American anthropologist Ernestine McHugh arrived in the
foothills of the Annapurna mountains in Nepal, and, surrounded by
terraced fields, rushing streams, and rocky paths, she began one of
several sojourns among the Gurung people whose ramro hawa-pani
(good wind and water) not only describes the enduring bounty of
their land but also reflects the climate of goodwill they seek to
sustain in their community. It was in their steep Himalayan
villages that McHugh came to know another culture, witnessing and
learning the Buddhist appreciation for equanimity in moments of
precious joy and inevitable sorrow.
Love and Honor in the Himalayas is McHugh's gripping
ethnographic memoir based on research among the Gurungs conducted
over a span of fourteen years. As she chronicles the events of her
fieldwork, she also tells a story that admits feeling and
involvement, writing of the people who housed her in the terms in
which they cast their relationship with her, that of family.
Welcomed to call her host Ama and become a daughter in the
household, McHugh engaged in a strong network of kin and
friendship. She intimately describes, with a sure sense of comedy
and pathos, the family's diverse experiences of life and loss, self
and personhood, hope, knowledge, and affection. In mundane as well
as dramatic rituals, the Gurungs ever emphasize the importance of
love and honor in everyday life, regardless of circumstances, in
all human relationships. Such was the lesson learned by McHugh, who
arrived a young woman facing her own hardships and came to
understand-and experience-the power of their ways of being.
While it attends to a particular place and its inhabitants,
Love and Honor in the Himalayas is, above all, about human
possibility, about what people make of their lives. Through the
compelling force of her narrative, McHugh lets her emotionally open
fieldwork reveal insight into the privilege of joining a community
and a culture. It is an invitation to sustain grace and kindness in
the face of adversity, cultivate harmony and mutual support, and
cherish life fully.
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