The Conflicting Relationships of Sherpas to Nature

Indigenous or Western Ecology?


  • Lionel Obadia Universite Lumiere Lyon 2



Sherpa shaman, human-nature interaction


Based upon recent observations of the Sherpas’ attitudes towards ‘development’ and tourism, this paper attempts to question the parallel transformations of the ecological settings and representations of this ethnic group living in Northern Nepal. The religion and ecology of the Sherpas features a mix of Buddhism, Shamanism, and Animism. While the ecological views of Buddhism (especially aimed at the respect of living animals) have a modest but ongoing impact, the Sherpa shamanistic-animistic beliefs are vital elements of village life and daily human–nature interactions. The environment is ‘stuffed’ with spirits and other transient forces that reside in the physical environment. One might conclude that the Sherpas should be ecologically benevolent, but ethnographic data suggest
otherwise. The animistic manifestations in specific spaces are instructive of the fact that the Sherpas are key actors in the destruction of (spirited) forests because of rather than in spite of their religious beliefs. Yet they nevertheless adopt a language of conservation when speaking about their environment. This paper argues that the apparent contradictions between Sherpa beliefs and practices are owing both to their culture and to the result of development ideologies which parallel the opening of Nepal to a global economy. Sherpa conservation practices are ‘traditional’ as well as infused with Western ideas of sustainability, which the Sherpas have incorporated and reinterpreted.

Author Biography

Lionel Obadia, Universite Lumiere Lyon 2

Department of Anthropology, Centre de Recherche et d’Etudes Anthropologiques, Université Lumière Lyon 2, Campus Porte Des Alpes, Bâtiment K, 5, avenue Pierre-Mendés-France, 69676 Bron Cedex, France


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How to Cite

Obadia, L. (2008). The Conflicting Relationships of Sherpas to Nature: Indigenous or Western Ecology?. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, 2(1), 116–134.