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Janajati

Sherpa

According to linguists, the word sherpa means easterner, and this word comes from the Tibetan language. The ancestral place of these famous mountaineers is the northern side of the Solukhumbu district. The traditional habitat of the Sherpas also lies in the valley between the Dudh Koshi and Sun Koshi rivers. The Sherpa language and script are derived from Tibetan. Sherpas are Buddhist. Lhosar is their major festival. They cremate their dead. They greet their guests with khada scarfs. Chhewa is performed for the dead. Tourism, trade and farming are the major occupations of the Sherpas. According to Census 2001, their population is 110,358.

ImageThe Sherpas are the original inhabitants of the northern region of Solukhumbu situated in the lap of the highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest. They are not like the wholly Tibetan-speaking Lhaba and Dolpo, but are an indigenous people influenced by old Tibetan language and Tibetan culture (Lama, BS2052). In Tibetan language, ‘Shyar’ means east and ‘ba’ means inhabitants, thus Shyarba means easterners. The Sherpa is a modified version of Shyarba. Sherpa are the descendants of Kham (Lama, 1999).

The Sherpas inhabit the districts of Solukhumbu, Dolakha, Sindhupalchok, Rasuwa and eastern Taplejung of Nepal. Nowadays, they have also settled in Kathmandu in considerable number. In addition, there are also Sherpas in Bhutan, India and Tibet. However, the largest concentration of Sherpas is found in Nepal and in Nepal in Solukhumbu itself. The population of Sherpas, according to the census of 2001, is 110,358. However, Thumten Lama, a Sherpa himself, in his book, Sherpa ra Solukhumbu, published in 1999, has given the population of Sherpas as 155,000. He has given the total population of Sherpa residing in various parts of the world as 250,000 (Lama, 1999:8).

Although the language of Sherpa is based on the Tibetan language belonging to the Tibeto-Burman language family, it is, as is Hindi from Nepali, slightly different from the Tibetan language. It resembles the Tibetan language only by 10 per cent. The script of Sherpas, is Sambhoti script, which is a Tibetan script (Sherpa, 1999).

Although the culture of Sherpa from birth to death, their lifestyle, dress resemble those of the Tibetans, there are some differences. The Sherpas consider themselves as having their own distinct culture, different from the Tibetans. The Sherpas at the birth of a child inform the lama and the lama looks up the auspicious occasion. The name giving ceremony of the child occurs within five to eleven days of birth. There are among Sherpa various types of marriage. Marriages undertaken after asking for the hand of the bride follow four types of rituals known as Tichhyang, Demchhyang, Pechhyang and Ganekutab (Sharma, BS2052:130). The Sherpas also practised polyandry in the past (Bista, 1996:171), but it is not in practice today. After the death of a person, the lama recites the sacred text and designates the auspicious occasion for cremation, and the Sherpas cremate or bury the dead as per the instructions of the lama. The ceremonies related to death are over within forty-nine days.
As Sherpas reside at high attitudes, their yearly lifecycle comprises three different places of settlement. The main village, village for the winter and village for the summer are the three shifting settlements of the Sherpa (Von Furer-Haimendorf, 1998). The Sherpas are famous for their own special type of transhumance. The houses of Sherpa are two storied with roofs of wood or stone. The Sherpas live on the second floor of the house. Their dress is similar to Tibetans. The main festival of Sherpa is Lhosar, Sherpas make merry and enjoy themselves to the fullest during festivals.
Although divided into various thar or groups, the Sherpas do not have any concept of high and low among themselves. The major seven groups are Thimmi, Lama, Chawa and others. These groups have been formed based on exogamy. For children born of marriage between a Sherpa and a non-Sherpa, however, there are different groups or lineage. The monastery and the lama play a central role in the social life of Sherpas. The second son has to usually go and live in a monastery. The Sherpas follow the Buddhist religion and the centre of religious activities is the monastery. There are three types of monasteries: village monastery, Dukda monastery and Seta monastery. The lamas are also of two types: Ngagpa (those versed in Tantrism and married) and Dulwa (unmarried) (Kunwar, 1989:204-213). The Sherpas are also animists and worship the mountains, lakes and forests as the abode of gods, goddesses or souls and spirits (ibid:248).

The major traditional activity of Sherpas is animal husbandry. They also grow crops like potato. However, the thriving profession of today is tourism, trekking and mountaineering. Trade and business are also the traditional activities of Sherpa. Tourism has brought about a radical change in the life of Sherpas. Education has also had impact on their cultural life. Nonetheless, despite all this, their traditional lifestyle, occupation and culture have become stronger over time (Fisher, 1990:163-177).

Representive Organization Nepal Sherpa Association ,Central Office
Bouddha, Kathmandu
Post Box: 12556
Phone: 488256, 210286
Contact person: Mr. Kripsur Sherpa, President.

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