Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Why farmers strike watch-towers with sticks before climbing up

The story about the watch-tower (mach) [Slightly edited for clarity]

A watch-tower. (C) Ulrike Muller-Boker

During the Golden Age (satjug) a farmer went to his watch-tower (mach) to sleep. As usual, he first knocked his stick against the gedahi (one of the crosspieces) in order to awaken the mach. Then he climbed up into the blind and went to sleep.

In Terai, people keep a vigil on their crops from a watch-tower. Watch-towers are built high enough so that the wild animals don’t climb up and harm the farmers. The watch-tower is built of eight crosspieces of bamboo or wood.

One day a tiger came and wanted to kill the farmer. The lachar, the eight brothers of the mach, thought: 'The tiger is going to eat our master!' The tiger wanted to jump up into the mach, but the latter ducked.

When the tiger jumped at a spot lower down the mach, the latter stretched itself. This went on a number of times, until the mach managed to trap the neck of the tiger in a fork in one of the pieces of wood and killed it.

The next morning the farmer woke up and spotted the dead tiger, and said, 'Oh, the tiger is dead. If I hadn't awakened the mach, the tiger would surely have killed me.'

Since that time, every farmer, before climbing up into the mach, strikes the gedahi with a stick in order to awaken the mach so that it will protect him and his fields from the wild animals.

Narrated by: Buddhi Ram Mahato, Chitwan district
Collected by: Ulrike Muller-Boker
Courtesy: The Chitwan Tharus in Southern Nepal
Used with permission from Ulrike Muller-Boker

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The history of fish (and women)

In the next few posts, you will get to read some Tharu folk tales passed down from generation to generation. Here's the first one collected by Ulrike Muller-Boker. 

School of fish. Image by Alexandru Stoian. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The history of fish (and women) [Slightly edited for clarity] 

A long time ago a barber (hajam) was going about his work during jitiya parab (women's festival). As he was going from house to house to cut the nails of women, he suddenly saw a strikingly beautiful woman named Chanawa. She and her husband Lori Amir were new to the village. When the hajam caught sight of Chanawa, he lost consciousness.

Then he ate soil seven times, pissed seven times and shat seven times. When he came back to consciousness, he got the idea to go to the king of the village, Raja Mahore, in order to tell him of Chanawa's beauty, and to suggest that he might kill the woman's husband and then take Chanawa as a wife.

When the king heard the plan he said that the woman's husband was very strong. The hajam proposed to the king that he should write a letter to the king of Maranpur (Murder City) for Lori to deliver. In this letter the king would write that Lori was to be killed in Maranpur. The king was pleased with this proposal, and he wrote the letter: 'Head of Lori, sword of Maranpur'.

Lori was summoned by the king and the letter was handed to him with the instruction to take it to the king of Maranpur. Lori did not see through the king's plan: he thought that he simply had to deliver an important letter.

Lori was unable to read and write, but his wife Chanawa could. She asked permission from her husband to read the letter. When she had read the words, she understood that her husband was to be killed in Maranpur. She proceeded to alter the letter by switching the words head and sword: 'Head of Maranpur, sword of Lori'. She advised her husband to return to the village of King Mahore and ask him for a horse to convey him more quickly to Maranpur, the way being long.

Lori went to the king and asked for a horse. When the hajam heard this, he got a new idea of how Lori could be killed without being sent to Maranpur.

A horse named Mangal had been stuck for 12 years in the swamp of Pokhara Sagar (ocean). It was a very wild horse, one that only let its master ride it. The horse had belonged to Lori's grandfather, which Lori, however, did not know. The hajam now suggested that the king charge Lori with retrieving this horse from the ocean. The horse would kill Lori as soon as he approached it. The king, therefore, directed Lori to fetch the horse Mangal.

When Lori approached the horse, it became very happy, for it smelled that the grandson of his own master had come. The horse neighed with delight! The hajam heard the neighing and thought that now Lori would be killed. But Lori freed the horse from the sagar and took it first to Pokhari Tal (lake), the horse being very dirty. In the feet of the horse were living many worms and maggots which caused the horse much pain. Lori began to remove the worms.

The worms swam about in the water, not knowing what was happening to them. Then they went up to God and complained of their fate. The God decided: You will become fish of various types and sizes, according to your present size. Humans will eat you during Kalijug (the current age). There have been fish since that time!"

Narrated by: Somla Mahato, Chitwan district
Collected by: Ulrike Muller-Boker
Courtesy: The Chitwan Tharus in Southern Nepal
Used with permission from Ulrike Muller-Boker

Read an earlier version of the story published in this blog.

Read this story in Nepali

Monday, November 9, 2015

The photos tell all – the daily life of Rana Tharus

Solveig Boergen, a German photographer, travelled to far western Nepal to photograph the Rana Tharus. Her amazing photographs feature the daily life of Rana Tharus. Speaking to Voice of Tharus, she said that she would like to return to the land of Rana Tharus to document cultural events, a wedding or other festivities.

Voice of Tharus (VOT): Welcome to Voice of Tharus. Can you tell a little bit about yourself to our readers?

Solveig Boergen (SB): I am a German photographer who came to Japan in 1991. After the 2011 earthquake in Japan, our family of four moved to Thailand and then to Nepal where we lived until 2013.

While in Nepal, I encountered many families in the Himalayas who have never had their pictures taken and so the idea for my project 'Portraits for Nepal' was born.

On this Facebook page I show some of the images that I took, edited and delivered to many families over the time we spent in Nepal.

VOT: Your love for photography took you to far western Nepal. Can you tell how the idea of photographing the Rana Tharus came to your mind?

SB: When I was planning for my Master's thesis in the late 80s, I was fascinated with a matriarchy in China, the Naxi minority and had hoped to be able to write about them. Unfortunately, I did not find enough material in Chinese about them in those days and had to work on another topic, but the interest for matriarchal societies stayed with me and when we moved to Nepal, I tried to find out if there are similar minorities living in the Himalayas.

VOT: How was your experience photographing the Rana Tharus?

SB: It took me quite some time to find a connection with the Rana Tharu community, but after I had found this very informative blog by Sanjib Chaudhary, I found the courage to write to him and he kindly helped me to find my way to the beautiful Rana Tharu people who live very hidden in the jungles close to the border to India.

We spent only a few days with them but due to their kindness learned so many things about their culture and customs.

VOT: Your photographs have helped the Rana Tharus reach global audience. Can you share with our readers what are your plans on sharing the pictures to a wider audience?

SB: I am hoping to show these images here in Japan if there is interest and am working on creating a book too. This will be an ongoing project as I really would like to travel back and capture more scenes.

VOT: Do you plan to return to the land of Tharus once again? If yes, what would be your focus in the next photo commission?

SB: I am certainly very interested in going back. Last time, my focus was on observing daily life. Next time, I would be very interested in documenting cultural events, a wedding or other festivities.

If there is interest, I would be very happy to guide a group of photographers who want to get a glimpse into the fascinating life of the Rana Tharus.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Tharus are genetically, culturally and racially the sons of Buddha – Subodh Kumar Singh

Continuing with the series of interviews with researchers and scholars studying about the Tharus, Voice of Tharus spoke with Subodh Kumar Singh, an eminent Tharu scholar currently residing in the USA with his family. 

Subodh Kumar Singh
Subodh stands tall among Tharu researchers with his noted books The Great sons of the Tharus: Sakyamuni Buddha and Ashoka the Great, The Return of the Mauryas and Community that Changed Asia. Having served as a political analyst with the US Embassy in Nepal, he followed the footsteps of his father Ramananda Prasad Singh whose The Real Story of the Tharus brought forth the glorious history of the Tharus.

Voice of Tharus (VOT):  Welcome to Voice of Tharus. You have carved a niche among Tharu scholars and worked towards telling the world that Tharus are sons of Buddha. Can you please tell our readers how did you research on this theme?

Subodh Kumar Singh (SKS): I was really enthusiastic to know about the real history of the Tharu community as I was desperately searching for my identity. I was no doubt very much impacted by my father's (Ramananda P. Singh) earlier research on the Tharu people. 

I started doing research on the culture and traditions of the Buddha's clan of the ancient past and it revealed that the rites and rituals practised by the Shakyas and Koliyas of Kapilvastu and Devadaha exactly matched with customs and traditions of the enigmatic Tharus – right from birth to death.

An Indian scholar had rightly said that the culture is what remains after you have forgotten all that you set out to learn. The clan of the Buddha followed Theravada and thus came to be known as the Tharu of today. I found out through my research that the Tharus are genetically, culturally and racially the sons of the enlightened Buddha. The native Tharus of the lowland Nepal Terai are a mixed community predominantly of Mongoloid extraction.

VOT: You have written three books on Tharus and their history. Can you share with our readers what the books talk about?

SKS: The book The Great Sons of the Tharus: Sakyamuni Buddha and Asoka the Great talks about the origin of the Tharus. It explains why the modern Tharus are the descendants of the Shakyas and Koliyas of the ancient world. It highlights the rites and rituals of the Tharu community which exactly matches with the Buddha's clan. It talks about malaria and why Tharus are immune to it. It talks about the migration of Shakyas and Koliyas to the Kathmandu Valley and that the valley was named as Koligram, the settlement of the celebrated Koliyas of the Yasodhara's clan.

The second book The Return of the Mauryas mentions about the Shakya Mauryas of the Terai.  It explains how the descendants of Emperor Ashok re-emerged as a formidable force in the Gangetic plain, and even had swayed over Nepalmandal (Kathmandu Valley). It also states why the Nepal Terai is known as "Tharuhat". 

The third book Community that Changed Asia talks about the mythical Aryan Race theory and how it was used as a tool by the Europeans to divide and rule the people of the Indian sub-continent. It also highlights the similarities between Tharu and Burmese culture.  It tells about the Shakyas and Koliyas migrating to the Arkansas (Burma) to establish their own kingdom. Burmese Kings' claim of being of the Shakyamuni's clan, according to Buddhist literature books, is factually accurate.

VOT: The Tharu youths are now more informed about their history. Do you see the advent of social media as a major factor in raising awareness? How do you think a wider mass can be educated on this?

SKS: The advent of social media has indeed played a significant role in raising awareness among the youths. The Tharuhat based FM radio can equally play a vital role in spreading and educating the general mass about the Tharu's history and their great legacy.

VOT: What is your view about the young Tharus? How can they be inspired and encouraged to dig their roots and research about Tharu origins?

SKS: This is the opportune time for the Tharu youths to start doing research about their glorious past, as the politics of identity has emerged in Nepali politics and this has created enthusiasm and awareness among the Tharu youths.

VOT: What is your advice to Tharus and scholars interested on researching about Tharu origin, culture and tradition?

SKS: I would simply say that you need to start researching about your culture, customs and traditions by going to the Terai because the state sponsored textbooks are not going to be of any help. You need to comparatively study the cultures and traditions of other communities living in the Terai and that will help you to understand your own culture in a vivid manner. You will definitely have to study the ancient history of the Terai region and also of South Asia to really understand the ancient Tharu community that helped to change Asia.

VOT: Are you continuing with your research and writing? Can you share with us your future plans?

SKS: I am still engaged in my research work and will continue to do so.  I really don't have any future plan as such.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Tharus were negatively impacted by the massive migration from the hills – Arjun Guneratne

Arjun Guneratne (screenshot of his YouTube interview) (c) Earth Day Revival

Arjun Guneratne, a socio-cultural anthropologist, is no new name to Tharus and followers of research on Tharus. He is the front-runner foreign researcher on Tharus along with Gisele Krauskopff, Chris McDonaugh, Ulrike Muller-Boker, Kurt Meyer and Pamela Deuel.

His research in Nepal on the emergence of an ethnic identity among the Tharus of Nepal and its relationship to processes of state formation has led to a number of published articles and a book, Many Tongues, One People: The Making of Tharu Identity in Nepal, published by Cornell University Press in 2002.

Arjun is Professor of Anthropology and Director of Asian Studies at Macalester College’s Department of Anthropology.

Sanjib Chaudhary from the Voice of Tharus spoke to Arjun about his research and future plans. Here’s the excerpt of the interview.

Voice of Tharus (VOT): Welcome to Voice of Tharus. You have carved a niche among scholars researching on Tharus and their history. Can you please tell our readers a bit about your research?

Arjun Guneratne (AG): When I started in the field of Nepal Studies about 26 years ago, my main interest was in how ethnic identities were formed and the relationship of that process to state formation. I was interested in this process in both Sri Lanka and Nepal, but chose to study it in Nepal because I believed (and still do) that one cannot learn to be a good anthropologist until one has come to understand a society very different from one’s own.

My interests have developed in the years since, and I am now focusing on environmental anthropology and the history of science. I’ve edited a book of papers by a number of scholars discussing how different communities in the Himalayan region conceptualise the environment, and I am currently working on a book about the development of ornithology in Sri Lanka. That’s my history of science project.

VOT: Why did you choose to research on Tharus? Can you cite any anecdote?

AG: Actually, I wanted at first to do research in Myanmar, but abandoned the idea when it became clear that I wouldn’t be allowed by the government there to do the kind of social science research I had in mind. I turned to Nepal as another interesting country in the South Asian region (I was mostly exposed to Buddhism growing up, so perhaps that had something to do with it). When I started reading up on Nepal I discovered that all the foreign scholars were writing about the mountains and their people but the Tarai was being largely ignored—not just by foreign scholars, but even the Nepali ones.

I thought there was more scope to say something original there, so I began to focus on the Tarai and discovered the very scanty literature about the Tharus (this was the 1980s).  There were only three scholars, all anthropologists, who had written anything about Tharus in Nepal in contemporary times: Gisele Krauskopff and Chris McDonaugh, both Europeans, and the Nepali scholar Drone Rajaure. Most everything else had been written in the 19th and early 20th centuries by British colonial officials on the Tharus of their side of the border, except for a book on the Rana Tharu by an Indian anthropologist named S.K. Srivastava. Reading this material made me very interested in the Tharus and I ended up doing research in Chitwan, but I travelled all over the Tarai from there.

VOT: Your book Many Tongues, One People: The Making of Tharu Identity in Nepal is considered one of the milestones in Tharu research. Can you share a bit about the book, its content and how it materialised?

AG: My original research on the Tharus focused on how they came to see themselves as a single ethnic group, even though historically, the different groups of Tharus living in the Tarai thought of themselves as different people and didn’t intermarry. I discovered that this process of identity formation had a lot to do with the policies promoted by the Nepali state with respect to “national integration” on the one hand and the development of the Tarai on the other. Identity formation was a project pursued by the upper echelons of Tharu society, which became more mobile (both spatially and socially) as the Tarai was developed, and as Tharus were negatively impacted by the massive migration from the hills to the plains that took place after the eradication of malaria.

My book, Many Tongues, One People (the title captures the central conundrum I was trying to explain) describes all this, but in addition, I have written on other aspects of, specifically, the lives of the Tharu people of Chitwan. The book is based in part on the work I did for my PhD dissertation at the University of Chicago, but includes a lot of additional fieldwork conducted during the early 1990s. There’s a lot of material on the culture of the Chitwan Tharus in the dissertation that didn’t make it into the book. And my wife, Katherine, has written about her experiences of living in a Tharu village in Chitwan in her book, In the Circle of the Dance.

VOT: What is your view about the young Tharus? How can they be inspired and encouraged to dig their roots and research about Tharu origins?

AG: Many of them are in fact researching their origins. I was impressed by the extent of the activism I discovered among young Tharus when I was doing my initial research; many of them had started organisations and some were publishing magazines and pamphlets, and a few went on to pursue graduate education.

The Tharu Culture Museum in Bachhauli, Chitwan is entirely the work of young people in Chitwan, who have taken the initiative, in the context of rapid social and cultural change, to preserve the artifacts of their past and explain them to the new generation of Tharus as well as to other Nepalis and to foreigners. Perhaps people in other districts might do similar things, or perhaps the Bachhauli museum could be expanded and become a national museum to preserve artifacts of Tharu society and culture from all over the Tarai.

VOT: What is your advice to Tharus and scholars interested on researching about Tharu origin, culture and tradition?

AG: Just do it! And don’t stop with the Tharus; study the whole Tarai and the inter-relations of all the different peoples who live there.

One thing I might add is that throughout the Tarai there are organisations of Tharus putting out publications about their culture, history and society, but there is no way for someone interested in this material to access it conveniently. Often, much of it is eventually lost. It would be a good idea if it could be collected and preserved in some central place or places — perhaps a national or university library in Kathmandu, but also in the Tharu Culture Museum in Chitwan.

VOT: Are you continuing with your research and writing? Can you share with us your future plans?

AG: I am indeed continuing to do research, but although I still write from time to time on Tharu culture, my main focus at the moment is on Sri Lanka, the country of my birth. When the project I am working on is done, I’d like to return to work in Chitwan. I’m very interested in the knowledge people have of the natural world, and also how Chitwan Tharu society has changed over the years, for instance because of labour migration (a topic that one of my students is researching in Chitwan), and of course, there is scope for updating my book.  So there are a number of avenues for future research in Nepal open to me, all of which I find interesting and compelling.

VOT: Thank you Arjun for your valuable words and time.

For more information, visit his website and browse through his publications

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Modernisation and acculturation are forcing the Tharus to be assimilated into the mainstream – Uday Raj

Uday Raj

Uday Raj, a researcher from Western Nepal, has discovered a historical hand-written manuscript in Tharu language. Inspired by the Tharus and their rituals, he is in the final phase of writing his book Tharu: A Revelation, Saga of Struggle and Survival that focuses on social, cultural, religious, historical aspects, and language and literature of the Tharus of mid-western development region, Nepal.

Sanjib Chaudhary from the Voice of Tharus talked to Uday Raj about his research and the forthcoming book.  

Voice of Tharus (VOT): Welcome to Voice of Tharus. You have been researching on Tharus for a long time. What inspired you to research on Tharus?

Uday Raj: I was born and brought up like a member in a Tharu village which still has majority of Tharus. So far I know I have been participating and observing rituals, worships, feast and festivals of the Tharus. There are variations in Tharu language. My mother-tongue is Nepali, but I can speak Deukhuriya Tharu dialect fluently. I think intimacy with the Tharus since childhood and their distinct traditional and cultural background tempted me to study systematically the Tharu community.

VOT: You have written books and articles on Tharus and their history. Can you share with our readers what the books and articles talk about?

Uday Raj: I have been writing about the Tharus for long. Here’s what my book has to say about the Tharus.

Tharus are one of the indigenous ethnic groups of Terai region of Nepal. It is agreed that the Tharus are the first dwellers of Dang and Deukhuri valley. They have been inhabiting where there is easy access of water, forest, and plain land for cultivation. Even today they have not crossed the Mahabharat range for settlement. Many Tharus still write 'Chaudhari' as their surname. However, Chaudhari is the title given to a land revenue collector. Tharu is the tribal name.

Tharus have different groups and clans. Morangiya, Chitwaniya, Dangaura, Desauriya, Kathariya, Rana etc. are the groups and Dahit, Ratgaiya, Satgouwa, Jaandchhabba, Ultaha, Pachhaldangiya etc. are the clans of the Tharus. Tharus, in fact, made the cultivable land in many parts of the Terai region.

Tharus sing, dance, and celebrate different festivals throughout the year. They have some unique cultural traits. They have different songs for different months, seasons, and time. Similarly, maadal (drum) is prohibited to play from Dhurheri to Hareri. Ultaha Tharu clan has opposite house structure than that of other Tharu clans. Ultaha makes the door in the north and puts the deity room (Deurhar) in the south side. Dahit clan steals vegetables once in a year for ritual worship.

Tharus are followers of animism. They have deep inter-relationship with nature and believe in supernatural power. Gurwa, a shaman or healer, performs ritual functions in individual family and the Praganna. Some Gurwas had received Lalmohar to control epidemics and dangerous wild animals in the past.

VOT:  You have discovered a historical hand-written manuscript in Tharu language and currently working on a book about Tharus. Can you tell a bit about them?

Uday Raj: Tharus have very old epics such as Barkimaar and Surkhel. Dhakher is a Tharu clan, who recites different epics of mantras on the occasion of ritual worship. Dhakher transfer the mantras orally to new generation.

Tharus draw mural paintings in their houses. Murals of different domestic as well as wild animals and birds are drawn on the wall in and outside the houses. It shows their deep faith in animals and birds. They draw mural painting of Raavana (one of the characters of the Ramayana) on the occasion of Ashtimki (the birthday of Lord Krishna) every year and worship at night.

A hand-written manuscript in Tharu language
While I was researching on Tharu scriptures, I found 'Sagun Darshan' written in Tharu language. This book, I think, is a historical hand-written manuscript. Sagun Darshan was used to find out the properties, animals, and family members that went missing or got lost from the house.

My forthcoming book 'Tharu: A Revelation, Saga of Struggle and Survival' focuses on social, cultural, religious, historical aspects, language and literature of the Tharus of mid-western development region, Nepal.

VOT: What is your view about the young Tharus? How can they be inspired and encouraged to dig their roots and research about Tharu origins?

Uday Raj: Tharus of new generation are in search of their identity. They are greatly concerned and conscious about the loss of tradition as well as culture and at the same time they are struggling for their rights and cultural protection. However, there is a trend of reform among educated Tharus. They are bringing modifications in their traditional way of life. There is still debate on the origin of the Tharus. Only mythological and verbal interpretation might not be true. That is why Tharu scholars themselves should dig out their roots and carry on with further research.

A page from the historical manuscript
VOT: What is your advice to Tharus and scholars interested on researching on Tharu origin, culture and tradition?

Uday Raj: There is a lot to be done. Modernisation and acculturation are forcing the Tharus to be assimilated into the mainstream. Tharu youths are attracted towards the new and modern lifestyle. We should encourage the youths to search and protect the Tharu identity. Tharus have rich culture. Scholars and researchers should focus to expose cultural identity and age-old tradition.

VOT: Are you continuing your research and writing? Can you share with us your future plans?

Uday Raj: I have plans to research more on the Tharus. Tharus have historical epics interconnected with Hindu story (theme) and the characters of the Ramayana, the Mahabharat, and so on. Tharu literature is rich in verse. Their typical culture and tradition are disappearing day by day.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Terai Speaks: Giving a voice to the Tharus

Dr Charles Wagner Norris-Brown
Dr Charles Wagner Norris-Brown hails from Burlington, Vermont in the USA. An anthropologist by profession and an artist by choice, Dr Charles is working on two story books for children based on the Tharus, tigers and conservation. An admirer of Tharus and their culture, he has visited far west Nepal twice since 2011 for his project The Terai Speaks and plans to visit Nepal again this year.

Sanjib Chaudhary from Voice of Tharus spoke to Dr Charles about his project. Here’s an excerpt of the interview. 

Voice of Tharus (VOT): How did you become interested in Tharus and their culture?

Dr Charles Wagner Norris-Brown (C W Norris-Brown): My background is social anthropology, most of it done in Uttarakhand, India. Getting to that region required crossing the terai, and somewhere along the line I heard about the indigenous people living in that region. I remember setting up a meeting with some of them in 1985 in the Khatima region, and, being drawn to the kind of rugged, self-reliant people that I grew up among in northern Appalachia, I had wanted to return.

In 1999 I was trying to get a tiger conservation project started in the Corbett Park area, India, with what would become the Terai Arc Landscape Project. Seeing that I was an artist as well as an anthropologist, someone suggested that I write and illustrate children’s books.

It took twelve years to get myself together enough to return; this time to Nepal, and to the Rana Tharus of the far west. They were close to the area I already knew, and it would give me a chance to finally meet the Rana Tharus in their homeland. I arranged a visit in 2011 to finally meet them and get started on my children’s book. I learned much from those wonderful people -- and they certainly did not let me down in my expectations.

VOT: Can you tell our readers about your project The Terai Speaks?

C W Norris-Brown: Although my background was anthropology, I knew I could do much better work in providing a link between what people say and experience with the bigger world through a means other than dusty studies on academic shelves. I envisioned a project that would make me a voice for the people who have lived for ages in the terai and were an intimate part of that challenging region. This is like the voice that Native Americans could give for their land and culture, and their trials and tribulations, in the USA. The parallels are quite accurate.

Between the two times I visited the Nepal far west, I learned, and changed some of my focus (thanks to the Tharus) so that the project The Terai Speaks was to become more and more of a format to help Tharus express their role as “keepers of the terai forest”. My focus has been that they, as the indigenous people of the terai, could become the protectors of the terai jungles, parks and reserves, and this way find a way to empower them -- at least with respect to ecotourism, and such things.

From my original project description (2011): “What I hoped to produce from the visit would be based on two discourses. One, the voice of the people who have lived, worked, slept and dreamed among the jungles of the terai. Of those people, the ones who have had the most intimate contact through the ages with that environment are the Tharus. Using my anthropological interview strategy, I hoped to let them speak -- to give them the voice that we all need to hear, unrestrained by either academic confinement or officially condoned views -- the voice of the terai in both its pain and its beauty.

The strategy was to produce a series of drawings, paintings, and photographs executed firstly to document the Tharu and their milieu and secondly to provide illustrations to texts I planned to develop based on that visit. The ultimate success of this effort would be in its degree of connection with the lives of real people in the terai buffer zones. It would focus on the stories: the lives, the milieu, the thoughts and dreams of the people of the terai, the lore of the tiger, the intertwining of fates, the spirituality of wild nature and of conservation.”

So far I have written and illustrated one children’s book and another is in progress. I have also co-written “A String of Pearls” about the line of tiger reserves that make up the Terai Arc Landscape Project. I still have a dream of seeing a Tharu-based ecotourism plan take shape in a format similar to the one being managed by the Saami people of northern Sweden. This way it might be possible to help provide some funds to Tharu girls to go to school.

VOT: What is your perception about the Tharu people?

C W Norris-Brown: I would describe them as very friendly, helpful, sharing people whose traits come from their being the salt of the earth, hard-working, smart, and equitable. Seeing them in their amazingly colourful clothes and knowing them on a personal level is beyond my expectations. For me, it seems there must be a way for Tharus to empower themselves. They are some of the hardest working, socially equitable, and most enterprising people in Nepal and should be fully capable of this, in spite of the issues that divide them so much at this time, 2015.

The fact that they have been treated so poorly is beyond my comprehension, but real enough for me to say to everyone: believe in yourselves, and you will reach great heights, but do so by building on your strengths (of which there are many).

VOT: Can you share with our readers any interesting incident during your travel to Western Nepal?

C W Norris-Brown: Other than dusty, bumpy jeep rides in places that did not seem to have any kind of road, what stands out were the peaceful farming villages and the beauty of Rana Tharu women in their traditional outfits. As an indication of their friendliness, there was a wedding procession one day that everyone went down to watch. The groom was being carried in a special, closed-in seat. When they came near me, the procession stopped and the groom got out so I could take a photo of him. Everyone was happy, dancing and singing, but still took care of me. It was a wonderful feeling of being included.

One of the illustrations from his upcoming book.
VOT: You have been working on an illustrated story book for children on conservation. Can you elaborate a bit about the book?

C W Norris-Brown: There are now two books. One is to be published soon, and the other is still being written. Both are about how Tharu villagers react to a tiger entering the village during a drought. In the first book, the response to the tiger is carried out by children who go off into the jungle to find out why the tiger came to the village. There they meet with a jackal and some langurs who explain the forest and its animals and plants, and why it is so important to keep the forests healthy.

The second book builds on what a baidwan does when confronted with the same challenge. In both cases, the approach is part of what I wanted to take with “The Terai Speaks”, since it is based on what the Tharus themselves have to say and uses Tharu people in the stories.

VOT: When do you plan to visit Nepal and what are your future plans?

C W Norris-Brown: My wife and I plan to be in Nepal fairly soon (November 2015) as part of a trip to both India and Nepal. We hope to be able to visit the Tharus again, depending on the situation.
My future plans right now focus on the children’s books. It would be wonderful if I were able to help visualize the idea of a Tharu initiative along the lines of “protectors of the forests”, and which that (or in some other way) could provide funding to allow Tharu girls to continue to get an education.

VOT: Anything you would like to share with the Tharus and our readers?

C W Norris-Brown: It is tempting to have an opinion of what is going on around the constitution, but, being an outsider, it is something I should not get involved in. But I will repeat that, to me, a combination of education and the retention of progressive values is the key to great success, and knowing Tharus I will state conclusively that they are capable of reaching great heights.