Shyam Pahari, a young man from Badikhel, scratches a shallow circle on an earthen floor with the help of a bamboo stick and arrays pieces of very thin cut layers of bamboo branches inside the circular frame with the help of his friend Bikram Pahari to demonstrate their traditional craftsmanship of making a nanglo (a big circular tray-like dish). They call the process “hasa thayagu”. “We feel proud on doing what our forefathers had taught us, as this has helped to keep our lives going for ages”, Shyam Pahari passionately says.
Shyam and Bikram are members of the Pahari community of Badikhel (Lalitpur district), who together with people from Khopashi (Kavre district) and Thokarpa (Sindhupalanchowk district) gathered in the Khoapshi village (Kavre district) from 28 to 30 June 2013, when the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation began its work for establishing a community-based inventory of intangible cultural heritage. The meeting aimed at preparing an inventory by engaging community members. About 18 of them, including young men and women, and those having traditional occupations as farmers, healers, musicians, and craft workers actively worked to generate information on their intangible cultural heritage.
The Pahari people are one of the least studied and marginalized ethnic groups among the indigenous nationalities of Nepal. With a population of about 13,615 (census 2011), they majorly concentrated in the country’s central region. The community, whose main livelihood activities are agriculture, bamboo weaving, fishing, masonry work, carpentry, etc., have a distinct and rich intangible culture.
During the inventorying work, the participants were familiarized with the cultural heritage, especially the intangible heritage, its domains and importance and the need of its safeguarding. They were also introduced to the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003) and of the processes of carrying out community-based inventorying.
Community members along with the facilitators visited different locations to collect information on various domains of intangible heritage. They interviewed practitioners and elderly people about oral traditions and expressions and rituals related to passages of life. Several presentations were organized, such as that of the performing art of khyaali/maaruni naach, the traditional craftsmanship of hasha thayagu, and the traditional healing practice of dhaami-jhankri.
The information identified and collected on the spot by the community were put into the format for further processing in the ministry.
Sudev Pokharel, Chief of Panauti municipality, congratulated the Pahari community for recognizing their culture and the need of its safeguarding. He said that his community would have never become aware of the need to protect its intangible heritage if the Government of Nepal would not have taken such a practical community-based approach.
Kanchakaji Pahari, a resident of Badikhel, and chairperson of the district committee of Nepal Pahari Development Association, said that the increased use of cheaper material, for example plastic, have caused decline in the use of traditional bamboo items. He stressed the need of government policy to promote the indigenous skills to produce these items, which is essential for their living.
“You are custodians of such a rich and vibrant culture. Never lose your faith on it, this will pay you back”, said Sushil Ghimire, Secretary of the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, expressing his appreciation to the community and echoing the words of Ram Bahadur Pahari, a Shamanism practitioner, who said : “I offer my practice to shed a peace in the mind of a human in need of healing”. Bharatmani Subedi, Joint Secretary stressed that the communities are the main actors to safeguard their intangible culture.
Three officials from the ministry, Jaya Ram Shrestha, Jayanti Shrestha and Sunil Dongol, two researchers, Som Dhimal and Duryodhan Basnet and a representative from the National Archives, Jyoti Neupane, who were trained in capacity building workshops organized by the ministry and UNESCO in 2012-2013 for implementing the 2003 UNESCO Convention and a culture expert, Bhim Nepal, facilitated the inventorying work which is also assisted by a volunteer and a staff from the UNESCO Office in Kathmandu.