literatures, religions, and arts of the himalayan region

To honeybee or not to honeybee, that is the question?
An investigation of interdependence and survival in the Himalayas and U.S.A.

Created by Ben Zimmerman
McAuliffe Regional Charter Public School
Framingham, MA



MISSION TWO: Religions


Economic and Social Implications

MISSION FIVE: Culminating Activities


Economic and Social Implications


Himalayan Cultural Case Studies

The impetus of conducting a compartive study of various cultures within your classroom would be to give students multiple perspectives on successes and failures of sustainable cultures in the Himalayan region. Some possible topics to address with your students could contain but should not be limited the following criteria:

-depleting resources and inability to remain nomadic
-positive influences of tourism, preservation of purity
-maintenance of bee colonies
-low level of needs
-role of religion
-correlative of the effects of globalism on people
(i.e. competing European Honeybee that’s wiping out the Himalayan bee)


Emphasis of this study would center on the impacts of globalism with regards to cultural sustainability. At this time other than a reliance on plant pollination to support its crops, there are no other links to bee colonies reliance.

Please investigate the following resources to aid in the this case study:

Video- Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh Documentary. 60 Minutes. Int'l Society for Ecology and Culture. 1993.

Book- Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh by Helena Norberg-Hodge


Emphasis of this study would center on the impacts of globalism with regards to cultural sustainability. At this time other than a reliance on plant pollination to support its crops, there are no other links to bee colonies reliance.

Please see the Forestry Practice section below for further information.


This semi-nomadic tribe of southern Nepal still harvest honey as part of tradition, sustenance, religion, and respect. Read into this dwindling culture at Golden Harvest of the Raji (ARTICLE AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY ERIC VALLI /National Geographic. June 1998. 84-105.)


Author, photographer, and filmmaker Eric Valli has spent years documenting the rich yet virgin culture of this Himalayan community. Investigate both the book he authored and the striking documentary film he created.


Small-scale Farming in New England

This section is a work-in-progress but equally as critical as the discussions on the Himalayan community due to the near and present ability of the issue. The hope of investigating a small-scale farming community in New England or any town in your region of the world is that your students are able to at least grasp the ecological, social, and economical implications of existing as a farm in the ever expanding global economy. This poses an incredible opportunity for fieldwork and the attainment of empirical data via soil testing, interviews, market analyses, etc. Look to your local community and begin the field work process of discovering the impacts of the economy and social implications on establishing sustainable farming practices.

For a catalyst in starting this mission visit this site for resources: Shelburne Farms Sustainability Education


Forestry Practices

In her anthropological treatise and documentary, Himalayan Herders, of the Himalayan hill society of the Melemchi people, author Naomi Bishop discusses how such cultures “permit us to study the symbiotic relationships among agriculture, livestock, and forest in mountain subsistence systems at the local level” (70).  She goes on to further link the “relationships  in understanding the interdependence of the Himalayan environmental region” (70). 

"Hill farmers are highly dependent on forest products.  Forests support hill agriculture directly by providing fodder and browse for livestock needed to plow fields or produce manure.  Forests also provide leaves for composting, another form of fertilizer for fileds that may support more than one crop per year.  The firewood necessary for daily life and for the preparation of products for barter and sale (paper, butter, and cheese) also comes from the forests, as does the timber for the buildings, implements, and equipment in the hill regions.  A less obvious role played by mountain forests is serving as reservoirs of future agricultural land.  Although it is possible to clear-cut a forest for a field, it is common for forested areas to be slowly degraded in quality through use until they are finally transformed into fields.  Forests also have a role in the maintenance of mountain slopes; there is some evidence that forested slopes are less likely to suffer mass wasting, as well as surface erosion.  All in all, agropastoral subsistence in the Himalaya is predicated on access to forest” (68).

According to wildlife biologist Dr. David Smith of the University of Minnesota major thrusts in community forestry have allowed nature and humans to live work together in recent decades.  Much of the thrust behind enabling local economies to maintain forests at a sustainable rate has been supported by the World Wildlife Fund, in an effort to maintain species such as tigers and bees.  However, with an ever-expanding global economy and population the threat to flora and fauna in preciously impoverished lands such as the Himalaya will not die out any time soon.

For more information on Dr. Smith’s expert presentation please click here.  Power Point coming soon!


It would be useful to guide students through the case study of the Melemchi people by breaking the documentary Himlayan Herders into parts to guide a discussion. Having groups of students focus on one aspect of the community throughout the film, discuss in small groups, and then discuss as a whole. It would also prove useful if the study of the Melemchi people could eventually be compared and contrasted with the Raji, Gurung, and Ladakhi case studies. Again, this all depends how in-depth you choose to take this.


Irrigation, Interdependence of food systems, and the Impact of Global Climate Change

It is evident that the role of sustaining lively forests is critical to the livelihood of Himalayan hill societies, but also of maintaining the integrity of the youthful Himalaya Mountains themselves.  Erosion leads to landslides in this highly earthquake prone mountains.  In addition, the reliance of the glacial runoff on mountain, hill, and valley societies is paramount to the maintenance of societies as a whole.  The advent rapid global warming over the past century has resulted in a steep decline in glacial stoutness.  Reliance on glacier derived irrigation to nourish humans, animals, and trees, all of which are necessary to procure crops, many of which necessitate the pollination of bees, which need the plants for their own survival.  Regardless of healthy and mindful practices, the evident interdependence of the flora, fauna, and humans is proving to be more and more impacted by centuries of carelessness. There is much to be learned from the simplistic nature of agropastoral subsistence communities of the Himalaya.


Links discussing the impact of global climate change on the greater Himalaya region

Discussion of the effects global climate change has on Nepali politics 

Harsh reality that Himalayan ice is going to melt

Study done comparing to the environmental impacts of global climate change 










This site was created by Ben Zimmerman at the NEH Summer Institute "Literatures, Religions, and Arts of the Himalayan Region," held at the College of the Holy Cross, Summer 2008.