Recently a friend of mine discovered a picture of her grandfather in one of the ethnographic books about the Sherpas. Underneath the picture, next to his name, it said “assistant.” She found this insulting. As she saw it, her grandfather had always occupied a space of respect and honor. In this book, he was reduced to an assistant.
Why does her irritation make sense to me? And, at the same time, why do I think the title of “assistant” is appropriate in this context?
I am a Sherpa anthropologist—an anthropologist, who is a Sherpa, and a Sherpa, who became an anthropologist. I make no claim to know everything about Sherpas or related to Sherpas. How could I?
After hundreds of hours of interviews over the years, everyday participant observation, and continuous reflection—filled with pleasure and pain—the only thing I can say authoritatively as a Sherpa anthropologist is that there is no one authority on the Sherpas.
Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Pasang Yangjee Sherpa.
“You become an anthropologist, when you publish,” we were told in a graduate anthropology seminar. If this is true, I became an anthropologist some time ago. But, a further question remains unanswered: what kind of anthropologist am I? I explore this question in three weekly blog posts this month. I look at the experience I have had (those “aha!” moments), the anthropological questions I ask (to myself and others), and the curiosities that (never cease to) motivate me.
Two months ago, I walked into a gym in Arizona. I needed some motivation to get on the treadmill. I thought Beyonce’s “Run the World (Girls)” track would do it. It’s loud, fast, and strong, just like Beyonce. Suddenly, I heard Wendy at the front desk ask me, “How high do you take people?”
My friend was introducing me as a guest to Wendy. After learning that I am a real Sherpa, out of curiosity, she wanted to know about my skills on the mountains.
To answer that question, I needed to come out of my Beyonce mind-bubble first. I then needed to think about the question—what was the question? Oh yes, high! Hmm…is this high as in Washington State’s (where I live) legalized marijuana high? I would not know that. I have zero experience of pot. Hmm…what high? Oh right, of course, take people up the mountain…carry their loads…that high. Okay. Got it. But how do I answer it? I have zero experience in mountains or mountaineering or being a porter. It felt like this conversation in my head went on forever. But, it had taken only a couple of seconds to process the situation. I looked back at Wendy, and with a puzzled smile, I replied, “I guess as high as they want to go?” Continue reading