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Fluid Boundaries

Fluid Boundaries: Forming and Transforming Identity in Nepal

William F. Fisher
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Fluid Boundaries
    Book Description:

    More than an ethnography, this book clarifies one of the most important current debates in anthropology: How should anthropologists regard culture, history, and the power process?

    Since the 1980s, the Thakali of Nepal have searched for an identity and a clarification of their "true" culture and history in the wake of their rise to political power and achievement of economic success. Although united in this search, the Thakali are divided as to the answers that have been proposed: the "Hinduization" of religious practices, the promotion of Tibetan Buddhism, the revival of practices associated with the Thakali shamans, and secularization.

    Ironically, the attempts by the Thakali to define their identity reveal that to return to tradition they must first re-create it -- but this process of re-creation establishes it in a way in which it has never existed. To return to "tradition" -- to become Thakali again -- is, in a way, to become Thakali for the very first time.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50480-5
    Subjects: Anthropology, History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. List of Maps and Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  6. 1 Introduction: Thakali Again for the Very First Time
    (pp. 1-21)

    Jostling for vantage points among the crowds of adulators, we scrambled for spots along the stone walls lining the footpaths from which to observe the approach of the processions of priests and clan gods. Shaking and prancing like a yak, jingling the large bells wrapped around his body, the pāre (a clan priest) of the Bhattachan clan approached the crossroads from the north in the midst of a throng, delivering the decorated yak skull that represents the Bhattachan clan deity, Lha Yhāwā Rāngjyung (the self-made yak). A second procession approached from the south, descending from Nakhung temple. The lead drummer...

  7. 2 Drawing Lines: On Constructing and Contesting Boundaries
    (pp. 22-43)

    After Lha Phewa in January 1993, while my friends and I were walking north along the Kali Gandaki river valley to reach the hard, packed grazing land that now serves as an airport for small eighteen-seat planes at Jomsom, my friends tried once more to convince me that as part of my research I should get to the bottom of the dispute over the land where the Larjung Hotel now stands. During the course of Lha Phewa celebrations this issue had been the subject of several emotional meetings and many private discussions among the Thakali. Nor was this the first...

  8. 3 Forging Histories
    (pp. 44-76)

    The Thakali can be said to have made history in two ways. First, they forged their way through a series of constraints and opportunities that arose in the years of state formation after the Gurkha conquest. In particular, they made history through their control of the salt trade and their rise to remarkable economic and political prominence in central Nepal in the early part of the twentieth century.

    Second, and in a very different sense, the Thakali made—or forged—history through their shaping of historical narratives about themselves. This shaping of narratives was a part of their strategy of...

  9. 4 Separation and Integration: Community and Contestation
    (pp. 77-106)

    Wide migration created communication and adaptive problems for the Thakali and resulted in a community considerably more heterogeneous than it had been when the small Thakali community resided in the limited geographic area of Thak Khola. Years of migrations had put different groups of Thakali in various contexts and provided them with different networks, different opportunities, and different cultural constraints. Population movements have also had a significant and often overlooked effect on Thakali economic and cultural adaptations, their identity, and their narratives. These movements have been particularly diverse and involved increasing proportions of their population in the nineteenth and twentieth...

  10. 5 Ritual Landscapes
    (pp. 107-137)

    In a long, crowded, windowless room with stale air and dim light, I sit for hours cross-legged on the floor with no place to stretch out. During a lull in the shaman’s chanting and drumming, a man arrives with a chicken and squats down in front of me near the shaman. The shaman begins again to chant and beat his drum. Some in the room ignore him and continue to talk, to yawn, to sleep. Several women weeping loudly and dramatically in the center of the room are ignored. People casually wander in and out of the room. I strain...

  11. 6 Codifying Culture
    (pp. 138-166)

    The formation of a national Thakali organization in 1983 was the culmination of a series of attempts to formalize the Thakali community after migration had dispersed it among a wide range of locales in Nepal. This attempt to unify and codify cultural behavior that had become increasingly varied and open to ambiguous interpretations made public the contestations among the various Thakali factions more generally and specifically between those attempting to unite or reunite the samaj and the divergent interests of local communities.

    The tension between cooperation and competition was apparent in the processes of formally organizing local Thakali communities that...

  12. 7 Constructing Thakali
    (pp. 167-184)

    The differences in scholarly statements concerning the Thakali are provocative: aspects of Thakali religious practices and beliefs have been variously described as Buddhism, Hinduism, Bon-po, shamanism, scientific atheism, and sheer opportunism. Within the first decade of scholarly research, for example, from 1952 to 1962, different scholars observed among the Thakali the gaining in strength of Buddhism, an increased emphasis on their original “shamanistic cult,” a movement toward Hinduism, and a secularization camouflaged as Hinduization. In the view of most analysts, each religious revival occurred at the expense of practices associated with the others. With access to almost identical ethnographic evidence,...

  13. 8 Beyond Sanskritization
    (pp. 185-203)

    Hugging the cliff above the village of Kanti, the Narsang Gompa commands a majestic view of the upper Kali Gandaki valley. The history of this temple is undetermined: the iconography of the images painted on the walls and pillars is suggestive of Tibetan Buddhism, but there are no images associated with Tibetan Buddhism on the altar; instead, a locked vault occupies its center. In the vault is the rose-colored stone icon that represents the goddess Narijhowa. It is perhaps ironic that the Thakali, so frequently accused of being overly materialistic and inadequately concerned with spiritual matters, have locked their goddess...

  14. 9 Old Artificers in a New Smithy
    (pp. 204-218)

    “Have you heard,” asked my friend Deepak excitedly, “what was found in my uncle’s house in Chairo after his death? They found the crown and scepter of the Hansa Raja.”

    This news immediately caught wide attention. The story of the Hansa Raja has had a controversial place in Thakali history. In its basic form the story tells of a son of the high-caste Thakuri king of Sinja who wandered around the Himalayas until he came to the town of Thini, where he married the daughter of the Thini Raja and was given lands south of Thini, where he settled down....

  15. Notes
    (pp. 219-254)
  16. Glossary
    (pp. 255-260)
  17. Works Cited
    (pp. 261-282)
  18. Index
    (pp. 283-296)