hard enough at it.
Now a just kidding photograph. Old western guy modeling my drivers competition crossbow hand mad in China shirt and pants. The quiver has real boars tusk and wild mountain antelope hide. Hat from Tucson Arizona USA tops off the “high fashion” modern frontier look.
Ancient alpine forest now very rare in the most remote eastern Himalayan canyons and ridges.
Last view upon leaving the enchanted fairyland of the “Lost Pygmy” Trung tribe. October 2011
Copyright California Academy of Sciences, photographer Dong Lin.
Above 3 photo’s from the “discovery” of the “Lost Pygmy Tribe” 2009
Beauty Queen of the Trung tattooed gelflng tribe.
Search for the “Lost Tribe of Tibetan Pygmies” 2009
Since his exploration of the world’s deepest canyon in Tibet in the 1990’s, Richard Fisher has been researching the existence of an unknown tribe of Mongolide pygmies in the tri-border region of China, Tibet, and Myanmar. Fisher has confirmed in 2009 that a unique tribe of pygmies, the T’rung, lives in the Dulongjiang Canyon of Tibet, hidden from the outside and unknown by the western world until now. Today there are over 5,000 T’rung people living in six designated villages within the canyon.
Formerly, the Taron (T’rung) tribe of Myanmar/Burma was scientifically defined as the only tribe of Mongolide pygmies after its discovery in the 1960’s. By the 1990’s, scientists claimed that the tribe was near extinction, having succumbed to genetic diseases. At the same time, Fisher had encountered families in the Dulongjuiang Canyon area that were extremely short in stature, yet otherwise perfectly formed humans. When he learned about the Taron pygmies in 2004, he decided further research was needed to learn if other similar tribes existed in the area.The T’rung are a peaceful people; they are increasingly educated, provided with basic health care (by who?), and as tribes across the world have done, are increasingly looking to and integrating into the outside world. The images from the Dulongjiang Canyon and T’rung people offer us a glimpse into an untouched and fascinating world most of us have never seen. Documenting the images and customs of this tribe is essential to preserving the history of these people. In recent years, the T’rung have begun to have more substantial contact with the outside world. In addition, the T’rung people are increasingly intermarrying with other ethnic groups. Time is of the essence to record the history and culture of this unique tribe. Not only will this encourage the sharing of human experience, but the micro-population of this isolated canyon also allows us to learn more about the process of human evolution. It is important to document this unique world and its people while we still can.
A. Project Background:
- The Taron Tribe of Myanmar/Burma were scientifically and officially defined in the 1960s as the only tribe of Mongolide pygmies. Special Report Series No. 1: The Tarons in Burma, the results of a scientific expedition by Burma Medical Research Society. Published in 1966, Burma Medical Research Institute (Rangoon), Contributions: Mya-Tu, Dr., Burma Medical Research Institute. One would be described as a common pygmy gene where individuals are less than 4’11” yet perfectly formed human beings. Other populations are equally small but display varying degrees of what can be described as dwarfism or hobbits.
- In the 1990s it was reported by numerous scientists, most notably Alan Rabinowitz, that the tribe was nearing extinction as there was only one male member left “Dawi” by name, who was young and healthy enough to have a family. The tribe had succumbed to genetic diseases originating from inbreeding which is common in remote and isolate places like these rugged canyonlands of northern Myanmar/Burma (as reported by Raboniwitz). It was also reported during this time period that the Taron originated in Tibet where they had been driven out of by slave traders and conflicts with their Tibetan neighbors in the late 1800s.
- The Taron are a part of a more numerous and also diminutive group known more widely as the Rawang (by P. Christiaan Klieger 4/09 and Alan Rabinowitz 2001) people. This is very similar to the situation in the Congo where defined pygmies are surrounded by a slightly taller tribe into which they sometimes marry.
- In the 1990s Richard D. Fisher noticed, as the first American to explore the world’s deepest canyon in Tibet, some individual families who were exceptionally small. Fisher assumed that this was a result of poor diet, inadequate food and also the extreme canyon environment which worldwide favors small agile people.
- In 2004 Fisher was invited to speak at a Texas Explorers Club meeting where he met a fellow explorer Brenda Shaddox who specialized in Myanmar/Burma who related the story of Dawi and the Taron Pigmies.
- After 5 years of research Fisher decided it was time to find out that if indeed there were Pygmies in the borderlands of Tibet/China/Myanmar.
- Fisher’s findings from 2 expeditions in April and May 2009 are:
A. That yes, today there is a specific and specialized tribe in the tri-border region now known as “Dulong” people from whom the Taron are descended (Dulong= Taron= T’rung depending on your language. Dulong is Chinese and Taron is Burmese transliteration of T’rung). These people have for hundreds of years been recognized as a separate culture and especially small people. Prior to the 1950s they were known as the as the Qui-pa ethnic group in China and Tibet (I have been told that Qui-pa is a derogatory modern Chinese term. Monpa would be more accurate for Tibetans). Formerly they had strife with their neighbors especially over the capture and enslavement of their women by larger and physically more powerful neighbors. This is one of the reasons given for the tradition of face tattooing among the Qui pa women up until the 1960s.
B. The name of these people depends on the language group that are describing them. I feel that perhaps they are best called T’rung. Today there are over 5,000 T’rung people living in the Dulongjiang Canyon which is 3,804 meters or 12,480 feet deep, more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA.
C. Within this area there are 6 designated villages, 838 households and 5,600 adults and many healthy and lively children as well.
D. The canyon environment is diversified with many micro climates from subtropical rain forest to mountain tundra and there are a number of small glaciers remaining in the surrounding highest peaks. The forested region is still 97% intact with old growth trees predominating from the frigid alpine fern forest down to the tropical jungle through which runs a pristine and sparkling sky blue river.
E. Historically the T’rung people have mostly kept themselves apart from the outside world as well as their nearest neighbors. Today they a peaceful and happy people who are increasingly educated, provided with basic health care, and are now as all native people worldwide, looking to and integrating with the outside world.
F. Many T’rung also are living the old ways which are fascinating with many unique traditions. (I will elaborate more later) One of the most interesting customs was discontinued in 1966 is face tattooing of women. As of 2003 there were 60 women remaining who have face tattoos averaging 71.9 years old with the oldest being 108 years old. I was able, with permission, to photograph 4-5 of these matrons which to my surprise were very beautiful as well as animated. One tattooed lady I hiked along side of and photographed was carrying a burden basket heavier than 50 lbs. over 6 miles and she reported she was in her 80s.
- 8. Until the 1960s all T’rung pygmies had a nature based religion including bull sacrifice, praying for no flooding when they see fire in the sky and the god of good hunting. Today many T’rung are Pentecostal Christian yet retaining many of their beliefs on the forces of the natural world.
- 9. All that were interviewed report that they knew of no twins, that they normally lived to 70-80 years old, and that they are agriculturalists thriving on corn, vegetables, cattle, a few goats and pigs, and many chickens.
Why are T’rung “undiscovered” pygmies?
The western scientist who defined the Taron as pygmies in Burma did not look to this ethnic group’s historical roots in Tibet to see if there were others, because Tibet and parts of western China were “closed areas” until the past decade. Fisher was the first American to enter and publish on many of these vast canyonlands starting in 1987 most particularly the Yarlung Tsanpo where the issue of a lost Tibetan Pygmy tribe first came into question.
C. While Chinese ethnologists have long recognized the Dulong or Qui-pa people as exceptionally physically small and indeed a unique separate culture, they have never, until May 14, 2009, considered the issue that they might actually be pygmies. Why is this discovery important?Opening communications and dialog between the east and west is always an important goal for human understanding and knowledge.
- The T’rung people are increasingly intermarrying with other ethnic groups. Right now the time is critical to the human understanding of many aspects of shared human cultures, common as well as diverse histories and in this case the all issues relating to Pygmies and the quest for knowledge of human evolution.
- At the moment a scientific debate is raging about the findings of “hobbit” bones on the island of Flores in Indonesia. These new findings about the T’rung Pygmies may be of importance to this ongoing debate in many ways.
- Fisher’s proposal is that the canyonlands of Tibet/China/Myanmar are perhaps a hot spot of human evolution toward small nimble people, or on the other hand, a refuge for a human genetic line that will soon be lost in the mainstream of human “progress”. Both may certainly be true at the same time. Also in many ways canyons are like islands producing unique micro-populations of great diversity in plants, animals and perhaps humans as well.
- Such “findings” are fascinating to humans worldwide and make for interesting and readable news.
- The photography while being uniquely captivating and illustrative, is for the first time available to the IT (digital) universe.
D. On a personal note:
- I find it very interesting what these people are actually called or defined as. I found that while “Pygmy” is scientifically accurate, that “hobbit” may apply to the inbreed Taron group in Myanmar/Burma, that the best term that applies to my observations is “gelflings” after the imaginative “Dark Crystal” fantasy by Jim Henson.
Richard D. Fisher
Entering a mystical portal and down into a hidden land Spring 2009
Down to the sky blue river.
The lost pygmies of Tibet and their hidden mystical canyon. Spring 2009