Residents of Khumbu: Eco-friendly culture and social manners


Residents of Khumbu: Eco-friendly culture and social manners

June 27, 2022

–Balika Maden

Human activities have been considered as a major cause of climate change and climate induced disasters. Studies have shown that the increasing impacts of climate change on the entire planet have been exacerbated by indiscriminate human activities.

In this context, it is difficult to believe for anybody that there are some religious beliefs, socio-cultural values and traditions that have significantly helped in keeping the problem of climate change in check. Such an environment friendly attitude and behavior can be observed in the community of Sherpa people residing in Lukla, Phakding, Monjo, Namche and Khumjung of the Khumbu region above an elevation of 3000 metres.

Upon visiting this place for trekking or mountain expedition, one can barely miss the letters engraved in stones along the way and near the settlements. The Sherpa people who are the preachers of Buddhism have inscribed these letters ‘Om Mani Padme Huun’ which also happens to be their chanting mantra. While ‘Om refers to the voice of nature, Mani denotes jewel. Likewise, Padme refers to the melotus flower and Huun means soul of knowledge.

According to Pemba Tshering Sherpa, a resident of Namche, Buddhism talks about cleansing of body, soul and speech. He further added that the main reason behind inscribing these letters in the stone is to avert the possible disasters in human life and worship God.

Another local Tenzing Tashi Sherpa said that the mantra also serves as a savior for any bad deeds done by human beings during their lifetime including the killing of animals for food.

Such a religious practice has been instrumental in maintaining the sanctity of environment according to Aang Dorje Sherpa, president of Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee. “What amazes me is that the stones engraved in ‘Om Mani Padme Huun’ can neither be used as construction materials nor made filthy which has ultimately helped in controlling environmental pollution and promotion conservation efforts in the region”, he further added. There is also a strong belief that cleanliness should be maintained around the Boudha monastery area and the water sources should never be polluted. Similarly, it is unwise to destroy the vegetative species as per the Buddhist religion.

Scientists have been calling for the need of environmental friendly climate adaptative practices to minimize the impact of climate change. Series of IPCC reports and proceedings have stressed on the need of adopting an environmental friendly land use, food security policy including lifestyle changes. Based on the data since 1961, per capita supply of oil and meat have more than doubled. ‘Consumption of animal meat is the major source of methane, one of the green house gases that contributes for global warming and climate change’, says climate expert Yugan Manandhar. Consequently, around 2 billion adults have become obese and more than 0.8 million malnourished according to the IPCC reports.

As stated above, it is common among the Himalayan Sherpas not to kill animals in their community for meat and hence the locals are mostly vegetarian. People seem to be aware about the need of abandoning plastic bottle and materials produced from plastics. Initiatives are being taken at the community level to maintain water sources and environment clean and the SPCC is also working on the reuse and recycling of waste informed Mr. Aaang Dorje Sherpa, chairman SPCC.

SPCC has installed a total of 109 dustbins made of stone and mud for collecting waste in the community residence. As the environment conservation initiatives are based on the need of locality and involvement the utilization of local resources, there has been a great achievement in this field in the Khumbu region argues Sonam Sherpa, member of National Assembly representing the Khumbu region. “It is always good to learn from other countries and societies but very important to pursue development and conservation activities based on local culture, norms and indigenous knowledge,” Mr. Sherpa further added.

SPCC museum has also documented the stuffs depicting an innate relationship between Buddhism and nature.

Social science is inherent in the traditional skills, values, knowledge and belief systems of the indigenous people but there is a lack of adequate research and documentation on this issue so far according to climate expert Yugan Manandhar.

Meanwhile, International Indigenous Nationalities Forum has also stated that utilization of the local knowledge, skill and values of more than three hundred seventy lakh indigenous groups spread globally will be vital for an improved climate adaptation and mitigation practices. Around 25% contribution in carbon sequestration at temperate provincial forest has also accomplished based on the indigenous knowledge system as per the recent report of IUCN.
Recent study conducted by Ministry of Science and Technology, Nepal has also concluded that the utilization of experiences, knowledge and practices of indigenous communities is crucial for ecological sustainability.

Hence, the Sherpa communities offer some insightful lessons for locally led environment conservation initiatives which can be replicated in other parts of the world.

(The article was originally published in on 5 June, 2022)

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