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Sherpas: Reflections on Change in Himalayan Nepal

James F. Fisher
With a Foreword by Edmund Hillary
Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 205
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    James Fisher combines the strengths of technical anthropology, literary memoir, and striking photography in this telling study of rapid social change in Himalayan Nepal. The author first visited the Sherpas of Nepal when he accompanied Sir Edmund Hilary on the Himalayan Schoolhouse Expedition of 1964. Returning to the Everest region several times during the 1970s and 1980s, he discovered that the construction of the schools had far less impact than one of the by-products of their building: a short-take-off-and-landing airstrip. By reducing the time it took to travel between Kathmandu and the Everest region from a hike of several days to a 45-minute flight, the airstrip made a rapid increase in tourism possible. Beginning with his impressions of Sherpa society in pre-tourist days, Fisher traces the trajectory of contemporary Sherpa society reeling under the impact of modern education and mass tourism, and assesses the Sherpa's concerns for their future and how they believe these problems should be and eventually will be resolved.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-90994-6
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Edmund Hillary

    I warmed to Jim Fisher the first time I met him. I expected him as a Peace Corps member to be idealistic and possibly a little impractical, but he seemed to be able to handle most things very effectively—and there was no doubting his tremendous enthusiasm. And what an eater he was! On the basic hill diet of rice and dal he was the unbeatable champion. Even the Sherpas sat and watched with wide-eyed amazement.

    Jim was prepared to undertake almost any task at all—it was immaterial if he knew much about it. Off he would go, and...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Note on Orthography and Sherpa Names
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Maps
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  7. Introduction: Monograph, Memoir, Confession
    (pp. xxi-xxvi)

    This book is neither an anthropological monograph in the technical sense, nor a memoir with literary pretensions, nor a picture book in the coffee-table tradition. I have tried instead to devise a multivocal format that incorporates elements of all these genres, one that will interest anthropologists, mountaineers, and trekkers to the Mt. Everest region of Nepal and development planners and others interested in the phenomenon of sudden change in this once remote, still stunningly beautiful area. Neither a traditional ethnography nor a history of the Sherpas nor a psychological portrait of them,¹ this book traces the impact on contemporary Sherpa...

  8. CHAPTER I The Himalayan Schoolhouse Expedition, 1964
    (pp. 1-53)

    As a self-proclaimed science, anthropology until recently paid little attention to the personal impact of the field experience on the observer—how the raw conditions of life in some remote corner of the world affected the anthropologist’s life and, especially, observations and conclusions. Fieldwork in highly stratified Asian societies is so complicated by people’s hiding behind masks, to help them play the role they want the world to think they normally play, that something akin to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle exists: we can scarcely be sure that what we see is not an artifact of our presence rather than the...

  9. CHAPTER II A Tradition of Change
    (pp. 54-66)

    Nepal packs more geographical and ecological diversity into fewer square miles than any other country in the world, and the people who inhabit this much-too-heavily populated land mirror that diversity. The country exhibits an unusually broad spectrum not only of geography but also of social, economic, religious, and linguistic types: from the flat-as-a-pancake rich farmland of the Tarai just above sea level along the Indian border in the south, with its full panoply of Hindu castes, its indigenous tribal groups, and its substantial Muslim minority, speaking Hindi, Urdu, Bhojpuri, and Maithili; through the terrace-laced middle hills, populated by farmers and...

  10. CHAPTER III Schools for Sherpas
    (pp. 67-107)

    In all countries of the Third World central planners agree on the need for bigger and better educational efforts. A good educational system can shore up the fragile self-confidence of embattled elites. In addition, however, education is supposed to inculcate those skills that will help the population to develop “an industrial, processing and diversified agricultural economy,” as well as to “produce a modern nation of dedicated citizens from a population of peasants who have small experience and understanding of civic, consensual or mobilization politics” (Nash 1965, 131). Statistical surveys document the achievement of these objectives (though the statistics are often...

  11. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  12. CHAPTER IV A Torrent of Tourists
    (pp. 108-152)

    To travel for economic or religious reasons—to pilgrimage sites, for example—is as ancient as any human activity. South Asia has for aeons had its own version of tourism: the Nepali term istirtha; the word means “pilgrimage” but connotes an activity organized and commercialized enough to evoke reverberations of tourism in the modern sense. According to theBengal District Gazetteer,

    Most of the pilgrims who come to Puri form part of an organized tour, and nothing has stimulated pilgrimage so much as the organized system of pilgrim guides. The Pandas and Pariharis of the temple have divided among...

  13. CHAPTER V How Sherpas See the Future
    (pp. 153-161)

    The preceding chapters make clear that the people of Khumbu face a variety of problems, ranging from energy, ecology, and pollution to education and the preservation of religion. The solutions Sherpas see to these problems and their assessment of the importance of the problems, however, are less clear. That the foreign observer may offer assessments radically different from those of indigenous peoples is demonstrated in the following passage from Nepal’s official government newspaper, theGorkha Patra: “These days the demand for paper has gone up so much that in the U.S.A. forest after forest has been cut down for paper...

  14. CHAPTER VI Summary and Conclusion
    (pp. 162-178)

    When I first made the long trek to Khumbu in 1964, I hoped, like many Westerners, to find Shangri-La at the end of the trail. One night en route I dreamed that I arrived in Namche Bazaar to find a gas station that serviced the cars there. It was a nightmare: Shangri-La defiled. When I did reach Namche, I found neither gas station nor Shangri-La. Like Lévi-Strauss, looking for bare-bones humanity in Brazil, all I found were people.

    We adjust to new circumstances very quickly. I was sitting in Namche one evening in April 1985 when, precisely at six o’clock,...

  15. Appendix A: Curriculum for Thawas at Tengboche Monastery
    (pp. 179-179)
  16. Appendix B: Khumjung School Curriculum
    (pp. 180-180)
  17. Appendix C: Chronology of Solu-Khumbu (pre-1950 dates are from Ortner 1989)
    (pp. 181-182)
  18. Appendix D: Recent Change in Khumbu
    (pp. 183-184)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 185-190)
  20. Bibliography
    (pp. 191-194)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 195-205)