The Sherpa people live in the southern Himalaya, but only a few live in the Chinese territory at Zham Port, Chengtang Valley and Rongxia Village on the border between southwest China'sTibet and Nepal. Sherpa means 'oriental', which is why we call this ethnic group "people from the east".
Before the peaceful liberation of Tibet, Sherpa mainly lived on cargo exchanges and as porter for tourists. Later, with the development of agriculture and animal husbandry, various sidelining production and trade became prosperous there
Sherpa men wear white short-sleeved woolen coats trimmed with black wool known as 'pudou', with a crescent-shaped blade in the belt. Women wear brightly colored long-sleeved shirt. Beneath the shirt is a long and flowery skirt while outside the shirt is a handmade white woolen vest called Paduo. Sherpa women like combing a long braid decorated with red ribbons, and wearing golden or jade earrings.
Religion and Customs
Sherpa predominantly believe in Tibetan Buddhism. Within this, most Sherpa follow the Sakya and Kagyu sects while some others believe in Gelug and Nyingma sects of Tibetan Buddhism. Sakya and Kagyu followers can marry and live at home rather than in the temple. They cultivate the land of the temple and take turns going to the temple to burn incense, chant, and pray. Their Buddhist canons act as guidelines for their everyday actions, andthe monks have a special status amongst the Sherpa people.
They also revere spirits, believe in prediction by the stars, and it is common to perform divination before making major decisions.
When a loved one passed away a lama will first chant over them, which is then followed by a cremation or burial. Deceased adults are placed in a specially made wooden case and then are sent to be cremated. Two or three days after cremation, some of the ashes are strewn into rivers and the rest are covered with stones. When children pass away they are bundled into a fetus-shape and are then put it in caves or hollow trees. Over time, it will become lipocere.
Customs of the Sherpa people are largely influenced by their natural environment and traditional culture. They have some in common with Tibetan culture, but look much more characteristic and colorful.
Sherpa love drinking buttered tea, sweet tea, "baru" (corn beer), highland barley wine, yogurt, and soju. They like cooked food rather than raw meat. They do not eat fish, dog, veal, and though they are not accustomed to raising pigs, they eat pork sometimes. They do not kill cows, so any beef comes from cows that passed away naturally. This habit may be related to neighboring Nepalese customs. In the past families ate meals of rice and vegetables were eaten using their hands. Now, many Sherpa people have gradually begun using chopsticks.
Normally Sherpa live in a wooden house, but when herding livestock they live in wooden sheds. Their buildings are unique and generally have gable-shaped roofs. All around the building stones are used to construct thick barrier walls, which the house is built upon. Most buildings are two-stories tall. The upstairs is generally separated into three parts: the kitchen, the bedroom and the storeroom. The downstairs is used for keeping miscellaneous objects or cattle and sheep.
Sherpa women [Photo taken by Wangchug Dorje]
In Sherpa customs there are two ways to pay respects: one way is to present a khada (a Tibetan ceremonial scarf), and the other way is to bow your head against the other person's hands or knees. In ancient times, they also have their heads bowed and tongue out to show the respect,and this practice has not yet been completely eliminated. Sherpa attaches heavy importance to gift giving. Giving gifts to one another on a festive occasion of congratulations is commonplace. But the returning number of gifts must greater than the number of original gifts. Generally it should be doubled, otherwise it is considered to be rude. A family receiving gifts will create a register in order to redouble the presents they have received so they may give back to others. They also highly revere their elders. It is generally considered to be impolite to call elders by their first names.
Sherpa have several fixed festivals. The Sherpa New Year is the grandest festival, followed by celebration of the Tibetan calendar year. Twenty days before new year's day, people soak rice and then use it to cook pancakes that are known as "kere" and "xipeng". They also prepare beef, mutton, ghee, flat dried foods, barley and potatoes. In New Year's morning everyone goes to a gully at the side of a stream to fetch a bucket of clean water. Then they will return home to bath with the water and wear new clothes in a wish to clean the dirt of the past year and usher in the new.. Before wearing new clothes they brush their bodies once with their own hands to ensure longevity. Then, family members gather together, presenting khada scarves to the image of Buddha which is usually hung in the middle of the room.