According to legend, the Tibetan people originated from the union of a monkey and an ogress. The monkey, who was an incarnation of Avalokitesvara, is said to have been peaceful and contemplative, living alone in a cave and practicing meditation. The ogress, however, was a creature of wild emotion and lust. She is described as being strong-willed, stubborn, and driven by sexual desire. Thinking that she was alone, she wailed piteously for a mate, and when the monkey heard her cries he was filled with compassion. He traveled to her, and their union produced six offspring, who were born without tails and walk upright.
Tibetans today see themselves as descendants of these two progenitors, and believe that they have divided natures that result from the personalities of the monkey and the ogress. Their gentleness and compassion are traced back to the monkey, but their willfulness, and other negative personality traits derive from the ogress.
This mythical event took place within a cave on Mt. Gonpo Ri, a ridge overlooking the historic Yarlung Valley.
Anthropologists believe that Tibetans may have descended from the Qiang, nomadic and pastoral people that lived on the steppes of northwest China. Nowadays they still live in the jungles and mountains of the eastern Tibet of Kham.
It is also likely that the Khampa are a result of early eastward migrations of Tibetan who intermarried with some of the people they conquered including Qiang. This could account for some of the distinctive physical features attributed to Khampa.
Nowadays, Tibetans live mainly in Tibet and also in some areas of Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan provinces. They have their own language and written script. Most Tibetans adhere to Tibetan Buddhism and Bön, although some Tibetans believe in Islam.
Smaller tribal groups, such as the “Monpa” and “Lhoba”, who follow a combination of Tibetan Buddhism and spirit worship, are found mainly in the southeastern parts of Tibet.