Summer Farmers, Winter Traders: Loba’s Adaptation through Changing Socio-Political Times
In upper Mustang, Nepal, lying beyond the Nepal Himalayas, summers are short with a single agricultural harvest and winters are harsh with much of the land covered in snow. Loba, inhabitants of the region, used to engage in trade in salt and wools from Tibet and food grains from the south until early 1960s. Historically, people used to migrate during the long winters to pilgrimage sites in Nepal and also to trade in the mid-hills selling trinkets along way. Recently, they have started to travel as far south as northern Indian cities where they sell woolen garments.
The mountain people of Nepal such as the Sherpa in the east, Tamang of central region, Thakali of western region, Bhotiya from Dolpa region, Byansi in Darchula in the west have been studied and written about by anthropologists, historians, and natural scientists, and occasional mountaineers, Mustang and its Loba people have only recently attracted scholarly attention. While most of the writings on Mustang look at it as a tourist destination, the last remaining kingdom of Tibet and its religious or cultural practices, or for the pre-historic people that lived in the region through recent archaeological excavations of ancient caves, studies on Loba’s social and economic practices are very few.
By reviewing historic literature on old salt and woolen trades and regional networks in Nepal and Tibet and interviewing former traders, moneylenders among the Loba, and present migrants, this paper will try to chart historic and current trends in the seasonal migration of the Loba. In addition, the paper will try to understand the choice of destinations, routes, and networks used during these transient migrations and explore if these seasonal migration as a livelihood strategy contribute significantly to the family and societal capital formation. This will be studied through the recent phenomenon of the Loba going and selling woolen garments in Indian cities by managing their image as Tibetan people, the result of Indian government policies towards its large Tibetan refugee population with whom the Loba are often confused with.
The presentation will focus on three major parts – the geopolitical influence on migration of Loba people, the local system/practices, social networks affecting the choice of migration destination/routes and the impact of transient migration on the Loba society and people. This proposal is based on preliminary literature review, interviews with former traders and money lenders living in Kathmandu and the researchers’ own experience living with Loba people and growing up seeing them migrate to India.