Sherpa - Sociopolitical Organization



The Sherpas have never been organized into any coherent Political unit as such. Throughout their history in Nepal, local headmen have established themselves as authorities on the basis of wealth, personality, religious status, and alliance with non-Sherpa centers of power including the Nepali state. More recently, the Sherpa region has been incorporated within the administrative system of the contemporary Nepali government.

Social Organization. Sherpa society is notable for its stress on egalitarian values and on individual autonomy. Hierarchical relations exist within Sherpa society between "big" people with wealth or descent from an outstanding family and ordinary "small" people, but there are no real class distinctions. Descendants of the original settling ancestors of Solu-Khumbu are accorded higher status, while new immigrants and more distantly related people are relegated to marginal roles. Those threatened with poverty and debt have the option of going to Darjeeling or Kathmandu for wage labor. Patron-client relationships are established between Sherpas and the Nepali service castes who perform vital craft functions for them, but the Nepali are regarded as ritually impure and are viewed as occupying an inferior social position.

Political Organization. There are few formal mechanisms for the exercise of power in Sherpa society. With the flow of surplus capital into the region through the exploitation of the monopoly on the Nang pa La trade route, some traders established themselves in the position of pembu, usually translated as "governor." With varying degrees of autonomy from or subordination to the overarching Nepali state, depending on different historical circumstances, these figures, by virtue of Influence and wealth, became tax collectors, using some of the proceeds as investments in trade. The power of the pembus depended largely on personal authority and enterprise, and it was not readily transmissible from father to son. In more Recent times, the Nepali governmental system has established more administrative control over the region, and the panchayat system of local democratic village councils has been introduced.

Social Control. Religious authority and values, the power of local headmen, tradition, and public opinion constrain action, but there are few indigenous mechanisms for enforcing social control or adjudicating complaints. Mediation or arbitration by neighbors, relatives, headmen, or lamas settles most disputes. Others can now be taken to Nepali law courts, though this is infrequently done. Nonviolent Buddhist values have helped keep Sherpa society almost entirely free of war and homicide. Few Sherpas join the Gurkha military forces. High mobility makes flight or avoidance a viable solution to conflict.


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