When’s the last time you tried to Google something or someone and came up totally empty handed? You put all those research skills you learned in your undergrad and thought you would never use to work and still came up with no information. Like, Google actually doesn’t know about something?
For me, it was a couple months ago when I learned Earthbeats would get the chance to visit a nomadic ethnic group living in the deep jungles of Nepal. My first instinct, like probably most people nowadays, was to Google the community of people, hoping to come up with some basic information on their history.
Now, I should be fair and mention that my Google search wasn’t entirely blank. There is one academic article that mentions the Bankariya people and this excerpt is quoted on various different websites. However, there is relatively little information in the excerpt, other than Bankariya is an ethnic group of Nepal.
Imagine my utter shock and incredulity that Google doesn’t really know a thing about a whole group of people! Cue a Millennial existential crisis.
Fast-forward through a six-hour bumpy jeep ride through roads washed out by the continuous monsoon landslides, an hour-long bus ride with rain soaking the passengers through the open doors and windows, a three hour trek through a riverbed, a 30-minute tractor ride, and a 2 hour trek through the deep jungle. We’ve arrived in the Bankariya village and suddenly the lack of Google-ability is starting to make sense.
The Bankariya people used to be nomadic jungle-dwellers. They lived entirely in the forest, moving from place to place and relying on their knowledge of herbs and plants for sustenance and healthcare. Several years ago, a Nepali journalist named Pratab Bista learned of the nomadic people. He went in search of them.
According to the chairwoman of the community, when he finally “found” them, they picked up their children and fled in confusion. They didn’t get many visitors apparently.
The community credits Bista with settling them in a village, and therefore improving their lives through education, farming, and modern healthcare. Since moving into the village, the number of Bankariya people has been climbing. Now, they boast a community of 116 people.
The Government of Nepal still counts the Bankariya people as one of the most marginalized groups in the country. Many of the houses in the settlement lack walls and only a few have been given tin roofs by donors. Often, the livestock shelters rival the homes in terms of luxury.
Look, all these things I learned without Google! What a brave new world.
Despite the overall appearance of the settlement, everyone is smiling. There’s a card game going on between the men of the village and children run around chasing chickens, and chickens run around chasing children. There’s hard work going on everywhere but the didi (Nepali word for ‘sister’ or woman) stirring the pot of dinner is smiling while her granddaughter braids her hair, the old man grins while he rocks a baby in a hammock, and the young women joke as they sort maize.
We spend the day in the village interviewing three people. The first is the oldest man in the village. When we ask him just how old he actually is, he doesn’t remember. Instead, he tells us how many big earthquakes he’s been around for. The last big quake in Nepal (before 2015) was in 1934. We estimate his age at around 90-95 but it could be anyone’s guess.
Next, we talked to Pampha, an exceptional young woman of the community. She is the first person to ever pass the SLC (School Leaving Certificate) exam in the history of Bankariya people. This exam is a requirement for moving on to higher education in Nepal. She hopes to become a staff nurse.
Finally, we talked to the incredibly dynamic Sancha Maya Bankariya, chairwoman of the community. She had so much knowledge to share with us it was incredible. Since she was so engaging, we decided to follow her the next day on her trip into Kathmandu. Her daughter was about to have a child and she was going to make the long journey into the capital city to meet her grandchild.
Unfortunately, as things go in Nepal, that didn’t exactly happen. As we sat down to dinner at our host’s home that night, we were informed of a possible nation-wide strike the next day. Not only did this mean that Sancha Maya wouldn’t be seeing her grandchild the next day, it meant we were stranded in the village until the roads reopened. Joy.
When we woke up in the morning, the strike was confirmed and we spent the rest of the day exploring the area and farms around the village. We met farmers who received vital loans and training from our partner organizations and a group of rice planters who were only too eager to show a newbie the ropes. We reveled in the fresh air and lack of honking horns that are a staple in Kathmandu.
The Bankariya community may be remote. It may be small and it may be almost entirely unknown, but the people living there have the most incredible histories, dreams, and aspirations. We count ourselves lucky to be able to convey just a tiny fraction of their story to you.