Lhasa mummer

Lhasa mummer

1998.131.260 (Print black & white)

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Photographer's handlist

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Key Information


Frederick Spencer Chapman


Frederick Spencer Chapman

Date of Photo

December 1st 1936


Lhasa > Dekyi Lingka

Accession number


Image Dimensions

121 x 80 mm

Lhasa mummer in skull mask, close-up, performing in the grounds of the British Mission residency in the Dekyi Lingka. This mask represents the Guardian of the Cemetery figure who appears frequently in Tibetan drama. Although Chapman refers to these masks as being made of papier mache they are more likely to have been carved from hardwood. Chapman also refers to the mummers as being very poor and this is possibly evidenced from the small portion of dress visible in this image

Further Information

Photographic Process

Print gelatin silver

Date Acquired

Donated 1994

Donated by

Faith Spencer Chapman


British Diplomatic Mission to Lhasa 1936-37

Photo also owned by

Frederick Spencer Chapman

Previous Catologue Number

BB.13 [view film roll]

Previous Pitt Rivers Museum Number


Other Information

Notes on print/mount - The print is a copy or facsimile that has been made to prepare the image for reproduction. The back of the print has some markings that could have been used as crop lines, similar to the many others of this kind in the Chapman collection. However, the instruction 'Not to be used' has also be written prominently across the back in pencil. Other annotations of interest on the back of the print are '30b' in pencil in the top left hand corner and 'B-B-13' written in pencil across the middle. This seems to relate to the numbering system adopted by Chapman for images taken during the Mission to Lhasa in 1936-7 under Sir Basil Gould [MS 15/2/2005]

Manual Catalogues -

Manual Catalogues - Caption in Chapman's hand-written list of negatives made whilst on the Mission to Lhasa, 1936-7 [See PRM Manuscripts Collection]: 'Close up of skull mask'; PRM Manuscripts Collection: ‘List of Tibetan Prints and Negatives’ - Book 3: ‘31/1 - Mummies [ sic ] skeleton mask’ [MS 16/03/2006]

Other Information - Description: Chapman describes in the official Diary of the British Mission to Lhasa for the day of December 1st 1936 how this troupe of Lhasa mummers visited the Dekyi Lingka. He wrote in the entry for this date: "Some mummers came and danced for our entertainment. These are local performers as opposed to the more accomplished Khamba dancers and acrobats who tour the countryside professionally". See 1998.131.555/556/557 for images of the Khampa troupe. Chapman went on to describe the Lhasa mummers more fully in his published account of the Mission,
Lhasa the Holy City [London: Chatto & Windus, 1938; reprint, London: Readers Union Ltd., 1940]. He wrote: "Another troupe that visited us was the Lhasa mummers. These were local artisans and farm labourers who occasionally spend an afternoon in this manner. There were eight men in all. One pair wore extremely skilfully made masks of bright green papier mache; another couple wore skeleton masks, while the third held a long striped stick and wore a mask with a vacant melancholy expression. The other three comprised the band - two with large drums, each supported by a handle, while the third played cymbals. // Various dances were performed in which the actors stepped solemnly round each other, made gestures with their arms and bowed, as they endeavoured to act traditional stories which seemed to be well known to the Tibetans. // Dancing, except when performed by the monks, is considered a very low caste occupation, and all the performers, both Khampas and mummers, seemed to be very poor" [1940, p.273] [MS 26/3/2005]

Other Information - Cultural Background

Other Information - Cultural Background: Masks represent characters from religious plays - often depicting the defeat of Hinduism by Buddhism. This mask represents the Guardian of the Cemetery ie: where the body will be dismembered. This figure may occur frequently in Tibetan drama [TS 31/1/2005]

Other Information - Cultural Background

Other Information - Cultural Background: Although Chapman refers to these masks as having been made of papier mache, they are more likely to have been carved out of hardwood or made of cloth layered in a clay mould hardened with glue. They would not usually be made of paper because paper was very rare and expensive. These appear to have been made of carved wood [TS 31/1/2005]

Other Information - Related Images

Other Information - Related Images: Images prefixed with 'BB' comprise a group of negatives containing images of street scenes, the new depon at Gyantse, 2 monks with long trumpets, mummers, Pendong, Kalon lama, the head of Kundeling, ‘disease chasing ceremony’ and Chinese statues in Kundeling monastery. They seem to have been taken between the end of November and December 10th 1936 [MS 16/03/2006]

For Citation use:
The Tibet Album. "Lhasa mummer" 05 Dec. 2006. The Pitt Rivers Museum. <http://tibet.prm.ox.ac.uk/photo_1998.131.260.html>.

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