Rituals of Ethnicity is a transnational study of the relationships
between mobility, ethnicity, and ritual action. Through an ethnography
of the Thangmi, a marginalized community who migrate between Himalayan
border zones of Nepal, India and the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China,
Shneiderman offers a new explanation for the persistence of enduring
ethnic identities today despite the increasing realities of mobile,
hybrid lives. She shows that ethnicization may be understood as a
process of ritualization, which brings people together around the shared
sacred object of identity. The first comprehensive ethnography of the
Thangmi, Rituals of Ethnicity is framed by the Maoist-state civil
conflict in Nepal and the movement for a separate state of Gorkhaland in
India. The histories of individual nation-states in this geopolitical
hotspot-as well as the cross-border flows of people and ideas between
them-reveal the far-reaching and mutually entangled discourses of
democracy, communism, development, and indigeneity that have transformed
the region over the past half century. Attentive to the competing
claims of diverse members of the Thangmi community, from shamans to
political activists, Shneiderman shows how Thangmi ethnic identity is
produced collaboratively by individuals through ritual actions embedded
in local, national, and transnational contexts. She builds upon the
specificity of Thangmi experiences to tell a larger story about the
complexities of ethnic consciousness: the challenges of belonging and
citizenship under conditions of mobility, the desire to both lay claim
to and remain apart from the civil society of multiple states, and the
paradox of self-identification as a group with cultural traditions in
need of both preservation and development. Through deep engagement with a
diverse, cross-border community that yearns to be understood as a
distinctive, coherent whole, Rituals of Ethnicity presents an argument
for the continued value of locally situated ethnography in a multi-sited
world. Front cover: Lost Culture Can Not Be Reborn, painting by
Mahendra Thami, Darjeeling, West Bengal, India.

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Publication Details

Rituals of Ethnicity: Thangmi Identities Between Nepal and India
Shneiderman, Sara
University of Pennsylvania / University of Pennsylvania Press
Publish Date
February 2015
Shneiderman, Sara, Rituals of Ethnicity: Thangmi Identities Between Nepal and India (University of Pennsylvania / University of Pennsylvania Press, February 2015).