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Ateliers d’anthropologie is an online thematic journal with a review committee. Open to subjects focused on ethnographic studies combining theoretical innovations and precise observations, the journal publishes anthropology in the making. Since it is published online, it allows authors to include any supporting information and multimedia sources.

We publish one or two thematic issues per year, as well as publishing articles progressively under the Varia section of the journal.

Latest issue
49 | 2021
Mobilité, territoire et pouvoirs en Himalaya : pour Philippe Sagant

Mobility, Territory and Powers in the Himalayas: For Philippe Sagant
Edited by Gisèle Krauskopff
Couverture d'Ateliers d'anthropologie, 49|2021
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Credits : Cliché auteur inconnu

In the late 1950s, research on the Himalayan regions reached a major turning point: field studies by the first professional ethnologists supplanted orientalist textual works. Nepal, a Himalayan kingdom that had never been colonised, had just opened to the world. Surrounded by previously closed states where British research by the colonial administrators of South Asia had been illustrated, it became a laboratory focused on the ethnology of so-called Tibeto-Burman minorities under the dual influence of the Indian and Sino-Tibetan worlds, an infinitely rich configuration.

Philippe Sagant, to whom this issue of Ateliers d’anthropologie is dedicated, played a part in that pioneering moment, taking up the ethnological profession after the Algerian War. His works combine the rigors of ethnographic collection—something that needed to be done in its entirety in Nepal—with reflection that goes beyond regional cultural or religious divisions, to develop an anthropology of marginal societies caught between centralising forces in which the political and religious spheres are inseparable. They show the reflections pursued in the Himalayan area and in the ethnological discipline, from the time of Philippe Sagant’s training at the Musée de l’Homme and his participation in the RCPs of the 1960s and in institutions created at that time, to his comparative ambitions revolving around an archaic power model of “the gods’ chosen one”. His involvement in training at Paris-Nanterre University and Inalco influenced a whole generation. Philippe Sagant’s writings also have a very personal style, and a very modern voice because of the importance he attributed to the words and experiences of his informants, and to form in ethnology, a vehicle of ethnocentrism. This momentum was broken by a terrible illness that halted his research in 1996 until his death in 2015.

To reconnect the threads of that suspended time, this collection offers contributions revisiting some of Sagant’s works. They establish a dialogue with unpublished pages from his archives on the lives of the Limbu in eastern Nepal in the late 1960, a striking period in the history of that country. It also offers English translations of two texts on the “gods’ chosen headman” in Hindu and Buddhist environments, and late unpublished texts intended for a broader readership.

  • Gisèle Krauskopff
    Writing about power figures [Full text | translation]
  • Dialogues posthumes…

    Posthumous dialogues…
  • … avec les écrits de Philippe Sagant

    … with writings by Philippe Sagant

    Bringing back a voice silenced too soon by illness, twenty years before his death in 2015: the following writings by Philippe Sagant converse with contributions in his honour, while also illustrating the temporal and stylistic strata of his works, from his first field study in 1966 in eastern Nepal, to a distanced and comparative view of power figures in the Himalayas and beyond.

    A field, an era, a personal style: unpublished pages shed light on some of the silences of his scientific work as well as its aspirations, in a sense revealing the ethnologist’s inner laboratory. Although these texts posit the problem of the how to construct anthropological knowledge through writing, the stages they reveal stem from the evolution of the discipline, and more specifically of the field of Himalayan studies since the pioneering era in which Sagant participated in the 1960s. The written forms he adopted changed, because of his major concern: the search for an ethnological writing and what it reveals about the discipline and about the issues that its practice raises.

    We will first read extracts from books on the experiences of his Limbu friends, revolving around two themes, migration and play, in dialogue with the contributions presented in this volume. Three texts on migration, a subject he worked on in the 1970s, allow us to experience the seasonal departure of pit sawyers in Assam, as well as social forces and violence leading to exiles that were sometimes permanent. They root the social organisation in a continuous, ancient instability.

    The texts dealing with play are extracted from a life history project—an ethnographical genre he was fond of, but was reluctant to give shape to—on Mundhunge, a great Limbu headman and quasi-king of the Mewa valley. Like most of his works, it was based on villagers’ personal accounts about a striking figure. One of the texts describes the ethnologist’s conversations during a journey to a culturally Tibetan valley in northern Limbu country, with Limbu friends who initiated him into their passion for play. He gives a sense of the ethnologist’s presence in his practice and his ethnographic relationship. The other is a text (non-narrative this time) that explains how, thanks to play and the money thus accumulated, Mundunghe began his career as a great headman, becoming a figure who was both feared and admired, a local hero of sorts.

    Combining texts, drawing and photography, extracts from a manuscript on funerals and life-cycle rituals show an ethnographic genre that is no longer practiced, but was part of Philippe Sagant’s training at the Musée de l’Homme: the descriptive monography.

    Philippe Sagant was not just a specialist on the Limbu, as the ethnology of that time would have had it. From his early days, his broad vision led him to take an interest not only in the Tibetans of Tokpe, in the Newars of bazars with whom they shared their day-to-day life, and in headmen’s relationships with the central authorities, but also in the history of Sherpa or Indo-Nepalese family settlements, to understand the life of a valley in time and space. He used to humorously say that the ethnologist should not “coddle” his tribe. Comparison was indispensable.

    Closely studying headman figures and the fragmentation of their power, he oriented his research toward the question of “dual power” in the Himalayas at the beginning of the 1980s. Two articles published in the 1990s appear in this volume in English translation: one deals with rituals linked to political centralisation in Nyishang, a culturally Tibetan region of Nepal, while the other analyses the delegated power of Yakthumba (or Limbu) headmen, through the national royal festival of Dasaĩ. Ethnography holds a central place in them, combined with textual sources concerning China, Tibet and India for comparative purposes in Hindu and Buddhist contexts. In so doing, he shows how “dual power” transformed ancient institutions, particularly the model of the “gods’ chosen headman” which he analysed with Samten Karmay among the Sharwa of Tibetan Amdo.

    Although Philippe Sagant published nothing about money games among the Limbu, in the final phase of his work, “play” was a major focus, revolving around ritual joust and hunts that conveyed the feat values at the heart of his reflection on the “gods’ chosen headman” and on the “luck” leading to this choice. The two unpublished texts at the end of this volume illustrate the broad analysis he was planning when illness struck him down, a comparison that he wanted to be “unbridled” and free of academic fetters. Although the use of villager accounts is still in vogue, the writing is different. These inspired texts show another logic, a different conception of time and space.

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