Sacred Land News
January 26, 2012
By Amberly Polidor
Additional reporting: http://www.internationalrivers.org/en/node/7175
Vista on the 800-year-old pilgrimage route that circles Mount Kawagebo.
Photo courtesy of He Ran Gao.In Tibetan culture, where people live in
intimate relationship with the natural world around them, reality and
mythology have a way of blending together. So it was perhaps no surprise
to local villagers when, after a Chinese mining company and local
authorities repeatedly repelled efforts stop a gold mining project on
the slopes of holy Mount Kawagebo, the mountain appeared to strike back.
Mount Kawagebo, so sacred that climbing is banned, sits on the border
between Tibet and Chinaï¿½s Yunnan Province; its eastern side is part of
the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Area UNESCO World Heritage
site. In February 2011, a small gold-mining operation started near the
village of Abin, which is on the western side of Kawagebo, along the
path of an 800-year-old pilgrimage route that circles the mountain,
attracting tens of thousands of Tibetans annually.
To the local people, who believe strongly in the sacredness of Mount
Kawagebo, direct destruction of the mountain body, through activities
like mining, is unthinkable. Further, villagers said the project was
started without permission or prior consent. Thus began a community
effort to halt the project.
Villagers said their attempts to deal directly with the mining company
resulted in threats and violence from agents hired by the company, and
harassment and arrests by local police. On two occasions, men armed with
wooden sticks with nails attacked villagers, injuring more than a dozen.
After efforts to negotiate with the local government failed, villagers
pushed $300,000 worth of mining equipment into the Nu River. A leader of
the group was arrested, but later released when 100 villagers surrounded
the local police station where he was being held. A few months later,
however, mining resumed and tensions grew. Harassment, death threats and
attacks on villagers increased, and some women and children fled to
other villages to escape the violence.
On January 20, 2012, a village leader who had tried to confront the
mining company was ambushed by local police, tased and arrested. Some
200 community members surrounded the police station, and an ensuing riot
resulted in violence and injuries on both sides, with at least one
villager sent to the hospital with serious injuries. The leader was
released, but protests continued as villagers demanded closure of the
mine, and hundreds more villagers from the surrounding area joined in.
This time, the local government held negotiations with the community,
including the just-released leader, on behalf of the mining company,
whose boss had reportedly fled the area. Villagers involved in
negotiations said they were offered money in exchange for allowing the
mining to continue, but they refused. On January 23, with tensions
mounting, a vice-official from the prefecture government ordered the
mine closed and the equipment trucked out of the village.
While the persistence of the community to protect its holy mountain
ultimately paid off, some villagers suggested the mountain itself had a
role to play. During the negotiations, many reported hearing the sound
of a trumpet shellï¿½used in Tibetan religious ritualsï¿½coming from the
mountain, while others reported unusually windy weather, which stopped
once the conflict was resolved.
A Tibetan hired to provide catering to the mine workers described being
struck by a physical pressure that forced him to drop what he was
carrying; only after he prayed did the sensation disappear. Several
months earlier, according to another account, a village leader who had
accepted bribes from the mining company died suddenly, and a member of
his family was seriously injured in an accident.
He Ran Gao, a researcher who works for the Chinese NGO Green Earth
Volunteers and has been closely involved with the communities of the
area, described the context of these supernatural accounts. "In a place
like Tibet, people have an unusual sense of divinity in nature, based on
a whole system of worship and interaction, which sometime seems
superstitious to modern citizens," she said. "But it is not necessarily
irrational or unreasonable."
This sense of nature worship, Gao said, with its attendant conservation
values, is "barely left due to past communism and later economic
development." But in the Himalayas and other mountain areas, where
non-Han ethnicities reside and remain somewhat protected, those
traditional values can still be found. She described Kawagebo as a
success story showing "how sacred nature can be" and how it can "still
be respected, protected and continue to make an impact in peopleï¿½s lives."
Unfortunately, Abin is but one of many villages threatened by mining
activitiesï¿½in most other cases, marble quarryingï¿½and a greater
overarching threat to the region: hydroelectric dam development.
Along the Nu (Salween) River, the longest free-flowing river in mainland
Southeast Asia, a proposed 13-dam cascadeï¿½including several dams in or
very close to the World Heritage siteï¿½would wipe out portions of the
pilgrimage route around Mount Kawagebo and displace the communities of
the river valley, likely dealing a blow to their traditional culture as
well. Although the project was put on hold in 2004 in the wake of
widespread protest, it is certainly not dead.
Last year, the World Heritage Committee issued a statement expressing
concern over reports of unapproved construction under way at one dam
site on the Nu River, and surveying workï¿½including road-building and
drillingï¿½at three others. It warned that "the many proposed dams could
cumulatively constitute a potential danger to the propertyï¿½s Outstanding
The committee asked China to submit by February 1 of this year a
detailed list of all proposed dams, as well as mines, that could affect
the World Heritage property, along with the environmental impact
assessments of any proposed projects, prior to their approval. The
committee also requested, by the same deadline, a report on the state of
conservation of the property and on the progress made in completing a
strategic environmental impact assessment on all of the proposed dams
and related development that could impact the siteï¿½s World Heritage value.
Many thanks to He Ran Gao, who provided reporting and other source
material for this report. He Ran wishes to thank villagers who provided
her with information, but whose names have been witheld.
You received this message as a subscriber on the list: firstname.lastname@example.org
To be removed from the list, please visit: