Missing the Authentic Sherpa

[This is a book review for Tigers of The Snow. To read more about this worth-reading book, please click this link.]

Before reading the conclusion, let's recall for a while what the book is about. In its introduction, Vincanne aimed at exploring what led Pasang Lhamu to get involved in the high-risk mountaineering because "she wanted to" (p.8). Vincanne, methodologically speaking, relies on a general inquiry into the creation of Sherpa identity in Western imagination and the persistent and anthropological and Western desire to find a site of authenticity beyond the Western gaze.

In doing so, she insisted, one has to recognize "the obvious role [sic] Westerners have played" in "creating" the Sherpa (p. 8 and 11). Her argument is based on the widespread image both among Sherpa and the West that becoming Sherpa is "currently" all about the people expert in mountaineering. In this very mountaineering is "originally" introduced by the West, not by Sherpa who considered the mountain itself god and goddess. To put it another way, mountaineering is not "original" identity of Sherpa.

While she argues for that "obvious" impact, however, Vincanne hopes that the readers will see the impact of Sherpas on the Westerners (p. 8 and 12, another repetition in her statements). Sherpas recruit Western Others to become their sponsors in response to Western desires to become part of the Sherpa world.

So, did she succeed? Yes, as long as those two objectives are concerned, Vincanne has successfully write in a rich and incredible ethnographic work. She does convince us both the western impact to Sherpa in creating the images of the Tigers the snow and the reversal impact of Sherpa on the Westerners. However, only in a way we accept her basic assumptions.

Let's see the other ways. Instead of seeing mountaineering as a created identity, why don't we see it as finding the unexplored gift Sherpas have as the people of the mountain? The gift had been there before the West introduce mountaineering as a business. Why did she think (p.7) that "the idea that one climbed because one "wanted to" belong, originally, to Westerners? I just don't understand that the non-Western subjects do not have such a strong desire. I found it as a kind of a racist bias. It was not a European, unfortunately, who explored the world just because he "wanted to"; The north African Ibn Batuta and Chinese Cheng Ho did it before Marcopolo and Columbus.

She also failed to recognize the very process of how Sherpa maintaining their "original" identity. While she argues for Western impact in the adoption of medical approach to the sickness; she undermines the way Sherpas change their names to avoid bad luck as a very original ideas of Sherpa's body. She failed to recognize this as a set of very significant belief she should deal with in her research and simply refers it as a "problem" she cannot accept with her Western perspective."I found that Sherpas I met were difficult to keep track of..." (p.240)

Finally, I find a dilemma in her work or in broader academic works . The relationship between Sherpa and their jindaks is a short of emotional and spiritual experiences. As I experienced myself, such an "meta-experiment" is beyond our cognitive experiences writeable in a rational academic discourses. I do regret how she reads that sincere and friendly letter as simply a proof to explain how Sherpa create a worldwide jindaks network (p. 220-221). With her Western and academic biases, she also fail to understand the complex world of religious belief when she found the local interpretations of Kami's death as simply a naive strategy of preserving "transnational" images of "true Sherpa". For the people of religion, particularly the pious one, becoming true Buddhist or Muslim has nothing to do with reputation. It's about next lives.

In those latter ways, she missed the authentic Sherpa, the one that lies beyond the Western gaze...

(By the way, sorry that I posted my respond earlier; I am preparing myself
for the Super Bowl day... uh, another example of how non-American students mimicry the host country )

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