Skip to main content
Blog post main image
  • Tibetan Wall-Building Songs

    During the spring and fall high in the Sman shod Valley of Tibet, men carry on a tradition of ramming loose earth into solid walls for temples, homes, and other structures—and singing as they do. Each with his own tall wooden rammer, they rhythmically pound the ground while dancing and alternating verses of song.

    They sing constantly, believing that the walls will lack strength if they don’t. Two groups at a time will compete at who can sing the loudest and synchronize their actions with the greatest precision, imparting a sense of fun to this physically taxing work. Those who can’t respond loudly and rhythmically are mocked.

    No one is paid for this work. Volunteers come together to physically and figuratively build their community. While women do not participate in the ramming and singing, since it is taboo for them to cross a wall once the foundations are finished, they also gather and deliver earth to the men.

    Wall-building song during construction of the Rdzong sar Monastery


    Hear more Tibetan wall-building songs and other recordings by Dawa Drolma (Zla ba sgrol ma).

    Learn more about the tradition in Silence in the Valley of Songs: Work Songs from Sman shod Valley by Dawa Drolma.

    Dawa Drolma is a Tibetan photographer, filmmaker, and entrepreneur passionate about documenting and sustaining Tibetan culture and traditions. Since 2016, she has worked with the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage on Lag Zo, a Smithsonian Artisan Initiative project to support Tibetan artisans in China, by conducting fieldwork and producing of short films featuring Tibetan craft traditions.

  • Support the Folklife Festival, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, Cultural Vitality Program, educational outreach, and more.