Most of non-Nepalese people, especially the Westerners, when we talk about Sherpa, we think about people working as a porters or trekking and climbing guides in the Himalayan mountains in Nepal. But this is a biased and very limited view of an ethnic group, the Sherpa, which is a people of Tibetan origin, with a history, language, culture and traditions of its own.
In this post I will try to explain it in a synthesized and understandable way, to put this project in context.
The arrival of the first Sherpas in Nepal
Historians have established, based on the oral transmission of history and legends, that the first Sherpa arrived in Nepal about 500 years ago, from central Tibet, where they had arrived from the Kham region in the east of the country, probably displaced due to religious persecutions. In fact, the word Sherpa (Sharwa in its language) means people from the east.
They entered Nepal through the valleys of the Khumbu crossing the Himalayas through mountain passes of more than 5,000 m. looking for the beyul (hidden sacred valley). Initially, they were mostly established by the area known today as the Solukhumbu district formed by the Khumbu, Pharak and Shorong (Solu) regions. They also settled in the valley of Rolwaling, located west of Khumbu.
These lands were, at that time, uninhabited lands, with some of the toughest living conditions on earth. There they lived in a relative peace and practiced Vajrayana Buddhism, which is the basis of their culture, traditions and lifestyle.
Along the centuries, several groups arrived and were the origin of the four main Sherpa clans: Minyagpa, Thimmi, Sertawa and Chawa, from which the more than 20 clans that exist today are originated.
Initially, the first inhabitants settled down below what is now the village of Nauche (better known by Namche in Nepali) since at that time the upper valleys were very cold. With the completion of the Little Ice Age, around 1850, environmental conditions improved, and this allowed them to move gradually towards higher levels, movement, this one, which continues today as a result of the current climate change.
The Sherpa language
The Sherpa language belongs to the Tibetan language group, consisting of more than 25 languages and more than 200 dialects. There is a widespread belief that the Sherpa language has no writing, but it is not true. What is certain is that, basically, it is a spoken language since the knowledge of the Sherpa write language is limited mainly to monks and some scholars.
The fact that education has been done, until recently, only in Nepali and English has had among other consequences that “Sherpa speakers” when they communicate in writing they do it in Nepalese or English.
The growing awareness of institutions and people in the revitalization of Sherpa’s language and culture has led to many initiatives in the field of education and the use of written language in recent years, which should reverse this situation.
The Khumbu and its inhabitants
The Khumbu region is formed by the set of the valleys of the upper river basin of the Dudh Kosi River and its three tributaries Bhote Kosi and Imja Khola, to the north of which we find three peaks of more than 8,000 m, the Cho Oyu, the Jomolangma (Everest) and Lhotse. The southern limit of this region is at the confluence of the Bhote Kosi and Dudh Kosi rivers, just above the village of Jorsale where, after crossing the new hanging bridge bearing the name of Edmund Hillary, the path begins up to Nauche, the main town of Khumbu.
After the last administrative reforms in Nepal, this area is known as Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Rural Municipality (KPLRM). According to data from the census of 2011, 8,989 people live there, of which 5,628 (62.62%) are Sherpas, which means that in this area is where live the largest Sherpa population, in relative terms, in the world
That is why I decided to develop my project in this area, to know better how it is its daily life in the XXI century.