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The Yakha : culture, environment and development in East Nepal.

Russell, Andrew (1992) 'The Yakha : culture, environment and development in East Nepal.', Thesis submitted to the Board of the Faculty of Anthropology and Geography, University of Oxford for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.


This is a social anthropological study of a Tibeto-Burman ethnic group, the Yakha, based in East Nepal. The field research involved was carried out from from January 1989 until October 1990. To the best of my knowledge, the Yakha have never before been the subject of anthropological study, and hence this work aims at filling a void in the ethnographic and linguistic record of Nepal. A central question addressed in this regard is the extent to which the Yakha can be treated as a cultural whole. The twin problems of over-generality and overspecificity in anthropological accounts, highlighted respectively by the diversity encompassed by the term 'Yakha' and the many similarities between Yakha and neighbouring ethnic groups, are addressed. At the same time this study is a contribution to ecological anthropology. Much anthropological work in this genre takes a materialistic, ethnocentric and overly empiricist approach to 'environment', regarding it as something with which people interact at a purely subsistence level. Whi l e not ignoring the importance of the 'natural' environment, this study argues that a wider definition should be used which allows for other analytic perspectives, and people's own perceptions, to be taken into account. Expanding our conception of 'environment' thus allows the inclusion of elements such as the household environment, spirit pantheon and the outside world. The fieldwork conducted took place during a tumultuous period in Nepal's political history, and the ethnography records the outcome of the changes in a Village community in the East. The effects of migration, education and development projects in the community observed are also discussed with a view to understanding both how the Yakha are influenced by and involved in the changing world around them.

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