The Tibetan Musket,
Firearms were first introduced into the ancient kingdom of Tibet around the 16th Century from China and India. An isolated country known for its Himalayan landscape, mystical Buddhist monasteries, and isolated inhabitants, the people of Tibet created their own musket that reflected ruggedness of the land and its people.
The Tibetan musket (memda) was a matchlock musket and would always be a matchlock musket. Due to Tibet’s remote location and isolationist policies new firearm technology passed the kingdom by with little notice. Tibetan muskets tended to be long, with an elongated stock and barrel that increased accuracy. Perhaps the most noticeable feature of the Tibetan musket was a bipod or monopod, made of horn or bone, which was used to steady the firearm when firing. Due to its size Tibetan muskets were traditionally fired from the kneeling or prone position. However, the warriors, soldiers, and nomads who used this musket were also experts at firing from horseback, being the primary mode of transportation in the Himalayas. In fact in 1694 to celebrate the building of a Buddhist monastery a shooting competition was held in which mounted marksmen shot while riding past targets. Versions of the competition continued into the 19th century.
Other features of the Tibetan musket included a bone buttplate, a leather or silk shoulder strap, a leather covering over the flashpan to protect it from the elements, and a leather satchel attached to the stock for holding the matchcord. Perhaps the Tibetan musket’s most enduring quality was its ruggedness. Made to be used in the barely hospitable Himalayan environment, Tibetan matchlocks were made to last. By the early 20th century soldiers were still being equipped with these badly outdated firearms and nomads used ancient matchlocks, some hundreds of years old, which were passed down through generations. By World War I and World War II Tibet began to purchase modern Enfield bolt action rifles from Britain, but some soldiers would occasionally have to make due with their old muskets when there weren’t enough rifles to go around. Heinrich Harrer, author of the book Seven Years in Tibet, notes that when China invaded Tibet in 1950 many Tibetan civilians volunteered for war wearing old suits armor and armed with bows, swords, or ancient matchlock muskets. Due to its vast technological inferiority the Tibetans could not stand against the Chinese People’s Army, a force skilled in modern warfare armed with modern weaponry. As a result China conquered Tibet within less than month.
Today Tibetan matchlocks are still in use, used by Tibetan and Mongolian nomadic herders in the most remote places in the world.