In the Forbidden Land/Chapter LXXVIII
- A high military officer—A likely friend—A soldier and not a Lama—His sympathy—Facts about the Tibetan army.
AN officer of high rank was sitting cross-legged at the farther end of the tent. He wore a handsome dark red gown trimmed with gold and leopard skin, and was shod with tall black and red leather boots of Chinese shape. A beautiful sword with solid silver sheath inlaid with large pieces of coral and malachite was passed through his belt.
This man, apparently between fifty and sixty years of age, had an intelligent, refined, honest, good-natured face; and somehow or other I felt from the very first moment I saw him that he would be a friend. And, indeed, whereas the soldiers and Lamas treated me with brutality and took every mean advantage that they could, this officer was alone in showing some deference to me and some appreciation of my behaviour. He made room by his side and signed that I might sit there.
"I am a soldier," said he in a dignified tone, "not a Lama. I have come from Lhassa with my men to arrest you, and you are now our prisoner. But you have shown no fear, and I respect you."
So saying, he inclined his head and laid his forehead touching mine, and pulled out his tongue. Then he made a gesture signifying that, though he wished to, he could not then say more, owing to the presence of the soldiers.
Later on we entered into a most amicable conversation, in the course of which he said that he was a Rupun (a grade below that of general). I tried to explain to him all about English soldiers and weapons, and he displayed the keenest interest in all I told him. In return he gave me interesting information about the soldiers of Tibet. Every man in Tibet is considered a soldier in time of war or when required to do duty, but for the regular army all lads that are strong and healthy can enlist from the age of seventeen, those deformed or weakly being rejected as unfit for service. Good horsemanship is one of the qualities most appreciated in the Tibetan soldier, and, after that, unbounded obedience. The Rupun swore by the Tibetan matchlocks, which he believed to be the most serviceable weapons on earth; for, according to him, as long as you had powder enough, you could use anything as a missile. Pebbles, earth, or nails did as good work as any lead bullet.
He told me that large quantities of these weapons were manufactured at Lhassa and Sigatz (Shigatze), and he stated that the majority of Tibetan men outside the towns possess one. Gunpowder was also made with saltpetre and sulphur found in the country.
The Rupun, seeing how quick I was at picking up words, took a special delight in teaching me, as one would a child, the names of the several grades in the Tibetan army. The Tchu-pun was the lowest grade, and only had ten men under him; then came the Kiatsamba-pun or Kia-pun, or officer in command of one hundred soldiers; and the Tung-pun, or head of one thousand. These officers, however, are seldom allowed the full complement of soldiers according to their grade, and very often the "commander of one thousand" has only under him three or four hundred men at the most. Above the Tung-pun comes the Rupun, a kind of adjutant-general; then the Dah-pun, or great officer; and highest of all, the Mag-pun (or Mag-bun, as it is usually pronounced), the general in chief.
The acquaintance of one of these generals we had already made at Gyanema. Though my informant said that officers are elected for their bravery in time of war and for their strength and aptitude in the saddle and with their weapons, I knew well enough that such was not the case. The posts are mainly given to whoever can afford to pay most for them, and to men of families under special protection of the Lamas. In many cases they are actually sold by auction.
The method described by the Rupun was nevertheless what is popularly believed by the masses of Tibet to be the way in which military officers are chosen.
- Tchu, ten, pun, officer, or officer of ten men.
- Kiatsamba or Kia = one hundred.
- Tung = one thousand.