Tashi Tsering is the descendent of a professional musician caste -- entertainers in royal courts that can be traced back to India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and even Persia. But as Tashi Tsering's lineage became further removed from its origins both by geography and time, evidence points to low-caste musicians resorting increasingly to begging through musical offerings. The cultural mechanisms that compelled locals to be sympathetic to the musicians' plight are unclear. Perhaps religious teachings of compassion and stories of the Buddha as a beggar led the Loba in Lo Monthang to donate to singers. But of interest today is that Lobas are now depending on low caste cultural perservators to rekindle old traditions.
Whether this will lead to a restructuring of caste dynamics for future generations is unclear. The demographics of Lo Monthang are certainly in transition as the upper caste, the Bista clan, increasingly sends family members abroad for work and education. This restructuring gives the Biki caste -- the low caste, to which Tashi Tsering belongs -- a larger presence and more local opportunity. Tashi Tsering's daughters are now respected for their cultural knowledge. They have also initiated their own local businesses, something, I was told, would not have been feasible twenty years ago.
Surely the emphasis and market for cultural preservation will give artists increased opportunity from the foreign community working in Lo. The extent to which these opportunities will change local perceptions of social hierarchy is uncertain yet merits close attention.