Wonderful- yaks most precious treasure is their manure

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Wonderful- yaks most precious treasure is their manure                

Most of the travelers who visited Tibet in former times noticed the importance that, for the maintenance of the living of the Tibetan nomads and travellers, had the Yak manure, known among the Tibetans as argol. Fee travelers, however, left a so complete classification or argol as Evariste Huc, who traveled to Tibet in the middle of the 19th century.

Here we transcribe his interesting words (Huc, 1900: 89)

 We observed, also, flocking to Tchogortan, another class of Lamas not less interesting than the Mongols ; they always arrived at daybreak ; their garments were tucked up to the knees, and on their backs were large osier baskets ; all day long they would traverse the valley and the adjacent hills, collecting, not strawberries and mushrooms, but the dung which the herds of the Si-Fan deposit in all directions. On account of this particular occupation, we named these Lamas Lama- Argoleers, from the Tartar word argol, which designates animal excrement, when dried and prepared for fuel. The Lamas who carry on this, class of business, are in general idle, irregular persons, who ‘prefer vagabondizing about on the hills to study and retirement ; they are divided into several companies, each working under the direction of a superintendent, who arranges and is responsible for their operations.

Towards the close of the day, each man brings the portion he has collected to the general depot, which is always situate at the foot of some well, or in the hollow of some valley. There the raw material is carefully elaborated ; it is pounded and molded into cakes, which are placed to dry in the sun, and when completely dessicated, are symmetrically piled, one on the other, the stack, when formed, being covered with a thick layer of dung, to protect it from the dissolving action of the rain. In the winter, this fuel is conveyed to Kunbum, and there sold.

The luxurious variety of combustibles which the civilized nations of Europe enjoy, have exempted us from the necessity of making any very profound researches into the divers qualities of argols. Such has not been the case with the shepherd and nomadic peoples. Long experience has enabled them to classify argols, with a perspicuity of appreciation which leaves nothing to be desired in that particular respect. They have established four grand divisions, to which future generations will scarcely be able to apply any modification.

In the first rank are placed the argols of goats and sheep ; a glutinous substance that enters largely into its composition, communicates to this combustible an elevation of temperature that is truly astonishing. The Tibetans and Tartars use it in the preparation of metals ; a bar of iron, placed in a fire of these argols, is soon brought to white heat. The residuum deposited by the argols of goats and sheep after combustion, is a sort of green vitreous matter, transparent, and brittle as glass, which forms a mass full of cavities and very light ; in many respects, closely resembling pumice stone. You don’t find in this residuum any ash whatever, unless the combustion has been mixed with foreign matter. The argols of camels constitute the second class ; they burn easily, and throw out a fine flame, but the heat they communicate is less vivid and less intense than that given by the preceding. The reason of this difference is, that they contain in combination a smaller proportion of glutinous substance. The third class comprehends the argols appertaining to the bovine species ; these, when thoroughly dry, burn readily, and produce no smoke whatever. This is almost the only fuel you find in Tartary and Tibet. Last come the argols of horses and other animals of that family. These argols not having, like the others, undergone the process of rumination, present nothing but a mass of straw more or less triturated ; they throw out a great smoke when burning, and are almost immediately consumed. They are useful, however, for lighting a fire, filling the office of tinder and paper to the other combustibles.

We perfectly understand that this rapid and incomplete essay on argols is not of a character to interest many readers; but we did not feel justified in either omitting or abridging it, because it has been an object with us to neglect no document that might be of assistance to those who, after us, may venture upon nomadic life for awhile.

Recent archaeological and anthropological researches on the usage of argol by the forefathers of the Tibetans, suggest that, though people living in the fringes of the Tibetan plateau made seasonal travels to the plateau, only after the domestication of the yak, perhaps about 4.000 years ago, and the combustible and draught force of this animal became available, human beings were able to settle all year along in one of the most inhospitable regions of the world.

Evariste Huc. Travels in Tartary, Thibet, and China. Chicago. Open Court Publishing Company. 1900.

To cite this post: Ceinos-Arcones, Pedro, "Wonderful- yaks most precious treasure is their manure," in Ethnic China, 11 mayo 2021, https://ethnic-china.com/wonderful-yaks-most-precious-treasure-is-their-manure/.

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