Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, Vol 2, no 1 (2008): Indigenous Religions and Environments: Intersections of Animism and Nature Conservation

The Conflicting Relationships of Sherpas to Nature: Indigenous or Western Ecology?

Lionel Obadia
Issued Date: 12 Apr 2008


Based upon recent observations of the Sherpas’ attitudes towards ‘development’ and tourism, this paper attempts to question the parallel transformations of the ecological settings and representations of this ethnic group living in Northern Nepal. The religion and ecology of the Sherpas features a mix of Buddhism, Shamanism and Animism. Whilst the ecological views of Buddhism (especially aimed at the respect of living animals) have a modest but ongoing impact, the Sherpa shamanistic-animistic beliefs are vital elements of village life and daily human-nature interactions. The environment is ‘stuffed’ with spirits and other transient forces that reside in the physical environment. One might conclude that the Sherpas should be ecologically benevolent, but ethnographic data suggests otherwise. The animistic manifestations in specific spaces are instructive of the fact that the Sherpas are key actors in the destruction of (spirited) forests because of rather than in spite of their religious beliefs. Yet they nevertheless adopt a language of conservation when speaking about their environment. This paper argues that the apparent contradictions between Sherpa beliefs and practices are owing both to their culture and to the result of development ideologies which parallel the opening of Nepal to a global economy. Sherpa conservation practices are ‘traditional’ as well as infused with Western ideas of sustainability, which the Sherpas have incorporated and reinterpreted.

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DOI: 10.1558/jsrnc.v2i1.116


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