The Sacred Natural Sites Initiative regularly features “Conservation Experiences” of custodians, protected area managers, scientists and others. This article features the experiences of Mr. Jeremy Spoon who assessed the influence of political and economic forces on Sherpa place based spiritual knowledge in Sagaramatha (Mount Everest) National Park in the Nepalese Himalayas. Jeremy Spoon currently holds the position of Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Portland State University and he is a Research Associate at the Mountain Institute. Click here to read the full case study on Khumbu Sherpa Place-based Spiritual values.
High up in the snow-covered slopes of the Nepalese Himalayas lies the Sagarmatha (Mount Everest) National Park and buffer zone which is home to the Tibetan Buddhist Sherpa who have lived there ever since their migration in 1533. The Sherpa are Tibetan Buddhists who follow the ancient Nyingma sect, incorporating Buddhist, Bon, and folk Traditions (Spoon, 2012). They perceive most of their natural surroundings, both mountains and valleys, as sacred and they have many philosophical values that encourage environmentally sustainable behaviour.
Recently (encouraged by a massive influx of tourists), Sherpa spirituality has changed and Jeremy’s research showed that younger members of the Sherpa community, females, and more educated members lost part of the traditional knowledge leading to a change in natural resource usage. An indication of this change might be noticeable through the documented overharvests of trees and shrubs in the proximity of the National Park and buffer zone.
The Sagarmatha National Park was one of the first national parks in Nepal where indigenous settlements and resource use were officially recognised and while tourism has probably lead to the paradigm shift from close interrelationship with nature to less environmentally sustainable decision making of the Sherpa in the Khumbu region, it might also be its solution. The Sherpa receive a significant benefit from tourism and associated endeavours which could inspire them to strengthen their connection with their natural surroundings through spiritual values. The strengthened (re-)connection may promote environmental sustainability but with ever increasing tourist numbers, more action is needed to ensure that the positive environmental impact through Sherpa traditions is preserved.
Jeremy Spoon is involved in many other projects throughout the world and one can visit Jeremy’s website for more information. Read the full conservation experience or visit the archive for other case studies.