The Sherpa of Nepal

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The Sherpa of Nepal

“Sherpa”, a term derived from words meaning “people” and “east”, refers to a cultural groupthat numbers about 35,000 and whose members occupy parts of India, Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan (Sherpa Friendship Asscn,1999:1), though most groups are found in Nepal (Stevens 1993: 31). It is generally understood that the Sherpa came to Nepal from eastern Tibet about 500 years ago (www.rip.physics.unk.edu/Nepal/NPE 1999:2). This research paper will focus on the Nepalese Sherpa. It will explore socio-ecological aspects of their lives, including their cultural and ecological adaptations. In addition, it will highlight changes in Sherpa culture and the relationship brought about by outside influences.

Nepal is a relatively small country, 100 miles wide by 500 miles long. The southern border is tropical with rich soils, flora and fauna; making this region of Nepal densely populated by humans (Bishop 1998:10). The mountainous region, however, is more sparsely populated. It is the Sherpa who populate these mountains, specifically the middle Himalayan range (Bishop 1998:11).

Most Sherpa settlements are found at altitudes of 3,000 to 6,000 meters. These high altitude environments are prone to unpredictable climatic and geomorphological conditions. Growing seasons are short, and there is often the risk of early frosts or snowstorms. The slopes are steep and farming and grazing is often difficult (Stevens 1993: 57). However, despite these challenges, the Sherpa have managed to subsist in their environment by employing a system of agro-pastoralism. This method combines stationary village agriculture with a nomadic system of herding (Bishop 1998:25). This way of life has been crucial to Sherpa survival.

The Sherpa prac...

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