UKH

Himalayan Porters vs Sherpas

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 Bojo 05 Aug 2022

Just curious. Am I right in saying that, in the Himalaya, Sherpas and porters tend to be two separate groups in terms of caste and ethnicity?

 profitofdoom 05 Aug 2022
In reply to Bojo:

Somewhat for ethnicity. No need to say "caste" at all. "Porters" means someone who can carry something so a different idea. Porters can come from anywhere: Italy, India, Nepal, Pakistan.

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 Martin Hore 05 Aug 2022
In reply to Bojo:

> Just curious. Am I right in saying that, in the Himalaya, Sherpas and porters tend to be two separate groups in terms of caste and ethnicity?

My understanding is that "Sherpa" is correctly used to refer to an ethnic group. A "Sherpa" could be someone from the Sherpa region (Sola Khumbu) who has never carried a load nor climbed a mountain. 

But "Sherpa" has come to be used by mountaineers to refer to those local people in the Sherpa region who have developed a high proficiency in mountaineering and nowadays act as guides. They don't necessarily have to be of Sherpa ethnicity, though the majority on Everest are. Ethnic Sherpas can also be found guiding expeditions on peaks outside their home area.

A "porter" just refers to someone who carries a load for payment, anywhere in the world. In the Sola Khumbu, many of the people employed as expedition porters will be ethnically Sherpa. 

I think that makes sense.

Martin

In reply to profitofdoom:

> Somewhat for ethnicity. No need to say "caste" at all. 

I'm sure there is! Like India (well, until the current lot maybe), despite government attempts to leave caste in past it still has major impacts on Nepali society. The Sherpa people are ethnically Tibetan and mainly Buddhist but having been in Nepal since before the emergence of the modern state (formerly kingdom now Republic) they were given a position in the caste system - Wikipedia has them among the alcohol drinking enslaveable caste! Interestingly the Gurkha tribes are higher - still alcohol drinking but un-enslaveable! https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caste_system_in_Nepal 

Of course modern wage labour, business success and changing patterns of land ownership have complicated this. 

To the OP, from what I've seen and read, porters in Nepal come from various ethnic groups, including from the lowlands - where there is a good chance they will be low caste Hindus. Higher caste people tend to be over represented in higher paid professional jobs like the civil service etc.

 Rick Graham 06 Aug 2022
In reply to Martin Hore:

Makes sense.

Just noticed that you, probably correctly , used a capital S for Sherpa and lower case for porter.

By that logic should the climbing guide be called a sherpa who could be of Sherpa ethnic?

 seankenny 06 Aug 2022
In reply to TobyA:

> I'm sure there is! Like India (well, until the current lot maybe), despite government attempts to leave caste in past it still has major impacts on Nepali society. The Sherpa people are ethnically Tibetan and mainly Buddhist but having been in Nepal since before the emergence of the modern state (formerly kingdom now Republic) they were given a position in the caste system - Wikipedia has them among the alcohol drinking enslaveable caste! Interestingly the Gurkha tribes are higher - still alcohol drinking but un-enslaveable! https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caste_system_in_Nepal 

> Of course modern wage labour, business success and changing patterns of land ownership have complicated this. 

> To the OP, from what I've seen and read, porters in Nepal come from various ethnic groups, including from the lowlands - where there is a good chance they will be low caste Hindus. Higher caste people tend to be over represented in higher paid professional jobs like the civil service etc.

I can assure you that caste is a feature of all South Asian societies (except probably Afghanistan). That’s the case even when the people have a religion that doesn’t have caste in it, ie Islam, Christianity or Buddhism. I’m not sure even India has made attempts to leave caste behind as plenty of the features of the modern state have been modified with caste in mind, such as quotas for universities and the civil service, or caste-based political parties. Even living for a lengthy period of time in the west won’t necessarily reduce the power of caste-based thinking! 


I think part of the problem for western people when thinking about South Asian societies is that we tend to view religions as having firm boundaries that are to some extent self-policed. Hence to our minds caste is a Hindu thing so it only affects Hindus. But in South Asia the borders of religion are very much more blurred than here in a way that can seem strange to a European.

Post edited at 16:44

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