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Sherpas

Sherpas

PRONUNCIATION: SHER-puhs
LOCATION: Nepal
POPULATION: 55,000
LANGUAGE: Sherpa (or Sherpali); Nepali
RELIGION: Nyingmapa sect of Buddhism

INTRODUCTION

The Sherpas are a tribe of Tibetan origin who occupy the high valleys around the base of Mt. Everest in northeastern Nepal. In the Tibetan language, Shar Pa means "people who live in the east," and over time this descriptive term has come to identify the Sherpa community.

According to Sherpa tradition, the tribe migrated to Nepal from the Kham region of eastern Tibet. Over a thousand years ago, the Sherpas say, a great chieftain named Thakpa Tho was instructed through visions and divine oracles to lead his people on a journey from their homeland. The tribe traveled west to Tingri. After a brief stay there, Thakpa Tho and his people turned south, crossed the Himalayas through the Nangpa La ("La" means "Pass" in Tibetan), and settled in the fertile valleys around Namche Bazaar.

Historians present a slightly different view. They suggest that the Sherpas were nomadic herders who were driven out of their original homeland in eastern Tibet by warlike peoples sometime between the 12th and 15th centuries ad. They migrated to the area around Tingri, but conflict with the local inhabitants caused them to move on in search of fresh pastures. They crossed the Himalayas and settled peacefully in their present homeland in northeastern Nepal.

LOCATION AND HOMELAND

The current Sherpa population is estimated to be around 55,000 people. They are found mostly in the Khumbu and Solu-Khumbu regions that lie to the south of the Everest massif. Sherpa populations also occupy lands to the east of this area in Kulung. In addition, Sherpas inhabit the valleys of the Dudh Kosi and Rolwaling Rivers west of Solu-Khumbu, and they are also found in the Lantang-Helambu region north of Kathmandu. Kathmandu itself has a sizable Sherpa population, while small numbers of Sherpas can be found throughout Nepal, even in the Terai. Sherpa communities are also present in the Indian state of Sikkim and the hill towns of Darjiling and Kalimpong. Small numbers of Sherpas are also found in Bhutan. However, Khumbu and Solu-Khumbu can be viewed as the traditional homeland of the Sherpa people.

The Sherpas are of Mongoloid stock. They are quite small in stature, relatively fair in complexion, with the distinctive facial features associated with peoples of Tibetan origin.

The Sherpas are a mountain people, living on the flanks of the hill masses that jut south into Nepal from the crestline of the high Himalayas. Rivers, such as the Dudh Kosi and Bhote Kosi, have carved deep gorges into the mountains, leaving a complex terrain of steep ridges and narrow valleys. Sherpa villages cling to the sides of sheer mountain slopes or sit on top of steep escarpments. Wherever Sherpas are found, their settlements lie at the highest elevations of any human habitation. In Khumbu, their villages are found between 3,000 and 4,300 m (approximately 10,000 to 14,000 ft). Winters at this altitude are severe, with snow covering the ground between November and February. No work can be done in the open. Most able-bodied Sherpas descend to lower elevations for the winter, leaving only the elderly in the villages. February sees the onset of spring, with warming temperatures and clear skies. People return to their villages for the New Year festival in late February and the next three months are spent preparing fields and sowing crops. Summer temperatures vary according to altitude. At Nauje village (elevation 3,440 m or 11,287 ft) in Khumbu, the July mean temperature is 12°c (53.6°f). May to August is the rainy season, with most of Nauje's annual precipitation of 104.8 cm (approximately 41 in) falling during this period. August to November heralds another period of fair weather, when the harvest is gathered in. Vegetation at lower elevations is dominated by mixed broadleaf and pine forests and rhododendrons, degraded in many places to scrub. This gives way to alpine tundra at higher altitudes.

As residents of Nepal, the Sherpas have been influenced by the communist uprising in the country, as well as by the dramatic political events that have occurred there recently. Though formerly the only Hindu Kingdom in the world, the country is now a secular state, becoming the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal on 25 May 2008. This was largely the result of the "Nepalese People's War" fought between Maoist insurgents and first the Nepalese police and later the Royal Nepal Army. Almost 13,000 people were killed during this conflict and up to an estimated 150,000 people internally displaced during this time. The war was started by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CPN [M]) on 13 February 1996, with the aim of establishing the "People's Republic of Nepal." For 10 years, Nepal was in the grip of civil war, with the Maoist insurgency initially commencing in the districts of Rolpa, Rukum, and Jajarkot in western Nepal and eventually spreading to 68 of the country's 75 districts. At first, the insurgency was seen as a police matter, but after Maoists attacked an army barracks in western Nepal in 2002 following the failure of peace talks, the Army was called in to fight the insurgents. The war ended with a Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed on 21 November 2006. The Sherpas make a lot of money from tourism and were generally unsympathetic to the rebel cause because the insurgency caused tourism to decline, but they were occasionally forced to provide young recruits to the rebels. Khumbu, at the base of Mount Everest, was generally considered as safe, though the lower Solu-Khumbu saw frequent rebel activity.

On 1 June 2001, Crown Prince Dipendra shot and killed his father, his mother, his brother and sister, one of his uncles, and several aunts, before turning the gun on himself. Gyanendra, Birendra's brother, succeeded as king. On 1 February 2005, Gyanendra suspended the parliament, appointed a government led by himself, and enforced martial law. The king argued that civilian politicians were unfit to handle the Maoist insurgency in Nepal. A broad coalition called the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) was formed in opposition to the royal take-over. This coalition included seven parliamentary parties that had held about 90% of the seats in the dissolved parliament. A countrywide uprising began in April 2006, resulting in massive and spontaneous demonstrations and rallies held across Nepal against King Gyanendra's autocratic rule. Eventually, an agreement was made for the monarchy to be abolished, which it was on 25 May 2008, ending 240 years of royal rule.

LANGUAGE

The language of the Sherpas, called Sherpa or Sherpali, is a dialect of Tibetan, although it has borrowed heavily from neighboring languages. It belongs to the Tibeto-Burman branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family. Though Sherpali is primarily a spoken language, the Sherpas use the Tibetan script for writing. Sherpas use Nepali in their dealings with other peoples.

FOLKLORE

A unique element in Sherpa folklore is the Yeti, better known in the West as the "Abominable Snowman." According to one tale, Yetis were far more numerous in the past and would attack and terrorize local villagers. The elders of the village decided on a plan to eliminate the Yetis. The next day, the villagers gathered in a high alpine pasture and everyone brought a large kettle of chāng (maize beer). They also brought weapons, such as sticks and knives and swords. Pretending to get drunk, they began to "fight" each other. Towards evening, the villagers returned to their settlement, leaving behind the weapons and large amounts of beer. The Yetis had been hidden in the mountains watching the day's events. As soon as the villagers left, they came down to the pasture, drank the rest of the beer, and started fighting among themselves. Soon, most of the Yetis were dead. A few of the less intoxicated escaped and swore revenge. However, there were so few left that the survivors retreated to caves high in the mountains where no one would find them. Occasionally, they reappear to attack humans.

RELIGION

The Sherpas belong to the Nyingmapa sect of Buddhism. The oldest Buddhist sect in Tibet, it claims to adhere to the original teachings of Padmasambhava, the Indian monk who founded Tibetan Buddhism in the 8th century ad. It emphasizes mysticism and incorporates shamanistic practices and local deities borrowed from the pre-Buddhist Bon religion. Thus, in addition to Buddha and the great Buddhist divinities, the Sherpa pantheon embraces numerous gods and demons who are believed to inhabit every mountain, cave, and forest. These have to be worshiped or appeased through ancient practices that have been woven into the fabric of Buddhist ritual life. Indeed, it is almost impossible to distinguish between Bon practices and Buddhism.

Many of the great Himalayan mountains are worshiped as gods. The Sherpas call Mt. Everest Chomolungma and worship it as the "Mother of the World." Mt. Makalu is worshiped as the deity Shankar (Shiva). The Sherpas believe Mt. Khumbila is a white-faced deity who rides on his magical horse and protects the Sherpa people. Each clan recognizes mountain gods identified with certain peaks that are their protective deities.

The day-to-day religious affairs of the Sherpas are dealt with by Buddhist lāmās and other religious practitioners living in the villages. It is the village lāmā, who can be married and is often a householder, who presides over life-cycle ceremonies, undertakes purificatory rites, and occasionally conducts exorcisms. In addition, shamans (lhawa) and soothsayers (mind-ung) deal with the supernatural and the spirit world. They identify witches (pem), act as the mouthpiece of gods and spirits, and diagnose illnesses.

An important aspect of Sherpa religion is the monastery or gompa. There are some two dozen of these institutions scattered through the Solu-Khumbu region. They are communities of lāmās, or monks, (sometimes of nuns) who take vows of celibacy and lead a life in isolation searching for truth and religious enlightenment. Their presence brings merit to the community at large, and they are supported to some degree by offerings from the general population. Their contact with the outside world is limited to the annual festivals to which the public is invited and the reading of sacred texts at funerals. One of the most famous and respected gompas is at Tengboche, north of Namche Bazaar. It is known for its avatari, a reincarnation of an important lama from a past life, as well as its library of religious texts and collection of objects, such as thankas (religious paintings).

MAJOR HOLIDAYS

The major festivals of the Sherpas are Losar, Dumje, and Mani Rimdu. Losar, which falls towards the end of February, marks the beginning of the New Year in the Tibetan calendar. It is celebrated with much feasting and drinking, dancing, and singing. Sherpas who leave their villages to travel to lower elevations during the winter months hurry back to their homes in time for Losar.

Dumje is a festival celebrated for the prosperity, good health, and general welfare of the Sherpa community. It falls in the month of July, when the agricultural work is complete, the trading expeditions to Tibet have returned, and the Sherpas are preparing to take their herds into the high pastures. Over a seven-day period, Sherpas visit their local gompas to offer prayers to deities, such as Guru Rimpoche, Phawa Cheresi, and Tsampa. Lāmās perform their devil-dances and villagers gather in the evenings to enjoy the occasion. There is much eating and drinking, and members of the younger generation participate in singing and dancing.

Equally important are the colorful Mani Rimdu celebrations, which are attended by enthusiastic onlookers from throughout the Sherpa country. These are held four times a year, twice in Khumbu (at the Tami and Tengboche monasteries) and twice in Solu-Khumbu (at the Chiwong and Thaksindhu monasteries). Monks don colorful costumes and elaborate masks to impersonate gods and demons and perform the religious dances intended to strike fear into the hearts of evil spirits.

Feasting and drinking accompany all Sherpa festivals and celebrations except for Nyungne. This is a penance for sins committed during the previous year. For three days, laypeople abstain from drinking and dancing and may even undergo a complete fast. They visit the gompa to recite sacred texts with the lāmās, or repeat the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum. The principal mantra of the Buddhists, it is also found inscribed on prayer wheels. It has many interpretations, one of which is "Om, the Jewel of the Doctrine is in the Lotus of the World." Monks and nuns keep to the restrictions of Nyungne for a full two weeks.

RITES OF PASSAGE

Although a birth is not an occasion for formal observances among the Sherpa, the name-giving ceremony of the child is an important event. The local lāmā is informed of the birth and the time that it occurred. On the basis of this information, the lāmā determines the child's name and when the naming ceremony should take place. Children are often named after the day of the week on which they were born. Thus, a baby born on Friday would be called "Pasang." The lāmā, relatives, and neighbors are invited to celebrate the name-giving at a feast.

Children are usually brought up by their mothers, as the men are often away from home for much of the year. Young girls are introduced to household chores at an early age, while boys tend to have greater freedom for leisure and play. Boys undergo an initiation ceremony between 7 and 9 years of age, which is presided over by the lāmā and accompanied by feasting and drinking.

At the time of death, the body is washed and covered with a white shroud. The lāmā is sent for to commence the funerary rites. These include cutting off a lock of hair from the corpse so that the life breath (prān) of the departed may leave the body and reading from the sacred texts. Rituals include the making of tormas, conical dough figures that are placed on an altar set up behind the corpse. Both Buddhist and Hindu astrological books are consulted by the lāmā to determine in which direction the body should be taken and the manner of its disposal. The lāmā determines if the deceased is to be buried, cremated, or given a water-burial. The lāmā also decides when the time is auspicious for the removal of the corpse, which may not occur for several days. At the appointed time, the body is seated on a bier in the lotus position and taken for cremation or burial. The funeral procession is accompanied by flags and novice lāmās blowing conch shells and playing drums and cymbals. After death, the family performs rites for the benefit of the departed and undertakes a ritual purification of the home. Sherpas believe that the soul remains near the house for 49 days, and on the last of these days a grand feast is held to complete the last of the funeral rites (gyowa).

INTERPERSONAL RELATIONS

The Sherpas are a social and hospitable people. The cardinal rule of hospitality is that a visitor, even a casual one, must not leave the house with an "empty mouth." Guests are entertained with Tibetan tea or beer. Visitors of high standing will be served a snack, or even a complete meal. Unlike some communities in South Asia, guests in Sherpa homes have complete access to both the kitchen and the area set aside for worship.

LIVING CONDITIONS

Sherpa settlements range from villages with a few houses to towns, such as Khumjung or Namche Bazaar, with more than a hundred houses. In the higher elevations, a house is usually built in the middle of its owner's fields. Where more flat land is available, however, houses are clustered together in a group at the center of the village's agricultural land. Larger villages may have a community temple, a community mill, and religious monuments called stūpas and chorten. There are few proper roads, and villages are connected by tracks and trails. Goods are transported by pack animals or on the backs of the people.

Sherpa houses have two stories and are built of stone. The roofs are flat and usually made of wood, weighted down by heavy stones. The lower level is used to house livestock, fodder, food, and firewood, while the upper story holds the living quarters. The floor of this room is wooden, covered with carpets and rugs. The hearth is placed at the side of the room. It contains a simple woodstove used for cooking that also provides heat. Drawers and shelves line the walls and are used to store utensils, bedding, and personal effects. There is no furniture; platforms and benches are used for sitting and sleeping. One corner of the room holds a latrine and refuse-dump that opens into the stables below. A small area of the house is set aside for an altar. Here, one finds icons of the Buddha and various bodhisattvas and pictures of the Dalai Lāmā, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists. Incense and butter lamps are kept burning before the shrine.

FAMILY LIFE

Sherpa society is divided into a number of exogamous clans called ru. A person is required to marry outside his or her clan, but beyond this the clan is of little significance in Sherpa social organization. Although there is no ranking of individual clans, they fall into two endogamous groups, the khadeu and khamendeu. The former are of higher status and anyone marrying into the lower group loses this standing.

Sherpas choose their own marriage partners. The marriage process is a lengthy one that may stretch over several years. Following a betrothal, the boy has the right to sleep with his fiancée in her parents' house. This arrangement may continue for several years, during which the relationship may be broken off. Once the respective families feel that the marriage will be successful, a ceremony is carried out that formally confirms the marriage negotiations. Several months or even years may pass again before the wedding date is fixed. For the wedding ceremony (zendi), the boy's family dress in their best clothes and go in procession to the girl's house. There, they are entertained with food and drink and are expected to dance and sing in return. They visit houses of relatives, where the procedure is repeated. The feasting lasts for a day and a night, before the party returns home with the bride. The actual marriage is solemnized by putting a mark of butter on the forehead of the bride and groom. The bride is given a dowry by family and friends that usually consists of rugs, woolen carpets, yak-wool mats, and even cattle.

Sherpa families are small by South Asian standards. The nuclear family is the norm in Sherpa society, with households consisting of parents and their unmarried children. A newly married son is supposed to receive a house on completion of the marriage. Interestingly, a man does not return home until he has a child; he lives with his in-laws until such time as his wife gives birth. Most marriages are monogamous, although fraternal polyandry is permitted and is even considered to be prestigious. According to this practice, two brothers marry the same woman. Divorce is quite frequent among the Sherpas.

CLOTHING

Sherpa dress is similar to that worn by Tibetans. Both men and women wear a long inner shirt over a pant-like garment, both made out of wool. Over this, they wear a thick, coarse, wrap-around robe (bakhu) that reaches to below the knees and fastens at the side. A sash is belted around the waist. Both males and females wear high, woolen boots with hide soles. The uppers are colored maroon, red, and green (or blue), and the boots are tied on with colored garters. An unusual feature of women's dress are the multicolored striped aprons worn to cover the front and back of the bodies below the waist. Both married and unmarried women wear the rear apron, while the front apron is worn only by married women. Various ornaments and a distinctive cap called a shyamahu complete the dress of the Sherpa woman.

Traditional Sherpa dress is rapidly disappearing among Sherpa men. With the reduction in the availability of wool and woolen garments from Tibet, it is increasingly difficult to replace worn-out woolen clothing. Many younger men who have worked for mountaineering expeditions have acquired high-altitude clothing of Western manufacture. Older men, however, often have to make do with cotton clothing that is ill-suited to the cold climate of Sherpa country.

FOOD

The Sherpa diet is dominated by starchy foods, supplemented by vegetables, spices, and occasionally meat. In addition, Tibetan tea (tea served with salt and butter) is taken at all meals and throughout the day. A typical breakfast consists of Tibetan tea and several bowls of gruel made by adding tsampa, a roasted flour, to water, tea, or milk. Lunch is eaten in the late morning and may include boiled potatoes that are dipped in ground spices before being eaten. Sometimes a stiff dough made from a mixture of grains (sen) is eaten with a thin sauce made from spices and vegetables, or meat if it is available. A typical dinner is a stew (shakpa) consisting of balls of dough, potatoes, and vegetables cooked in spices, butter or animal fat, and water, and thickened with flour. Dairy products, especially butter and curds, are important in the Sherpa diet.

Sherpas eat meat, although they will not kill animals themselves in keeping with Buddhist beliefs. Meat and rice are special foods, eaten on special occasions. Often these foods are available only to the more affluent Sherpas.

A favorite beverage of the Sherpas is chāng, a beer made from maize, millet, or other grains. This is consumed not only at meals, but also at most social and festive occasions. It has considerable symbolic and ritual significance in Sherpa society. An anthropologist studying food among the Sherpa collected over 50 different names for chāng, depending on the context in which it is used. For instance, lāmās drink chachang when they put on a costume, but the beer they drink when they take it off is called silchang.

EDUCATION

Although primary schools are slowly being introduced into Sherpa areas, few Sherpas have any formal schooling. As might be expected, literacy rates are low, as are parental expectations for their children. According to the census of 2001, the adult literacy rate (aged 15 years and above) of Sherpas is 37.4% (for women, this figure is in the low 20 percentiles) and attainment of the School Leaving Certificate (SLC) and above (16 years and above) is only 5%, which is very low in comparison with other ethnic and caste groups of Nepal (e.g. Kayastha [50.2%], Newar [24.7%], and Thakali [16.1%]).

The first modern schools were only introduced in the Sherpa areas in the 1960s, with the help of Sir Edmund Hillary, the New Zealander who, in the company of Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, became the first man to climb Mount Everest in 1953, and who devoted much of the remainder of his life to the welfare of the Sherpas. Prior to that, education was only available in the monasteries and was essentially Buddhist in nature.

The government school system in the Sherpa area is rather backward and consists mostly of primary schools. In recent decades, small schools have been established in a number of villages, but they are in a miserable condition: leaking or partly missing roofs; missing doors and windows or windows without panes; clay soil floors; missing or insufficient tables, chairs and benches; no drinking water and sanitary facilities; no electricity; no blackboards; insufficient teaching materials; curricula totally strange to Sherpa culture; insufficiently educated and badly paid teachers who usually don't speak the mother tongue of the children; no accommodations for teachers; and poor school participation, especially of girls. The poor and often irregular school attendance can be explained by many reasons-lack of understanding by parents who themselves did not have the chance to go to school; feelings against the teachers in general and especially toward those coming from far away villages and belonging to other population groups; the need for the children to work at home and in the fields; poor conditions of the school building and the resulting inefficiency of the classes; and missing perspectives after finishing school (hardly any chance to join secondary schools; no chances in the administration or other government services dominated by Hindus). As it is typical for rural Nepal, Sherpa girls, too, are rarely sent to school. This is partly caused by the generally low social status of Nepali women that has been legally sanctioned by laws based on Hindu values, making women second-class citizens and depriving them of economic, property, and inheritance rights.

There are, however, organizations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) whose objectives are to promote education among the Sherpas. For instance, the Sherpa Association of Nepal (SAN) lobbies the Nepali government for reserved seats in government jobs for Sherpa candidates, scholarship for education of Sherpa students, and compulsory education up to the age of 14 years for Sherpa children. Some NGOs, such as The Sir Edmund Hillary Foundation of Canada and The Himalayan Trust, offer scholarships specifically for Sherpa students.

CULTURAL HERITAGE

The Tibetan tradition of religious dance-dramas, known as ' cham, can be seen in the Mani Rimdu festivals of the Sherpas. Elaborately choreographed, with monks dressed up in costumes and masks, the Mani Rimdu dances enact the triumph of Buddhism over the demons of the Bon religion. The temple orchestras that accompany these dramas are unique in the makeup of their instruments, which include drums, cymbals, handbells, conch shells, 10-foot telescopic horns, large oboes, and flutes made from human thighbones. The distinctive chant used by monks in their religious observances is also in the tradition of Tibetan sacred music.

WORK

Traditional Sherpa economic activities were centered on agriculture and trade with Tibet. Now, largely as a result of Trans-Himalayan trade having dried up as a result of the Chinese government's policies, agriculture is the mainstay of the Sherpa population. At lower elevations, such as in Solu-Khumbu, where conditions allow cultivation, Sherpas raise maize, barley, buckwheat, and vegetables. Potatoes were introduced to the Sherpas only 80 years ago but have now become the mainstay of their diet. In Khumbu, with its higher altitudes, farming gives way to pastoralism. Khumbu Sherpas raise cattle and the yak (Poëphagus grunniens), a bovine-like animal that does well at higher elevations. Hybrids of domestic cattle and the yak are known as dzo (male) and dzum (female) and play an important role in the economy. Yaks provide wool and milk by-products such as butter, which are sold or bartered for grain. Dzo are used as pack animals and are easily trained to the plough.

Despite the formidable physical barrier posed by the Himalayas, trade between Nepal and Tibet is of considerable historical importance in the region. Sherpas, because of their location and ability to handle high altitudes, have traditionally played a major role in the trade that moves through Nangpa La and other passes across the mountains. Salt, sheep's wool, meat, and yak are still brought from Tibet into Nepal, in exchange for food grains, rice, butter, and manufactured goods. Namche Bazaar, located at an elevation of 3,480 m (11,418 ft), is the main trading center on the route to Tibet.

Sherpas were first used as high-altitude porters in 1907, but it was Tenzing Norgay, Sir Edmund Hillary's companion on the first ascent of Everest in 1953, who was to bring the Sherpas to the attention of the world. Their role as porters and guides on mountain-climbing and trekking expeditions has brought the Sherpas a new source of income and, for some Sherpas, a comfortable living. There are Sherpas who have emerged as world-class mountaineers in their own right.

SPORTS

Sherpas enjoy playing cards and gambling with dice. Wrestling and horseplay is popular among the young of both sexes.

ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION

Sherpa entertainment and recreation is largely limited to their traditional pastimes of singing, dancing, and drinking beer.

FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES

Sherpas rely on the artisan castes to provide the material necessities of life. Some Sherpas have developed skills in religious painting and in liturgical (religious) chanting. The Sherpas have a tradition of indigenous folk songs and dancing.

SOCIAL PROBLEMS

There are social problems that originate within Sherpa society itself. There is a high incidence of alcoholism, for instance, and the related medical problems that go with it. Similarly, although the situation is beginning to change, the lack of education among the Sherpas reflects to a large extent their isolation and the low level of development in Nepal as a whole. Perhaps the single greatest threat to traditional Sherpa society has been the coming of the tourist. Tourism in Sherpa country has been a double-edged sword. Its economic benefits helped compensate for the loss of the Tibetan trade in the 1950s; it helped spur development in the Khumbu region; and it provided many Sherpas with wealth far beyond their highest expectations. But this has occurred at a cost that goes far beyond the serious environmental degradation associated with tourism. Inflation, increasing dependence on a tourist-based economy, problems with drug-running, and the flight of wealthy Sherpas to Kathmandu are but symptomatic of broader changes in Sherpa society. How well the Sherpas adjust to these changes will determine the nature of the Sherpa identity they leave for future generations.

GENDER ISSUES

Despite a generally low social status reflecting the influence of Hindu society, Sherpa women have become central to preserving centuries-old customs and traditions of Sherpa culture. In traditional Sherpa society, women assume the role of head of household for up to 10 months of the year while their husbands are away working as porters for foreigners. In addition to rearing the children, women are often left to farm and tend the livestock.

Social position is influenced by Hindu values. Thus, inheritance, ownership of property, and access (or the lack thereof) to education mirrors the situation of women in Hinduism. In recent years, women have tended to break the male monopoly on climbing. Thus, in 2000, Lhakpa Sherpa, from the village of Sankhuwasabha, scaled Everest in a historic all-woman Sherpa expedition and has since successfully climbed Everest several times. However, only a few Sherpas—men or women—benefit from working with as porters or guides with foreign tourists (a top Sherpa guide can earn up to $10,000 per expedition).

Generally, however, Sherpa women suffer from the poverty, illiteracy, poor education, overwork, and low socio-economic standing that is the lot of most women in South Asia.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brower, Barbara. Sherpa of Khumbu: People, Livestock, and Landscape. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Fisher, James B. Sherpas: Reflections on Change in Himalayan Nepal. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

Fürer-Haimendorf, Christoph von. The Sherpas of Nepal: Buddhist Highlanders. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1964.

Luger, Kurt. Kids of Khumbu: Sherpa Youth on the Modernity Trail. Kathmandu: Mandala Book Point, 2000.

Ortner, Sherry B. Making Gender: The Politics and Erotics of Culture. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1996.

———. Sherpas Through Their Rituals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978.

Sherpa, Donna M. Living in the Middle: Sherpas of the Mid-Range Himalayas. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1994.

—by D. O. Lodrick

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