Freedom, Margins, and Music: Musical Discourses of Tharu Ethnicity in Nepal
- Author(s): Dalzell, Victoria Marie
- Advisor(s): Wong, Deborah
- et al.
The Tharu are reportedly the fourth largest minority group in Nepal. Yet despite their numerical strength, their social experience in modern Nepal largely consists of marginalization. A culturally and linguistically diverse people indigenous to the flat, southern Terai region of Nepal, the Tharu have claimed an ethnic group identity in the past sixty years in light of their shared geographic location and state exploitation, as well as the rise of ethnic politics in Nepal. I examine how performance practices and musical experiences are central to the Tharu’s group identity formation. First, I examine how the Tharu combat their social exploitation largely through musical means. I focus on the role of sociomusical practices in community ritual, its transformation through folkloricization, and extension as tools for activism. The cultural significance of these practices shift as the Tharu come into contact not only with Nepal’s changing political, social and economic scenes, but also paradigms of global indigenism and human rights. However, even as a marginalized people, the Tharu have their own internal politics. Second, I examine how musical practices are locations for productive friction within Tharu communities. Musical performances constitute intense community negotiation and contestation concerning Tharu womanhood and religious identity, and are places where the Tharu produce situated knowledge about development and modernity. While not ignoring political, historical, and global frameworks, my focus on sociomusical practices brings attention to how an ethnic identity is generated and embodied on a local level.