Globalization of Interaction Systems and the Culture in Ethnicity: Popular Songs and Production of Nepali Ethnoscapes in South-East Asia

By Gunnar Haaland and Poonam Gurung.

Published by The Diversity Collection

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The theme of this paper is the cultural expression a particularly gifted Nepalese singer, Rocky Thapa, gave to the importance of being Nepalese. It is through such "symbolic work" that perceptions of "ethnoscapes" are shaped and indoctrinated. In Rocky’s songs dominant idioms are derived from Nepalese nature, Nepalese customs and Nepalese past, i.e. idioms that may have an appeal to all Nepalese irrespective of caste and ethnicity. Although the appeal is to symbols that can serve to foster the importance of Nepaliness as a basis for belonging to an imagined community, this does not mean that the caste/ethnicity interaction boundaries are broken down. It does mean however that sectors of activities where such boundaries are made relevant have been changed and so has the cultural content organized through such interaction boundaries.
Ethnoscapes do not exist by themselves from a ‘primordial’ past; they require ongoing expression and confirmation. Past events and features of the natural environment in a remembered "homeland" may be sources for spinning compelling webs of significance extolling the values of belonging to a group that shares that past and that nature. Typically such spinning takes the form of myths, songs, stories and other conventional forms of symbolic representation.
We shall here present material of an ethnoscape very different from what is experienced in Nepal, namely Nepalese multi-caste/ethnic communities among Kachins, Shans, Burmese, Indian and Chinese traders in the Kachin state of Northern Myanmar. While Nepalese identity is irrelevant as category regulating interaction in a Nepalese hill village, the situation for "islands" of Nepalese in an "ocean" of Burmese of different ethnic groups is very different.

Keywords: Nepali Diaspora, Myanmar, Ethnic Identity, Popular Songs

International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp.77-84. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 525.680KB).

Prof. Gunnar Haaland

Professor, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen, bergen, Bergen, Norway

I was borne in 1938 in Norway, and was awarded my Ph.D in Social Anthropology in 1966. My research has focused on Human Ecology, Economic Anthropology, Ethnic relations, and Socio-cultural Evolution. I have pursued this reseach in applied and basic research in several countries, most importantly Sudan, Nepal and Bangladesh. In 1967 I was employed as lecturer, and from 1988 until present as Professor at Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen (Uof). On leave from UofB I have been employed two years as lecturer at the University of Karthoum, Sudan, and two years as Director of the Social Sciences at The International Livestock Centre for Africa in Addis Abeba. I have worked as Consultant for The World Bank, FAO, IFAD, ILO as well as NGO’s in about 20 countries in Africa and Asia. Over the last twelve years I have been heavily involved in cooperation with universities in Africa (Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda) and in Asia (Nepal, Bangladesh and China). For the last two years I have every Autumn in Shanghai been running a Fudan University-UofB joint course on Globalization Issues for Chinese and Norwegian Students, and in Kunming a Yunnan Nationalities University-UofB joint course on Ethnic Relations.

Poonam Gurung

Research Assistant, Kathmandu, Nepal

Poonam Gurung was borne in Malaysia in 1962. In 1999 she got her M. Phil (A+) Sosialantropologi at University of Bergen. She is daughter Nepalese Gurkha soldier and went to primary school in Hong Kong, and to Secondary school and University (North Eastern Hill University) in Meghalaya, India where she did her BA in Education. In 1990 she migrated with her family to Nepal. She was employed as Administrative Secretary in The Tribhuvan University-University of Bergen "Human Ecology Program" from 1993 to 2001. From 2001 until present she has been employed as Research Assistant in my prosjekt Ethnic Identity and Globalization of Social Networks. She speaks Nepali, Hindi, Khasi and English fluently.

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