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This collection is constituted of the rich and varied traditions found in the Amdo cultural region, one of three major Tibetan cultural regions. The Amdo (a mdo) part of the greater Tibetan cultural region is an area roughly the size of France in the northeastern portion of the Tibetan Plateau and is characterized by a shared language and a distinctive social structure and religious culture. This region is demarcated most importantly by a shared language, which is mutually unintelligible to people from Kham (khams) and Central Tibet. Even within Amdo there is a great variation of dialects, but in general Amdo Tibetans can communicate with one another. Amdo's social structure is defined most importantly by the basic community units of tsowa (tsho ba), which consist of groups of families (only rarely of a single clan) that share a responsibility to support each other on important social occasions such as marriage and funerals. Amdo's religious culture is characterized by a remarkable lack of conflict between the Tibetan Buddhist traditions, which have co-existed without any recorded armed conflict in this region.

Amdo’s environment is incredibly varied, ranging from soaring mountain ranges and deep forested valleys much like the Canadian Rockies (though populated with pandas) to high altitude grasslands to lower river valleys (2000 meters) and barren wastes. In general, the higher altitude regions to the south and west (Golok, Ngawa [rnga ba], etc.) are inhabited by nomads, while in the lower elevations of the north and east (Tsongkha [tsong kha], Choné [co ne], etc.) there are farming communities. The main river running through the region is the Ma River (rma chu, Huanghe, Yellow River), the main lake is the vast Tso Ngön (mtsho sngon, Kokonor [Mongolian], Qinghai, Blue Ocean), and the highest mountain range is the Anyé Machen (a myes rma chen) range. The geographic center of the continental People’s Republic of China’s territory is just east of the Amdo cultural border, near the town of Linxia.

Amdo is distinguished by incredible ethnic diversity, especially at the northern and northeastern edges of the Tibetan plateau, which made in-migration fairly easy compared to the rest of the plateau. Chinese, Kazakhs, Salar Muslims originally from Central Asia, ethnic Chinese, Mongol (Dongxiang and Bao’an), and Tibetan Muslims, Monguor, Mongol, Uighur and Chinese (maybe as many as 150,000) Tibetan Buddhists represent some of the many ethnic and religious groups that have intermixed in this area for centuries.

Excerpted from a longer essay for THL authored by Dr. Gray Tuttle.

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