Go Re Na Ji: The Tibetan Gift that Keeps on Giving

Go Re Na Ji, Tibetan bread, ring-shaped bread, baked goods

My nephew, who tagged along, already got his Go Re Na Ji (ring-shaped bread). And my cousin is holding mine.

 

The ultimate time of gift giving—the season of Christmas celebration in the West—reminds me of my traditions on the Tibetan plateau.

Almost all Tibetans, who live in the high mountains, deep valleys, and on grasslands, practice Buddhism. Giving or offering is a large part of our culture, and its meaning deepens when referencing our ancient rituals and philosophy.

Today, though, I will stick to traditional gift giving in everyday life in Rebgong (Reb gong རེབ་གོང་།), Amdo, where I grew up. In general, baked goods, dairy products, colorful fabrics, fruits, candies, and money are all appropriate gifts in Tibetan culture. However, what you will receive depends on the occasion and whether the giver is from an agricultural area or a nomadic.

 

Tibetan food, Tibetan dumplings, yak meat dumplings, Tibetan meal

A cozy meal at my uncle’s home during my last visit months ago.

 

Rebgong is a cultural hub of food, literature, and the arts. “Reb gong art” is known internationally. What’s more, it’s also famous for baking “Reb gong Bread” as they call it. I have vivid memories of my grandmother and mother baking countless loaves for others. Grandma, though, brought home meats and dairy-based gifts when she visited her nomadic family.

One of the most important gifts from my agricultural area is Go Re Na Ji (གོ་རེ་སྣ་གཅུ། ring-shaped bread) or Reb gong Na Ji Na Ji (སྣ་གཅུ།) comes in all sizes, from the size of a giant donut to as large as 20 inches in diameter. It’s commonly given to children of all ages and is part of the gift package when we celebrate a newborn on its seventh day of life, signifying welcome and auspicious blessings. Go Re Na Ji is also given to newlyweds atop huge oval bread called “kha thud.” The implication is hope for a baby in the near future.

Tibetan farmer house, Tibetan house, wooden house

Another corner, this lovely wooden dwelling is now rebuilt but was where my grandmother grew up, and where I spent many memorable days.

 

I received one Na Ji months ago during a visit home in Tibet. This gift is one that I’ve been receiving since I was a little girl. It costs no more than $2 U.S. dollars if I purchased it at the market, but it’s rather a sentimental piece for me.

Given the background, a mature woman like me receiving this ring-shaped bread is only normal from certain people. In this case, it’s my uncle’s family. Their house is where my great-grandfather lived, whom I visited daily as a child while he was still alive. Even after his passing, I spent many happy days there with my young cousins. So, it’s an open secret that they have a special place in my heart and I in theirs.

In a sense, I am still seen as a child in the eyes of my sweet uncle and aunt. Hugs, concern, and affection are all combined in one piece of Na Ji. It’s always presented when I leave after a lovely meal. Every time I visit them, I know I will receive this very special gift.

Wishing you and your family a very happy New Year!

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14 Responses to Go Re Na Ji: The Tibetan Gift that Keeps on Giving

  1. Dave December 30, 2014 at 7:30 AM #

    I love learning about the Tibetan customs and traditions, thanks so much for sharing. It’s nice that you don’t wait for a special occasion (birthdays, Christmas, etc.) to give gifts. Showing people you love them by giving gifts on a regular basis. The rest of the world could learn a lot from the Tibetans.

    • Jolma December 30, 2014 at 6:12 PM #

      Thank you, Dave. I am glad you enjoy learning about Tibetan customs and traditions. I like the fun of giving, as well as receiving one.

  2. Kim December 30, 2014 at 3:27 PM #

    I learned a lot about Tibetan gift giving in my time in Qinghai. Popular gifts from or to visitors in Xunhua include: boxes of milk, oranges (is that only a Losar thing or could that be given anytime?), Red dates, walnuts, other fruits, bread, and apples (also at Losar time). Gift giving is kind of a perpetual thing there as you don’t go to visit someone without bringing some kind of gift. Now I feel bad (even when I am in America) if I don’t bring a gift to the people I visit (though they would think I was very strange for bringing one!)

    I really enjoy your blog and it makes me homesick for the plateau. I know Rebgong bread and it is delicious. I’ve visited Rebgong many times and I hope to visit again when we go to my husband’s home for Losar.

    Keep writing please!

    • Jolma December 30, 2014 at 7:24 PM #

      I bet you did, Kim. Milk, yogurt, butter, cheese, oranges, apples, pears (plums, apricots, melons if they are in season in the farming areas like Xunhua), bread of all types, sweet goodies, nuts and leg of matured sheep meat or a rack of yak meat or some combination… all can play as gift any time.

      Perpetual is the word to describe the tradition of gifting. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” they say, but I’m still learning to balance when I’m in the US.

      Anyhow, I’m very happy to hear you enjoy my stories. Thank you for taking the time to share your experience in Amdo.

      Wish you a happy New Year and joyous Losar with your family on the plateau.

  3. buppanasu January 1, 2015 at 12:37 PM #

    Hello Jolma, your photos/narrative descriptions are superb. Great site. Keep up the great work & Happy New Year to you. Cordially, Larry

    • Jolma January 1, 2015 at 12:43 PM #

      Thank you very much, Larry. Happy New Year to you as well. Cheers!

  4. MaryEllen Weller January 4, 2015 at 6:00 AM #

    Your site continues to be delightful and enlightening. I enjoy it a lot.
    Could I suggest parenthetical pronunciation tips? How do you pronounce Go Re Na Ji?
    Happy New Year Jolma, to you and all your family. MaryEllen (from the summer workshop at UW-Madison).

    • Jolma January 4, 2015 at 9:43 AM #

      Hello MaryEllen, I am delighted to hear that you enjoy my stories. It means a great deal to me. And of course I remember you from the Write by the Lake Retreat.

      As for Go Re Na Ji, it is more or less said as spelled (goo.ri.na.chi). Since Tibetan language is very different from latin-based, it is a bit tricky to spell and match the sound closely in English. But that is great idea to provide parenthetical pronunciation tips, and I will do my best for future posts.
      Thank you and all the best, Jolma

  5. peggygilbey814628432 January 12, 2015 at 2:35 AM #

    Dear Jolma, Happy New Year! I hope you and your family enjoyed a pleasant holiday season! It is nice to begin getting back into the swing of things. I so enjoyed reading this story about the Go Re Na Ji ring bread, a lovely custom. I would also like to sit down at that meal shared on a table above. Your photos are quite beautiful, so colorful and vibrant. Thank you as always for sharing the unique culture of Tibet!

    • Jolma January 14, 2015 at 12:01 PM #

      Thank you, Peggy. I hope you too had a wonderful holiday season.
      And I’m very pleased you like Tibetan customs, and about the ring bread. 🙂

  6. Sara Kingsley January 28, 2015 at 9:00 PM #

    That was a nice story. I love learning about Tibet. Thank you for sharing.

    • Jolma January 30, 2015 at 11:27 PM #

      Thank you, Sara. I’m glad you are learning our Tibetan culture.

  7. catherine frenette February 28, 2015 at 3:07 AM #

    Loved reading your wonderful story’s.LM enjoying your delicious tea followed the recipe step by easy step.It’s delicious.I love reading your writings beautifully melodic and .poetic.Thank you for sharing. Cathy

    • Jolma February 28, 2015 at 3:11 PM #

      Hi Cathy, I’m happy to hear that you like the milk tea. And thank you for your kind words about my writing. It is encouraging to write more. 🙂

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