Shared Societies in the Everest: Sherpas are taking control


The Shared Societies principles can be applied in multiple scenarios. This time, even at 7,470 meters of altitude. Near the submit of Mount Everest. The beginning of our reflection is an alleged fight between two famous European climbers, Ueli Steck and Simone Moro, and their Nepalese mountain guides, Sherpas, on the Everest.

Switzerland’s Steck and Italy’s Moro allegedly ignored orders to hold their climb and triggered an icefall which hit the Sherpas laying fixed ropes. The climbers deny this. They claim that they had been keeping a respectful distance so as not to disturb the work of the Sherpas laying ropes. The pair continued climbing, but later descended to Camp Two to “finish the discussion” and were met by more than 100 angry Sherpas, who began to beat them and throw rocks, Mr Steck said. He said they threatened to kill the climbers if they did not leave the camp. They escaped with no serious injuries.

A declaration of Mr Steck saying that the conflict was the symptom of a long-term problem of “cultures” brings the story closer to our Shared Societies view. As The Guardian indicates, the real story is how Sherpas are taking control, not only in the rockface but in society. A new generation that is now more confident and outspoken.

Now the word ‘sherpa’ can be used to any mountain guide. But its original meaning comes from the Nepalese ethnic minority, also called Sherpas, that lives on the Himalayas, the most mountainous region of Nepal. According to the 2001 Nepal census, there are 154,622 Sherpas living in the country. Almost 25,000 of them live on the areas near the Everest. They have been always used as guides due to their knownledge of the local terrain and their ability to cope with altitude makes them elite mountaineers. And for them, the work with the europeans that want to explore their hills is a much better way to make money than herding yaks or carrying loads for traders.

In 1953, the Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, the first man to climb Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary, was even in those days agitating for better working conditions for Sherpas. They did not want to be treated as servants who could be dismissed. The Everest pioneers presented them as a proud, resourceful people and with a high sense of honour.

Now, the modern Sherpas have reached good levels of development thanks to the tourism industry. Many of them have their business in Kathmandu, they live there and they send their children to the best private schools in the region. They are also spreading their investments. As The Guardian says, for instance, one of Nepal’s big two domestic airlines is owned by a Sherpa -a relevant statistic if we take into consideration that Sherpas represent only 0,5% of the whole Nepalese population.

And the Sherpas of the 21st Century want for themselves the progress and the control of how their mountains are managed. About the progress issue, Tashi Sherpa claims in The Guardian article: “Do you still want Sherpas to be the same, uneducated, simple folk? No. We want our children to be educated to go out into the world (…). How can you deny Sherpas electricity? Or access to computers and the internet? We need these things to face the pressures of the modern world. Does it change Sherpa culture? Of course. But there are ways for us to assimilate the best that the west offers and mix it with our own unique heritage.”

Young Sherpas are developing in Nepalese society and politics. They are taking part on the janajatti movement, an alliance of indigenous ethnic groups that want to increase their political participation against the monarchy’s yoke. As Tashi Sherpa says: “There are going to be some serious changes in the next election and hopefully it will be for the better. We want change, we’re the marginalised ones and we want social inclusion. These are noble sentiments.”

We also hope that they achieve greater social inclusion and that Nepal achieves a Shared Society.

Photo: The Planet D

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