My dissertation examined changes in the Sherpas’ habitus due to tourism activities in Khumjung, Nepal. According to Bourdieu (1990), habitus means the totality of small immovability in everyday life’s motion and thus a structuring principle of collective strategies and social practices. Thus, habitus is both product and producer of history and culture.
Cultural changes are endangering the destination as the way of life and traditions of the Sherpa used to be the main attraction of the destination for tourists. The focus of the study is to examine these problematic changes and recommend effective interventions to the main stakeholders involved in creating the tourism destination of Khumjung. Preserving their culture is in the Sherpas’ interest as it is unique and threatened with extinction. This uniqueness raises foreign awareness and interest in visiting.
Khumjung is promoted as a traditional Sherpa village (Naturally Nepal, 2018), located in Nepal’s high altitudes on the Everest Base Camp (EBC) trek. As far as tourism destination development in rural areas is concerned, cultural and social transformations for local communities have occured. This is also the case for the local community in Khumjung – the Sherpas. They are changing their traditional, conservative livelihood to a more modern and progressive one (MtnSEON, 2017; Spoon, 2012). From a trekker’s perspective, the mentality, cooperativeness and culture of the Sherpas is most appealing for visiting (Pan, 2018; Demirovic et al, 2017; O’Keeffe, 2016). However, returning visitors notice serious changes, such as the modernization of the Sherpa’s traditional lifestyle, the loss of their natural hospitality, cheerfulness and interest (Spoon, 2012). These visitors, therefore, do not consider re-visiting the area after this experience (Rai, 2017; Hottola, 2004; Stevens, 1993). These changes in the Sherpa’s habitus could be considered a threat for tourism development in the area.
According to Bourdieu (1977), habitus allows researchers to examine the production of an individual’s behaviour arising from the person’s perception and thinking patterns and the influence of the structures these people inhabit. He characterises the structures in economic, cultural, social and symbolic forms (Bourdieu, 1985; 2006). Bourdieu’s habitus theory will be applied to the Sherpa community in Khumjung.
An ethnographic approach was used to explore the Sherpas’ habitus. Data was obtained over a period of six weeks by means of the technique of triangulation (Bryman, 2012): observation, trekking participation, semi-structured in-depth interviews with Sherpas and interviews with relevant stakeholders and experts in the tourism field as well as informal conversations with tourists, residents and tourism related organizations. These findings are based on a narrative approach (Verloo, 2015). Both, the narrative itself as well as the phenomenon under study can be considered as narrative research. Narrative research has been utilised by researchers to gain insight into the experiences of case actors (Verloo, 2015; Bamberg & Georgakopoulou, 2008).
Findings & Discussion
Narratives shared by Sherpas in Khumjung revealed three major themes where the changing habitus is most noticeable: The change in fundamental beliefs, the tendency to move outside of the village and the desire for more formal education. Using thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006; Boyatzis, 1998), each of the three themes is accompanied by codes. It means that an inductive coding method was used, with codes based on patterns within the interviews. For instance, the tendency to move outside of the village is exemplified by seasonal moves and by moves for a longer period supported by foreign sponsorships.
The interviews with experts and relevant stakeholders showed that they intend to advertise the destination as a traditional Sherpa village and would like to support it by means of more tourism traffic. Nevertheless, the impression arose that there is no well-established communication between relevant stakeholders and the village community. Sherpas do not seem to comprehend the effort organizations make for their village. Simultaneously, organizations do not appear to know how to involve the local community. To establish a bright and successful future for the tourism destination of Khumjung, Sherpas should be educated about the purpose of tourist visits – their culture.
Opportunities arise for the destination because of changes in traditional people’s habitus. Hence, this research proposes effective interventions for stakeholders relevant for Khumjung . The most effective intervention would be to connect the village with the EBC trek. Suggested strategies to reach this goal are to offer cultural tours in the village and to involve education in general. A further suggestion is to establish Khumjung as a pioneer for mentoring projects so that similar villages in Nepal can benefit from the destination development plan. This can be achieved by motivating Sherpas who left the village for educational reasons to return by providing jobs with this purpose.
My research in the destination identified two main generations: the traditional and the modern. The interventions are suggested for both of these generations of Sherpa. Both groups show differences in the lifestyles, experiences and attitudes. Sherpas in Khumjung aged 29 years and older form the traditional generation, who have not experienced education, are married and live the same routine in the village community mostly in agriculture. The modern generation is characterized by Sherpas younger than 29 years, living a progressive life outside of the village or even Nepal.
Recommendations for Khumjung are addressed to stakeholders involved in the creation and promotion process of the destination. Trekking organisations such as travel agencies and tour operators should include the village officially in the EBC trek as a cultural tour. On top of that the government, represented by Naturally Nepal, could offer these tours on their website. The Village Development Communities (VDC) create the local community’s voice and can lead this idea. In order to involve Khumjung school in tourism activities, collaboration between NGOs, educational institutes and tourism businesses can be encouraged.
The findings are significant for the tourism industry and for social sciences. The research targets multiple stakeholders involved in forming and promoting the tourism destination as well as different groups of tourists interested in the Sherpas’ livelihoods. Since there is only limited research done on the Sherpas’ perspective, it creates strong arguments for building on this as it contributes to existing literature. Raising awareness of these cultural changes will benefit the Sherpa communities by activating relevant stakeholders to follow the recommended interventions. These interventions can support Sherpas in Khumjung in preserving their culture and motivate tourists to visit and learn about it.