A Nomadic life is pretty simple – if the family cannot maintain the Yak dung for fire, then it’s the woman’s fault but if the family is starving and cannot be fed, then it’s the man’s fault. Division, priority and purpose dominate a way of life for Yama and Locho, a Nomadic couple, whom live 15,000 feet above sea level in the Kham region of eastern Tibet. Summer Pasture takes a deep insight into their lives for a whole year where their philosophy and traditions, followed religiously by their ancestors for the past 4,000 years, is challenged by the promise of modern life.
Their story begins very early. 4am. A large, uneven, unsecured tent is filled with their personal possessions. At the break of dawn, the wife Yama collects Yak dung and spreads it over a field so the sun can dry it out. Then it’s off to clean pots and pans, milk the livestock, churn it to make butter, return to the dried dung to be collected in sacks so it’s used as fuel for their tent fire. Then it’s time to cook, feed the baby and if she has a spare moment she can enjoy it with her sister. Yama says this is a typical day for her. There’s always something to do because a Nomadic wife is meant to ensure everything at home is sorted while the husband herds the livestock… which doesn’t take a lot of effort at all. In fact Locho has time to apply facial cream to ensure he looks as good as he did ten years ago when he was a bit of a playboy prior to marrying Yama. Locho says he enjoys his life and there is nothing else he’d rather be. A chance encounter to collect caterpillar fungus meant he could sell them for a lot of money to the Chinese, not aware of its mysterious demands except that it’s worth more than gold. His Grandmother once told him there was no point attending school because educated people do nothing except learn bad things – a life of a Nomad is healthy, good and sufficient. And yet it all comes into question when both Locho and Yama see many other families leave Kham for the city life of Dzachukha where the community is thriving and educated people are respected. Wanting this better life for their daughter, the Nomadic couple contemplate the migration to a different world. A world they’ve been shying away from for many years but simply can’t ignore anymore.
This wonderful documentary, directed by Lynn True and Nelson Walker (working with co-director Tsering Perlo), is a must see at the Buddhist Film Festival as you explore and succumb to the fragile, yet humble lives of a Nomadic couple who aren’t that dissimilar to civilised one. Washed away are any prejudices of their capabilities – simply observe Yama’s hands as she physically makes food, separates the grains, churns the butter and takes multiple strands to create rope – in a single day. She is an amazing woman filled with humour, determination and loyalty towards Locho and yet she sells herself short because of her illiteracy. Yama’s lack of intelligence however is compensated with her enigmatic charisma and diverse outdoor talents which can’t be said about Locho who spends his days grazing with his herds and living in the past however it’s compelling watching them talk to each other. Their chemistry is infectious and when the camera cuts away to the next scene, you often wonder what they said to each other next. In the first year of his marriage, Locho had an affair with another woman who bore him a child – a thought that still clouds Yama’s mind. You sympathise her anguish and subtle frustration when she talks about her two miscarriages because of the stress she went through. Yama talks of the future a lot and the amazing possibilities they hold for an educated person however it’s the fear of the unknown that trembles Locho – he strives to have a bigger family and is comfortable with his little luxuries such as listening to music via a cassette recorder or drinking fresh milk from a Yak. It’s a huge sacrifice to leave everything he has known… for something he does not.
Recorded in 2007, Yama and Locho would’ve finally made that choice by the time you watch this film and you hope they made the right choice, even reluctantly, to move on like many others have for a prosperous future. If not for themselves, then for their daughter who now stands for more than a means to a way out but to find happiness – of which after watching this film, you truly hope they find. Summer Pasture is an astonishing documentary that’ll demand you to reevaluate your life and be thankful for the production team for introducing Yama and Locho to the world.
Summer Pasture is showing at The International Buddhist Film Festival on Sunday 15th April 2012.
Reviewed by Vaskar S. Kayastha