Tibetan History

Ancient Myth

According to myth, the Tibetan people attribute their existence to the union of an ogress and a monkey. One day a monkey came into a cave in Yarlung River valley and began to cultivate himself to attain immortality.

Later, an ogress came to him and tried to tempt him with tricks. She said to the monkey: “Will you marry me?” “No, I am a disciple of Mother Buddha. I am instructed to come here to cultivate myself. If I marry you, it will violate the religious discipline,” replied the monkey.

The ogress proceeded: “If you don’t marry me, I will have to commit suicide because I am destined in my previous incarnation to be degraded into a devil. Then you and I cannot become affectionate couple. Days later, I will become the wife of a devil and give birth to countless sons and grandsons. At that time, the plateau will be plunged into a world filled with devils and thousands of people will be killed. So please do as I told you.”

Stuck in the dilemma and puzzled, the monkey had to return to Putuo Hill to seek instruction from Mother Buddha. She said: “This is destiny and this is an auspicious sign. It is a deed of great kindness to marry her and reproduce offspring for the plateau. As a Buddha, you should not hesitate to conduct kind deeds. Hurry back to marry the ogress.”

They got married and brought six baby monkeys into the world. They had different hobbies and different dispositions. They looked for food in the forest by themselves.

Three years later, their father went to the forest and found out that the number of monkey had expanded to 500 by the way of reproduction. And they had eaten up the fruits in the forest and suffered from food shortage.

Again the old monkey went to Mother Buddha for help. Mother Buddha took the seeds of five types of grains from Xumi Mountain and distributed them across the land. Crops sprung up in the vast land without being cultivated. Hence monkeys got sufficient food.

After some time, their tails became shortened and they could speak language. Gradually they became humans, the ancestors of the Tibetan people.


The story that monkey became human was popular with the Tibetan people and was recorded in the ancient scriptures. You can also find the clues of the story in many wall paintings. Tsetang Town in Tibet was named after the story (Tsetang means in Tibetan language the play place for monkeys). The people in Tsetang will tell you that the cave where the monkey lived is still in the nearby Mt. Gangpo Ri. The legendary first piece of farming land planting highland barley is in Sala Village, three kilometers away from the town. Up to today, every year when the sowing season comes, it is customary for people to take some “sacred soil” from the first farming field to pray for harvest and blessings from the ancestors. This story also makes sense if you remember what old Charles Darwin said – that we’ve evolved from monkeys.


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