The role of commerce in Himalayan frontier communities

Preliminary reflections on the nexus of remoteness and connectivity


Two very different narratives shape the ways in which the Himalayan frontiers along the Nepal-Tibet border were and are being imagined: they alternately figure as hidden valleys that afford shelter to those in need, and as historical zones of intensive contact and bustling exchange. While the former narrative emphasises remoteness as defining condition of life, the latter foregrounds connectivity. However, we seldom think the two together.

In this talk I intend to show that remoteness and connectivity constitute each other in particular ways – they form a nexus. This nexus, I argue, is directly linked to the role of commerce in frontier communities along the Nepal-Tibet border.

Taking Limi (Upper Humla) and Walung (Taplejung district) as examples, I examine social mobility and stratification, household rights, village rules, marriage norms, and the motives of refuge and fortune for their potential to reconcile the outward directed energy of commerce with the local requirements of agropastoral life.

A recording of the talk can be downloaded here.