From Pilgrim to Tourist: Identity Change among Gesar Epic Singers that Leads to a Potential Finalization of Oral Living Epic Tradition
Author: Norbu Wangdan
Affiliation: Institute of Ethnic Literature, CASS

Identity of Tibetan Gesar singer has been gone through three stages: collective memory, individual memory, and professionalism/semi-professionalism. A live epic is composed of three elements, i.e. singer, text and context, which are connected and interacted each other leading to result in rising and declining of an live epic. Evolution of the identity is caused by context of Epic, so does Gesar ,as a live epic.

I. The stage of Collective Memory

At the stage of collective memory, The composing context of Gesar was at state of myth and irrational thought. the collective memory was the only vehicle to transmit the epic tradition. at the beginning of the epic(11BC), there was no any professional individual to perform the epic. There is saying: lips of each of person in Ling tribe have a special story on Gesar". During the past years ,the story of the epic shown features of very ancient culture style before the introduction of Buddhism. i.e. the lower Ladakhi version and Guide Version from Qinghai.

II. The stage of Individual Memory

This stage was derived from collective memory. The most distinctive feature of the time (14-15BC)is flourishing of pan-Buddhistic thought(believe) over to the eastern nomadic areas in Tibet where the epic was originated. The identity of singer was also likely transfer to be individual person, the individual memory was then became the carrier to transmit the epic tradition. At the time, the followers of Buddhism exercised the function of singer to compose the story. It is undoubted that the performance of epic was privilege to a small number of people . The collective memory was lost rapidly since then. Afterward, various types of singers, such as vbab-sgrung (through dreams and spirits)gter-sgrung(through “excavating hidden treasure”)、pra-mkhan(through “circular light in mirror”),Dag-nang (through "pure vision") ,rtogs-pa nyams-sher(through "insight"), appeared one after another to begin to bring about Buddhistic text.

II. The stage of professionalism/semi-professionalism

This stage is products of modern or post modern culture. Since 80's of last century , a number of singers who lived in remote nomadic areas were accepted into relevant organizations of government as professional singers. Because of transformation of social identity, great change has been made to the epic tradition structurally. which led to tend towards end of live epic. manifesting as following:

(a) standardized education and idea of advocating written language have been challenging the purity of oral tradition, making it to literary style, taking Ten-dzin grags- pa for example

(b) Space of urbanization have been degrading poetic thinking of singers, taking yu-sman for example.

(c) Post-modern consumption culture has been made a negative impact on motivation of singer's creation