Appendix II: The Field Work

The field work for this dissertation was conducted during two periods in 1982 and 1983: February - December 1982 and August - December 1983. The field work in the village Sunakothi, Lalitpur Jilla, was begun in March 1982, when I moved to the village after a one month period of reconnoitering for a suitable village. I had then been looking for a village which would fulfill the following criteria: it should be small so that I could follow most major public activities without difficulty; its dominant caste should be Jyapu (indeed, a one caste village was preferable as caste orthodoxy, which would have made an outsider’s stay in the village difficult, is less rampant where there is no status competition in terms of caste on the local level); it should preferably not have had any previous extensive anthropological field work done in it; and I should be able to find a host household. Sunakothi fulfilled these criteria. It also had the advantage of being close to Patan (approximately 4 km) and connected to it by a dirt road which was passable for bicycles, although very mucky during the monsoon. Thus, I was able to continue language lessons in Kathmandu (10 km) and to collect data on the Uray caste through key-informant technique during the entire fieldwork.

Sunakothi village proper is inhabited solely by the Jyapu caste, though within the Panchayat bearing the same name, one also finds one Naye (Newar butcher) household, several Thapa Chetri hamlets, and a small number of Magar and Sarki households. The field of study was delimited to the Newars only, as the difficulties with studying the whole Panchayat would have been too great, given the limited resources of money and time and the difficulties of working with widely differing castes (see below).

In Sunakothi I lived in an extended family of twelve. This household had a good standing in the village and was, in comparison to other village households, neither rich nor poor. During the first period of the field work, in 1982, it was in a somewhat marginal position, as it was mourning the death of the household’s eldest man. Indeed, this was possibly the very reason that I was accepted into the household, as a means of diversion and consolation after the loss of the household head. One drawback was that many domestic ceremonies were not observed, or were observed on a minor scale only during the mourning period. On the other hand I could closely attend the rites which follow a demise. During my second period in the village the household was not in mourning, and the normal calendrical rites were observed.

In Sunakothi I gradually came to participate in more and more of the activities in the village. Although the villagers initially found it somewhat odd that I had chosen to live there, I was soon accepted as a part of the village life. I believe my earlier field work experiences in Nepal (20 months 1973-75) were crucial, as I was aware of some of the worst pitfalls for a field worker in a Hindu society. Initially, it was also important that I was married. In the deliberations within my host household, before I was admitted, this apparently was an important issue. This I could determine from the persistent questions about my married status and about my wife. A young, unmarried foreign male would have been met with utter scepticism and have been regarded as a threat to the village women. Once in the village, I was initially ignored by many of the adults, until it was realized that I was learning Newari. When it was understood that I cared for the villagers’ cultural distinctiveness (“newariness”) and appreciated it to the extent that I was willing to learn their language, everyone, young and old, started to speak Newari with me, often far more than I could understand. And, often, I found myself in the student’s situation of trying to repeat words or phrases after someone who persistently urged me on.

Photography was also helpful in gaining contact. Cameras were exceedingly rare in the village; and, although initially reluctant to let me take pictures (would one ever see them?), when I came back a week later with black and white prints, my standing rose. Indeed, this led to a steady stream of invitations and the distribution of innumerable pictures of villagers lined up against the wall in their best clothes. And, when I conducted surveys with tightly structured interviews, which the villagers tended to find boring and odd, photography was often a good bargaining point; a sincere response to the interview would result in a series of portrait photographs of the household members. Indeed, towards the end of the field work I would encounter a great many of my photographs mounted in the frames in which the most popular Hindu Gods, the Royal family, and family pictures are placed.

The villagers had a vague conception of why I was in the village. To my knowledge, only one person in the village, the Pradhan Pancha’s brother, knew what a Ph.D., dissertation was, although among the literate in Kathmandu and Patan many knew very well. In the beginning I tried to explain to the villagers precisely what I was up to. But, I soon realized that most did not have sufficient knowledge of the outside world to understand that in foreign countries there were research funding institutions who would finance my stay in the village, etc., without exceedingly lengthy explanations. Then, I settled for a short standard explanation which was close to the real circumstances. Financed by the Swedish Government[1] I was in the village to write a book about the village. If the conversation took place in my room I would show Toffin’s (1977) monograph on Pyangau.

During six months of the period in the field my wife Elisabeth joined me. To the villagers we appeared pretty much as any Newari couple. We lived in our own room in the joint family, as in a cell in the hive, though, of course, we were also rather remarkable and foreign. Few, if any, had ever seen a woman on a bicycle before Elisabeth turned up on one, and a pretty red one, too. Incidentally, red is considered suitable for recently married young women. We never pretended, nor had the ambition, to appear as Jyapu. Though people often joked with us saying we were Jyapu and should settle in Sunakothi for good, no one took it seriously.

 

 

The first months of the field work were spent merely living in the village, learning the local language, gaining friends, participating in, observing, and taking daily notes on the villagers’ activities. This type of general participating observation was continued throughout the field work. When my research visa and affiliation to Tribhuvan University was granted in May 1982, I began a more systematic collection of data. An extensive survey of the households’ economies and food habits had been planned. However, the monsoon season proved to be patently unsuitable for time-consuming interviews, as the villagers were very occupied with the rice transplantation and other work in the paddy fields. Proper survey work, using questionnaires, etc., could commence first in September when the demand for labour input in the fields had slackened somewhat.

During the field work three languages were used: English, Nepali, and Newari. Initially, English and my own unsophisticated Nepali were used in interviews and general conversation. Later, towards the end of the field work, I could also handle minor conversations and understand conversations around me in Newari.

Working in a caste society one’s work is subject to various extraordinary difficulties. One problem closely related to the conceptions of caste is that caste tends to “stick” to one. When living with one caste, people tend to regard one as, if not strictly belonging to it, as contaminated by its status. Thus, it is nearly impossible to move between castes of highly varied status: e.g., between Brahmans and Pore (sweepers). It may be perfectly acceptable to the Pore but the Brahmans would not accept it. During my field work, I moved much between the Jyapu and Uray castes which are close in ritual status and encountered no difficulties. However, it was made clear to me that I had better not associate (overtly) with lamaju and thiyemaju castes. Although modern-minded persons would not have objected, there were elder relatives and neighbours. A second major difficulty is that a westerner one is not quite acceptable according to the traditional norms: westerners are ritually of a low status. Indeed, in the old legal code foreigners are classed as Mleccha, seventh among the castes from which the “clean” castes may not accept water, just below the leather-working Kulu caste.[2] However, the traditional low ritual rank ascribed to foreigners is to some extent counterbalanced by the wealth foreigners are thought to possess, and by the common feeling that one after all has rather much to learn from the West and from Japan, in particular. More egalitarian attitudes are also gaining ground, particularly among the young. Nevertheless, to become accepted is difficult, and non-Hindu anthropologists working with middle level castes and upwards, according to tradition, are bound to be excluded from many ritual occasions. In the instances where the people are performing religiously significant acts one can but rarely participate as closely as one would like to. This is, indeed, an expression of the social phenomena one is studying. The rules that are valid in intercaste-relationships are applied to anthropologists, too.

Thus, for much of the data on the sacred functions in Newari society I have had to rely on interviews. In Sunakothi approximately seventy people were interviewed. In Kathmandu I used key-informant technique with cross-checking and feedback. Two people were employed by me: Durga Bahadur Maharjan in Sunakothi and Prem Bahadur Kansakar in Kathmandu. Durga Bahadur Maharjan was a son in the house where I lived, and for some periods I employed him as a field assistant. Initially, I planned to use a field assistant from Kathmandu who had highly recommended previous experience of such work. However, I soon realized that Durga could do a superior job with his great knowledge of local society. Already in February 1982 I established contact with Prem Bahadur Kansakar, who taught me Newari and was my key-informant. He was eminently well qualified for both purposes, being a teacher at the TriChandra College in charge of the M.A. education in Newari. He is also well-known and recognized as a poet and author of short stories and as one of the greatest private collectors of ancient Newari manuscripts. Throughout the field work I continued training in Newari. I went early in the mornings trice a week to Kathmandu for my lessons in Prem Bahadur Kansakar’s home. During the first period of our relationship he taught me Newari. I soon realized that he was literally a gold mine of information about Newari society and culture and that he could help make various phenomena I encountered in Sunakothi intelligible. Subsequently, we used less of our sessions for language studies and more for thematically structured interviews. The themes used were large and allowed a great deal of open-ended conversation: e.g., life cycle rites and calendrical feasts. The interviews were typed out and later remitted to Prem Bahadur Kansakar, who would read them and offer comments, make additions, and correct misunderstandings which had appeared. Here, he would be very self-critical, in the best sense of the word, and did not hesitate to change some details after a further query had proved the first version incorrect. In this regard he was a perfect “key-informant.” These preliminary type-outs were also circulated among other members of his caste who were well-educated and trained to read critically. Thereby, some details were added, though most of it seemed to them to be correct and even impressed them.

A different technique was used in Sunakothi. Here, Durga Bahadur Maharjan, worked as my assistant and key-informant. We interviewed elder villagers. He interpreted, translated into Nepali and English, and later, in privacy, I took down the notes. I did my best to check up with other people, in Nepali and Newari. However, as few people in Sunakothi knew English, I could not distribute typed copies as in Kathmandu. The material was typed and sorted out in Sweden, and then when I returned, read by Durga and friends in Kathmandu. Although it was not read by the informants, I could thus get an estimation of the correctness of the accounts of various rites, etc., and on some debatable points, I made further inquiries, which revealed that there are indeed very differing customs among different castes and localities.

Strictly structured interviews, following pre-made forms, were only made in Sunakothi. Three such surveys were conducted. One covered clusters of variables on demography, literacy, language abilities, standard of housing, access to radios and bicycles, landholding, agricultural production, income, participation in feasts, membership in guthis, etc. A second survey attempted to obtain data on food consumption month by month, but ended up as a list over the foods classified by the villagers. A third explored expenses for life cycle and calendrical rites, participation in such rites, etc. The first survey was most successful, i.e., a great deal of reliable data was collected, whereas, the second was a failure in relation to its original objective. The villagers got bored, to the extent that one nearly refused to answer the questions or gave joking replies (I eat two and a half kilo of chilli peppers a month). The result became a taxonomy of foods known to the villagers. The third survey also met with some difficulties. Recent legislation has put a ceiling on the number of guests and the expenditures for marriages. The greatest difficulty, however, was that many people did not like to answer questions about the funeral expenses and the subsequent feasts, as this brought sad memories to the fore. Here, I had to rely on my host’s kin and friendship relations, which limited the number of households. Of course, I could have persisted and surveyed more households, but I chose not to, as many people found the queries annoying to the extent that it would have lowered my standing in the village significantly.[3]

These surveys were written on pre-made forms, and the questioning was done by my assistant Durga Bahadur Maharjan after some training. We would go together, armed with a camera and cigarettes. Here, I would like to make two comments on survey work in Nepalese villages, although the results of the surveys and a discussion of their methodology shall be presented, in depth, elsewhere.

Firstly, I believe, it is an advantage to have a local assistant of respectable social standing for two reasons: namely, that a local assistant has little difficulty in getting access to the households’ women and the “inner” parts of the household. Normally, an outsider comes under suspicion if he contacts and talks with local women. A local assistant is also more able to estimate the reliability of the answers given: e.g., on landholding and income, where the respondents may fear giving accurate answers. Durga was perfect in both regards. He was known as a bright young man, one of the few who had succeeded in obtaining a School Leaving Certificate. He also had an understanding of what I was trying to do and an ability to be tactful, even strategical, in order to get answers to questions people had generally not ever been asked before. Secondly, the timing of survey work is very important. Preferably, lengthy interviews should be performed during the slack seasons in the agricultural cycle, in the winter months. Then, people may have a great deal of time for sitting around chatting, the agricultural work taking only a minor part of their time, if any. On the contrary, during the periods when the agricultural work is most demanding, they may work ten hours a day and in addition go up late at night to attend the irrigation channels. Then, people will be hard put just to find the time to answer one’s questions, whereas in the winter they may even regard a structured interview as an entertaining diversion.

In this dissertation I have for stylistic reasons not separated data coming from my own participation from that obtained from interviews. Hence, I will present below a list of the rites I have observed and to what extent, and those on which I have received the data from interviews:

Life Cycle Rites

                             

 

 

Observed

closely

Observed   partly

Observed little

Extensive interviews

Macabu

 

 

J

JU

Janakegu

 

 

J

JU

Kyeta puja

 

 

JUBV[4]

JU

Ihi

 

VBJ

S

JUBV

Vivahan

 

UJ

VBS

JU

Jyajunko

 

BV

 

JU

Nhyanbhu

 

J

 

JU

Ghasu

 

 

 

JU

Latya

J

 

 

JU

Khula

J

 

 

JU

Dakhila

J

 

 

JU

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calendrical rites

 

 

Observed

Observed

Observed

Extensive

 

 

closely

partly

little

interviews

Sunti

J

 

JU

 

Bala-Kumari Yatra[5]

 

J

 

 

J

Digupuja

 

 

 

J

Sivaratri

G

 

 

 

Sri Panchami

G

 

 

 

Bala-Kumari

 Yatra[6]

J

 

 

J

Sithinakha

J

 

 

J

Gathe Mangal

JU

 

 

J

Byajanakegu

J

 

 

J

Saparu

J

G

 

J

Mataya

J

G

 

J

Indra Yatra

J

G

 

JU

Chattanakha

J

 

 

JU

Mohani

J

 

 

JU

 

Legend:

B          =               Bare caste

G          =               General, refers to rites and feasts which are largely public and involve a

                               multitude of castes.

J           =               Jyapu caste

S           =               Shresta caste

U          =               Uray caste

V          =               Vajracharya

In the above tables I have ranked my degree of participation. Intensive observation denotes that I have followed the ritual proceedings closely and in all their phases, except for those parts for which a guthi is in charge, which are not accessible to non-guthyars. Partly observed implies that I have been able to participate in parts of the rites but not in all: e.g., I have been invited to Uray marriage processions and marriage feasts, but not to the most important rites of the marriage, the Nichaybhu. Little observation indicates that I have been able to observe only a minor part of the rites. Interviews indicate that I have obtained what could be called, “native thick description.”[7]

As far as cooking is concerned, I had to depend to a large extent on interviews. Although I was quite frequently invited to the villagers’ kitchens, I had to be very circumspect, as I was clearly aware that I was not acceptable in the kitchens according to traditional norms. And, I did not want to embarrass people by walking right into unknown households’ kitchens, which could have provoked annoyance and even rejection which could have jeopardized my standing in the village. Thus, I never requested the villagers to be admitted to their kitchens. Instead, I waited until I was invited, or simply brought, to the kitchen floor. Even in households where I had been quite frequently in the kitchen I would always inquire from below if I could come up. Most often I was told to come. But, it also occurred that the person I had called would ask me to wait and turn up two minutes later to see me in another room on the second floor. Then, one had been eating rice when I came. I also had the opportunity to observe the cooking closely, in some instances, but I could not follow the cooking process continuously. My male gender and tradition prevented anything of the sort. Indeed, sustained participant observation in kitchens should rather be made by a female anthropologist, preferably of the same, or a slightly higher caste status, than that studied.

Indeed, I sometimes used the traditional view to get visitors out of our room. When someone stayed too long, I would politely say that I was going to cook, whereafter the visitors respectfully would leave. If they thought that I might think myself of a too high caste to have them about when I cooked and ate, or if they were fearful that I might embarrass them by inviting them to share my boiled rice, was never pronounced.

The longer I stayed and the more friends and acquaintances I gained, the more often I was invited to people. Indeed, there were festival days, when I had so many invitations that I could not accept them all. With time I was also more often invited to witness domestic rituals. Then, I would always be placed separately from the line the others would sit in.

 



[1] Initially few of the villagers could differentiate Sweden from other European countries. Indeed, all Europeans seemed to be classified as “djheshi” (foreigners) or “angrezi” (English). Similarly, many classified the whole of India as “Calcutta”.

 

[2] Regmi 1970b:53.

 

[3] See, for instance, Moore (1972:366-371) on the reaction of the Valley’s people and press to research with the main thrust based on surveys.

 

[4] Among the Bare and Vajracharya, the Kyetapuja is slightly different and is known as Barechhuigu.

 

[5] Mangsir.

 

[6] Chaitra.

 

[7] See Geertz (1973:3-30) on “thick description.”