What is Latse ?

Latse is a public, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to promoting Tibetan language use and literacy, supporting linguistically and culturally relevant educational resources for Tibetan children, and providing access to knowledge for all generations through opportunities for higher education, and by creating and sharing resources. 

Latse draws from a solid background of serving for over 15 years as one of the world’s foremost centers for modern Tibetan studies. Established in 2003, Latse Library opened its doors to unique collections and programs focusing on all facets of contemporary Tibet. Over the years, we have become known not only for our library holdings, but also for our projects and programs that highlight contemporary Tibetan culture and scholarship, and facilitates exchange among scholars, researchers, and communities from around the world.

Building upon our foundation and experience as a library with strong ties to Tibet and Tibetan communities, and adhering closely to a commitment to sharing knowledge and resources, in early 2019, Latse Library became simply “Latse,” reflecting a new expanded scope of work that goes beyond our role as a library, to work in creating and supporting meaningful resources and continuing to engage with communities by supporting impactful initiatives, while at the same time finding ways to provide greater access to our own collections.

As a library, we have always been concerned with issues of language use and literacy, as well as access to knowledge. As a non-profit committed to the Tibetan plateau, we are striving to identify and engage in the ways we can offer the most benefit. As Tibetan language use faces greater and greater challenges, what are the ways we can make use of our expertise and experience to promote literacy among all ages? What are substantive ways of supporting parents and teachers faced with complex decisions on language use in the home and in class? How can we engage with future community leaders and inspire younger generations? How can we most effectively share our own library of resources with a wider audience?

This is Latse. We hope you join us in our endeavors and support us in our work.

Photo courtesy of Khando Tsering

What is a Latse ?

Latse has always been, and continues to be, committed to engaging with contemporary Tibet in its myriad forms—from everyday customs, to fine arts and the language arts, to education and scholarship. Our name and the origins behind it capture this focus and aim.

The Tibetan term latse (pronounced la-tsey, as in “hey”) means a mountain peak or high place. It also refers to constructions of earth and stone found across the Tibetan plateau. Wherever you go in Tibetan lands and throughout the Himalayas, on mountain passes and peaks, you will find piles of earth and rocks, on top of which people have placed tree branches and sticks—and in some areas, ancient weapons such as wooden arrows and spears—and strung with colorful prayer flags and khatak, or offering scarves. These structures are known as latse.

Latse are constructed on mountaintops and passes as offerings to propitiate that particular mountain’s deity. Some latse are built as the abode of the deity, with a solid foundation made of stones. Within the foundation are placed offerings for the deity, including grain, ritual arrows, weapons, food offerings, other gifts of religious significance.

Individuals engage with latse by adding a stone or khata to the structure when passing by. Some communities hold elaborate latse festivals with participation by entire villages. The practice of erecting latse differs from region to region, and is viewed as something sacred by most Tibetans. The practice dates from pre-Buddhist times and has continued uninterrupted to present day.

We take this enduring and meaningful symbol of Tibetan tradition to represent our ideals and our approach to our work: that contemporary Tibetan culture is deeply rooted in the past, and that essential elements of Tibetan life are and should continue be shared and supported across communities. Moreover, we invite anyone to come and engage with us—as they would when encountering a latse on a mountainside—by using our collections, attending a program, sharing an idea for collaboration, or making a contribution to our endeavor. The latse we build can stand tall and for generations to come, if we work by applying our knowledge and skills, nurture young minds, offer support where it is needed, and nurture the ideas and initiatives of the very communities we work with. Together, let’s raise the latse high!

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