"If Each Comes Halfway": Meeting Tamang Women in Nepal

"If Each Comes Halfway": Meeting Tamang Women in Nepal

"If Each Comes Halfway": Meeting Tamang Women in Nepal

"If Each Comes Halfway": Meeting Tamang Women in Nepal

Synopsis

For twenty-five years, Kathryn S. March has collected the life stories of the women of a Buddhist Tamang farming community in Nepal. In If Each Comes Halfway, she shows the process by which she and Tamang women reached across their cultural differences to find common ground. March allows the women's own words to paint a vivid portrait of their highland home. Because Tamang women frequently told their stories by singing poetic songs in the middle of their conversations with March, each book includes a CD of traditional songs not recorded elsewhere. Striking photographs of the Tamang people accent the book's written accounts and the CD's musical examples. In conversation and song, the Tamang open their sem their "hearts-and-minds" as they address a broad range of topics: life in extended households, women's property issues, wage employment and out-migration, sexism, and troubled relations with other ethnic groups. Young women reflect on uncertainties. Middle-aged women discuss obligations. Older women speak poignantly, and bluntly, about weariness and waiting to die. The goal of March's approach to ethnography is to place Tamang women in control of how their stories are told and allow an unusually intimate glimpse into their world.

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Excerpt

Twenty-five years: this book, like my acquaintance with the Tamang women whose stories I retell, has been a meandering odyssey. How to reconcile the negotiated openness of dialogue with the people of Stupahill and the authoritative closure of a written text? Twice I thought I had completed this work. Each time I found something critically lacking and returned to Nepal to correct what I could. This book reflects a long learning process, with each stage adding a new layer of concerns.

Those of us who live in the less famous Ithaca tire of allusions to its classical namesake and its notorious vagrant. In one respect, however, I must compare the work at hand not to Ulysses and his adventures but to Homer’s way of telling—as an epic narrative. Without overstating the parallels to that great account, these stories of the Tamang women should also be read as an epic. The problem with epics is that, as tellings, they appear to wander, get lost, and retrace their steps. Somehow, though, it is through these same devices that epics lead us to the heart of the adventure, the adventurers, and ourselves. They are meant to be heard and reheard, told and retold.

1. Pronounced with equal emphasis on both syllables and a soft ng: roughly, tah-mahng, not ta-mayng.

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