Mountain Village in Nepal
The cultural diversity that exists among the peoples of the world is one of the things that make the study of anthropology fascinating, endless, and rewarding all at the same time. Moreover, as much as technology has changed the world, for better or for worse, there are still examples of groups of people who have remained loyal to their primitive roots despite the drastic advances in the world all around them. For example, within the rich cultural tapestry of the world, undoubtedly one of the most fascinating cultures to be found in the entire annals of anthropology is that of the mountain villages of Nepal. The contradictions, nuances, customs and beliefs of these ancient people is worthy of closer examination. In this paper, the theory and issues of this culture and setting will be presented and discussed, in comparison and contrast to those of other parts of the world.
Who are the People of the Mountains of Nepal?
In order to be able to fully discuss and understand the many aspects of the social, economic and familial customs of the mountain dwellers of Nepal, it is extremely useful to first consider a demographic profile of the Nepalese people. Nepal is a relatively small nation, located in Asia with such huge and powerful neighbors as China. While Nepal is influenced somewhat by the influence of other cultures and its geographic neighbors, in many respects, the mountain villages of Nepal have remained the same as they were thousands of years ago. Many of the agricultural techniques and tools that are used today have not changed to any degree since the Stone Age. These simple people have been able to remain loyal to their roots and traditions and still survive despite many of the changes in other parts of the world.
Today, Nepal is still predominantly a primitive farming society, where nearly all of the people live in rural areas and depend on farming as a source of livelihood. Farming and agriculture are still a huge portion of the economic backbone of the Nepalese people, as the regions of Nepal itself outside the three cities in the Katmandu Valley are farming communities that use their many farms and livestock operations as a source of income. Even in the Katmandu Valley cities, approximately 3 in 10 city dwellers are agriculturalists in one form or another (Pigg, 1995). In this sense, most urban areas are still seen as agricultural areas, albeit with the introduction of the urban influence and control of the total agricultural process, but the farm is still the sort of factory where wages are earned and the people of Nepal are allowed to continue their somewhat primitive way of life. Farming is the dominant order of society and the mainstay of the economy, a situation that sees no change in sight, at least in the near future, because of the extremely slow process by which the Nepalese economy evolves, if at all. Especially in the mountain villages, the ancient ways are still held tightly by a great number of the people living in them today, seemingly despite the advancement of the rest of the world around them.
If farming is the economic mainstay of the mountainous regions of Nepal, the family can easily be considered the rock upon which economic, social, and emotional strongholds are built. The conventional family, with a few exceptions is ruled by the patriarch and consists of what would be considered the immediate family in a domestic home situation. Beyond the immediate family, there exists a larger kinship network that occasionally involves sharing food, especially in times of need for food, much like Western civilization looks after extended family members should there be a need for sustenance, particularly in a crisis situation. This network is an important means of meeting farm labor needs, especially during the planting and harvesting seasons, when labor shortages are common. These shortages are not unusual, considering the labor intensive farming methods, the widespread number of farms, and the need to make those farms as productive as possible in order to earn money to live and grow food to survive.
Above the family network is the village, which functions as a higher degree of living situation. Some villages in the more remote mountain regions of Nepal are made up of just a few houses; others were sizable communities of several neighboring hamlets. In larger villages, there are trades people who fulfill many of the needs of the villagers, such as metalworkers, weavers, and pottery makers. Villagers sometimes gather together in a team to complete "public works" projects, such as building irrigation ditches or channels, or facilities for drinking water.
Despite the popularity of farming, and the need for a lot of labor to make the farms successful, Nepalese villagers frequently encourage some of their children to leave in search of civil service, army, and other employment opportunities. Individual migration is often the result of a family decision and generates cash incomes, thereby providing the family with protection should the farms begin to founder or some other crisis present itself to the family. Well-to-do village families usually push their children to obtain government jobs as a means of an attractive income, job security, and the opportunity to network with important political officials as a means of advancement, gaining political favors, etc.
Although farming is the most important source of livelihood in rural areas, the limited supply of land greatly suppresses the amount of farmland development that can realistically take place. A 1981 agricultural census identifies five classes of peasantry: landless and nearly landless, people with no land or less than half a hectare; subsistence, those with half a hectare to one hectare; small, holders of one to three hectares; medium, people with three to five hectares; and large, farmers of more than five hectares, with the first two classes depending on large landowners for survival. Small landowners, on the other hand, enjoy freedom from the assistance of the large land owners and have the flexibility to make their own decisions regarding farm operations, planting, harvesting and the like. On the downside, however, they also do not have access to the financial support of the larger landowners, which could explain the widespread poverty that exists in the small mountain villages of Nepal to this day.
Ethnographically speaking, the mountain dwellers of Nepal are generally family oriented farming people, who while not overly wealthy, work hard and make every effort to remain independent, raise their families, and perhaps even advance their children into a better way of life. Regarding the Nepalese family structure, this structure is important to consider as well when evaluating the Nepalese culture.
An Overview of Familial Structures and Bonds
The various ways that families are formed and live their everyday lives, for all of their differences, typically have some common factors within them. Overall, when speaking of cultural defined relationships between people who are commonly considered to have family ties, one refers to the concepts of kinship (Palomar, 2006). Within the structure of kinship, there are rules, norms and customs that are established, such as the ideas of passing of inheritance rights from one generation to another, forming the identity of individuals as members of a group, as well as blood ties, which is known as consanguinity (Palomar, 2006).
Specifically speaking of the life in Nepalese villages, there exist some very interesting parallels and paradoxes in comparison to other more advanced cultures. In reality, many of the villages in the mountains of Nepal are hardly advanced past the conditions of the Stone Age (Hitchcock, 1980). Influenced to a great deal by the culture of China, a country which borders Nepal, the kinship to be found there is very similar to that of the Chinese. In Nepal, the family, or parabar as the Nepalese would refer to it, represents a very broad line of many relatives, which extends from the primitive village life that many mountaineers live to that of the cities, where many of the younger generation migrate in order to advance their livelihoods and to start a new existence beyond their humble beginnings (Childs, 2004). Within these extended family units, the labor, which is often farm based, is divided equally, and in many cases, if a brother or sister leaves the main family unit to live away from it, he or she is given a share of their inheritance in advance.
Kinship in itself is extremely important to these people; like many societies, kinship is a main principle of social organization along with age and gender for example (Childs, 2004). Further, kinship is the uniting factor that links one generation to another, which could be a main reason for many of the Nepalese customs being sustained for century after century.
Status Symbols in the Mountains of Nepal
While it may sound like a misnomer to discuss the concept of status symbols in the mountain villages of Nepal, these symbols do exist, admittedly different in nature than those…