Link #37: If a Tibetan Sticks His Tongue out at You, He’s Showing You Respect.


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Link #37: If a Tibetan Sticks His Tongue out at You, He’s Showing You Respect.

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In the last post, we described how a catfish’s body is like a giant tongue because its 100,000 taste buds are scattered all over it. The tongue is a very interesting body part for us humans too.

Throughout human history, different cultures have attached importance to the human tongue from various perspectives. It has been a symbol of lying as well as other things in many cultures. In modern times, sticking the tongue out is usually considered an insult.

If you stick your tongue out at an elder, you’ll probably be punished for it. However, this is only true of western cultures. The act may mean something totally different in eastern cultures.

For example, if a Tibetan sticks his tongue out at you then you shouldn’t feel offended because he is essentially showing you respect. Is this odd? You don’t know the half of it.

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What Is the Tibetan Custom of Sticking the Tongue Out?

For people who’ve been brought up in western cultures, it can be quite odd to visit Tibet and see the odd man or woman sticking his or her tongue out. However, it is indeed a sign of respect.

When Tibetans ‘stick their tongue out,’ they don’t just use the dainty technique of sticking out only the tip of the tongue. They go all the way. They push their tongues out as much as possible.

7th dalai lama
7th Dalai Lama. PD-Art

How Did the Tibetan Custom of Sticking the Tongue out Originate?

The origins of the custom can be traced back to the early 18th century when the seventh Dalai Lama was leading the Tibetans. In fact, the origins of this custom are not that honourable.

Essentially, this custom was first forced by foreigners on Tibetans. These foreigners were the Dzungars who had a kingdom established in western China. The Dzungars conquered Tibet and executed members of many sub groups such as the Nyingmapa and the Bonpos.

These were religious sects that were known for their magic (shamanistic rituals). The Dzungars were afraid of black magic and believed that practicing arts such as chanting mantras can cause a person’s tongue to go black.

So when a Tibetan met a Dzungar official, he was required to stick his tongue out to show that he didn’t have a black tongue. This would prove his innocence with regard to chanting mantras.

The Lang Darma Explanation

There is also an alternate explanation for the origin of this custom. It is related to the King Lang Darma of the 9th century. Lang Darma was seen as an evil king and he had a black tongue.

Since there was prophecy about his rebirth, the Tibetans show each other that their tongue is not black to prove that they are not Lang Darma reborn.

What Is the Meaning Behind the Gesture?

The intention is to show respect by sticking one’s tongue out and it is not much different from the intention of other cultures. For instance, Tibetans do it to show that they don’t have any ill intentions.

Westerners shake hands and salute to show that they don’t have weapons. The act of clinking glasses first began in order to allow liquids to be exchanged from one glass to another to show that the drink was not poisoned.

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