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Bowdoin College

Publication Date

Fall 2013

Program Name

Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples


This project begins with an examination of the blacksmith trade in Spiti, Himachal Pradesh, based upon the observation and limited apprenticeship of the author.

It then examines the caste system in Spiti. Th9is system more intense in certain regions than others, but throughout the region the Zoks, the metal-smith caste, are second from the bottom. This has two main effects on the caste. First, caste is keeping zoks who remain in the village in the lower class. Secondly, the fact that their historical profession is the symbol of their caste, combined with the fact that their Scheduled Caste Status makes it easier for them to get government jobs, the most coveted jobs in Spiti, is driving the decline of the blacksmith profession. This despite the fact that their profession is in high demand, a carrier of traditional culture, and adds to the self-sufficiency of a highly government dependent region.

However, tradition is melting. People are beginning to believe in the equality of all people, and some upper-caste farmers are even beginning to blacksmith a little. Thus the future of blacksmithing in Spiti is questionable. It could either fall by the wayside, leaving the farmers of Spiti to improvise, importing tools or making them themselves, or the caste and economic position of the profession could change, making it a viable, desirable profession. The first factor could also help make the second a reality. Another factor that could add to the viability of blacksmithing is the increasing importance of tourism in Spiti. Tourism always creates a commodification of culture, especially the concrete, attractive aspects of it that can easily be brought home.

mGarba Nagpo, the protector deity of the blacksmiths, is also examined in this work. In addition to providing advice and strength to the greater community, he is especially revered and worshiped by the blacksmith the author studied with.


Arts and Humanities | Community-Based Research | Family, Life Course, and Society | Inequality and Stratification | Social and Cultural Anthropology


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