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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/544

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

geographer, was permitted, a little more than a year ago (in 1880), to add a little to our geographical knowledge of the eastern part of the Thibetan highland, particularly of the table of Chung-yen, where no European had ever before penetrated. The priests used every means in their power to prevent our carrying out our project of going to Lassa; and, when they at last came out against us with a thousand soldiers, we were compelled to leave the main road and force our way to the south.

The Thibetans belong to the great Mongolian race, but they are distinguished in many respects, and to their advantage, from their congeners, the Mongols proper and the Chinese. The external characteristics which they have more or less in common with them are the small black eyes, the prominent cheek-bones, the flattened nose, large mouth, and thin lips. They are, like all mountaineers, stout and strong. When I saw Thibetans for the first time at Ta-tsien-lu, I was prepossessed with them. They had come down out of the high mountains and wild clefts expressly to see us Europeans. The contrast between them and the Chinese was made clear not only by their imposing appearance, but also by their earnest quietude and the grave demeanor they maintained in the midst of the crowd of shrieking and boisterous Chinese townsmen. These robust, muscular figures, with weather-browned, wrinkled, thin, earnest faces, were the people called "wild" by the Chinese; and their black, deep-set eyes, framed in a tangled forest of straggling hair, glowed with the fierce fire of religious fanaticism.

The men are always armed, if not with a Chinese matchlock, with the sword of their country, a weapon often of marvelous workmanship, having the hilt adorned with turquoises and the sheath richly chased. Every one wears on his breast, as an amulet against evil spirits, a casket of gold, silver, or copper, containing various forms of incantation. The women and girls, with their two braids of raven hair, their brightly colored, chubby cheeks, their ample drapery, and their precious ornaments of metal and jewels, drive their puny Chinese rivals quite out of the field of comparison. Variety rules in the Thibetan dress, particularly in the arrangement of the women's hair. Sometimes it is worn in two braids, sometimes re-enforced with great structures of yak-hair; always, if the wearer is able, adorned with jewels, silver ornaments, or strings of coins. The women's faces are never clean, but the custom prevails of soiling them purposely.

Their dwellings are situated, either scattered or in little hamlets, wherever tillable soil can be found. Their houses rather resemble defensive towers than residences: they are made of drift-stones, of one story or more, and are expected to accommodate the domestic animals as well as the family; and, if the house is of one story only, the arrangement is apt to be rather promiscuous. The separation is more effective if the house has an additional story; but in the houses of