A tree dies with every human birth

28 June 2012 | Article

A new member has arrived in Nou Chhiring Sherpa’s home in Phakding village of Solukhumbu district. For those aware of the Sherpa tradition here, they need not ask anybody nor do they need information from Sherpa’s neighbors or relatives, to know that a birth has occurred in thehouse.

In Sherpa communities of this remote village, located in the lap of Mount Everest – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – a freshly chopped pine tree erected outside the main door heralds the arrival of a new member in the family .

One can even know if the newborn is a girl or a boy. If the tree is erected on the right side of the main door then it is a male child, if on the left, a girl.

A pine tree stands on the right side of the main door of Nou Chhiring’s house. People new to this village and Sherpas’ tradition may not readily understand the meaning of the placing of the tree. Sherpas’ here have a unique tradition of chopping off a tree and placing it outside their main door to indicate the arrival of a newborn child.

According to Sherpa tradition, during angighotar (naming ceremony of the newborn), as far as possible, a Dhupi (Pinus roxburghii) tree is preferred for placing in front of the house. If the Dhupi tree, which is becoming rare these days, is unavailable, other types of pine are also used during the ceremony.
It is a very old tradition of ours,” says Sherpa, father of the two-month old son, “during angighotar a full tree should be kept erect in front of the house.” A straight and ‘good tree’ is brought from the forest for the purpose, he further explains.

Explaining the meaning of angighotar, Min Phuti Sherpa, a liaison women of Phakding in Chourikharka village says, “Angi means child and ghotar means the erection ceremony.” She expressed apprehension that some Sherpas are giving up this tradition.

According to her, the tree must be erected on the third day of the birth of the child. “Some have started doing it on the fifth and the sixth day as well,” she adds. She also said that earlier people preferred the Dhupi tree but since Dhupi trees are not found in the locality people have started using other species of pine trees.

Houses with pine trees placed at the doorstep are frequently sighted along the Namche – Lukla route. Such sightings become more frequent in the houses that lie on either side of the trail linking Phakding to Jorsalle where religious prayer flags flutter on the dry poles. The erected tree stands in front of house until it decays naturally.

The culture here is amazing!” says Pashupati Adhikari, ranger of the Sagarmatha National Park, adding, “people elsewhere usually plant trees with the arrival of a newborn but here its just the opposite.”

According to Adhikari, this tradition of Sherpas’ could be one of the reasons behind the escalating deforestation in the region. “Dhupi is almost locally extinct; now other species of pine are also becoming vulnerable.”

By Subodh Gautam