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High Frontiers

High Frontiers: Dolpo and the Changing World of Himalayan Pastoralists

Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    High Frontiers
    Book Description:

    Dolpo is a culturally Tibetan enclave in one of Nepal's most remote regions. The Dolpo-pa, or people of Dolpo, share language, religious and cultural practices, history, and a way of life. Agro-pastoralists who live in some of the highest villages in the world, the Dolpo-pa wrest survival from this inhospitable landscape through a creative combination of farming, animal husbandry, and trade.

    High Frontiers is an ethnography and ecological history of Dolpo tracing the dramatic transformations in the region's socioeconomic patterns. Once these traders passed freely between Tibet and Nepal with their caravans of yak to exchange salt and grains; they relied on winter pastures in Tibet to maintain their herds. After 1959, China assumed full control over Tibet and the border was closed, restricting livestock migrations and sharply curtailing trade. At the same time, increasing supplies of Indian salt reduced the value of Tibetan salt, undermining Dolpo's economic niche. Dolpo's agro-pastoralists were forced to reinvent their lives by changing their migration patterns, adopting new economic partnerships, and adapting to external agents of change. The region has been transformed as a result of the creation of Nepal's largest national park, the making of Himalaya, a major motion picture filmed on location, the increasing presence of nongovernmental organizations, and a booming trade in medicinal products. High Frontiers examines these transformations at the local level and speculates on the future of pastoralism in this region and across the Himalayas.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50902-2
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. A Note on Tibetan and Nepali Terms
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    (pp. 1-18)

    This is a story of Dolpo, a culturally Tibetan region in western Nepal. Dolpo encompasses four valleys—Panzang, Nangkhong, Tsharka, Tarap—and a people who share language, religious and cultural practices, history, and a way of life.¹ Its valleys are clustered along the border of Nepal and the Tibet Autonomous Region (China); Dolpo’s residents refer to this entire region as the area bounded by the Tibetan Plateau (to the north), the Mustang District (east), Tsharka village (south), the watershed above Phoksumdo Lake (west), and the Mugu Karnali River (northwest).² Dolpo is home to some of the highest villages on Earth;...

    (pp. 19-42)

    I begin by describing the salient features of Dolpo’s agro-pastoral system. The aim is to evoke a place, its people, and their modes of life, so that the transformations of Dolpo—and, indeed, the entire trans-Himalayan region—can be better understood. In this first chapter, I describe Dolpo’s livelihood practices, circa 1997. Though these practices are conditioned by historical and geopolitical circumstances (which I relate in later chapters), and before complicating Dolpo’s story with the exigencies of the twentieth century, the region’s livelihood strategies are first sketched in situ to present a sense of what daily life in Dolpo is...

    (pp. 43-59)

    For a study such as this, it is necessary to place Dolpo within a larger literature on pastoralism. Two theoretical approaches have had considerable influence in academic interpretations of pastoralism: one derives from social structural analyses, the other argues from the logic of ecological relations.¹ This account draws from both approaches to contextualize the herding practices and rangeland management strategies I observed in Dolpo. Common themes in pastoral literature—the communal rules and institutions that manage resources such as pastures, water, and fuel, as well as the social arrangements that organize labor and property regimes—are part of the story...

    (pp. 60-72)

    I have described Dolpo’s agro-pastoral system largely in a vacuum. Now it is necessary to place the region within its historical, political, and economic context. This sketch of Dolpo’s history, as well as the regional histories I present in chapters 4 and 5, is based on archival research at Cornell University’s Kroch Library. I have puzzled together a rough chronology of regional history in order to understand the transformations that occurred in Dolpo after 1959, and the economic patterns and land-use practices that emerged among pastoralists living in the trans-Himalaya.¹

    Dolpo’s early history is linked intimately with Tibet. Together with...

    (pp. 73-94)

    The backdrop to Dolpo’s recent history is vast, of course. The twentieth century was a seminal time for nation-state building in China, India, and Nepal. By the end of the 1940s, Mao Tse-tung’s long march to power in China was coming to an end. The Communist Party’s victory ushered in a radically different economic and political order in the world’s most populous nation and, consequently, in lands that China bordered, like Tibet. India won independence in 1947, only to be rent by religious and ethnic warfare, and mass migrations, following partition. Nepal, meanwhile, was also changing rapidly. The 1950s began...

    (pp. 95-106)

    This chapter observes the post-1951 period through the lens of Nepal, with a constant gaze toward Dolpo, to understand how pastoral systems along the Indo-Tibetan frontier were transformed not only by Chinese policies and politics, as discussed in the previous chapter, but also by Nepal’s statemaking actions and rhetoric.

    The model of the nation-state—a sovereign, politically demarcated territory—supplanted a traditional model of royal dominion only gradually in Nepal. In collusion with the Raj in India, the Rana prime ministers imposed more than a century of isolation, from 1847 until 1951. Although it was never colonized, the Ranas traded...

  12. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  13. 6 THE WHEEL IS BROKEN: A Pastoral Exodus in the Himalayas
    (pp. 107-132)

    During the second half of the twentieth century, the emerging nationstates of Nepal, China, and India changed their frontiers into borders. So it was that pastoralists along the Nepal-Tibet border found themselves living in a dynamic and contested space (cf. Aris 1992). The case of Dolpo is this transition writ small: it gives us the opportunity to see how local pastoral communities adapted to the closing of frontiers and the creation of geopolitical borders. I will describe here the economic and social adaptations that Dolpo-pa made after 1959, and speculate on the long-term viability and consequences of these shifts in...

  14. 7 VISIONS OF DOLPO: Conservation and Development
    (pp. 133-168)

    The post-1960 era had spelled disaster for Nepal’s northern mountain districts, where agro-pastoral communities had traditionally been self-sufficient. A crisis devolved as the Tibetan border was closed, disrupting the lives of pastoralists like the Dolpo-pa, who depended on moving through ecological zones, not national borders. This exigency provoked limited and ultimately unfruitful government livestock projects in pasture development, animal breeding, and veterinary clinics. In this chapter, we will observe how Dolpo’s agro-pastoralists adapted to these outside interventions, and how they responded to the phenomenon of bikaas—the Nepali term for development, progress, expansion.

    Once the center of a localized trade...

    (pp. 169-186)

    This chapter considers the question of who controls images of Dolpo’s culture, ecology, and landscape, and broadens the discussion of statemaking, conservation, and development in Dolpo to explore how this region is constructed and perceived on a global scale. There is a continuity between these issues and the matter of how and when Dolpo moved from the margins to “center stage”—such as when the area became a hotspot of ecotourism and biodiversity (as discussed in chapter 7), and when the film Himalaya (1999; aka Caravan) pushed Dolpo into the international limelight (to be described in this chapter).

    The issues...

    (pp. 187-204)

    Past accounts have represented Dolpo as “untouched” by the cataclysmic changes of the twentieth century. One chronicle of Dolpo even reads: “The Chinese takeover of Tibet in the 1950s had little impact on the Dolpo-pa living within Nepal’s frontiers” (Valli and Summers 1994:14). Such claims belie reality. In fact, the post-1959 period had intense rami-fications on the economics (e.g., types of commodities, exchange values), social organization (e.g., fictive kin relations), and environment (e.g., pastoral movements and livestock impacts) of culturally Tibetan people living in the trans-Himalaya.

    Since 1959, two forces of geopolitical and economic change have had tremendous impact on...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 205-230)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 231-252)
  19. Glossary
    (pp. 253-256)
  20. Appendix 1: Pasture Toponomy
    (pp. 257-258)
  21. Appendix 2: Dolpo Plant Species
    (pp. 259-262)
  22. Index
    (pp. 263-270)