Returned two days ago from Taplejung to continue processing my visa and pick up necessary equipment for my first long-stint in the field. Getting back was fairly tough. Long bus journey from T down to Birtamod, across to Biratnagar, and by some miracle managed to get through all the road blocks to the airport with half an hour spare.
The field site search went very well. Trekking from Tumlingtar was tough but a great experience, and good to see the middle western parts of Limbuan, east from the famous Arun river. I spend two weeks trampling around Taplejung, visiting villages in both the Phawa Khola and Kabeli Khola valleys, and have ended up setting up arrangements to return to the village of Mamangkhe, Kabeli khola. A large Limbu village in Mamangkhe VDC with some 50 households, and three neighbouring smaller villages in the same area,. Limbu is still widely spoken in the village and even among younger limbus. In Phawa khola villages (one day walk from Taplejung bazaar) I heard much more Nepali.
Mamangkhe is a two day walk from T.Bazaar, or 8 hours from a motorable road to the south (straight up the Kabeli khola valley).
There is a school, a small number of non-Limbu households (5-6), a small understocked health post with 3 health workers, and they are actually completing the construction of a Limbu Museum (the first of it's kind I think), funded by ex-gorkha Limbus from Kathmandu mostly.
The Limbus of Mamangkhe are all (there may be some exceptions) part of the Mabo clan. All the married women come from other valleys.,.which makes it interesting to study a single village and examine social relations within one clan.
Medicinal plants are used, but it seems that there are particular specialists, whilst 'lay' people know only the common plants. It is possible that my research will have to shift away from ethnobotany per se, more towards medical anth (health conception/knowledge) and relationship with economics (productivity, land use, cardamom) and market integration.
I have organised food and board with a Limbu family: the room is a later-built attachment to the ground floor of the house; I will cook my own mid-day meals (khaja). Spectacularly cheap rent (400 rupees a month!).
I will be teaching English in the school and a separate class for adult villagers (many expressed great interest in this), in exchange for Limbu language learning (villagers were very enthusiastic about this!).
The first phase of research will be for around 3 months and will involve:
1. Limbu language learning (as well as continuously improving Nepali)
2. Demographic survey at household level for Mamangkhe and perhaps the neighbouring villages
3. Baseline survey at individual level (married and above) which will include: education, economics, health (illness, self-perceived well-being), and ecological questions (use of wild-resources, hunting activity, medicinal plants, perceived changes, etc…)
4. Identifying informants: plant-knowledge experts, local healers/shamans/ pujaris, old men with knowledge of mythology, local history and clan history.
Identifying potential research assistants for helping carry out the baseline survey, and translating Limbu interviews.