Together with the brave Gurkha soldiers of Nepal, the Sherpas are among the most world -famous of Nepalese people. The world's highest-living population, the Sherpas are born mountaineers. Consequently, the Sherpas' world seems mysterious to lots of Western people. What's Sherpas' history? What are their lives like? Are the Sherpas and other highland people physiologically different from the rest of us? What kind of roles they are playing in the Western expeditions? Though the western people don't understand Sherpas' culture very well, Sherpas' strength against nature, honesty and dedication have developed a reputation among the resident colonialists. They are considered as the tigers of the mountains.
Sherpas live in the Solu Khumbu region of glacial villages at the southern approaches to Everest. Their mane tells of the origin (Sher-east, pa-people) and has come to be almost synonymous with great peak that dominates their country. About five centuries ago, they settled in Khumbu region, the gateway to Mount Everest from the South side.
They speak Shepali, the official language of Nepal. Until 2000, the population of Sherpa is 36,900. Their largest religion is Buddhist, which covers 99.8% of the population. Before coming into contact with Western expedition, the Sherpas were simply farmers, yak herders and traders. They used to carry grains, cotton clothes, irons, paper from the South, and barter these for salt, wool, sheep and Tibetan artifacts in Tibet. Working as middlemen has enabled the Sherpa to attain higher standards of living than those of other hill people.
Sherpa villages range anywhere from a few households to more than one hundred houses. A Sherpa family unit consists of the nuclear family living in a single household and sharing a joint economy. Houses are at least two stories, the upper story being a one-room living quarter and the lower story serving as an animal shed and storage area. When the youngest son marries, he inherits the farmhouse and half of the fields. He also must take care of his parents, which is the same culture on lots of Asian countries. The older sons receive the remaining fields as their inheritance. A middle son will often bring honor to his family by attending a monastery in order to become a lama, or "holy man." Therefore, lots of Sherpas are Buddhists and it adds more mystical shade to this highest nation in the world.
There are few government schools in the Solu-Khumbu region, making it necessary for children to walk long distances to school. For this reason, children do not attend school regularly, although the government requires three years of education. It may take a child six years to complete this requirement. The lack of education among the Sherpa has resulted in a literacy rate of only 29%.
Trading is an important economic activity for the Sherpa. The men make long trading expeditions and are often gone for many months, leaving the remaining duties to the women. Although working as a middlemen has enabled the Sherpa to attain higher standards of living than those of other hill people, their lives is still needy, impoverished and crude due to the lack of education, the stern climate and the barren surroundings. The annual per capita income is around $160. For this $160, they need to spend a whole year on the cold and high altitude. But for us, it is only worth around 20 hours' work. However, their living region, the gateway to Mt. Everest provides chances for them to contact with western civilization. Tourism provides the Sherpa with alternative activities and sources of income. The people use their homes as overnight shelters for mountain-climbing expeditions. New lodges and teahouses are springing up across the Khumbu region. Countless porters have emerged headed up from the lowland forests, carrying freshly cut wood beams that weight excess of one hundred pounds- crushing physical toil, for which they are paid about $3 a day-it is still an attractive pay compared with $0.4 that they can earn as a trader or a farmer. Overall, the arrival of westerners changes the lifestyle of the Sherpas forever. This is a radical change from their traditional roles as traders and farmers. While these ancestral roles remain a staple element of Sherpa life, the leading of climbs and treks has become a mainstay of their economy and objectively make their lives easier.
For centuries, the Sherpas revere the great mountains of their region as dwelling places of gods and goddesses. The very thought of climbing them is considered blasphemous. Meanwhile the $1400 to $2500 for two mouths of hazardous work as a climbing Sherpa or a sirder is still attractive pay for them. With the opening of Nepal in 1950s, the number of Sherpas working in mountaineering increases. In modern times, "Sherpa"ÃÂ does not only mean "Easterner"ÃÂ but any porter, climber or trek leader- jobs Sherpas have been doing for about 100 years. From the first British Everest expedition in 1921, Sherpas' strength, honesty, hardworking, attable and intelligent have made them ideal companions on the mountain. Dr.Cynthia Beall of case Western Reserve University says: "The Everest climbers must not only exert great physical effort to climb the mountain, but do so while under tremendous hypoxic stress. This stress is not something that can be mitigated in the way, for instance, that we would put on extra clothes when we are cold. We must adapt physiologically. How the Sherpas do this more effectively than others has been a puzzle to anthropologists and physiologists, and we don't really have the answer. There is evidence of a gene that allows their blood to carry more oxygen, but there are other factors that affect this, as well." The Sherpas become an integral part international Himalayan climbing as guides and partners. Every Everest expedition has relied on Sherpa support. Many Sherpas have summitted and many more have lost their lives. Because of their contribution to route fixing and ferrying supplies, they find themselves to the extreme risks of high mountain climbing more frequently than their employers. Even since 1922, when seven Sherpas are killed in an avalanche during the second British expedition, a disproportionate number of Sherpas have died on Everest--fifty-three all told. Indeed, they account for more than a third of all Everest fatalities. Sherpas who learn technical climbing skills and work high on the peaks-especially those who have summitted Everest- enjoy great esteem in their communities, bringing the same honor as becoming a Buddhism, or the Sherpas may lose their lives, leaving their young wives, children and old parents in the poor villages, which makes the families' lives harder and more disparate than before. Although Sherpas are considered as the footnotes to greatness, sometimes, Sherpas don't get enough respect or attention. They are not treated as well as the western climbers. For instance, in Scott's expedition in 1996, when a climbing Sherpa named Ngawang got the high-attitude sickness-HAPE, he wasn't allowed to evacuated from Base Camp to Kathmandu by helicopter which would have cost $5,000. He is delayed and by the time he was down to Kathmandu, it was too late for him. Finally, he is dead, leaving behind a wife and four daughters in Rolwaling. Nobody can imagine how hard his wife's life would be. Sometimes the disaster of one Sherpa's death even causes his wife or old mom's suicide. Although history has recorded their deeds as mere footnotes to greatness, it is the Sherpa contribution and effect that has been the backbone of most expeditions on Everest.
Sherpas are the group of mysterious and hardworking people. They have simple and crude life. In modern times, they become the backbone of most expeditions on Everest. The load is large, the mountain is tall and the way to get the top is to take on step, then another. It is worked for Sherpas for hundreds of years. Sherpas, the world's highest-living people, are the tigers of mountains.