Thursday, January 7, 2016

Tharuism is good for preserving cultural identity but casteism is bad for cultural harmony – Ashok Tharu

Ashok Tharu with Sarita Pachhaldangya

Ashok Tharu, a legendary Tharu scholar, has dedicated his life to unearthing the different facets of Tharu culture. He has collaborated with many international and national researchers to write about the uniqueness and nuances of Tharu traditions, rites and rituals.

Sanjib Chaudhary from Voice of Tharus caught up with Ashok Tharu for an inspiring interview. Special thanks go to Sarita Pachhaldangya for her coordination in interviewing Mr Tharu. Excerpts:

Voice of Tharus (VOT): Welcome to Voice of Tharus. You have carved a niche among Tharus researchers. How did the idea of conducting research related to Tharus come to you? Who and what was your inspiration?

Ashok Tharu (AT): At first, thank you so much "Voice of Tharus" for providing me this media corner. Let me go back into the past. The famous historian Yogi Narahari Nath was in a mission of establishing Sanskrit University in Dang. We all, the students of 8th grade, went to the infrastructure site to build small cottages for classrooms. There, I found a small booklet titled "Sthal Digdarshan" meaning "origin of the place". In the second page, a stanza was published in Nepali, "Bhāshā bhushan bhesh katā tira gayo, mul thalo ho katā, kasmā chhan tharakā thalā, tala hudā Tharu kasori bhayo". Meaning: Where did the languages, ornaments, dresses go? Where is the origin of castes? How did Tharu caste originate? Is it due to having low caste status or being inhabitants of Terai?

Once I was going through a dictionary written by Narendramani Acharya Dixit, published by Sajha Prakashan, Kathmandu. According to the dictionary Tharu means a term of abuse alongside bhate (one who wants to eat rice without doing any work), mula (jobless), chor (thief), chandal (a caste whose occupation is to burn dead bodies), and paji (baby of a donkey).

The above stanza and the definition of the Tharu word stirred my heart, mind and soul badly. Since then, I vowed to devote my life to preserving and promoting Tharu folk cultural heritages so that the Tharu word would be prestigious.

There are so many hidden essentialities within folk culture such as Tharu folk literature (epics, songs, stories, proverbs, mantras, etc.), folk arts and crafts (Ashtimki painting, tattoo, wall painting, wood carving, natural fibre knitting and designing, art of playing musical instruments and dancing, etc.); but all of these intangible cultural heritage (ICH) are going to get lost due to lack of transmitting them from generation to generation.

VOT: Can you tell our readers about your research and the publications you have published till date?

AT: I have written a number of articles in Tharu and Nepali languages in the subject of Tharu ICH which are as follows: (enlisted at the end of the interview)

VOT: Please tell us about yourself and your opinion about the Tharus?

AT: I’ve a bitter experience and feeling about our caste 'Tharu'. I was a teacher in a school established by my father. Once, a 10-year-old boy got admission in the 5th grade. When the class teacher asked his name, he said 'Chaudhary as his surname'. I asked him, “Would you like to write Tharu in lieu of Chaudhary?” In reply, he used the word ‘Dhat’. That means: “I feel embarrassed and inferior to be associated with the word Tharu. So, I won't like it [Tharu] to accompany my name.”

Knowing this, I felt very sad. Where is our young generation going? What's going to happen to our cultural identity? Why do they have inferiority complex about their own caste?  This event inspired me to write Tharu instead of Chaudhary. Since then my identity has been Ashok Tharu, even though before the unification of Nepal, my ancestors were designated as 'Chaudhary' [a post] by Falabangi King Shamsher Bahadur Shah, Gehendra Bahadur Shah and last prince Jitendra Bahadur Shah. In fact  the word 'Chaudhary' has been derived from 'Chauthdhari' meaning a ‘tax collector’.

VOT: You are also an art lover. Please tell us how you coordinated the cover
design of the book 'Barka Naach' by Kurt Meyer and Pamela Deuel?

AT: The Government of Nepal had declared 1998 as the 'Visit Nepal Year'. It also recognised cultural tourism which is one of the most important factors in increasing personal/national income and contributing to development.

One day Kurt Meyer and Pamela Deuel came to me, taking the name of Gisele Krauskopff with whom I had collaborated in 1989. They told me  about their research plan. Thus, came the opportunity to internationally spread the Tharu ICH through the Tharu Mahabharata Project.

In the first year, I proposed them to observe the process of Tharu Astimki painting which is based on Tharu folk philosophy. Kurt along with 18 tourists visited the Kachila village in Dang district. They very much liked the painting of Dambar Tharu. Thus, the creation of Dambar Tharu got to the front cover of the book 'Barka Naach'. On the cover, the illustrations included Dropadi, the most important character of Mahabharata and an umbrella used during the marriage ceremony. The whole story of Mahabharata is the story of Dropadi's sorrow, grief and sufferings. Another illustration donning the cover is that of Sun, Kunti’s first husband [Though Kunti was not married, she had a son with him] and father of Karna, the second most important character after Arjun.

Astimki painting is the most philosophical painting within Tharu folk art. Readers can consult the special publication ‘Chali Gochali’ [Let's go friend] magazine published in August 2015 to know more. Shila Chaudhary has translated my article about this painting into English in this issue. Nepali readers can refer to my article and book on the painting (check out the list at the end of the interview).

VOT: You have contributed a lot to highlight the Tharu Astimki painting. Can you
share with our readers about the philosophy behind the painting?

AT: I'm proud of unknown Tharu artists, painters and our ancestor's philosophy behind the Astimki painting created by them. Who can say they were backward, uncivilized and illiterate Tharus? Who can use the word Tharu as a term of abuse?

We should observe the painting from bottom to top. At the bottom, the sky blue colour symbolizes ocean. The creatures like fish, crab and tortoise remind us about Paleozoic Era. The man over the boat is 'Gurbābā', the first Tharu (Krauskopff, 1989: 52) who created lithosphere with the help of crab and worms. On the top row are five Pandavas  going to marry Dropadi who is shown on the second row. On the third row is the 12 headed Raavana, the most interesting character of the painting. Sita, the daughter of King Janak had fallen in love with Raavana during her marriage ceremony but Rama wedded her winning the competition. She could not forget Raavana and he was present in her subconscious mind even though see never talked to anybody about this except her sister-in-law. Tharu girls sing this story during the Paiyã dance in Dasya festival.

This philosophical painting is based on Tharu mythology. Around 50 years ago, Tharu painters used natural colours. They produced green colour from bean leaves, brown from catechu wood, black from dried and burned gourd. But now-a-days they use chemical colours. Every colour in the painting has a psychological meaning and significance. Tharu painters use geometric shapes which are drawn in a simple way representing the ancient method.

Astimki is not only a painting but a great ceremony in the dark night. Women take  to fasting and in the dark night, the beauty of well-dressed and ornamented-laden Tharu women in blazing flame of the ceramic lamp light is worth watching. The women worship the painting by singing Astimki songs the whole night.

Next morning, they go to a river and immerse the flowers and lamps in the river waters. The flowing of blazing light over the river is enchanting to watch. In short, the Astimki painting is a juxtaposition of multiple voices of Tharu folk art, artists and folk culture. The Tharu folk artists present multiple interpretations through their paintings. This folk art through its rhythmic colours related to the society highlights the Tharu folk cultural spirituality.  It is one of the most important Tharu folk cultural ICHs.

VOT: During your research, you worked with many international and Nepali
researchers. Can you share your experiences with us? 

AT: In 1989 when I was in a teaching job, I got an opportunity to join Gisele Krauskopff from CNRS, Paris. As the result, a very serious research book "Maitres Et Possedes" has been published in French. Many academician tried to translate it into English but CNRS didn't allow the translation. It is the symbol of French language's pride from which we Tharus should learn a lesson. This project was not only a job for me but an open university that enriched my knowledge and concept about Tharu culture and it enhanced my research skills. This project widened my public relations as well.

1991: I joined Veronique Bouiller from CNRS, Paris to research about Nath culture. There is very close relationship between Tharu and Nath cultures. I've analysed about it more in one of the chapters “Phulwār” (garden), in my book in Nepali "History, art and philosophy in Tharu folk literature". Do you know an interesting fact? Parvati, the wife of Mahadeva, was the daughter of the premier Tharu Gurbaba (Krauskopff,1989: 50/Meyer, 1998: 5). This is why they are worshipped in the deity room of every Tharu home. The song sung during a Tharu marriage ceremony is the tale of goddess Parvati and god Mahadeva.

1998: I got an opportunity to join Kurt Meyer and Pamela Deuel.  As a result the greatest epic among Tharu folk literature "Barkimar/Tharu Mahabharata/Barka Naach" has been published in Tharu, Nepali and English languages.

2065B.S./2008AD: I joined famous cultural scholar Mr. Tulsi Divas. As a result, the book "Tharu folklore and folk life" has been published  in Nepali and English languages. Due to lack of team co-ordination, there are some grammatical errors in Tharu words.

Once, Parsu Narayan Chaudhary of Gobardiha village narrated a very important folklore. The British annexed Tulsipur, the southern part of Dang state, unilaterally to the Indian state Balrampur in 1930. The British wanted to extend the territorial border up to the Chure range but the Manyajan of Deukhuri did not let it happen.

The elderly of the place tell the story of the Manyajan who claimed that the land belonged to them. They put forward the evidence that the discovery of coal in Koilabasa proved that they had been using the land as pasture for ages and if they were deprived of it, they would lose the source of subsistence and it would create a big problem.

The British accepted their request and the foot of the Chure range was agreed as the southern border of Nepal. As a result, the Tharus of Gobardiha (ancestor of Parashu Narayan Chaudhary) obtained the privilege of tax collection from the Koilabasa check post and the Tharus of Materiya (ancestor of Lokmani Chaudhary) obtained the privilege of tax collection from the Khangra check post.   

Since 2063 B.S./2006 A.D. Nepal Music Centre, Kathmandu has selected me as a representative of mid-western region for the folk cultural publication ‘Lok Sanskriti’.

Due to the above opportunities and my contribution to Tharu folk culture since 2013, I was selected to activate the ICH Convention 2003 by Ministry of Culture of Nepal and UNESCO. After completing the TOT, I have been listing Tharu folk cultural ICHs for the last two years.

While preparing the ICH TOT, I came closer to Mr. Dharma Raj Shakya, a stone sculpture and Vice President of Federation of Handicrafts Association of Nepal. As a result, I have established Dang Handicraft Association to promote cultural handicrafts.

In 2014 AD I joined Victoria Dalzell to research on ethnomusic. We both explored the 22 steps of Tharu Folk Dance Paiya.

VOT: What is your personal view about Tharus? Do you have any advice for the
young generation?

AT: Tharuism is better for our own cultural identity but casteism is bad for cultural harmony. We Tharus are more influenced by Nepali culture. We prefer to speak Nepali rather than Tharu language with our children. It is a slow poison for Tharu's cultural identity (ICH). It is said, “If you want to kill any culture, attack it through its mother language.” It’s not only the question of language, there are so many ICHs hidden within Tharu folk culture. Those are being lost rapidly because of not being handed over and transferred to new generation.

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

AT: Promoting ICH through research, analysing, publishing, and production is my life's goal, so how it can stop. It’s my hobby, not a job.

Nothing can be said about the future. Thank you so much for providing space for my thoughts in your blog. Wishing all of you and the Voice of Tharus team all the best!

Articles by Ashok Tharu:
How much scientific is the Tharu folk cultural festive event's ritual 'Gurai'? Published in a college journal ‘Hamar Pahura’ (our gift). 2050B.S./1993 A.D., Tharu student comt. Dang.

O Sakhi (Girlfriend)! on the occasion of Maghi festival, we have drunk sweet liquid Jãr (Alcohol), Published in New Morning, Kathmandu.

In the question of Tharu language, Part 1/2/3 published in Yugbodh national daily, 2058B.S./2001 A.D.

History, Art and Philosophy in Tharu Folk Literature, published in Yugbodh national daily, 2059B.S./2002 A.D.

History, Art and Philosophy in Tharu Folk Literature, published in Saypatri journal, Nepal Academy, Kathmandu, 2059B.S./2002 A.D.

History, Art and Philosophy in Tharu Folk Literature, published in Saypatri journal,
Nepal Academy, Kathmandu, 2062B.S./2005 A.D.

History, Art and Philosophy in Tharu Folk Literature, published in Pragya journal, Nepal
Academy, Kathmandu, 2059B.S./2002 A.D.

Tharu folk dance: Sakhyā / Paiyã, Folk Culture Journal, Published by Nepal Music
Centre, Kathmandu, 2063B.S./2007 A.D.

Sexual feeling in Tharu folk art, folk literature and folk culture, Published in Jyotsna
Journal, 2064B.S./2008 A.D.

Freudism in Tharu Folk Literature, Folk Culture Journal, Published by Nepal Music
Centre, Kathmandu, 2064B.S./2008 A.D.

Tharu Traditional Organization: Deshbandhya (Regional controller), Mahatawa (village
chief) and Ghardhurya (household chief), published in Yugbodh national daily,
2065B.S./2008 A.D.

Tattoo, Gorkhapatra, 2066B.S./2009 A.D.

Do your deities like dirty place? Gorkhapatra, 2066B.S./2009 A.D.

Madho-Sundari in Tharu Folk Literature, Folk Culture Journal, Published by Nepal
Music Centre, Kathmandu, 2066B.S./2009 A.D.

Harmonious co-existence to strengthen the local cultural, published in Yugbodh national
daily, 2067B.S./2010 A.D.

Tharu folk Art: an over view, Folk Culture Journal, Published by Nepal Music Centre,
Kathmandu, 2067B.S./2010 A.D.

Radha and Kanha: In Tharu folk literature, Published in Khasãni Journal, Midwestern
Literature Society, 2068B.S./2011A.D.

Tharu Folk Art Astimki: A short over view, Folk Culture Journal, Published by Nepal
Music Centre, Kathmandu, 2069B.S./2012 A.D.

Daharchandi (A Goddess), Gorkhapatra 2069B.S./2012 A.D.

Disappearing Tharu folk tradition of marriage, Published in Chali Gochali Journal,
Kathmandu, 2069B.S./2012A.D.

Books in Nepali/Tharu languages:
Tharu Mahabharata: A short and comparative analysis (in 2055 B.S./1998 A.D. Nepali)
Published by Pamela Deuel, Jagadamba offset Press, Patandhoka.

Tharu Mahabharata: A short and comparative analysis (in 2055 B.S./1998 A.D. Tharu)
Published by Pamela Deuel, Rapti Offset Press, Dang.

Tharu Mahabharata: A short and comparative analysis (in 2055 B.S./1998 A.D. Nepali)
Published by BASE, Rapti Offset Press, Dang.

Gurbaba: Tharu - Nepali - English Dictionary, Published by BASE, Dang.

History, Art and Philosophy in Tharu Folk Literature, published by CAF-Nepal,
2063B.S./2006 A.D.

Tharu Folk Art: A classical study, Published by Academy of Fine Arts, Kathmandu, 2070
B.S./2013 A.D.

Papers presented in different workshops:
Tharu Traditional Organisation : Deshbandhya (Regional controller), Mahatawa (village
chief) and Ghardhurya (household chief), INSEC, 2065B.S./2008 A.D.

Folk Philosophy in Tharu Folk Literature, Nepal Academy, Kathmandu, 2067B.S./2010

Strengthening the local cultural to build up Harmonious Co-existence in Nepal, World
View Nepal- /CECI-Nepal, European Union, 2068B.S./2011 A.D.

Developing traditional skills in Tharu culture and resources of economic income,
National Cultural Study Centre, Nepal Sanskrit University, Kathmandu, 2069B.S./2012

Cultural rights and national cultural policy -  2067/2010.

World View Nepal- /CECI-Nepal, European Union, 2069B.S./2012 A.D.

Strengthening the local cultural to build up harmonious co-existence in Nepal, World
View Nepal- /CECI-Nepal, European Union, 2070B.S./2013 A.D.

Use of classical theory in Tharu folk songs, 3rd Folklore Congress of Nepali Folklore
Society, Kathmandu, 2070B.S./2013 A.D.

Tharu Folk Festival Event: Hāryā Gurai, 4th Folklore Congress of Nepali Folklore
Society, Kathmandu, 2070B.S./2013 A.D.

Books in collaboration with:
Krauskopff, Gisele (1989), Maitres Et. Possedes, CNRS, Paris.

Ed. Meyer, Kurt/Deuel, Pamela/translator: Dinesh Chamling Rai/Kalpana Ghimire/Ashok
Tharu, (1998) Barka Naach: A Rural Folk Art Version of Tharu Mahabharata, Himal
Books, Patan Dhoka and Ruska Trust California.

Ed. Divas, Tulasi/Reasercher: Dr. Govind Acharya/Ashok Tharu/Bir Bdr.
Khadka/Jitendra Chaudhary (2065/2008) Tharu Folklore and Folk Life (Nepali edition)
Published by Nepali Folklore Society, Kathmandu.

Ed. Divas, Tulasi/Bhattarai, Govind Reasercher: Dr. Govind Acharya/Ashok Tharu/Bir
Bdr. Khadka/Jitendra Chaudhary (2065/2008) Tharu Folklore and Folk Life (English
edition) Published by Nepali Folklore Society, Kathmandu.

Photo credit: Durga Lal KC/ Kantipur

Monday, January 4, 2016

Ethnic politics and ideas of modernity heavily influence contemporary Tharu musical performance – Victoria Dalzell

Victoria Dalzell (Tori) with Tharu researcher Ashok Tharu.

Victoria Dalzell, an ethnomusicologist, conducted her research on musical practices of Tharus in Western Nepal from August 2012 to March 2014. Sanjib Chaudhary from Voice of Tharus caught up with her for a detailed interview on her research. Excerpts: 

Voice of Tharus (VOT): Welcome to Voice of Tharus. Can you tell our readers about your dissertation on Tharu folk music practices and the publications you have published till date?

Victoria Dalzell (Tori): I'm an ethnomusicologist, or a researcher who looks at music in broad terms as a human activity revolving around sound. I focus on the people who make music, the situations in which they perform, and the musical choices they make to respond to circumstances around them. So looking at "the music" is a central component to what I do, but not the only aspect on which I focus.  

My dissertation is entitled "Freedom, Margins and Music: Musical Discourses of Tharu Ethnicity in Nepal". For clarification, I overwhelmingly focus on the Dangaura Tharu, as I carried out my research in Dang district, and to a lesser degree in Banke, Bardiya and Kailali. So what I have to say about Tharu culture applies immediately to Tharu communities in the Western Terai; I have not travelled to the Eastern Terai.  I elaborate on these distinctions for my readers in my work, but for simplicity's sake in the title, I just used the common ethnonym "Tharu". I conducted my research from August 2012 to March 2014.

My dissertation does not just categorise or describe the musical practices of Tharu communities in Western Nepal, but examines how Tharu people often respond to circumstances around them through musical performance. The majority of my written work focuses on three case studies.

First, I look at music's role within Tharu development efforts that emerged out of the Kamaiya freedom movement. A number of Tharu leaders have reframed Tharu experience with bonded labour in terms of human rights, and I look at how this language emerges in performers' music. In this part, I focus primarily on maghauta nach performances during Maghi.

Second, I look at how ethnicity is gendered within community and stage performances. For this, I focus on how different generations of Tharu women experience and perceive the sakhya-paiya nach, an oral epic performed almost exclusively by Dangaura Tharu girls during Dashai. I show how Tharu girls are not bearers of some untainted musical tradition, but actively shape and change it as they pass it on to their peers and the next generation of Tharu women. Within these two case studies, ethnic politics and ideas of modernity heavily influence contemporary Tharu musical performance.

In my third case study, I examine how ethnicity, modernity, and Nepal's changing political landscape effects the musical choices of Christian Tharus. This case study continues to explore how music factors into community belonging, but how it can simultaneously articulate difference.

In sum, musical performance is a site where the Tharu community not only responds to the cultural and social changes they are experiencing, but often negotiates what these changes look like within their respective communities.

A lot of good scholarship on Tharu ways of life has come out over the past several years, both from foreign researchers and local scholars and intellectuals. A lot of it has focused on political formations and social movements within the community, but the scholarship overwhelmingly focuses on the elite or state structures. I was interested in how a wider array of people--such as women and youth--lived out their Tharuness. So I see my work as a story from below. Music was a really good entry point for looking at this, as I'll describe below.

VOT: You have said that all Tharu performance practices occur in accordance with an agricultural and ritual calendar. Can you share with us in detail about the findings?

Tori: The Tharu agricultural and ritual season is book-ended by two rituals: the harya gurai and the durya gurai. The harya gurai is conducted in each village around August, and opens the music/dance season--people can now play drums and dance. After the durya gurai is conducted in May, people are not supposed to play the drum or dance, as it’s said to bring bad luck to the growing rice crop or exacerbates the danger of disease spreading in a village. Songs are still sung during this time, but traditionally no drumming or dancing is allowed. So most traditional musical performances in Tharu communities take place between August and May. That's a simplified description, but it’s the basic idea.

Tharu repertoire is really vast, so I chose to focus on song-and-dance genres, namely the sakhya-paiya, and the maghauta, and to a lesser extent, genres like the hurdungwa and latwa. The sakya-paiya is a ritual genre performed by Tharu teenage girls during Dashai, and maghauta is associated with Maghi and participated in by members of both genders and all ages. While these two genres are associated with specific holidays, the hurdungwa and latwa can be performed any time between the gurai rituals and are traditionally performed only by men. Even though most Tharu performance practices can be categorised seasonally or are associated with various holidays or rituals, people are changing that as these practices are increasingly moved to the stage, or become presentational.

I want to introduce two terms that some ethnomusicologists use to describe different kinds of music making situations. "Participatory" is often used to describe a performance where a divide between audience and artist is blurry or non-existent--there are only various participants or potential participants who have roles varying in length and intensity.

"Presentational" refers to musical situations where one group of people--musicians, artists--provide music for another group of people--the audience--who do not participate in music making or dancing.

Most Tharu performances are participatory. For example, teenage girls are the primary performers at sakhya-paiya, but men will rotate accompanying them on drums; older women will comment, chide, and encourage the girls' performance (and sometimes join them just for fun!); and the performing girls will rotate in and out of the dance to attend to guests and visitors as asked. Because it’s a ritual, the village leader and shaman have additional roles. Participants’ roles are constantly changing over the course of a performance. Even though it’s a ritual, the event is far from solemn; a lot of flirting and teasing between boys and girls goes on. But I also saw sakhya-paiya performances during a folk festival in February, months after Dashai. This performance was mostly made up of paiya dances, not the sakhya song, and because the performers were on a stage, there was a definite divide between performer and audience. The dances were much more choreographed, and took into account the time limit given by the organisers. The audience of non-Tharu onlookers and judges made this performance not about community or ritual life, but about presenting a particular Tharu image, so the performance genre was altered to fit that new objective.   

VOT: You have also mentioned that one of your interlocutors Bejlal Chaudhary performed excerpts of various songs for specific festivals, rituals, life cycle events, work and pleasure, all of which depended on the season of the year. It would be great if you can elucidate a bit for our readers. 

Tori: I interviewed Bejlal near the end of my fieldwork. It was only about an hour long. The interview was more to check my understanding of the various genres I had been seeing and hearing throughout my fieldwork. Bejlal answered my questions, but was much more interested that I hear what these various songs sounded like, and was aware of musical variations within the genres.

This interview helped me make connections between much of what I was hearing and seeing at my various field sites. Tharu culture is incredibly diverse; not only are there several subgroups but various waves of migration westward have also contributed to cultural differences between Dangaura Tharus living in various districts. Bejlal was able to show me that some of the recordings I had made across districts were in fact recordings of the same genre, even though people called it by different names and each rendition sounded different. 

VOT: Can you cite any interesting anecdote during your stay with the Tharus in Dang?

Tori: In order to be effective in my research, I had to get to know the community in more ways than just music. I would accept invitation to visit people at work or in their homes, and look for ways to become involved in what they did. Before the onset of the monsoon, one of my host family's relatives worked with the Red Cross to distribute mosquito nets to various wards within her VDC (Village Development Committee) and I got to go with her on one occasion. She gave me the job of collecting the coupons that she and her co-workers had distributed weeks before that people redeemed for their free mosquito nets. So I stayed all day collecting stacks of coupons. When it came time for the village I stayed in to get the mosquito nets, my host sister couldn't get away from her house and fieldwork to go pick up the family's allotted mosquito nets. Because there wasn't any other adult in the family to go pick them up (her husband was away with his mother, who was hospitalised at the time, and her two boys were at school), she sent me to go pick up the mosquito nets. Most people in the village knew who I was, who I was staying with, and understood why I had been sent to pick up the mosquito nets, but I still turned a lot of heads when I showed up with the coupons. People asked why the bideshi (foreigner) was getting free mosquito nets! 

These kinds of activities were not a waste of my time, and often showed me how real community issues were. For example, collecting the coupons showed me how widespread migrant labour was. Each coupon listed the family members currently living in the household. I was amazed that almost a whole generation of 20 and 30 somethings were missing; often, the only people listed in the household were school aged children and grandparents--most parents were abroad working. Living in Dang for a year, I got to know a number of the women and children in the vicinity, but I found that men were often away working in cities or in India--they would come back to the villages to plant rice in June, and for the holiday season and harvest in October/November, and quite possibly for Maghi in January. If they were farther away, such as in Malaysia or the Middle-East, they may come back once every three to five years. 

VOT: During your research, you worked with many international and Nepali researchers. Can you share your experiences with us?  

Tori: Because of anthropology's colonial roots, there's a longstanding myth of researcher-as-discoverer. Even with all the changes that anthropology has gone through, going and doing fieldwork still involves a lot of romanticism--meaning the primacy of the researcher as an inspirational figure. But when I did my research in Western Nepal, I really had a sense that my work was as successful as it was because of what previous researchers--foreign, Nepali, and Tharu--had done. I did the majority of my work in the same Tharu village as British anthropologist Christian McDonaugh. I did not plan this; because of who I knew I just happened to end up in the same place almost thirty years after him. Talking to older members of the village got me to look not only for him, but his mentor, D.P. Rajaure. When I met Rajaure, he asked me how I had come to know about him and his work, and he was really surprised that I had heard about him from older members of the Dang village. Rajaure and McDonaugh's previous work gave Tharu residents a category for me--researcher--and so that made explaining the work I came to do so much easier. At the beginning, I was connected with Ashok Tharu and Govinda Acharya, who connected me with a lot of people in Dang and beyond. I was a nobody, but a lot of people paid attention to me and gave me time because they respected and trusted these men, who had referred me. So I had a very real sense of not breaking new ground, but building on the work of other researchers before me. 

VOT: Can you share with us link to your writings and publications?
Tori: I published an article on the sakhya-paiya nac in the December 2013 issue of Studies in Nepali History and Society (SINHAS). Unfortunately, because it’s a more recent issue, they do not have the article available on their website; however, they can be contacted for copies.

UCR published my dissertation as an Open Source document, meaning anyone with an internet connection can access it. Here's the link to download the PDF file.

Additionally, I wrote a short blog review for two albums of Nepali ritual music released by Smithsonian Folkways, a non-profit record company that produces traditional music from around the world. The review can be accessed at the following link.

In addition, the songs on the albums can be listened to for free on the website.

VOT: What are your personal views about the Tharu? Do you have any advice for the young generation?

Tori: I loved my time in Tharu communities! One of the things that impressed me about the Tharu people was their initiative--they don't wait for someone else to bring change to their communities.
I understand that swift social and economic changes have caused a lot of societal restructuring, and made some of the previous ways of life difficult to maintain. Getting an education, participating in the labour market (office jobs and migrant labour, etc.) are necessary today. However, I think music still has a vital role to play in community life. For one, musical participation builds much needed leadership experience and confidence in young people. The morhinyas and pachginhyas (song and dance leaders) of the sakhya-paiya performances that I wrote about in my dissertation were leaders. Not only did their peers look up to them, but they were well-respected by all members of their village community. Some of the women I encountered working at NGOs and in school classrooms were previous morhinyas and pachginhyas. I'm sure that early leadership experience in the dance provided them with the leadership skills they needed for their school and office jobs. Learning how to speak in front of a crowd, organising and implementing a programme, or working as a liaison between community members are things that are not always learned through modern schooling. 

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

Tori: I just finished my PhD in August, and am currently on the job market. The academic job market in the USA is not that good at the moment, so I'm doing a lot of temporary work. I'm still presenting at conferences. I presented at the Society for Ethnomusicology's Annual conference in December, and will be presenting at the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies conference in February. When time allows, I'm hoping to revise one of my internal dissertation chapters as a journal article for publication in Ethnomusicology, one of my discipline's flagship journals.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The story of Tirhut Maijh pond

 By Yajju Chaudhary

Once there was a landlord named Tirhut Maijh. Along with him lived his son, daughter-in-law and his only baby grandson. Near his house was a pond named after him. It was called Tirhut Maijh Pokhair.

One day his daughter-in-law went to the pond to take a bath and wash clothes as usual. Suddenly she felt something grasping her feet as she was about to leave the pond. Having heard about a mysterious creature pulling people to the deep waters in the pond, she realised that it was a jijir (a mythical creature resembling a thin hair-like chain). She tried her best to free herself from the grasp of the jijir, but she was unable to break free.  So, she pleaded with the pond to loosen up the chain so that she can go to her child and feed him before being taken away by the jijir to the deep waters.

Jijir, a mythical chain-like creature, pulls people to deep waters in a pond and chokes them to death (as believed by Tharus in Eastern Nepal). A suggestive image by Flickr user Giacomo Carena.CC BY-ND 2.0

Upon her request, the pond loosened up the jijir but it was still gripping her legs.  On reaching home, she told what had happened and she had to leave. Tirhut Maijh was afraid that if she would go, his only grandson might die, departing from mother.

Being an important person in the village, he ordered his workmen to cut off the chain. But it didn’t work. He tried whatever he could do to break it, but to no avail. Everybody in the village suggested him to perform a pooja (worship) and request the jijir to free his daughter-in-law. But all went in vain. Eventually, his daughter-in-law had to sacrifice her life, She vanished in the pond.

An enraged Tirhut Maijh went to the Mahuri River and started summoning the river. The villagers from the surrounding believed that the river had a divine power. He stayed there calling for Mahuri River. After seven days and seven nights, the Mahuri River appeared and asked what he wanted. He explained the story about his daughter-in-law and begged Mahuri River to help him by flooding away the pond.

After hearing his grief, Mahuri River agreed to help him. Mahuri told Tirhut to ask all the villagers to clap and cheer when it would come to flood away the pond.

Following it, one day the Mahuri River turned its course and headed fiercely towards the pond. The gullying sound of the river made the pond aware of it. Seeing it, the villagers started to clap for the Mahuri River to win over the pond. Suddenly a number of fishes brimmed in forming a fence to block the force of Mahuri River.

In the hustle and bustle, they wrestled for a long time. No one was ready to give up until the pond put forth a condition to the river. It would be swept away if the river would let the creatures in the pond live in it.

It is said that one corner of the pond stills remains. This abandoned pond never dries even in the hot summer days.

Collected by: Yajju Chaudhary
Narrated by: Mani Devi Chaudhary, Chakwa, Saptari

Pokhair:  A pond
Jijir: A mythical chain-like creature
Pooja: Worship

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The story of Gopichand

Gopichand and Biruwa were brother and sister. As Gopichand grew up, he became a gudariya (a hermit). His sister got married to a rich person and went to live with her in-laws.

Since Gopichand became a gudariya and went from house to house to beg alms, his mother advised, “Go to beg alms anywhere in the world, but don’t ever go to your sister’s.” “She won’t even look at you, let alone treat you well.”

However, Gopichand thought that his sister would recognise him and treat him well. So he decided to visit Biruwa. When he went to Biruwa’s house, she denied to recognise him and said, “Why my brother would turn into a hermit?” “He is so rich that he doesn’t have any worries at all.”

Although Gopichand tried to convince her that he was her brother, she pretended not to recognise him and instead hit him with kharra barhni (broom). She gave him a roti (chapati) of rice bran and showed him a corner in the stable to sleep.

Being treated so badly by his sister, Gopichand cried the whole night in the stable. He prayed to the Lord and said, “My sister didn’t recognise me and gave me a roti of rice bran on a broken clay pot piece (khapata) and a small clay tumbler (fuchchi) of water.” “Hey mother Earth, please split apart so that I can put these things with you. I will ask for them when I will need them.”

As he prayed, the earth split wide and he put the roti and water tumbler inside the crater. The earth then again closed to normal.

In the morning Gopichand went to Biruwa and said that he was leaving. Bidding farewell, he at once left for his home.

When Gopichand reached his home, he asked for his mother Sunaina. When he met her, he explained everything – the bad treatment from her sister, being given roti made from rice bran, water in a clay pot and made to sleep in the stable. She said, “I had told you earlier – go to beg alms anywhere in the world but never go to your sister’s place. However, you didn’t listen to me.”

He then asked her to prepare 18 bhar (loads) of eatables consisting sweets, beaten rice, curd and all sorts of delicacies. He also requested his friends and relatives to accompany him to his sister’s house.

This time when he reached Biruwa’s house, she saw the bhars and welcomed him. She was happy that her brother had arrived. She brought a pot of water to wash his feet and mattresses to rest.

However, Gopichand said he would not wash his feet with the water. His friends washed their feet but he did not.  He said he would show what happened when he visited Biruwa as a sage. He said, “I will show you how I was treated.”

He then took all to the stable. Reaching the place where he has put the roti and water, he asked, “Hey mother earth, please split wide open and let me have my meal that I asked you to keep for me.”

To their amazement, the earth split and he got the bran roti and water back. He asked Biruwa, “Not tell me who gave me this?” “I am the same Gopichand whom you beat with broom.” 

Biruwa was ashamed in front of Gopichand’s friends. She cried and asked him to forgive her. But Gopichand did not budge.

He went back to his home and never visited Biruwa again.

Narrated by: Sangita Chaudhary, Terhauta VDC, Ward No. 1, Saptary District
Collected by: Manisha Chaudhary and Suman Chaudhari

Gudariya: A beggar
Kharra: A broom made from bamboo twigs
Barhni: A broom made from wild grass
Khapata: A piece of clay pot
Fuchchi: A clay tumbler used for drinking water
Bhar: Load of eatables carried on both ends of a bamboo staff

The story of Tilmajhni and Chaurmajhni

Once upon a time there were two sisters – Tilmajhni and Chaurmajhni. Chaurmajhni always got favours from her mother but her step-sister Tilmajhni neither got good food nor good clothes.

One day, the step-mother asked Tilmajhni to get inside a granary (kothi) of sesame (til) thinking that she would have to eat the sesame seeds and will die eventually inside the kothi. In the same way, she put her daughter Chaurmajhni inside a kothi of rice thinking that she would eat rice every day and would get fat.

On the contraty, Tilmajhni ate the sesame seeds and got fatter day by day. However, Chaurmajhni got ill after eating rice every day and got thinner day by day.

After one to two months, when she took out both the daughters, she was surprised to find that Tilmajhni had turned fatter but her daughter Chaurmajhni had turned thinner.

So, she sent Tilmajhni to graze goats so that she would get dark in the sun and get thinner with the work. She kept Chaurmajhni at home and gave her delicious food to eat. She would send khichri (gruel like pudding made from broken rice) with Chaurmajhni on broken clay pots to Tilmajhni. Seeing the food, Tilmajhni would cry every day.

One day the goat (khasi) asked why she was crying. She told everything to the goat and said she was not used to eating such bad food and she would not be able to eat it. The goat took pity on her and said, “Ask the mother earth to split apart and put the khichri inside the earth and cover it with broken clay pots.” She did same. The goat then told her to tap on her ears so that sweets would fall from there. She did the same.

Every day, she used to bury the khichri inside the earth and eat the sweets that fell from the goat’s ears. She again started getting fatter day by day. One day, Chaurmajhni spied on her hiding behind the bushes. When she was about to eat the sweets, Chaurmajhni came out of the bushes and asked for the sweets. Tilmajhni gave her the sweets and asked her not to say a word about it at home. Chaurmajhni promised not to tell about it to her mother.

However, when she came home she told her mother what she saw, word by word. Knowing this, the step-mother readied a knife to kill the goat.

The goat knew about it and told Tilmajhni, “Today, they will kill me.” “But don’t worry. When they will kill me, a bone would get away in the garden and grow into a jalebi (a fruit resembling the sweet of same name) tree. Climb the tree and eat jalebi every day.”

The goat was killed that day. Tilmajhni was sad to lose her goat. However, as the goat had predicted, when the goat was killed a bone flew off to the adjacent garden and grew into a jalebi tree. Every day Tilmajhni would pick the jalebis and take them with her and eat them while grazing the goats.

In spite of getting khichri every day, she never got thin. The step-mother was surprised to see this and she found out the reason. She saw Tilmajhni picking jalebis from the tree. So, she decided to cut down the tree.

Before being cut down, the tree told Tilmajhni, “When they will cut me, a small splinter would fall inside the pond and grow into a sparkling tree.” “Nobody would recognise it, but only you would be able to tell that it is a Jhilmiliya (sparkling) tree. And then you would get to marry the prince.”

When the step-mother cut down the tree, a small splinter fell into the pond and within the night, a tree grew on the bank of the pond. Nobody could recognise the beautiful tree. When the prince came and asked about the tree, Tilmajhni said that it was a Jhilmiliya tree. The prince was happy to hear about the tree and said that he would marry her.

So, the prince married Tilmajhni and she became the queen. Now she had everything – good clothes and lots of jewellery and a big palace to live in.

Chaurmajhni was jealous of her sister’s fate. So she thought of a plan to get rid of Tilmajhni. She borrowed Tilmajhni’s clothes and jewellery. Tilmajhni was naïve so she gave her clothes and jewellery to Chaurmajhni. Then Chaurmajhni said, “Let’s go to a well and see how we look like.”
When they went to the well, Chaurmajhni pushed Tilmajhni into the well and ran away.

Tilmajhni had a baby back at the palace. Chaurmajhni, wearing Tilmajhni’s clothes and jewellery went to the palace. She took hold of the baby and told that king that she was Tilmajhni. However, the baby would cry as it didn’t get its mother’s milk.

Tilmajhni could not see her baby crying. So, every night Tilmajhni would come out of the well feed the baby, put oil and massage the baby and would again get back to the well in the morning.
In spite of being fed at the night, the baby became thinner and thinner. The king became suspicious and decided to check what happened every night. One night he slipped into a thin cloth and watched.

Like every night, Tilmajhni came out of the well and fed the baby. When she began putting oil and black soot (kajar) to the baby, the king caught her and asked, “Who are you? A spirit or a ghost?”

Tilmajhni told everything to the king – how Chaurmajhni had taken her clothes and jewellery and pushed her into the well and pretended to be Tilmajhni.

The king was furious. He buried Chaurmajhni alive and they again lived happily ever after.

Narrated by: Sangita Chaudhary, Terhauta VDC, Ward No. 1, Saptary District
Collected by: Manisha Chaudhary and Suman Chaudhari

Kajar: black soot applied on eyes
Kothi: a mud granary
Khichri: rice pudding
Til: sesame
Jhilmiliya: sparkling
Khasi: he-goat
Jalebi: a fruit resembling the sweet jalebi

Friday, November 27, 2015

The story of Hansraj and Bansraj

Hope you liked the two Tharu folk tales collected by Prof. Dr. Ulrike Mueller-Boeker. Here's the story of Hansraj and Bansraj narrated by Sangita Chaudhary and collected by Manisha Chaudhary and Suman Chaudhari. Please let us know if you have documented any Tharu folk tale passed on to you by your grandparents. Please email us the stories at

The story of Hansraj and Bansraj

Once upon a time, there was a king. In his palace was a nest of a sparrow. The king and queen could watch the sparrows’ activities from their bedroom. One day when the she-sparrow died. The he-sparrow was left with two baby sparrows.

The next day the sparrow brought a step-mother to the little sparrows. When the she-sparrow arrived at the nest, she was angry to see two babies.

She said, “You cheated me by saying that you are alone and unmarried.” “I won’t stay with you if you insist on having these two babies.”

So, the sparrow pushed the two children from the nest. Both of them died instantly as they fell on the floor.

The king and queen also had two sons – Hanraj and Bansraj. Seeing the tragic incident, the queen asked the king to promise that he would not marry after her death.

One day the queen died.

The king thought that nobody saw him promising the queen not to remarry, so he married Queen Laxminia bringing home a step-mother to the two young princes.

One day the two boys were playing with a ball. Unfortunately, the ball hit the queen. So, she hid it from the boys. When the children asked for the ball, she didn’t give it them.

When the king arrived, she put unbaked and baked clay pot covers under her bed and as she moved from one side to another, the clay covers made clinking sound. 

On being asked what happened, the queen said that she would tell the problem only if the king promised to grant her a wish. So, the king agreed. She then asked him to call a slaughterer to take both the boys to the dense jungle, kill them and bring back their heart and liver to her.

The king was bound by the promise so he did as he was told. The slaughterer took both the princes to the jungle. However, when he was to kill them, he felt pity on them. So he left them in the jungle and instead killed a fox, took out its heart and liver and presented it to the queen.

In the forest, Bansraj got thirsty and could not walk more. He asked his elder brother Hansraj to bring water for him. Leaving the lethargic Bansraj to his own, Hansraj went in search of water. However, there was no water to be found anywhere.

Luckily, he saw a water-like liquid dripping from a tree. Actually a snake had died on the tree and the liquid was dripping from its dead body. Being desperate in search of water, Hansraj didn’t look up and started collecting the liquid in a leaf container (tholo).   

A crow was seeing Hansraj gathering the liquid. Whenever the leaf container filled, the crow would come and spill the content from the leaf. Hansraj would again start collecting the liquid, but every time the crow would come and spill the content. It happened for three times.

Finally, Hansraj gave up collecting the liquid and came to his brother. Then he saw an egret flying. Thinking that the bird must be flying towards water source, he carried Bansraj and followed the bird.

The egret stopped by a ditch, nearby a flower picker woman’s (malin) hut. When the woman saw the little boy in such a bad condition, she gave water and food to him. She then asked Hansraj why he was carrying the little boy to the jungle. Then Hansraj told her the whole story, about his father, mother and how the step-mother had ordered to kill them.

Hearing the story, the malin cursed the queen and king.

“Hey merciless queen, you won’t have any children of your own.”

“Hey merciless king, your wound on the back would never get cured.”

True to her curse, a wound appeared on the king’s back and it never healed. Likewise, the queen was not able to conceive a child. Meanwhile the malin raised the boys. Both never lost any football match.

Once when the boys were playing, the queen was watching the match. Again the ball hit on her forehead. She said the boys on purpose hit her. But other spectators took the boys’ side and said that it was a mere accident.

When the king asked the boys about their father, they told their father’s name and said that they were Hansraj and Bansraj. The king could not believe in his eyes, so he called an astrologer. The astrologer told that they were his son. He also told that the slaughterer had not killed the children. Instead, he had brought the heart and liver of a fox.

The astrologer then also cursed the king.

“Hey merciless queen, you won’t have any children of your own.”

“Hey merciless king, your wound on the back would never get cured.”

Earlier the mother of the children had burned a sack of bamboos and buried the ashes in the backyard. Out of it grew a bamboo.

When a dom (who makes baskets out of bamboos) came to cut the bamboo, a sound came from it, “Stay away you untouchable.”

He again went to cut the bamboo. Again the same sound came from the bamboo but he could see nobody in the vicinity. He went away two times. However, he cut the bamboo on the third attempt.

When he cut the bamboo the same voice said, “Make baskets out of the top and bottom, and make a bansi (flute) out of the middle part.” “Don’t play the flute. I will tell all when the right time comes.”

The dom did the same.

After learning the truth from the astrologer, the king brought both the sons to home. When the dom came to sell the flute, the king bought it. The dom told him about the flute and said not to play it. So the king slid it in the char (inside of a thatched roof).

Every night after everybody slept, the dead queen would come out of the flute, clean the house, take care of the children, kick the king on the back while he was sleeping and would again slip inside the flute.

The king wondered who cleaned the house every night.

One night the king decided keep an eye on the intruder. Like every night the queen came out of the flute, cleaned the house and cooked the meal. Then she bathed the children and fed them. The king was watching everything. As the queen, like every day, kicked the king on the back, he caught hold of her.

He asked, “Who are you?”

The queen said, “I am neither an evil spirit nor a ghost.” “I am Hansraj and Bansraj’s mother.”

The king recognised her instantly and asked her not to leave. The queen then stayed with the king and the princes. The Queen Laxminia was put in dungeon by the king.

Narrated by: Sangita Chaudhary, Terhauta VDC, Ward No. 1, Saptary District
Collected by: Manisha Chaudhary and Suman Chaudhari

Malin: A woman who grows and sells flower
Dom: An ethnic community in southern plains of Nepal who make baskets and other items out of bamboo (considered untouchable earlier)
Bansi: A flute
Char: Inside of a thatched roof

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The regulations of Chitwan National Park have reversed the traditional rights of the Tharus – Prof. Dr. Ulrike Mueller-Boeker

Prof. Dr. Ulrike Mueller-Boeker (c) Thomas Entzeroth. Used with permission.

Prof. Dr. Ulrike Mueller-Boeker heads the Human Geography Unit at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. Focused on development-related research, her fields of competence include the analysis of institutional dimensions of livelihood strategies; the impact of globalisation processes; local resource-use conflicts (i.e., concerning land, forests and water), labour migration patterns; nature conservation, and development and participation processes focusing on South Asia, Central Asia and Switzerland.

Her book The Chitwan Tharus in Southern Nepal: An Ethnoecological Approach, published in 1999, documents the knowledge of Chitwan Tharus about their natural environment.

Sanjib Chaudhary from Voice of Tharus spoke to her about her research and her opinion about the marginalisation of Tharus in Chitwan. Here’s the excerpt of the interview: 

Voice of Tharus (VOT): Welcome to Voice of Tharus. Your book The Chitwan Tharus in Southern Nepal: An Ethnoecological Approach details the lifestyle of the Tharus living in Chitwan and how they have been marginalised in their own land. Can you tell our readers about the book and how you compiled it?

Ulrike Mueller-Boeker (UMB): The focus of the publication was on the knowledge of the Chitwan Tharus about their natural environment. The attempt was made to see the environment through the eyes of those who live and act within a very specific environment. And I wanted to document how Tharus make use of the natural resources. The beauty of their material culture fascinated me. But I realised that their practices were conflicting with the Chitwan National Park. I tried to show how the autochthonous population was cut off from the natural resources of their territory, and how the regulations of the national park have reversed their traditional rights. Finally, I wanted to gather and document the history and the social fabric of the Tharu community.  I also aimed to document oral knowledge for future generations.

For the book I did several months fieldwork in Chitwan, supported by an excellent team of informants and field assistants. We went together into the forest to collect useful plants; we took semi-structured interviews in several villages (including Padampur – today grassland and part of the Chitwan National Park), I participated in festivals and so on. I really enjoyed this time and the kindness and honesty of the people.

VOT: The spraying of DDT and migration of hill people to Chitwan have led to the dwindling presence of Tharus in Chitwan. Can you elaborate a bit about it?

UMB: Chitwan – once the thinly settled, malaria-infested refuge of the Tharus – has developed within less than half a century into a wide-open region for immigrants and colonizers. Oral history and old travel reports reveal that the Tharus lived relatively undisturbed in this malaria affected lowland region. This undisturbed past was termed satjugi and frequently the statement rang out: “Satjugi, everything had been better”.

It was only in the 1950s that the malaria eradication and resettlement programmes of the government were implemented and immigrants from the hills came in a large number. Following Nepal’s opening to the outside world, Chitwan’s function as a buffer zone lost its significance. Chitwan was promoted into a development region with the aim of easing pressure on the thickly populated hill regions and providing new productive tracts of farmland for the growing population.

Tharus frequently expressed (in the 1980s) that they feel pained by the confrontation with these predominant immigrants. The general consensus - even among the wealthy Tharu landlords - was: "The Pahariyas look down upon us, they are doing much better than we are!" At the same time, Tharu elite families started to adopt typical Hindu religious practices. Nevertheless, they pointed out that they could never correspond to the Hindu ideal. The Tharus' attitude towards the Bahuns and Chhetris, as the representatives of Hinduism, was thus extremely ambivalent. On the one hand, they were collectively regarded as bloodsuckers of the poor, while, on the other hand, they were collectively idealised as the more pure and the more competent people that can cope better with a modern way of life. The intra-ethnical hierarchies and economic differences were completely ignored.

Today, many Tharus have changed their livelihood strategies; some have been able to get income alternative opportunities in tourism or as migrant workers. And the Tharu ethnicity became channelled into a Tharu movement!

VOT: In your view, did the amalgamation of different culture benefit the Tharus of Chitwan? Do you think it had more demerits than benefits?

UMB: First of all, within the Tharu community a pronounced intra-ethnical hierarchy exists; and different people had different means to cope with change. Landless Tharus (partly “enslaved” by Tharu landlords) may give different answers than small-scale farmers or jamindars. It would be interesting to ask different economic Tharu groups, what has changed in their lives in the last 30 years.  Without any doubt, “development” came to Chitwan and also Tharus benefit from better infrastructures and income opportunities.

VOT: You are from Germany but can you tell us how you became interested in researching about the Tharus?

UMB: Yes, I am from Germany, but I am living in Switzerland (and being a migrant worker) since many years. It was in 1976 that I visited Chitwan the first time. I felt attracted by the beauty of the Tharu villages and the amiability of the people. At the same time, I was shocked about how ruthlessly the national park was implemented. It needed some years that I was able to realise my wish to do research there.

VOT: Can you highlight any interesting incident during your research in Chitwan?
UMB: Once I hired a Tharuni as speaker of Tharu terms. It was an extreme hot evening, and I offered her a (warm) soft drink. But she did not drink it and explained, that she will give it to her children. In the meanwhile her husband joined us. I felt a bit puzzled and asked him what he wants. Slowly it became clear that both were urgently waiting for the payment in order to purchase food for the family dinner. I realised what a hand-to-mouth existence means. 

VOT: How did you come with the idea of writing the book The Chitwan Tharus in Southern Nepal? Have you written more about the Tharus based on the research?

UMB: It was a coincidence of theoretical interests, feeling attracted by a region and people, and last but not least a political statement (against state policies – not the migrants - and especially the national park). In addition to the book, I published several articles in scientific journals or edited books.

VOT: What are your personal views about the Tharu? Do you have any advice for the young generation?

UMB: Judge others based on their competences, behavior and credibility. It does not matter to which ethnicity or caste they belong.

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

UMB: After the Tharu research, I did research in Kanchenjunga area and Far West Nepal on conservation issues, people’s livelihoods, migration etc. The last 15 years I was steering a huge international project (NCCR North-South) and was heavily engaged in capacity building and supervision. Recently I did a small research on recruitment agencies in Nepal and now – together with a Nepalese colleague on state restructuring.

I invest also time in the documentation of my work and material, and perhaps come-up with a photo book.  But I guess that this will happen after my retirement (in three years).