By MATTHEW M. BURKE
HYANNIS — As he spoke, the pain was evident in his eyes.
Dorje Ngandung, 61, of Chatham recalled his escape from Tibet at age 12 through the Himalayas and into Nepal with his parents in 1959, the same year the Dalai Lama fled for India, leaving behind a violent Chinese occupation.
Holding the Tibetan flag, Ngandung remained stoic last night despite a bitter cold as darkness crept in on the 100 or so protesters gathered in front of the Iyannough statue at the village green for a candlelight vigil that included guest speakers, prayers and song.
Ngandung closed his eyes as he faced the busy street and prayed aloud for his fellow Tibetans, who he said face a "cultural genocide" at the hands of the Chinese government. That squares with claims made by the Dalai Lama, the leader of Tibet's government in exile, on March 16 after several days of violent crackdowns on pro-autonomy protesters in Tibet.
Ngandung said he witnessed the abuses firsthand last year when he visited his homeland for the first time since he fled. The Chinese have moved into the region in force, while the Tibetans have been jailed, killed and tortured, their way of life all but destroyed, he said.
"I feel bad," Ngandung said meekly. "It's very important for me to be here to support the people of Tibet and to pray."
These peaceful protesters, a mixed group, young and old, both Westerners and Central Asians, half a world away from the violence engulfing the people of Tibet, held signs reading, "Spirit of Olympic Dies in Beijing," and "Stop the Genocide in Tibet." The horns of supporters driving by in cars could be heard throughout.
The Cape's flourishing Tibetan community gathered to draw attention to the Chinese government's handling of the protesters in recent weeks in the lead-up to China's hosting of the 2008 Summer Olympics, according to organizers. The Olympic torch is scheduled to be carried through Tibet.
Despite a media blockade, reports have circulated regarding some rioting and the deaths of more than 100 people, with over 1,000 imprisoned. Questions have arisen as to whether some countries might boycott the Games.
"I wish for the Tibetan people to know that we who live in this free commonwealth stand with them and for them," said Tom Bernardo, an aide to state Rep. Demetrius Atsalis, D-Hyannis, reading a statement from the legislator, who was out of the district.
Author Bhuchung Sonam urged a boycott of Chinese goods, and of the Games. He also encouraged supporters to sign petitions, to discuss Tibet with their friends, and to join their grass-roots movement.
"We need to speak up as Americans and call for the freedom of Tibet," Nina Tepper of West Hyannisport said.
Matthew M. Burke can be reached at mburke(AT)capecodonline.com