Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Sherpa People

By Brittany Ricker

             The values and ethics of different cultures have always caught my attention when studying architecture. An assignment was given in our history class to study a non-western building, place, or structure. Sherpa architecture, religion, and basically just having interest in the indigenous culture and traditions were something worth studying and learning more about. Knowing that the Himalayan heights, also known as death zones, are stressful and difficult environments as is, but understanding how people go on with their daily lives and live in these certain areas shocks me. Not only do they live at forbidding altitudes, they have managed to make the areas relatively safe and enjoyable place to live. It must be their deeply embedded ethics and strong sense of environmental responsibility that has drove the Sherpa people to flourish the area they have been living on for many years.
              Sherpa, a Tibetan word translating into “eastern people” coming from shar “east” and pa “people”, are an ethnic group in the Himalayas in Nepal. The Sherpa people first settled in the Solukhumbu District, Nepal. They gradually moved westward along salt trade routes and according to Sherpa oral history, four groups migrated out of Solukhumbu giving rise to the four main Sherpa groups (Kerry, 1998). Sherpa’s would move from place to place in the Himalayan region as Alpine pastoralists and traders since ancient times, like some other indigenous Kirat Nepalese tribes. During the nineteenth century, Sherpa people maintained independence within Nepali state, which was newly formed (Steven, 1996). For many years Nepal was prohibited by visitors except for a select few wanting to climb the mountains or scientists carrying on research. In the 1950s this shutdown was lifted with the restoration of the monarchy to power. Tension grew between China in the 1960s lending the Nepali government to have influence on the Sherpa people and it continued to grow (Somigli, 1978). In 1976, Khumbu, Nepal became a national park which attracted tourists from all over causing a major economic move.
            These major events have shaped the way Sherpa’s live today and make a living but overall their cultural, religious beliefs and typical building layouts have not altered much. Khumbu, Nepal offers unique geography, old river terraces, former lake beds or mountain slopes, which ultimately determines the style of the house (Norbu, 2008). The building materials have altered slightly, but overall the characteristics and style of a typical Sherpa home remain the same. Despite some difficulties the Sherpa have faced over the years, the Sherpa’s have managed to build a strong reputation as reliable, honest and loyal workers.

            Throughout the semester I will be researching the Sherpa culture, architecture, and religion and gain even more cultural appreciation for these indigenous cultures. There might be differences in the way these people live their day to day lives, but I am curious to see if they really see it as a hardship like we think of it as. I do not believe they do but that is my own personal opinion. It’s a different way of living that most are not accustomed with and many automatically assume they struggle but from the research I have come across so far, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

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