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Writing about power figures

Gisèle Krauskopff
Traduction de Matthew Cunningham
Cet article est une traduction de :
« Ethno-graphies » des figures du pouvoir

Texte intégral

“In the last analysis, whether consciously or no, it is always by borrowing from our daily experiences and by shading them, where necessary, with new tints that we derive the elements which help us to restore the past.”
Marc Bloch,
The Historian’s Craft.

  • 1 The Tokpe Gola valley, on the road leading to Tibet, is populated by culturally Tibetan Bhotya, but (...)

1It is 1970. Philippe Sagant is walking towards the Tibetan Tokpe valley in northeastern Nepal with Motta and Tarang, two Limbu friends from the village of Libang, where he has been conducting a study since 1966.1

  • 2 In the illustration titles and captions, the texts in quotation marks are by Sagant.

fig. 1 – “The fine team”2

fig. 1 – “The fine team”2

Right to left: Motta (Limbu friend from Libang), Nuruk (Bhotiya friend from Tartong), Sagant and two friends from Nuruk, encountered on the Tokpe Gola path

Photographer unknown, May 1971; source: LESC_FPS_7.1.9

  • 3 This text precedes a description of game scenes published in this issue (LESC_FPS_3.7.1).

2He recounts this northward journey:3

  • 4 Designates the wooden receptacle and the beer it contains, usually made of millet or barley.

It’s already late. We want to get to Dalaincha before nightfall. It’s a kind of borderline where the Limbu and Bhotiya, Tibetans who have settled in Nepal, cohabitate in the same village. Tarang who’s carrying is ahead. We haven’t seen him for a good hour. His older brother Motta and I pick up our pace to catch up with him. The path overlooks the river from a cliff about a hundred metres high. Forming stairs, it climbs across the rock. Two Sherpa appear, descending towards us in their black wool clothing wearing their red pearl around their necks. They’re carrying potato baskets on their backs. Motta stops. […] I set off again without waiting. Let them talk about whatever they want, tonight I’m not interested. All I can think of is reaching Dalaincha, drinking a tongba,4 eating my rice and going to sleep. In the field you can have off-days, but I still feel guilty. Even so, Shimbuk is the goal of the trip. I should have listened in. That’s what fieldwork is all about. There’s always something happening. You’re always running around in your big clogs chasing after life as it passes by. Why this? Why that? Ultimately you feel like you have rights over people. What do they have to talk about, the Sherpa and Motta? They seem to know each other well.

  • 5 Raiti: farmer working the land of a property owner.
  • 6 A unit of volume equivalent to around 5 litres.

I’ve known Motta for a while. Since we’ve been working together, I know what I owe him. But what about him? What is it that so strongly compels him to understand what I’m doing? Why does he keep working with me? Even with the best informants, those who become friends sooner or later, that sort of thing isn’t very common. […] Motta has caught up with me on the path. He walks behind me in silence, at the same pace. When I stumble on a rock, he stumbles too. In fact, he’s making fun of me. He’s aping my bad mood. He knows I feel guilty for having missed something. He ends up laughing, and speaks. “That was Pasang, a Sherpa from Shimbuk. He’s our raiti,5 his family has lived on our clan’s lands for three generations. He’s from Shimbuk. He bought potatoes from Dorje Bhotiya. The prices rose a couple of weeks ago: one rupee for a pathi.6 In Shimbuk, lama Bonpo is on his deathbed. His three sons are by his side. They’ll have to find another house to live in. But there are no longer many people in the village. The men are carrying grain on the backs of yaks from the low valleys of Tokpe. They’re preparing commercial expeditions to Tibet. Only the women are left.”

  • 7 LESC_FPS_3.7.1, Mundhunge chef de clan II, chapitre 1 “Portrait de Dambar Doj”.

These lines are extracted from an unpublished manuscript on the life of a great Limbu chief in which Sagant, the ethnographer, reveals his relations with his informants, his inner questions, and how the subject of that book took shape.7 Guided by a literary concern for translating the Limbu experience and his own, this “second book of the ethnologist” (Debaene, 2010) never saw the light of day. However, in his published writings, Sagant gave the most prominence to the words of his Limbu friends, particularly to Motta’s personal accounts. Ethnological writing was a major focus in all of his works, from the time of his monographs of the 1970s until his late comparative writings on the political order of Himalayan societies. He considered form to be inseparable from analysis. How can one translate the experience of the people under study, while producing an ethnological analysis? How can one avoid ethnocentrism? In the introduction to an English publication of his articles on the Limbu of Nepal, some of them twenty years old, he wrote: “I would definitely not write them in the same way today. For, curiously enough, on second reading, it is not so much the matters of essence as those of form, that have disturbed me” (1996c: 1). Form was part of analysis.

3This issue brings together contributions that establish a dialogue with Sagant’s published writings and with pages from his archives. This project developed little by little after his death in 2015. Almost a generation had passed since his illness had withdrawn him from the world in 1996, creating a vacuum that raised questions about how to pay tribute to his pionnering work. The ethnological discipline and its subjects had changed, as had the status of Himalayan studies. In the 1960s—a prosperous period for ethnology—Nepal was a new field site open to endless possibilities. How, then, could we evoke works that constituted a defining moment in the development of the ethnology of that region? How could we look back at a research career, and most importantly, why? For his friends, and for the students to whom he showed so much devotion, it is of course a way to keep their brutally interrupted exchanges alive, to bring back an original, innovative voice, but also, more unsettlingly, to think about what remains of an elder’s work.

  • 8 Cf. the obituaries by Buffetrille and Lecomte Tilouine (2015), Gros and Schlemmer (2016), Dollfus ( (...)
  • 9 The French word “graphie” means “written form”.

4This is why this issue goes beyond a posthumous tribute8 by including Sagant’s archives. The unpublished pages presented here illustrate the importance he attributed to “ethno-graphie9 in developing his ethnological analyses. These texts were chosen to echo themes taken up by the contributions, such as migration or play. Thus they connect with the published writings and with their current interpretation.

  • 10 Some examples are Bert, 2012; Laurière, 2008, 2016; Laurière and Mary, 2019. On the archives specif (...)

5Recent interest in ethnological knowledge-building and its history, which this tribute reflects, goes hand-in-hand with interest in ethnologists’ archives.10 In 2003, after Sagant’s illness worsened, his archives were deposited at the Bibliothèque Éric-de-Dampierre, with the classifications he himself had established during various periods. Such a collection says much about what lies behind publications, about their field of possibilities or impossibilities, and about the “workshop” in which research is developed (Bert, 2012). Published work is not enough to detail a career. Sagant also put considerable effort into transmitting ethnological knowledge between 1978 and 1996, both inside and outside of the purely academic field, thus influencing the second generation of French ethnologists working in the Himalayas.

  • 11 For an overview of his career, cf. his application for grade DR2 at the CNRS (LESC_FPS_1.1.3, Titre (...)

6The works that Sagant left behind contained highly original thought and writing. This introduction will attempt to provide an overview. But a research career is not just individual: it involves work relationships, groups with shifting boundaries, and everything that prepares and surrounds publications, and determines whether or not they are circulated. Continuities emerge from this, but so do ruptures linked to new collaborations or to changes in the field of study.11 Therefore, this introduction endeavours to situate Sagant’s career within the networks and institutions that framed it, and show its place in the circulation of the ideas proper to his generation. This tribute thus contributes to a reflection on the establishment of the Himalayan field, as well as on the thought currents and themes developing within it.

An ethnologist’s landscape: on the fringe

7Sagant first travelled to Nepal in 1966, at a pioneering time for ethnological research on that small uncolonized Himalayan state, which opened to the West in the early 1950s. The Hindu kingdom of Nepal had withdrawn within boundaries imposed by the British colonisation of India in the late 18th century. Setting off from Kathmandu on foot, he walked all the way to the country’s eastern border, his pockets stuffed with one-rupee notes, as he smilingly recounted to me during our first meeting in 1979 at Paris Nanterre University. He set up in the village of Libang in the Mewa valley in Limbu country.

fig. 2 – Maps of Limbu country and the Mewa Khola valley

fig. 2 – Maps of Limbu country and the Mewa Khola valley

“To the north, an approximately 5000-metre pass links Tokpe Gola to the passes running from Tukdam to Tibet. To the south, Dhoban is a traditional intersection of various roads, two of which descend towards the Indian plain”
“If I decided to work at the scale of a valley, this was initially because I hit a stumbling block. If the study stayed at the scale of a village monography, one could remain precise, but one lacked sufficient comparative elements”

Source: LESC_FPS_3.9.2, Le paysan Limbu

  • 12 NEFA or North-East Frontier Agency, a designation dating from the British occupation, now the state (...)

8To the north, steep paths lead towards Tokpe, a culturally Tibetan village that exerted a strong attraction on the ethnologist; to the south, valleys and terraces punctuate lower mountains all the way to the plain of Terai near the Indian border, which did not interest him much. To the east is the border with Darjeeling and Sikkim, where many Limbu and Nepalese emigrated a long time ago (Subba, Vandenhelsken, Warner, present volume); and further still is north-east India and the fringes of Burma, now inaccessible, home to Tibeto-birman speaking populations studied in the colonial era. Sagant would have liked to work there. British writings on the NEFA12 had prepared him for it, and would remain a mirror reflecting his research on the Limbu. Conducting an investigation at Nepal’s eastern border means approaching populations that resisted both British colonisation and Indianisation—another form of colonialism—from the inside. The Limbu are known for having stood up to the conquest of the Hindu Shah kings, which led to the founding of modern Nepal in the late 18th century and the establishment of its borders in the midst of the British colonisation of India (Warner, present volume). However, like everyone in Nepal, they share their everyday lives and many interactions with people who came from every direction. The introductory text shows very well just how complex is natural and human landscape of the Himalayas, where displacements have always been the norm.

fig. 3 – Tokpe Gola, at the heart of the alpine pastures, at an altitude of 4000 metres

fig. 3 – Tokpe Gola, at the heart of the alpine pastures, at an altitude of 4000 metres

This is where the Limbu’s Mundhunge and Sandunghe ancestors from Tibet separated. This is where the reservoir of the souls of unborn children and of the deceased is located (Sagant, 1982b: 209)

Photo Philippe Sagant, October 1970; source: LESC_FPS_7.1.9, film 10.7

fig. 4 – The market town of Dhoban (900 m)

fig. 4 – The market town of Dhoban (900 m)

The Newar bazar of Dhoban seen from the north, coming from Libang.
Located on the medium mountains, the bazars were founded by Newar tradesmen from the Kathmandu Valley

Photo Philippe Sagant, April 1971; source: LESC_FPS_7.1.8, film 6.37

  • 13 This category is based on a linguistic one. Tibeto-Burman languages are spoken over a vast region ( (...)

9Going back over Sagant’s writings means returning to the early days of ethnological knowledge-building on the Himalayas. His work is part of that pioneering time, also a time when new research institutions were being set up. In the 1960s, Nepal was surrounded by conflict zones or closed states. For a whole generation, this cultural in-between became a kind of laboratory of Himalayan cultures, epitomising the Himalayas as a complex interzone between two great civilisations of the written word, the Indian and Sino-Tibetan worlds. Although historians of religion and other knowledgeable amateurs were making their way to Nepal in hope of finding Tibet (exiles converged there after the Dalai Lama’s flight to India in 1959), the first professional ethnographers were mainly interested in the “Tibeto-Burman” ethnic groups that had remained on the margins.13 The desire to sketch a map of an “ethnic mosaic”—a term frequently used at the time—favouring an approach outside of time and writing, sustained a divide between text specialists on the one hand, and ethnologists on the other. Sagant’s career, from his study of a Tibeto-Burman ethnic group to his comparative reflection on political power in the Himalayas (more precisely on “dual power”, something I will return to) is an example of one of the rare attempts to resolve the tensions pervading this field, hence the obstacles he encountered.

  • 14 LESC_FPS_6.1, 6.2 and 6.3.

10What is special about Nepal’s situation (keeping in mind that it was not colonised by the West) is that the observations made in those pioneering years became historical in a very short period of time, two generations at most. During that brief moment, an abundance of data was collected in the then-dominant monographic tradition, but there was little comparative research or analysis of this area’s contributions in ethnological reflection. Sagant attempted a comparative undertaking that had little echo or filiation, and was interrupted too early by his illness (Gros and Schlemmer, 2016). Speaking to his students, he characterised himself as a “dinosaur, belonging to the last generation of ethnologists” (or the second-to-last, considering Nepal’s special situation).14 He thought that what remained were comparison and mining other sources. This is the choice he made at the beginning of the 1980s. He stepped over the Himalayas, resituating the Limbu of the Hinduised eastern fringes in this vaster whole, as part of an ambitious comparison centred on the formalisation of a power model he characterised as “archaic” (a somewhat elementary form of the politics that pre-existed the centralised states), and on values and institutions linked to the feat-morality at its foundation.

11That is why this issue also presents English translations of two articles illustrating the unique comparative perspective he developed in this second phase, revolving around the confrontation (“dual power”) between this undivided form of political power and the centralising forces at work integrating marginal populations, in both Hindu and Buddhist contexts. One concerns a culturally Tibetan Buddhist population in Nepal (Nyishang), while the other examines the Hinduised Limbu, but they should be read together, the first having inspired a reinterpretation of data on the Limbu.

  • 15 It was supposed to appear in English in an exhibition catalogue that was never published (Oppitz an (...)
  • 16 This text was initially presented on 13/04/1995 at the “Rencontre nationale Cinéma et enfance”. It (...)

12At the end of his career, Sagant developed a much larger-scale reflection on the notions and institutions connected with feat-morality, but this was disrupted and then interrupted by his illness. Two unpublished texts written for a broader readership (reaching them was an important goal for him) on “the transgression of prohibitions” and “the crossing of boundaries” are included in this issue. One of them (1994)—an analysis of a major transgression in the Hindu context, the sacrifice of a cow, a Limbu shaman’s final attempt to save a chief who had “lost face”, was struck with “shame”, and was therefore threatened with death—brings together stories from the far reaches of the Limbu field and ancient sources on Tibet and China;15 the other, prepared for a lecture on the education of children (1995), explores the institution of “ritual hunts” that, in his view, stem from play, like an initiation in courage and transgression.16 These interconnected texts give a lot of room to the work of historians of religion and ancient periods, as well as to his ethnographic sources.

Generation: from the Algerian War to the Musée de l’Homme

  • 17 Georges Condominas (1921–2011) was a post-war figure in ethnology who specialised in Southeast Asia (...)

13Sagant was part of a generation marked by the colonial wars—the Algerian War in his case. In a tribute for the 60th birthday of Georges Condominas,17 to whom he was very close, he wrote: “[Condominas] belonged to that generation of ethnologists—a unique one that will have no descendant—who lived through decolonisation. They were in their twenties during the Second World War… Their whole lives, they knocked around in a world of fire and blood” (1981a: 7). Criticism of colonialism accompanied that of ethnocentrism.

  • 18 Lucien Bernot (1919–1993) was an ethnologist who taught at the EPHE and the Collège de France (chai (...)

14Born in 1936, Sagant was only a child during the Second World War, and he retained a happy memory of the liberation of Paris. After finishing high school, he spent 1957–1958 travelling the roads around the Mediterranean. This is probably why he was later so sympathetic to those half-hippy, half-adventurer students who pursued a certain predilection for elsewhere in Nepal and at “Langues O’” (Inalco). He undertook studies in literature at the Sorbonne in 1958–1959, but in October 1959 his deferment of military service was not extended. It was a breach: years in the army from 1959 to 1962, and the brutal experience of the Algerian War (cf. Gaborieau, present volume). He resumed his studies in 1962, finishing off his bachelor’s degree in 1963, with certificates in ethnology, French literature, the history of religion, and prehistoric archaeology, a set of subjects that foreshadowed his later interests. But ethnology dominated: he became a student in Section VI of the EPHE in 1964, studying “Tibeto-Burman” speaking populations under Bernot.18 Why the Tibeto-Burmans, and why that attraction to the rebellious, warring populations on the outskirts of Burma? Whatever the reason, this led him to the Limbu in eastern Nepal.

  • 19 On scholarly lives cf. Adell and Lamy, 2016; Laurière, 2008. On generational configurations in the (...)
  • 20 The Recherches coopératives sur programme (RCP) system was created in 1962 by the CNRS. It was firs (...)

15It would be nice to know how Sagant went about making the shift from literature, which he ranked highest, to ethnology. In other words, how does one become an ethnologist, and become a certain kind of ethnologist? The answer to this question weaves a personnal journey together with the vagaries of history, training, institutions and the relationships established within them.19 The Algerian War no doubt represented a major turning point for Sagant. Added to this is a dimension proper to ethnology: the choice of this field, and the choice of investigation site (a landscape?) are part of a life plan. As he began his training, a certain conception of ethnology took shape, linking the draw of literature with ethnographic practice in societies that had remained marginal. This happened in the context of French institutions of the 1960s that were moulded by the Musée de l’Homme and by RCP group projects (Recherches coopératives sur programme).20

  • 21 Sylvain Lévi (1863–1935), a historian of religion interested in sociological thought, chose to stud (...)
  • 22 Cf. the Japanese expedition (Kihara, 1955–1957), and the Swiss expedition focusing on object collec (...)
  • 23 Particularly Giuseppe Tucci (Italian, 1895–1984) and David Snellgrove (British, 1920–2016).
  • 24 Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf (1909–1995) was appointed Professor of Anthropology at SOAS in Londo (...)
  • 25 Bernard Pignède (1932–1961) was published posthumously (1966).

16Sagant belonged to the first generation of professional ethnologists in Nepal. By this I mean that previously, in the 1950s and 1960s, observers had not been trained in this discipline, or had been trained in others, mainly orientalist ones. Before the opening of the country, the occasional scholar had penetrated it, remaining confined to the Kathmandu Valley. One of them was none other than Indologist Lévi,21 who was close to Mauss and authored a major work on Nepal (1905–1908). After the country opened, research campaigns connected with mountaineering expeditions22 were the first to explore it, followed by expeditions by Tibetologists in search of texts23 and ethnologists like Fürer-Haimendorf,24 who had worked in British India. The first French ethnography was by an amateur, Pignède, who trained himself as an ethnologist through field experience in 1957.25 Professional ethnologists started arriving in Nepal beginning in the 1960s. Then investigations continued to crisscross that new, highly varied territory for two generations, creating the conditions for a flurry of dynamic research. However, when Sagant made his way to Nepal, the ethnological writings on that country could have been counted on one hand, or they only concerned regions bordering on Nepal.

  • 26 With Solange Thierry (1921–2009), head of the Asia department at the Musée de l’Homme.
  • 27 Cf Bernot (1967) on the agricultural systems of Burman-language Marma refugees in Bangladesh.
  • 28 André-Georges Haudricourt (1911–1996), linguist, ethnologist and botanist.

17Sagant belonged to a generation trained in close connection with the Musée de l’Homme and Section VI of the EPHE, the precursor of the EHESS. In 1963 he studied at the EPHE under Bernot, Condominas and Leroi-Gourhan, and in 1964–1965 was an assistant at the Musée de l’Homme, where he worked on the South and Southeast Asia collections.26 The influence of Bernot, his supervisor, is obvious in his thesis on changes in Limbu farmers’ technical system and in their agricultural way of life.27 Sagant particularly admired the innovative ethnological writing in Condominas’s book We Have Eaten the Forest, published in 1957 (and in English translation in 1977). In his early days, he had a close working relationship with the CeDRASEMI, a Southeast Asia research group founded in 1962 by Bernot, Condominas and Haudricourt.28 The links that French research drew between Southeast Asia and the Himalayas in this pioneering period would be worthy of further investigation.

  • 29 On RCPs in France, cf. http://www.garae.fr/spip.php?article25 (accessed 30/06/2020).
  • 30 On the importance of Corneille Jest (1930–2019) in the RCP Aubrac in connection with the RCP Nepal, (...)
  • 31 Initially trained in Chinese, Lucien Bernot was responsible for the Tibetan collections at the Musé (...)
  • 32 Centre de formation aux recherches ethnologiques, created on the initiative of André Leroi-Gourhan. (...)
  • 33 Cf. the foreword in Jest, 1975: 23–28.

18Sagant took his first steps as an ethnographer as part of the Recherches coopératives sur programme, participating in a major 1965 study on Aubrac, France. Though it has been forgotten, this programme mobilised several researchers and made a mark on the 1960s and 1970s, along with other RCPs (Segalen, 1988). As Fabre recently recalled, those major multidisciplinary investigations had two aims: “to test the possibility of a ‘total’ knowledge of microsocieties, ideally understood from the perspective of their full duration and of all of the dimensions of their development” and “in defined cases, to challenge all of the disciplines taking an interest in humans as biological, social and cultural beings, and in the whole anthropized environment” (as quoted in Laurière, 2016: 4). Most RCPs were dedicated to French regions, playing a notable role in the history of rural studies.29 It is therefore worth recalling that Jest, who initiated and led the RCP Aubrac mission, had worked in the Himalayas in 1953 (in Kalimpong, India), then dedicated his thesis to breeding in the Haut-Lévézou of Aubrac (1960) before creating the RCP Nepal (RCP 65 “study of Nepalese regions”) under the supervision of Millot, director of the Musée de l’Homme.30 These joint institutional creations bridged research in nearby and faraway locations, founded on the same multidisciplinary methodological model.31 Trained in the school of Leroi-Gourhan—who supervised his two theses, having taught at the CFRE32—Jest remained faithful to that ethnological model, as illustrated by his thesis on Tibetan populations of the upper Dolpo valleys in Nepal.33 He travelled to Dolpo thanks to British Tibetologist Snellgrove, from whom he distanced himself. Jest’s warhorse the RCP Nepal was followed by a second RCP (253), in which the geology and ecology of the central Himalayas held a prominent place. This collective programme durably established French research on Nepal and the Himalayas. Although the RCP Aubrac was quickly forgotten, the RCP Nepal became a perennial, dynamic and lasting multidisciplinary team within the CNRS (UPR 299, then Centre d’études himalayennes, CEH).

  • 34 Cf. Sagant, 1971a and b; and LESC_FPS_1.1.1, Rapports d’activité du CEIAS, Bilan des recherches et (...)
  • 35 LESC_FPS_1.1.1, Rapports d’activité du CEIAS, Bilan des recherches et travaux en cours 1966–1974, p (...)
  • 36 In Séveyrac for example, he examined the organisation of space which “crossed history”, “imprisonin (...)
  • 37 A non-academic researcher, Charles Parain (1893–1984) explored this problem in “the most theoretica (...)

19The young ethnologist Sagant participated in both of those RCPs in close collaboration with Jest.34 He studied two farms in Aubrac (1971a and b), stating that the aim of his brief investigations (October 1965 and February 1966) was: “to understand a particular socioeconomic system, its close relations with a technical infrastructure; the historical evolution of such a system, studied on the basis of property documents”.35 His first investigations in Nepal soon followed: two long missions, from June 1966 to June 1967 and from September 1969 to June 1971, in the context of the RCP Nepal. There are common themes running through these projects.36 His thesis, supervised by Bernot (and defended in 1973), shows the influence of the Marxist question of peasant communities, developed by Parain within the RCP Aubrac.37 The title of the book to which it gave rise, Le paysan limbu, sa maison et ses champs (1976) (literally The Limbu Farmer, His House and Fields), expresses it well: it is about farmers and not of a “tribe”, contrary to the writings of British colonial ethnology in South Asia.

fig. 5 – Limbu hamlet and terraced fields

fig. 5 – Limbu hamlet and terraced fields

“In Limbu country, the habitat is dispersed. Houses are set up wherever there are fields, wherever terraces are built” (Sagant, 1982b: 213)

Photo Philippe Sagant; source: LESC_FPS_7.1.7, film 8.28

fig. 6 – The Limbu house and its environment

fig. 6 – The Limbu house and its environment

Drawing by Philippe Sagant; source: LESC_FPS_3.9.2, Le paysan limbu

  • 38 His first article (1968–1969) concerned markets in Limbu country, quintessential interethnic sites, (...)
  • 39 In it, he viewed “the Gurkha conquest as an attempt to subject eastern Nepal to what Marxists call (...)

Sagant examined emerging changes in agricultural technique (mainly the introduction of rice-growing on terraces) and changes in their habitat, which accompanied the Limbu’s integration into the Nepalese nation (cf. Aubriot, present volume). In his 1970s studies, he continued to give prominence to the historical dimension and to the economic processes that changed the Limbu’s traditional institutions. This is particularly true of those concerning the status of Limbu chiefs and those on migrations, as shown by several contributions in this issue. Unlike monographs that focus on ethnic groups conceived as isolates, Sagant immediately situated the Limbu in time and in their exchange networks, closely studying their relations with their neighbours both in the Mewa valley38 and further afield during their migrations. As Olivia Aubriot recalls in this issue (and as Macdonald did in a review of the book in 1979), the Marxist perspective is pervasive. Sagant asserted it in his 1974 research report,39 but it remained discreet in his published writings, indicated by the use of a certain vocabulary, and especially by his interest in economic history and the introduction of money and the market.

  • 40 Cf. Buob and Dubois concerning weaving (2019: 52 and 61). Cf. also the present volume.

20Opening Sagant’s archives reveals the impact that both the mould of the Musée de l’Homme and the priorities of RCP Nepal had on his field methodology among the Limbu. In them, one finds in-depth studies of techniques and detailed descriptions of life cycle rituals, illustrated by drawings and numerical data that were never published.40 The collected data is rigorously organised with: numbered records based on field notes that seem to have been discarded; thematic classification with references the records; first drafts, also with references to the numbered records. Added to this are highly detailed mission reports, and finally a collection of objects and numerous photographs were part of his investigation, and work on an herbarium is mentioned. This methodological classification is as impressive as it is surprising to anyone who did not undergo that kind of training (as in my own case).

21During this period, the Musée de l’Homme played a very prominent role. Sagant worked there in 1968 upon returning from his first mission, cataloguing the many objects he had brought back, creating records, and captioning hundreds of photographs. He participated in the first exhibition of RCP Nepal’s work, which was held at the museum in 1969 (entitled Népal, Hommes et Dieux / Nepal, Men and Gods). In a very different style, he enthusiastically participated in the brief but innovative exhibition “Passage à l’âge d’homme” (“Transition to the Age of Manhood”), on rites of passage in all regions of the world in connection with the youth revolt in France. It was organised amid the events of May 1968 by Jacqueline Delange and Michel Leiris, whom he admired.

  • 41 Jest was probably one of the first to level the criticism that he was doing literature, something h (...)

22The fact that detailed descriptions of techniques and life-cycle rituals lay dormant in Sagant’s archives indicates that he set aside this form of ethnological writing. After his second mission in 1971, Sagant never returned to Limbu country. In 1972, a conflict with Jest led him to be expelled from the RCP Nepal.41 Other unpublished manuscripts very different from the technical monographs are also found in his archives. They testify to his desire to achieve a kind of writing that revealed the experience of the Limbu through villagers’ personal accounts, which Sagant collected in large numbers. Some extracts will be provided here. These personal accounts are classified (and numbered) according to theme, and are one of the materials he most reflected upon (1981c; 1996c: introduction): he used them even in his final comparative studies. We will return to this.

Breaks and reconfigurations: the labyrinths of political power in the Himalayas

  • 42 Created in the mid-1950s on the initiative of Louis Dumont, “to renew the study of India by linking (...)

23As a research associate at the CNRS beginning in 1965, Sagant was affiliated with the Centre d’études de l’Inde et de l’Asie du Sud42 (CEIAS), which remained his laboratory until the end. There he worked in close collaboration with Gaborieau (cf. Gaborieau, present volume), an “agrégé” in philosophy with a passion for Middle-Eastern studies, whom he met in Nepal, where Gaborieau was a cooperant teacher from 1963 to 1968. During the 1970s, Sagant pursued his plan to study Limbu integration into the Nepalese nation in its historical, economic and geopolitical dimensions, focusing on themes explored as part of the “Villages” team led by Gaborieau: “caste, lineage, territory and power” in the Indian subcontinent (Gaborieau, 1978; Sagant, 1978a), “migrations in South Asia” (Sagant, 1978b, c and d) and, in another group, “debt” (1980). Several articles in this issue—in fact most of them—make reference to these writings (Gaborieau, Warner, Krauskopff, Aubriot), confirming their indisputable originality.

fig. 7 – “Weekly market scene”

fig. 7 – “Weekly market scene”

“Bhote women in the foreground, the Newar shopkeepers’ stalls in the background”
“These markets periodically bring together all a valley’s populations in an uninhabited place, near the river and surrounded by the forest” (Sagant, 1982b: 220)

Photo Philippe Sagant; source: LESC_FPS_7.1.7, film 9.30

fig. 8 – At the weekly Luwan Pathi market

fig. 8 – At the weekly Luwan Pathi market

Sagant is in the middle

Photographer unknown, 10 January 1967; source: LESC_FPS_7.1.7, film 9.27

24At the beginning of the 1980s, Sagant radically changed his perspective and work methods: the analysis of rituals (and of the stories that accompany them) got the upper hand over economic and historical data. This represented a break, which came with a change in work networks and a desire to conduct comparative studies. His interest in headman figures (from his first project on the life history of Mundhunge the great Limbu headman, to his final comparative writings on the “gods’ chosen headman” in Himalayan societies), and more generally the question of political power, continued to be the unfailing link connecting those different strata.

  • 43 Published in English in Sagant 1996c: 9–49 (With head held high).

25A major article published in 1981, “La tête haute, maison, rituel et politique au Népal oriental” inaugurated this new way. Sagant presented the worship of a household divinity (Nahangma) who ensures the vitality of the house headman, his “head held high” status43. Appearing in something of a monograph on the Himalayan house, this article stands out. It paved the way for his later comparative works on the pre-existing power models in centralised states, placing emphasis on the “life force” of the Limbu house headman: “To carry one’s ‘head high’ […] means to be at the top of one’s form, positive, full of a driving force. You become sucessful in everything. Fearlessly, you throw yourself into political action…you are influential, well supported by your allies, powerful and feared” (1981b: 171, 1996c: 45). Losing face means risking death, and this status can affect a whole household and its blood relations (1981b: 159; 1996c: 24). Sagant developed the idea of a totally open space where boundaries must be set to protect oneself from disorder. “From the four corners of the house to the four points of the universe, there is no village border, no realm frontier. The house opens out on to the disorder of the forest. It is the basic unit of a society dominated by the political principle” (1981b: 171; 1996c: 46).

26Sagant thus abandoned the great chiefs recognised by the king of Nepal—those who received delegated powers like Mundhunge, the “king of the three valleys” (1978a)—in order to turn to another power regime revealed by that worship: a house headman who walks with his “head held high”, who can lose that prestige at any time. “The society is undifferentiated on the political level, but it is not egalitarian. Social mobility is a potent form” (1981b: 169; 1996c: 41). A comparison with Tibet had already been sketched. He gradually set aside phenomena linked to Hinduisation in order to direct his attention further away in time and space to the Sino-Tibetan context of the old Limbu society. This decentring led him to field sites in the Buddhised regions of the Himalayas (Nyishang in Nepal, the Amdo in Tibet, Sikkim).

fig. 9 – Group of Tibetans (Bhotiya) in Tokpe

fig. 9 – Group of Tibetans (Bhotiya) in Tokpe

Motta, the Limbu friend, is on the left

Photo Philippe Sagant, May1971 ; source : LESC_FPS_7.1.4

  • 44 After receiving a traditional education at Oxford, the war drew him to Asia and into the Gurkha reg (...)
  • 45 Cf. Macdonald, 1982. The pincer metaphor was used by Paul Mus (1902–1969, professor at the Collège (...)
  • 46 Cf. Macdonald (to be published), on the field imperative he humorously characterises as a “trial by (...)

27His work networks had changed. From 1979, Sagant participated in the seminar led by Macdonald (1923–2018), who had been a member of the Laboratoire d’ethnologie et de sociologie comparative (LESC) at Paris Nanterre University ever since it was founded by Éric de Dampierre in 1967. An unclassifiable ethnologist with a vast scholarship and a unique life path, Macdonald’s influence extends beyond the borders of France.44 A pioneer of ethnological research in the Himalayas, first in Kalimpong and Darjeeling in 1958–1959, then in Nepal in 1961, his special area of research was Tibetan Buddhism. But he advocated a comparative approach to the Himalayas (caught between two great written civilisations45), combining field observations and texts, Chinese sources and Indian sources. He encouraged his students to cross the boundaries that divided up Himalayan space, in political reality as well as in disciplinary fields. His conception of fieldwork and his investigation methods differed from those of the generation of the Musée de l’Homme.46

28In his article on the “head held high” status among the Limbu, Sagant was in a way responding Macdonald, who had criticised his Marxist perspective in an otherwise laudatory review of his thesis: “[Sagant] tends to somewhat excessively abstract the economic from the political and religious. In so doing, he makes us fascinatingly understand ‘the struggle for land’ and the issue of property competition […] but he does not take time to examine the religious consequences that resulted from it” (1979: 157).

29In Macdonald’s 1981 seminar, Sagant met Karmay, who spent his earliest youth among the Sharwa of Amdo in Tibet. A monk and scholar in the Bön tradition, he fled Tibet, and collaborated with British Tibetologist Snellgrove before becoming a CNRS researcher in the Laboratoire d’ethnologie et de sociologie comparative (LESC). In 1982, Sagant began conducting interviews with him, leading to their joint book Les Neuf Forces de l’Homme : récits des confins du Tibet (Karmay and Sagant, 1998), published belatedly during Sagant’s illness. The Sharwa constitute a federation of villages centred on the worship of the mountain god. The headman is the god’s “chosen one”, namely he whose renown is such that it enjoys consensus. The book is structured around the practices that enable a renowned man to be “elected” by the gods: the wild stag hunt that founds the hunter’s feat, the large commercial caravan and the election of its headman through a roll of the dice, horse races, jousts, and many circumstances in which a man’s oratorical talents are displayed—all occasions that indicate the favour of the mountain god. This is the political model of the “gods’ chosen headman”, which endures within communities that have remained partly autonomous, like the Sharwa (cf. Dollfus, present volume).

  • 47 In 1985, Karmay returned to his country, inspiring a major shift in their research, Sagant also goi (...)

30While pursuing his collaborative work with Karmay (an “at-home collection” of stories of his life among the Sharwa of Tibetan Amdo [ibid. : 11]47), Sagant undertook new investigations in Buddhist communities, particularly in Nyishang, a Buddhist valley of the Annapurna region of Nepal, which was home to a prosperous community of big traders, but is today deserted by its great men, who have moved to Kathmandu. A 1990 article published here in English shows that a dual register of power is at work there, one giving primacy to age with the support of Buddhism, the other being a vehicle for values of renown and feat-accomplishment. The situation appears very different from that of the Sharwa: the prestige of renown endures in jousts, but is limited, not only by a rejection of the elitist model driven by feat-morality (1990: 155), but also by the rank and clan hierarchy supported by monastic Buddhism. This is why the article focuses on a festival that covers this set of practices: centring on a Tibetan-type king (kle or ghale), it shows the implementation of a hierarchy of strata and the emergence of an aristocracy—this before the takeover by the Shah kings who founded the Hindu kingdom of Nepal. Also in English translation, we are republishing another article on “dual power” among the Yakthumba (1996b)—another name for the Limbu—because as already mentioned, the juxtaposition of the two articles shows the development of his comparative method and the importance of the notion of “dual power” in his work. This second study (1996b) takes into account his work on the Buddhist region of Nyishang. In it, he describes Dasaĩ, the major Hindu royal festival that, locally, is devoted to the worship of the goddess Yuma. It is she who gives the “head held high” status to the great headman recognised by the king (1978b). However, the recognition of only one contradicts the proliferation of headman posts and the erosion of their powers. The old power regime, studied through worship of Nahangma (1981b), persists (1996b: 286): every house headman still wants to walk with his “head held high”. Thanks to data on the large ethnic meetings of the 1950s published for the first time, Sagant examined a state of organisation that lay halfway between these two models: an aristocracy of headmen, the Hang who came to a compromise with the conquering Shah in the late 18th century. He traces the persistence of their legacy—the clan divisions that gradually became permanent—up to the contemporary era. Echoing Macdonald’s teachings, both studies illustrate how political centralisation (a “cultural pincer” to use Mus’s expression), was implemented in different religious contexts. They are a continuation of his work among the Sharwa (Karmay and Sagant, 1998: chap. 7 “dual power”). He was planning to conduct investigations in Sikkim (Tromo) and in Arunachal Pradesh, the region he had initially wanted to work in, which had just opened.

  • 48 That “dual, antagonistic power of the gods” which “seems to establish a dual power” among men (1996 (...)

31This way of approaching the “incomparable” removes the Himalayas from their division into multiple fields of states, cultures and religions. Sagant often makes reference to Mus’s idea of encasement between local cults revolving round the god of the soil and those organised around great gods, like Hindu divinities whose action spreads far and wide. But he distinguishes himself from Mus by emphasising conflicts, as illustrated by the notion of “dual power” (inherited from his early Marxist vocabulary, but infused with new meaning).48 Beyond the richness of the data proper to each field site, he tackles a more general anthropological question: how different power hierarchies are implemented, or how these hierarchies are kept at a distance, rejected or integrated. Confrontation—and contradiction—takes precedence over the smooth implementation of an extension of Hindu or Sino-Tibetan power over local populations.

fig. 10 – Village quarrel

fig. 10 – Village quarrel

“Quarrel between a Bhote woman (seated and smiling) and a Limbu man (standing in the centre). The 14-year-old son of the one flirted with the 12-year-old daughter of the other. Did the Bhote boy go too far? There was an argument. The Lumbini girl struck the boy. The boy hit her back. Slapping her, he sent her nose ring flying, which was made of gold. They were both looking after their parents’ cows. The nose ring was not found, and this caused a big fuss. The nun from the Tokpe Gala lama’s convent came down to support the Bhote boy. The Limbu Kansima Pangbo from Libang came up to help his clan brother and arbitrate in the name of the subba. This is during the invectives. The nun was very strong. The father of the Lumbini girl, who was demanding a gold ring, got hammered” (caption on the back of the photo)

Photo Philippe Sagant, 1966–1967; source: LESC_FPS_7.1.7, film 8.31

  • 49 LESC_FPS_3.7.1, Mundhunge chef de clan II, chapitre 2 “La succession de Narapati” [Mundhunge’s fath (...)
  • 50 The Chhetri are upper caste Indo-Nepalese who migrated onto Limbu land after the founding of Nepal (...)
  • 51 LESC_FPS_3.7.1, Mundhunge chef de clan II, chapitre 1 “Portrait de Dambar Doj”, p. 20.

32In his first manuscript on the great clan headman Mundhunge, he recounts how the veil of appearances—“the Nepalese’s joie de vivre, which is so endearing for those who have approached them”—was torn. “When I started studying political life, things suddenly eroded […] in two days, everything that had seemed to be the cause of that joie de vivre, that is to say beautiful clan solidarity, mutual aid between villages, community cohesion, all of this collapsed one whole piece at a time. I discovered deep-seated hatred between people I saw every day, who met and shared jokes in my home. […] The quarrels were age-old […] That made me uncomfortable. I had not come to rummage through dirty laundry. I was not looking for quarrels. I even avoided them, but there always came a moment when I stumbled on one by chance”.49 It was through stories of the quarrels that pitted Mundhunge against his brothers and other inhabitants that he discovered the political importance of that quasi-king. “Now forgotten details from the beginning of the investigation were coming back to me, the sudden anger of a rich Chhetri breeder […]: ‘That crook [Mundhunge]’, he said to me. ‘He made life hard for us Chhetri!50 Luckily he died!’”.51 Questions of honour pepper the conflictual relations between headmen and shamans, as illustrated by the previously unpublished text on the “the logic of the Shaman” included in this issue. Conflicts are also the touchstone of his article on the “head held high”, which concludes with a more general reflection on controlled violence: “In order to become powerful, one must go through with the conflict and put an end to it […]. Only then can one establish an alliance. […] So it is not a case of chaos or of the triumph of the strongest. […] Out of unbridled violence, social order is born” (1981b: 170; 1996c: 44–45). It calls to mind the writings of Pierre Clastres, whom he only quotes in passing (1996b, present volume). But the societies on the Himalayan margins have long compromised with the central powers by integrating a number of their hierarchical principles, generating a particularly complex field. Sagant seized on that complexity to bring out general anthropological mechanisms.

  • 52 This is shown by the unpublished conclusion of the manuscript for the book written with Karmay (199 (...)
  • 53 LESC_FPS_6.5.1, Exposés divers, p. 15.

33His research on the “gods’ chosen headman” model led him towards an ambitious comparatism that he worked on at the end of his career (cf. subsection “Unpublished writings”), exploring notions and values connected with feat-morality, honour and shame, such as prohibition transgression, supernatural punishment, and open space, giving quite particular attention to jousts and the institution of ritual hunts. He attempted to systemise these notions by tracking them down for comparative purposes in old textual sources, analyses by historians of religion (especially Granet for China and Stein for Tibet), and by archaeologists of the Middle East and Europe. He planned to pursue comparison at a larger scale, well beyond the Himalayan field.52 This comparatism, which he himself characterised as “unbridled”,53 led him very far away from his first monographic works, towards something more along the lines of the major comparative works from the beginnings of ethnology. Disrupted by illness, this research remained in an unfinished state, and this has not favoured its discussion (Gros and Schlemmer, 2016).

  • 54 Cf. LESC_FPS_3.9.9 and 3.9.10.

34Sagant started teaching to support his comparative reflections, to which he dedicated much of his time. From 1978 to 1984, he taught ethnology at Université de Rennes (in the department of sociology with Pierre-Jean Simon), and at Inalco in 1981, and finally at Paris Nanterre University, where he helped train students beginning in 1979, and taught after Macdonald’s retirement in 1988. Macdonald thus enlisted the collaboration of an ethnologist who appreciated his comparative approach (Macdonald, 1981: 39). This collaboration marked the generation of students trained at Nanterre in the 1980s and 1990s. I still remember Macdonald’s quite unexpected words when I introduced myself to him with a master’s project in 1979: “Go see Sagant. That’s someone who’s very human”. Sagant asserted not only the need to transmit ethnology in various places, but also to make it accessible to a wider public. In the 1960s and 1970s, he regularly submitted reviews of ethnological books to the popular press.54 His reflection on writing and form in ethnology expressed this view. He shunned academism. His no-jargon style showed a fondness for pithy turns of phrase. Circumventing overly abstract arguments, his nevertheless numerous references were often implicit.

Writing ethnology

35This introduction opened with a text by Sagant, highlighting the distinctive style of an ethnologist who was preoccupied by ethnological writing in all of his work. This quest helped satisfy his predilection for literature, as well as his hope to elude ethnocentrism. Though he greatly appreciated the writings of the first ethnographers or travellers, he criticised their ethnocentrism.

36“Describe instead of interpret” could have been his primary banner. Sagant is one of those who counted on the heuristic powers of ethnographic description (cf. also Dollfus, present volume). “Just an ethnographer,” he wrote of the one he admired, Condominas, regretting the distance of French ethnography, and particularly structuralism, with regard to lived experience.

February-March (The Month of Phagun). At this time of year, inhabitants of the valleys say that the winds “mingle”, the seasons changes [sic]. The winter wind blowing down from the snows of the north vies with the wind from the southern plain. The summer wind is victorious. The year is moving along “up” to the monsoon, which will come in a few months. This is the beginning of the year. The swallows return to build their nests in the houses, under the veranda roof. The children are not allowed to frighten them. In the village too, life changes pace. The end of the slack season with a few marriages that have been in the offing for some time. Ploughing and sowing corn, begun the previous month, continue apace. This is the first heavy work since the rice harvest three months earlier. “You have got to get down to work now, the fun is over.” (1981a: 7; 1996c: 249)

  • 55 Republished in the book to which his thesis gave rise (1976) and translated in English in the 1996 (...)

This paragraph is extracted from an article about seasonal activities in a Limbu village of eastern Nepal, which first appeared in the journal Objets et Mondes published by the Musée de l’Homme (1973a: 248).55 It gives life to two fundamental categories, the “climbing season” and “descending season”, which punctuate the time of Himalayan populations, but are also reflected in domestic space, where they are opposed like high and low (1973b).

fig. 11 – The water reservoir at Onguekma’s home

fig. 11 – The water reservoir at Onguekma’s home

Drawing by Philippe Sagant; source: LESC_FPS_3.9.2, Le paysan limbu, illustrations

37It is no coincidence that Sagant’s first collection of articles in English translation was called The Dozing Shaman (1996c): the title was borrowed from a 1979 article on the journey of the Limbu shaman’s soul (phedaṅgmā), in which the story of a patient (Motta) takes up most of the text. Here is a brief extract (1979: 245; 1996c: 402–403):

I leaned over to see his face. His eyes were closed. I listened. His breathing was slow and deep, he was asleep. I rose up a bit from my bed, and leaning towards him, gave him a smack. “What kind of phedangma are you, going to sleep on Theba Sam’s path?” He awoke with a start and was already on his feet. […] He explained that […] he’d reached the castle, he’d gone through the gates and he’d seen my soul. But when I struck him, the gates slammed shut and my soul remained in there.

fig. 12 – Motta, “the bosom buddy”

fig. 12 – Motta, “the bosom buddy”

Photo Philippe Sagant; source: LESC_FPS_7.1.1

  • 56 Cf. Sagant, 1979, 1982a, 1987; Michailovsky and Sagant (1992) exploring the ghosts of violent death (...)

38One question was preoccupying ethnologists working in Nepal at the time: the opposition between two categories of shaman, one of whom, closest to the figure of the priest, travelled “verbally” in rigid rites, while the other expressed himself through a spectacular trance. Is this verbal journey not really only a metaphor? The answer is in Motta’s story, which expresses his doubts about the shaman’s effectiveness. He is the one who provides the key to the analysis. And it was to the effectiveness of the cure and to its social foundations that Sagant dedicated his works on shamanism, one of the major themes of his research (cf. Subba, present volume).56

fig. 13 – Priests and shamans

fig. 13 – Priests and shamans

Phedaṅgmā shaman officiating in Libang. “Ritual to Dung Dunguey among the Indramaya. Assistants are preparing to throw acheta (rice grains) onto the altar while Onguekma, the phedaṅgmā in the middle of the assistants, continues to chant the mundhum (myth)”, April 1967 (above);
Bijuwa shaman in Dongen (below)

Photos Philippe Sagant, 1966–1967; sources: LESC_FPS_7.1.6, film 9.12A and LESC_FPS_7.1.3

39Personal accounts played an essential heuristic role in his articles on the shamanic cure:

  • 57 LESC_FPS_1.1.3, Titres et travaux, candidature au grade de DR2, p. 20.

More than other subjects, studying the shamanic cure led to me to clarify my method. It is of course necessary to study myths and rituals in accordance with the traditional processes of investigation for religious ethnology. Still, this general knowledge is not enough. It seems to me that it is indispensable to work on specific cure cases over their full duration and with their sudden changes, for three reasons: first, to record the development of all the rituals conducted; […] to then examine the life history of the sick person and his family […]; finally, to find out, a little while after the cure, the community’s interpretation of the illness and of the action of the shamans.57

40A major publication, “The Shaman’s Cure and the Layman’s Interpretation” (1996: 339–370; French edition 1987), shows how, among the various interpretations of shamans summoned to the sickbed, one of them gradually triumphs through the establishment of a social consensus, as laypeople search their past, revealing the link between a man’s illness and his past. The social element gets the upper hand. Through his own experience, Subba (present volume) provides a comparable example.

41The archive pages published in this volume illustrate how the personal accounts open onto analysis. They make it possible to go beyond appearances, as when Sagant studies enriched Gurkha soldiers’ return to the village: it is an “obstacle course”, and very few of them will keep the money they won (1978d; 1996c: 279). But he criticised his own early writings for reducing accounts to simple case studies, a mutilation (1981c: 34–35; 1996c: 1), because the style of the accounts is essential. Sagant favoured “good stories”, those that are listened to, appreciated, challenged, repeated, those that have meaning for both audience and storyteller (1981c). He favoured accounts that were high-quality according to the criteria of local people “not at all because of materials. But for the narrative beauty. In so doing, I remain an ethnologist” (ibid.: 25). “Good stories” provide insight into what concerns villagers most, and therefore into the fundamental categories of the society.

  • 58 Cf. also, 1981c: 32.

At home, hunting is a kind of pub-narrative genre if you will, which reached its peak with Turgenev and others. In the Himalayas it is the same. People tell each other good stories, in the evening, over a beer, on the terrace of a house. Some of the stories sparkle, because before meeting with the transient ethnologist, they tell it between themselves and polish it up. What interests me is the quality of the story. If the story is good, very good, then I am sure it is true… (1996a : 419).58

  • 59 LESC_FPS_3.7.1, Mundhunge chef de clan II, chapitre 2, “La succession de Narapati”, p. a1.

In the unpublished manuscript on Mundhunge, he recounts how “the play of questions and answers can be sterile, while the story, once it gets going, leads you to unexpected things, so far from what you could imagine…”.59 How can one translate the Limbu words and world? This calls to mind—Sagant does not develop this point—the work that the ethnographer must do to convey the storyteller’s style and talent. Philippe Lejeune (1985) showed what is at play in such work, through the example of novelist Adélaïde Blasquez’s writing on the life of Gaston Lucas.

42Ever since his time in Aubrac, Sagant had wanted to write life stories. He probably never resolved the problem presented by that narrative model, since none of those projects came to fruition. He had been charmed by a “nonfiction novel” of the 1960s, Biografía de un cimarrón by Miguel Barnet (1966), a first-person narrative of the life of a slave he interviewed, which presented the collected material in a biographical form. But Sagant questioned the imposition of such a framework on the words of his informants. It was almost impossible to make a Limbu to tell a life story, as was the case in Aubrac as well (1981c: 26–28).

  • 60 Cf. LESC_FPS_1.1.2, Rapports d’activité CNRS.
  • 61 Cf. LESC_FPS_3.7.1; 3.7.2; 3.7.3. Mundhunge is a pseudonym, the name of a Limbu mythical hero, ance (...)
  • 62 Cf. LESC_FPS_1.2, a letter to András Höfer.
  • 63 LESC_FPS_3.7.1, Mundhunge chef de clan II, chapitre 1 “Portrait de Dambar Doj”, p. 21.

43Sagant therefore planned to structure life stories around figures given prominence by Limbu villagers, those about whom many stories were told. He would “sketch a portrait of that exemplary figure as the community had understood him, after retouches and more retouches” (ibid.: 37). His first reports to the CNRS mention two projects and two notable figures, a headman and a shaman. These “exemplary” figures are also at the heart of his published works on headmanships and the shamanic cure. Portrait d’un chamane, which he was still working on in 1995, aimed to recount how Pirtung had become a grand shaman.60 Mundhunge, chef de clan was reworked several times, sliced and divided up.61 He envisaged a “very narrative life story, with very little that is intellectual”, based on contemporary accounts, to illustrate a Limbu clan headman’s resistance to the Nepalese state.62 Mundhunge died in the 1950s, but he was omnipresent in villagers’ stories of the quarrels that peppered his rise to power, including with shamans like the powerful Pirtung. Sagant wanted to lay out “one hundred years in eastern Nepal”, a key time in the history of Mewa. “The three valleys were once under the thumb of a real Limbu petty king”, he was told by a Limbu student who had come with him from Kathmandu. “Time recovered the thread of the skein. With a bit of luck, I, a 20th-century Frenchman, might be able, without any morality, to surreptitiously insinuate myself into the life of a feudal lord”.63 In a way the shaman and the headman were the heroes of the epic of village life in the Mewa valley.

  • 64 LESC_FPS_3.7.1, Mundhunge chef de clan II, chapitre 2 “La succession de Narapati”, p. a9. Marcel Ma (...)

44Two extracts from Mundhunge, chef de clan exploring play and its place in Limbu life (cf. also Dollfus, present volume) are published here: one of them—from Chapter 1 of the first project, entitled “Portrait de Dambar Doj” (Mundhunge)—describes scenes of play, and the passion for play, during a trip to Topke that Sagant took with Motta and Tarang, an inveterate player and one of the village’s strong personalities (cf. supra, §2). The second extract is from Chapter 5, entitled “Dambar Doj et le monopole du jeu”: in a synthetic way, it explains how Mundhunge, thanks to play and to his grip on loans and on the money thus accumulated, began his career as a great headman. This book project also described the ethnologist’s data collection practice: “for a long time, I had no longer been working with Notes and Queries or the Maget techniques, but was guided by my detective-book-type training”.64

45I personally regret that this project, on which he was still working at the end of his career, never saw the light of day. The chosen format revealed an ethnographic encounter that was fundamental to the development of ethnological analysis. Furthermore, at the time of that investigation, the 1960s, major political changes were underway in Nepal, but the old system was still perceptible (cf. Gaborieau, present volume). It would have been precious testimony that anyone could have read.

46Is the final book written in collaboration with Karmay, Les Neuf Forces de l’Homme, an answer to these questions, or the fruit of the unique character of an encounter? The subtitle, “Récits des confins du Tibet”, indicates his never-denied interest in personal accounts when elaborating an ethnological problem. It is nevertheless a product of a collaboration between two researchers, a very different “field”: Karmay’s personal accounts about his childhood among the Sharwa of Amdo. The book is structured to show the model of the “gods’ chosen headman” and of the “strengths” that cause a man to be favoured by the gods. Sagant wanted it to be available to the general public. The fruit of a collaboration in which the contributions of both authors merge, it is situated on a delicate boundary, following neither the expected cannons of the ethnological discipline, nor those of Tibetology. As for the comparative perspective on which it is based, and which links it to other works (1990, 1996b), namely the reflection on “dual power” in marginal societies that are subject to the centrifugal forces of central states or organised religious structures (and more generally the implementation of power hierarchies in those societies), it did not have the resonance it deserved. The tragic interruption caused by twenty years of illness is only part of the explanation (Gros and Schlemmer, 2016: 172).

Posthumous dialogues with Philippe Sagant

47Weaving unexpected links between those who read or knew Sagant, the contributions collected here raise the question of what remains of an ethnologist’s career, and how it has remained. Philippe’s comparatist research on social values and practices linked to feat-morality found little resonance. First and foremost, these texts invite us to reread his work on the Limbu, including those on themes he abandoned like migrations, which might surprise him. His work in this first period is undeniably his most accomplished and recognised. His ethnographic richness and his style still grip the reader today.

fig. 14 – Map of the Himalayas

fig. 14 – Map of the Himalayas

© Olivia Aubriot

Migrations, technical changes and instability of social formations

48In a brief tribute, Olivia Aubriot, a geographer and agronomist by training, reminds us how much Sagant’s thesis on the Indianisation of agricultural techniques (1976) has remained a unique reference, the only reference on “the builders of the rice fields”, that is, the Indo-Nepalese who arrived in Limbu country after the founding of modern Nepal at the end of the 18th century. It is still a model for understanding agricultural changes in other regions. A geographer’s sensitivity to this type of analysis should be noted. But Aubriot also expresses surprise that it was relatively forgotten in Gros and Schlemmer’s (2016) obituary, an omission she attributes to the Marxist perspective of those works. It is true that Sagant himself had set aside this approach, as I have mentioned. His comparative works on feat-morality had become his primary focus in his last teachings and writings.

  • 65 LESC_FPS_3.7.4, Migrations Gurkha; 3.7.5, Migrations Assam Sikkim; 2.2.4, Matériaux de terrain limb (...)

49Sagant would probably be surprised to see this issue taking up the theme of migration, which occupied him in the early 1970s (Warner and Krauskopff) and was the subject of a collective project in the “Village” team led by Gaborieau at the CEIAS (Gaborieau, present volume). Sagant published it in an issue of L’Ethnographie, to which he contributed three texts, including the introduction (1978b, c, d). The importance of his archives in relation to this question is noteworthy.65 His writings offer an entry into pioneering material on the question of migration, which is, in his view, “a key element in the formation of the Nepalese nation”. Migration remains an essential dimension of life in Nepal: today, the majority of youths go abroad to the Emirates, something that invites a re-reading of those pionnering works.

50At that time, migration and the social instability it engenders were only explored on the margins, probably because of a perspective which centred on each community as an isolate that had crossed history. On this subject, Sagant wrote:

  • 66 Subba: Limbu headman recognised by the state of Nepal.
  • 67 LESC_FPS_3.7.5, Migrations Assam-Sikkim, folder: “Migrants et émigrés”, Émigration: recueil statist (...)

Back then I had a static view of the village. That of a community frozen in a kind of permanence; where power relations seemed established once and for all. A false, illusory impression. What was striking was the instability, as a rule. The village was actually made up of two communities. One in which, at the end of my field study, I could recall every face, every smile, every gait; this was the community of the present ones. The other—hidden, unknown, negative in a way—was made up of the emigrants. Those absent ones had shaped the village reality even more than the others. If they were rarely spoken of, this is because the memory was weighed down with emotion, often the emotion of a lapse into a full conflict, in which the village was divided into two fiercely opposed parts; one that pitted son against father, oldest child against youngest child, the subba66 against his clan brother. The absent ones weighed heavily.67

The unpublished writings are a detailed exploration of the concrete experience of migration, its geopolitical dimension and its role in the social organisation (incest, marriage by elopement, political conflicts, etc.). Here again, Sagant chose to introduce the reader to the lived experience, as illustrated by the archive pages presented in this issue: the Limbu’s regular departure to pick mandarins in Sikkim, that of the pit sawyers, that of young people wanting to change their lives, that of incestuous lovers…

51It is as a historian that Catherine Warner places Sagant’s works back in perspective, validating his analyses and the originality and modernity of his method: “His use of historical methods as an ethnographer allowed him a perspective on migration that anticipated historians’ attempts to rethink binary views of mobility and migration, internal and cross-border movement, circulation and emigration, forced and voluntary migration by some years.” Their strength is in making the Limbu the actors of their participation in a global economy. The local point of view adopted by Sagant sheds light on migration types as they relate to the agricultural cycle and to institutions. With the help of new sources, Warner also explains the special situation of the Mewa valley, validating many aspects of Sagant’s works. This region allied itself with Sikkim during the Limbu resistance to the Shah kings of Nepal, which lasted until the mid-19th century. We gain an understanding of the Limbu’s important place in Sikkim (cf. Vandenhelsken and Subba, present volume), but also of the ceaseless conflicts haunting the lives of Mewa headmen grappling with political issues intensified by the border situation. One also better understands the resilience of Limbu institutions evoked by Gaborieau in this issue. It distinguishes them from other Nepalese communities.

52As Warner notes, although his general article “Ampleur et profondeur historique des migrations népalaises” (1978c) concerns mountain populations, his analyses apply to other regions of South Asia. Sagant links the intensification of migratory movements at the beginning of the 19th century to the joint effects of British colonisation of India and administrative oppression in Nepal. The establishment of colonial boundaries drastically changed population movements. Rereading this article (1978c) gave me a better understanding of the migratory movements of Tharu farmers living on India’s malarial border plain, where the way of life is nevertheless drastically different from that of the mountain dwellers (Gisèle Krauskopff). Tharu farmers have always been very mobile, without attachments to the land, moving on the least pretext—sometimes displacing entire villages, as the British noted in the early 19th century. The under-exploitation of that sparsely populated malarial plain in the mid-20th century ensured a swathe of free lands enabling them to bargain with those in power to elude the grip of tax collectors. Sagant’s analysis sheds light on the massive displacements of Tharu villages at the beginning of the 19th century, by stressing the role of the British on the border scene. In conflict with the emerging Nepalese state and the “petty kingdoms” still in place, the British used the work-force of Tharu farmers as an almost military means of appropriating new territories, making them farm those lands while “depopulating” those in the hands of Nepalese petty kings. As Warner notes: “Labor and conflict-driven migration were not easily distinguishable categories in this period.

  • 68 LESC_FPS_1.1.1, Rapports d’activité du CEIAS, Bilan de recherche et travaux en cours 1966–1974, p.  (...)

53Sagant shows it very well: local headmen held decisive responsibility in migratory movements: “I discovered that their authority was often built upon the elimination of their opponents. Every step of their rise to power was punctuated by a troop of emigrants” (1978c: 156). Between resistance and collaboration with the central state, Limbu headmen contributed to debt, land loss, emigration, and finally the Hinduisation of the Limbu (1978c and d, 1980, 1982b). “They gradually turned against the interest of their citizens in order to preserve their prerogatives. They did this by diverting customary institutions away from their purpose. This resulted in an uninterrupted stream of emigrants towards the Indian plain”.68 The history I offer here of a lineage of eastern Tharu headmen shows the more general validity of his analysis: after a very brief resistance, the descendants of a Tharu headman, a quasi-king on his lands before the unification of Nepal, became, in competition with others, contractors of the state, and introduced immigration from British India, putting a stop to rural mobility, and therefore local resistance.

54Sagant’s works on migration make it possible to highlight the instability of Himalayan social formations and the impact that state property control had on the settlement of populations (Warner). This is shown by the longstanding low relevance of clan territories, the birth of hybrid institutions (like the kipaṭ system, a form of clan land management, which Sagant [1996b] defined as the result of a compromise with the state), the competitive powers of house headmen, the house “opening onto the forest” (1981b) and, following from Gaborieau, the lack of “village” (1978 and the present volume). Added to the fragmentation or reconstitution of ethnic affiliations (Leach, 1972), this mobility is a key element in the analysis of Himalayan social formations. It is also essential for understanding the emerging ethnicization processes in the colonial period, so important to the politics of today.

When the gods get involved… or do not

55As Sagant wrote in the early 1980s, the Limbu’s political institutions can be understood on the sole condition of entering into their religious ideas (1981b: 166; 1996c: 36). At that time, he incorporated rituals and religion into his economic and social analysis, which was perhaps a way of gaining access to an undocumented history, as Warner suggests in this issue. Marc Gaborieau’s contribution takes up this point, recalling that Sagant, “after 1978, brought in Limbu ancestral customs to deal with the competitive relationship with the land”. The period of crucial change that started in 1960 “in fact extended for a decade”, when both of them were conducting their investigations. The previous territorial and political organisation endured, and the jammed workings of an old power model were still manifesting themselves. Gaborieau looks back at that time with a central question: “Who does the land belong to?”. He thus paints a backdrop that sheds light not only on Sagant’s change of perspective (the need to bring the gods into social relations), but also on the relationship with the Hindu king’s land. Gaborieau questions the existence of a royal property right: it was an usufructurary right, and it is this right of use that was more or less permanently delegated. Pursuing his investigation in various communities of western Nepal that were Hinduised earlier, Gaborieau shows that not only did royal tenure grant to farmers just the use of the land, but divinities had precedence over man. “It is mainly gods that enjoy the use of the land. Men only have the leftovers.” To show this, he tracks a discreet but important divine entity, the god of the soil, and the worship connected with him. This problematic entity is omnipresent in Sagant’s work on political power. Precolonial history confirms that the link to one’s territory was not at all permanent, not even for the Hindu petty kings of the Himalayas. It was men that they subjugated (Krauskopff, present volume). Nonetheless, state-operated cadastres have changed the relationship of Himalayan societies to the land: Sagant’s first works show this.

  • 69 The Limbu are recognised as a Scheduled Tribe, and their language is officially taught in a departm (...)

56Mélanie Vandenhelsken’s contribution introduces us to the Limbu of Sikkim, whose presence is both very old and linked to the migrations mentioned above. However, British influence and the Indian policy of reserving posts for “Scheduled Tribes” create a situation that is very different from that of Nepal, which very early reinforced the ethnicization of each community in a political context that valorised indigenousness.69

57The importance of the divinity Yuma in these matters is striking. In the article on “Dual Power among the Yakthumba” (1996b), which we are republishing here, and on which Vandenhelsken based her contribution, Sagant presents this goddess as the driving force behind a break in the Yakthumba’s ways of thinking (ibid.: 291). She “introduces the major Hindu myths” (ibid.: 297). In a sense, she sides with the winners of Nepalisation.

fig. 15 – Initiation of a Yuma priestess (herself called Yuma) gives rise to major rituals

fig. 15 – Initiation of a Yuma priestess (herself called Yuma) gives rise to major rituals

“Yuma ritual in Tsungtsipung. Kansima and his disciple playing the drum in front of the altar of the fields”

Photo Philippe Sagant; source: LESC_FPS_7.1.8, film 19.15

Yuma is the “ethnic group’s divinity” among the Limbu of Sikkim: it is around Yuma and her appropriation that today’s religious practice is organised. She has become so important that temples and a religion have been built in her honour. “Yumaism” is promoted by modernist Limbu intellectuals influenced by Christianity. Basing her work on Sagant’s article (1996b and present volume), Vandenhelsken analyses the conflict at play between phedaṅgmā shamans (holders of the oral tradition) and Yumaism. Yuma has gained the upper hand as the ethnic group’s supreme goddess, but the shamans resist. Vandenhelsken explores these conflicts in a contemporary Indian context where indigenousness is valued and contrasts with the mobility and social instability of the past.

58Pascale Dollfus takes us among the culturally Tibetan shepherds of Karnak, Ladakh, where the dice game is (the author borrows from Montesquieu) “a way of choosing that does not grieve anyone”, an egalitarian and equitable procedure used in practically all decisions, requiring no particular talent from the chosen ones, and heedful of rotations in filling posts. In short, the headman is not “the gods’ chosen one”, or at least villagers deny any link between this election and the god of the soil. As with any very general comparative proposition, the model of “the gods’ chosen headman” explored by Karmay and Sagant (1998) meets with counter-examples in the Tibetan world, with election methods that reject all divine influence. In his book on civil religion in southern Mustang (Nepal), Ramble analysed extremely complex procedures for drawing lots to choose the headman by a roll of the dice: in this “strongly democratic society […] it is the villagers who elect the headman” (2008: 346). The headman does not derive his legitimacy from the god of the soil. Ramble suggests that religious elaboration could have been a secondary step (ibid.: 350). In Nyishang, a valley located south of the region studied by Ramble, Sagant (1990 and present volume) also described a situation in which headmen are elected by drawing lots (after an invocation to the god of the soil, however), in which feat criteria do not enter into the selection process (1990: 154 and present volume: §25–29). Feats performed during jousts provide no advantage: “the god’s favour is controlled by men. The ideas of rotation, equal opportunity […] demonstrate a kind of reservation with regard to the inherent elitism of feat-morality. One might say that they are mistrustful of the god of the soil’s favour” (1990: 155; present volume: §30). In Ladakh, Dollfus makes it clear that there is no divine authority involved in elections, but one recognises the power in someone who is lucky, a virtue that makes success possible. There are few women in these processes. By focusing on a little-known aspect of games, namely the transgressive sexual language they reveal, Dollfus shows us that they are in fact “offside”.

59The discussion therefore remains open on an important subject that was a guiding thread in Sagant’s work: the relationship to political power and to hierarchical models (their rejection or adoption according to contexts), but also the values attached to the notion of chance in games (Hamayon, 2012), sometimes understood as favour from the gods. Linked with “the strengths of the spirit”, luck is rooted in the virtues of courage and determination, as Sagant explored in his final comparative works (cf. Unpublished texts).

60Dollfus also pays tribute to Sagant’s ethnographic writing, citing archive pages on money games (published here). Because in Ladakh, despite condemnation from the local Buddhist association, they gamble with just as much passion as the Limbu. Sagant reveals cheating strategies, and tells of how one can lose all of one’s fields in a matter of minutes. That which led Mundhunge to the summit made him “the king of the three valleys”.

Limbu autobiography: laypeople in the shamanic cure

61Tanka Subba spent his childhood in a Limbu village of the Kalimpong region before becoming a recognised academic in India. Subba recounts his experience as a shaman’s assistant, a Limbu child in a Limbu village near Kalimpong, north-east India, where many emigrants founded a line. Our assistant follows the shaman in his rituals, including those for his own chronically ill brother, and recounts that the shaman refused to transmit to him any knowledge whatsoever: “No matter what class you pass, you can never become a phedaṅgmā, as you do not have any symptoms of becoming one.”

62Subba offers the kind of story Sagant liked, one that echoes his major works on the shamanic cure, particularly his article on “laypeople’s interpretation” in this cure (1987, and for the English version 1988, 2006). He tells of the funeral ritual conducted for his grandmother—a major ritual in which only the grand shamans are summoned to successfully conduct the soul to the lands north of the Himalayas, so that it never returns to disturb the living. Through the shaman’s voice however, the grandmother settles accounts with the living: the distribution of cows among her children; revealing the place where she carefully stored her silver coins; and despite the objections of the relatives in attendance, her wish that her third daughter, a widow, join her. Which the daughter did the following year. Sagant showed that it is necessary to situate each ritual in time. In order to understand what is happening (and what so surprises Tanka Subba the young Limbu), it is necessary “to work on concrete cure cases over their full duration and with their sudden changes, […] to then examine the life history of the sick person and his family […]” (cf. supra, §39). The grand shaman is the one who ultimately brings tensions to the surface in order to resolve them. Much is said in this “autobiographical” account, not only about shamanic practice and its transmission, but also about the importance of the accounts that Sagant enabled us to hear.

fig. 16 – A Tibetan lama conducts a Limbu ritual

fig. 16 – A Tibetan lama conducts a Limbu ritual

The lama Oktok has come to Phalung in Libang for a ritual against hail: “In recent years, the Limbu shaman has not been equal to his task, and a Tibetan lama has had to be called in” (Sagant, 1982a: 173, 1996c: 420)

Photo Philippe Sagant, 17 April 1971; source: LESC_FPS_7.1.8, film 24.32

*

**

63The two guiding threads of Sagant’s work—his analysis of “dual power” on the one hand, and of the effectiveness of shamanic healing on the other—give a general and comparative scope to a wide variety of facts in the Himalayas, within a complex religious context: identifying significant political orders or social forms, in order to escape the fetters of the ethnographic data and allow comparison. But in so doing, there is no question of forgetting the people concerned. The ethnographic relationship fully retains its place. Sagant’s attention to this aspect is what gives his works their own style: the room he has made for the living words and worlds of his interlocutors, which consolidate their memory. The search for a form of writing that is ethnological and respectful of others, a form of writing intended for everyone, remains a highly contemporary aim.

64But Sagant’s writings also stem from an institutional context and from the concerns of his generation: a pioneering generation in the development of the Himalayas as a special field of study. Recent works have offered a “generational history of ethnology” (Laurière and Mary, 2019). Others have stressed an ethnography of research practices, getting as near as possible to the actors and their everyday work (Bert, 2012: 29). This history of ethnology would give full scope to collective work, to authors who have remained in marginal or secondary positions, to the choice to transmit rather than write, to the professional networks that support individual ventures and the emergence of major currents of thought. It would focus on scholarly lives and the places where they are shaped (Adell and Lamy, 2016; Laurière, 2008), not necessarily on the lives of mentors.

65A scholarly life ties personal choices to the vagaries of history, to the training received and to the state of a discipline. With the recent death of the ethnologists who marked the beginning of Himalayan studies—at a particular period in the development of ethnology—the time has undoubtedly come to begin a retrospective reflection on the establishement of this field, the currents and themes that either did or did not develop in it, the tensions between textual traditions and ethnographic practice, and the benefit that remains in overcoming these divisions and the borders that crisscross the Himalayas.

fig. 17 – Young Limbu woman on her wedding day

fig. 17 – Young Limbu woman on her wedding day

Photo by Karna Bahadur Sunuwar (Patibhora Photo Studio in Dharan); source: LESC_FPS_7.1.9

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Notes

1 The Tokpe Gola valley, on the road leading to Tibet, is populated by culturally Tibetan Bhotya, but it is also where one finds Limbu’s “soul reservoirs”. See the map of the Mewa Khola valley (fig. 2). On Tokpe, cf. also LESC_FPS_3.4.1.

2 In the illustration titles and captions, the texts in quotation marks are by Sagant.

3 This text precedes a description of game scenes published in this issue (LESC_FPS_3.7.1).

4 Designates the wooden receptacle and the beer it contains, usually made of millet or barley.

5 Raiti: farmer working the land of a property owner.

6 A unit of volume equivalent to around 5 litres.

7 LESC_FPS_3.7.1, Mundhunge chef de clan II, chapitre 1 “Portrait de Dambar Doj”.

8 Cf. the obituaries by Buffetrille and Lecomte Tilouine (2015), Gros and Schlemmer (2016), Dollfus (2015).

9 The French word “graphie” means “written form”.

10 Some examples are Bert, 2012; Laurière, 2008, 2016; Laurière and Mary, 2019. On the archives specifically of professional ethnologists, cf. Molinié and Mouton, 2008.

11 For an overview of his career, cf. his application for grade DR2 at the CNRS (LESC_FPS_1.1.3, Titres et travaux).

12 NEFA or North-East Frontier Agency, a designation dating from the British occupation, now the states of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.

13 This category is based on a linguistic one. Tibeto-Burman languages are spoken over a vast region (North India, South China, Tibet, Burma, as well as on the fringes of Thailand, Laos and Vietnam), and belong to the so-called Sino-Tibetan family.

14 LESC_FPS_6.1, 6.2 and 6.3.

15 It was supposed to appear in English in an exhibition catalogue that was never published (Oppitz and Völger eds, Ethnographic Museum, University of Zurich & Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum of Ethnography, Cologne; information from Michael Oppitz).

16 This text was initially presented on 13/04/1995 at the “Rencontre nationale Cinéma et enfance”. It had to be revised according to Samten Karmay whom I thank. His works on ritual hunts and play gave rise to several lectures with which Karmay was associated.

17 Georges Condominas (1921–2011) was a post-war figure in ethnology who specialised in Southeast Asia. He was the director of studies in Section VI of the EPHE, which became the EHESS.

18 Lucien Bernot (1919–1993) was an ethnologist who taught at the EPHE and the Collège de France (chairing the department of Southeast Asian sociography). He helped create the social anthropology research initiation centre in Section VI of the EPHE in 1962.

19 On scholarly lives cf. Adell and Lamy, 2016; Laurière, 2008. On generational configurations in the history of ethnology, cf. Laurière and Mary, 2019.

20 The Recherches coopératives sur programme (RCP) system was created in 1962 by the CNRS. It was first experimented with in the field of chemistry, then rolled out to others in 1963. On the RCP Nepal and its aims, cf. Millot, 1966. Cf. also Chandivert, 2016.

21 Sylvain Lévi (1863–1935), a historian of religion interested in sociological thought, chose to study that minuscule area in 1898 (the Kathmandu Valley, in fact the original Nepal), which he considered a laboratory, because “Nepal is India in the making” ([1905–1908] 2013: 13), an expression that has been the subject of much commentary. Marcel Mauss took the course that Lévi dedicated to this study in 1900–1901 (Bert, 2012: 73–76).

22 Cf. the Japanese expedition (Kihara, 1955–1957), and the Swiss expedition focusing on object collection (Lobsiger-Dellenbach, 1954).

23 Particularly Giuseppe Tucci (Italian, 1895–1984) and David Snellgrove (British, 1920–2016).

24 Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf (1909–1995) was appointed Professor of Anthropology at SOAS in London after Indian independence.

25 Bernard Pignède (1932–1961) was published posthumously (1966).

26 With Solange Thierry (1921–2009), head of the Asia department at the Musée de l’Homme.

27 Cf Bernot (1967) on the agricultural systems of Burman-language Marma refugees in Bangladesh.

28 André-Georges Haudricourt (1911–1996), linguist, ethnologist and botanist.

29 On RCPs in France, cf. http://www.garae.fr/spip.php?article25 (accessed 30/06/2020).

30 On the importance of Corneille Jest (1930–2019) in the RCP Aubrac in connection with the RCP Nepal, cf. Chandivert, 2016.

31 Initially trained in Chinese, Lucien Bernot was responsible for the Tibetan collections at the Musée de l’Homme, then studied a French village (Nouville) in collaboration with a psychologist, before travelling to Bangladesh among Berman speakers within a population in which Bengali language was dominant.

32 Centre de formation aux recherches ethnologiques, created on the initiative of André Leroi-Gourhan. It existed until 1969. Cf. Gutwirth, 2001.

33 Cf. the foreword in Jest, 1975: 23–28.

34 Cf. Sagant, 1971a and b; and LESC_FPS_1.1.1, Rapports d’activité du CEIAS, Bilan des recherches et travaux en cours 1966–1974.

35 LESC_FPS_1.1.1, Rapports d’activité du CEIAS, Bilan des recherches et travaux en cours 1966–1974, p. 2.

36 In Séveyrac for example, he examined the organisation of space which “crossed history”, “imprisoning new inhabitants in an old framework” (1971a: 145), a theme he revisited in his study of the Limbu home (1973b).

37 A non-academic researcher, Charles Parain (1893–1984) explored this problem in “the most theoretically unified volume describing the collective work on Aubrac (1972)” (Fabre, 1986: 12, note 9).

38 His first article (1968–1969) concerned markets in Limbu country, quintessential interethnic sites, and his archives contain abundant documentation on other populations: the Chhetri, Brahmans, the Newar of bazaars, the Sherpa, Tibetans of Tokpe in the north, etc.

39 In it, he viewed “the Gurkha conquest as an attempt to subject eastern Nepal to what Marxists call ‘an Asian mode of production’, the resistance of the Limbu structuring ‘a feudal type of society’”. LESC_FPS_1.1.1, Rapports d’activité du CEIAS, Rapport 1974–1976, p. 31. See also his collaboration with René Gallissot and Pierre-Jean Simon in 1975 (LESC_FPS_3.9.1, Dette et autres écrits).

40 Cf. Buob and Dubois concerning weaving (2019: 52 and 61). Cf. also the present volume.

41 Jest was probably one of the first to level the criticism that he was doing literature, something he was reproached with repeatedly up until his final book (Karmay and Sagant, 1998). At that time he was also very involved in union action at the CNRS (Fréchet, 2016).

42 Created in the mid-1950s on the initiative of Louis Dumont, “to renew the study of India by linking the experience and problems of traditional Indology with various disciplines from the social and human sciences”. Cf. http://ceias.ehess.fr/index.php?1300 (accessed 30/06/2020).

43 Published in English in Sagant 1996c: 9–49 (With head held high).

44 After receiving a traditional education at Oxford, the war drew him to Asia and into the Gurkha regiments (his first contact with the Nepalese), then into Force 136 in Southeast Asia, before pursuing his orientalist and ethnological training in Paris. Cf. his Récit de vie (to be published).

45 Cf. Macdonald, 1982. The pincer metaphor was used by Paul Mus (1902–1969, professor at the Collège de France, an orientalist with intimate knowledge of Indochina), who was Macdonald’s intellectual guide. It is again worth noting the influence that Southeast Asia research had on this pioneering phase of Himalayan studies in France.

46 Cf. Macdonald (to be published), on the field imperative he humorously characterises as a “trial by fire”…

47 In 1985, Karmay returned to his country, inspiring a major shift in their research, Sagant also going there in 1986 with Katia Buffetrille “to give a face to the Sharwa and a reality to the landscape” (Karmay and Sagant, 1998: 11).

48 That “dual, antagonistic power of the gods” which “seems to establish a dual power” among men (1996b: 285).

49 LESC_FPS_3.7.1, Mundhunge chef de clan II, chapitre 2 “La succession de Narapati” [Mundhunge’s father], pp. a2–a3.

50 The Chhetri are upper caste Indo-Nepalese who migrated onto Limbu land after the founding of Nepal by the Gorkha Shah king in the late 18th century.

51 LESC_FPS_3.7.1, Mundhunge chef de clan II, chapitre 1 “Portrait de Dambar Doj”, p. 20.

52 This is shown by the unpublished conclusion of the manuscript for the book written with Karmay (1998) (personal archives).

53 LESC_FPS_6.5.1, Exposés divers, p. 15.

54 Cf. LESC_FPS_3.9.9 and 3.9.10.

55 Republished in the book to which his thesis gave rise (1976) and translated in English in the 1996 book The Dozing Shaman, under the title “Sufficient unto the day”, pp. 248–277.

56 Cf. Sagant, 1979, 1982a, 1987; Michailovsky and Sagant (1992) exploring the ghosts of violent death, based on an account collected by Michailovsky, recordings of which are available online (https://pangloss.cnrs.fr/corpus/list_rsc.php?lg=Limbu&name=limbu, accessed 24/09/2020).

57 LESC_FPS_1.1.3, Titres et travaux, candidature au grade de DR2, p. 20.

58 Cf. also, 1981c: 32.

59 LESC_FPS_3.7.1, Mundhunge chef de clan II, chapitre 2, “La succession de Narapati”, p. a1.

60 Cf. LESC_FPS_1.1.2, Rapports d’activité CNRS.

61 Cf. LESC_FPS_3.7.1; 3.7.2; 3.7.3. Mundhunge is a pseudonym, the name of a Limbu mythical hero, ancestor of the clans that came from Tibet; Dambar Doj (his real name) was the grandfather of Motta, Sagant’s friend and informant. He was probably born at the very end of the 19th century, and died in 1953 when Motta was seventeen years old.

62 Cf. LESC_FPS_1.2, a letter to András Höfer.

63 LESC_FPS_3.7.1, Mundhunge chef de clan II, chapitre 1 “Portrait de Dambar Doj”, p. 21.

64 LESC_FPS_3.7.1, Mundhunge chef de clan II, chapitre 2 “La succession de Narapati”, p. a9. Marcel Maget was a specialist in the ethnography of farming societies, curator of the Musée national des Arts et Traditions Populaires and teacher at the Institut d’ethnologie. Notes and Queries on Anthropology has been revised and republished several times by the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland since 1874. Cf. also “Ethno-graphie des funérailles”, present volume.

65 LESC_FPS_3.7.4, Migrations Gurkha; 3.7.5, Migrations Assam Sikkim; 2.2.4, Matériaux de terrain limbu: Migration.

66 Subba: Limbu headman recognised by the state of Nepal.

67 LESC_FPS_3.7.5, Migrations Assam-Sikkim, folder: “Migrants et émigrés”, Émigration: recueil statistique; see in this issue “Migrations et émigration au Népal oriental”, §35).

68 LESC_FPS_1.1.1, Rapports d’activité du CEIAS, Bilan de recherche et travaux en cours 1966–1974, p. 10.

69 The Limbu are recognised as a Scheduled Tribe, and their language is officially taught in a department at Sikkim University in Gangtok.

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Table des illustrations

Titre fig. 1 – “The fine team”2
Légende Right to left: Motta (Limbu friend from Libang), Nuruk (Bhotiya friend from Tartong), Sagant and two friends from Nuruk, encountered on the Tokpe Gola path
Crédits Photographer unknown, May 1971; source: LESC_FPS_7.1.9
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ateliers/docannexe/image/14438/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 378k
Titre fig. 2 – Maps of Limbu country and the Mewa Khola valley
Légende “To the north, an approximately 5000-metre pass links Tokpe Gola to the passes running from Tukdam to Tibet. To the south, Dhoban is a traditional intersection of various roads, two of which descend towards the Indian plain”“If I decided to work at the scale of a valley, this was initially because I hit a stumbling block. If the study stayed at the scale of a village monography, one could remain precise, but one lacked sufficient comparative elements”
Crédits Source: LESC_FPS_3.9.2, Le paysan Limbu
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ateliers/docannexe/image/14438/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 613k
Titre fig. 3 – Tokpe Gola, at the heart of the alpine pastures, at an altitude of 4000 metres
Légende This is where the Limbu’s Mundhunge and Sandunghe ancestors from Tibet separated. This is where the reservoir of the souls of unborn children and of the deceased is located (Sagant, 1982b: 209)
Crédits Photo Philippe Sagant, October 1970; source: LESC_FPS_7.1.9, film 10.7
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ateliers/docannexe/image/14438/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 467k
Titre fig. 4 – The market town of Dhoban (900 m)
Légende The Newar bazar of Dhoban seen from the north, coming from Libang.Located on the medium mountains, the bazars were founded by Newar tradesmen from the Kathmandu Valley
Crédits Photo Philippe Sagant, April 1971; source: LESC_FPS_7.1.8, film 6.37
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ateliers/docannexe/image/14438/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 760k
Titre fig. 5 – Limbu hamlet and terraced fields
Légende “In Limbu country, the habitat is dispersed. Houses are set up wherever there are fields, wherever terraces are built” (Sagant, 1982b: 213)
Crédits Photo Philippe Sagant; source: LESC_FPS_7.1.7, film 8.28
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ateliers/docannexe/image/14438/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 591k
Titre fig. 6 – The Limbu house and its environment
Crédits Drawing by Philippe Sagant; source: LESC_FPS_3.9.2, Le paysan limbu
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ateliers/docannexe/image/14438/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 361k
Titre fig. 7 – “Weekly market scene”
Légende “Bhote women in the foreground, the Newar shopkeepers’ stalls in the background”“These markets periodically bring together all a valley’s populations in an uninhabited place, near the river and surrounded by the forest” (Sagant, 1982b: 220)
Crédits Photo Philippe Sagant; source: LESC_FPS_7.1.7, film 9.30
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ateliers/docannexe/image/14438/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 570k
Titre fig. 8 – At the weekly Luwan Pathi market
Légende Sagant is in the middle
Crédits Photographer unknown, 10 January 1967; source: LESC_FPS_7.1.7, film 9.27
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ateliers/docannexe/image/14438/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 523k
Titre fig. 9 – Group of Tibetans (Bhotiya) in Tokpe
Légende Motta, the Limbu friend, is on the left
Crédits Photo Philippe Sagant, May1971 ; source : LESC_FPS_7.1.4
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ateliers/docannexe/image/14438/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 838k
Titre fig. 10 – Village quarrel
Légende “Quarrel between a Bhote woman (seated and smiling) and a Limbu man (standing in the centre). The 14-year-old son of the one flirted with the 12-year-old daughter of the other. Did the Bhote boy go too far? There was an argument. The Lumbini girl struck the boy. The boy hit her back. Slapping her, he sent her nose ring flying, which was made of gold. They were both looking after their parents’ cows. The nose ring was not found, and this caused a big fuss. The nun from the Tokpe Gala lama’s convent came down to support the Bhote boy. The Limbu Kansima Pangbo from Libang came up to help his clan brother and arbitrate in the name of the subba. This is during the invectives. The nun was very strong. The father of the Lumbini girl, who was demanding a gold ring, got hammered” (caption on the back of the photo)
Crédits Photo Philippe Sagant, 1966–1967; source: LESC_FPS_7.1.7, film 8.31
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ateliers/docannexe/image/14438/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 608k
Titre fig. 11 – The water reservoir at Onguekma’s home
Crédits Drawing by Philippe Sagant; source: LESC_FPS_3.9.2, Le paysan limbu, illustrations
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ateliers/docannexe/image/14438/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 449k
Titre fig. 12 – Motta, “the bosom buddy”
Crédits Photo Philippe Sagant; source: LESC_FPS_7.1.1
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ateliers/docannexe/image/14438/img-12.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 574k
Titre fig. 13 – Priests and shamans
Légende Phedaṅgmā shaman officiating in Libang. “Ritual to Dung Dunguey among the Indramaya. Assistants are preparing to throw acheta (rice grains) onto the altar while Onguekma, the phedaṅgmā in the middle of the assistants, continues to chant the mundhum (myth)”, April 1967 (above); Bijuwa shaman in Dongen (below)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ateliers/docannexe/image/14438/img-13.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,2M
Titre fig. 14 – Map of the Himalayas
Crédits © Olivia Aubriot
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ateliers/docannexe/image/14438/img-14.png
Fichier image/png, 252k
Titre fig. 15 – Initiation of a Yuma priestess (herself called Yuma) gives rise to major rituals
Légende “Yuma ritual in Tsungtsipung. Kansima and his disciple playing the drum in front of the altar of the fields”
Crédits Photo Philippe Sagant; source: LESC_FPS_7.1.8, film 19.15
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ateliers/docannexe/image/14438/img-15.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 518k
Titre fig. 16 – A Tibetan lama conducts a Limbu ritual
Légende The lama Oktok has come to Phalung in Libang for a ritual against hail: “In recent years, the Limbu shaman has not been equal to his task, and a Tibetan lama has had to be called in” (Sagant, 1982a: 173, 1996c: 420)
Crédits Photo Philippe Sagant, 17 April 1971; source: LESC_FPS_7.1.8, film 24.32
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ateliers/docannexe/image/14438/img-16.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 600k
Titre fig. 17 – Young Limbu woman on her wedding day
Crédits Photo by Karna Bahadur Sunuwar (Patibhora Photo Studio in Dharan); source: LESC_FPS_7.1.9
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ateliers/docannexe/image/14438/img-17.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 503k
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Gisèle Krauskopff, « Writing about power figures », Ateliers d'anthropologie [En ligne], 49 | 2021, mis en ligne le 11 janvier 2021, consulté le 25 janvier 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/ateliers/14438 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/ateliers.14438

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Gisèle Krauskopff

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