Friday, May 12, 2017

Dog Nature Overlaps Human Culture

A black, young dog held back before the makeshift wood bridge over a small-yet-violent stream that severs Yaphu and Walung.  The Sherpas wooed and threw stones, trying to drive him out from attempting to come cross, thinking it was too dangerous to walk on the wet slippery log for the dog and fall into the roaring water below.  The dog, however, was not just brave but agile enough to swiftly run over the bridge.  

"Wa!" We all yelled out.
"Huh? Why? Does he want to follow us?" I asked.
"Yes, he will follow us."
"Shouldn't he come back to Dovtak?"
"No. Now he will follow us up to our village, Walung and stay there."

Walung Sherpas rest at a stream on the way to Dovtak.  A Dovtak dog ran across the flimsy wood bridge the next day.

It was the third and last day of our pilgrimage to the holy cave called "Khambalung" in Dovtak, a three-house Sherpa settlement in Yaphu area, Sankhuwasabha district, northeastern Nepal.  The black dog had been staying around the Dovtak lama's house where the Walung Sherpa visitors stayed during the trip.  The dog, however, seemed to have decided to follow us as we return; indeed, another dog slightly larger than him in the house was hostile to him all along, showing off an exclusive ownership of the dog's niche at the house.  "Is that migration for dogs is just to leave so instantly and with pure ease -- carrying no bags, wallets, food, toys, family, with no good-byes?" I wondered.  "Dogs are doing the same as the Sherpa men sometimes left home without saying anything to their family!"

Dogs are rarely allowed to come in Sherpa houses.

The Dovtak dog (S. Dovtak-kki) indeed followed us until Walung and the very house I stayed.  Unfortunately, there was another female dog with a puppy.  The mom-dog barked harshly against the intruder, yet the visitor dog somehow managed to stay in the vicinity of the house, trying to keep close to the kitchen though behind the mom-dog straining to hold the ownership.  The Sherpa housewife, seeing the dog seemed so hungry after a long day's walk, threw some leftover food (Tormang we brought from the last night's ceremony) which he voraciously ate up.  He did not leave until I left to Kathmandu a few days later.

In Nepal, the way dogs and humans interact with each other in general is characterized by indifference.  Few dogs wave their tails to strangers (while puppies might -- a sign of nurture being over nature).  Sherpa boys often threw stones to wandering dogs who would get shocked and afraid.  Although dogs were found in the yards of many houses one on one, the strong tie between the house owners and the house dog as is common to many other countries seemed lacking in the Walung Sherpa village.

Dogs are taking a good nap in a busy street in Nepal.

I visited again the village several months later.  Wondering whereabouts of the Dovtak dog, I questioned to the house's Sherpa about him.  However, he said villagers killed the dog, motioning cutting the neck with a long knife.
"What?  Why?"
"Because he killed a few chickens."

The unfortunate dog apparently failed to replace the dog that had been previously occupying the household so as to assert his belonging to the household.  His death would have been avoided once the replacement was successful.  In the Sherpa village, the border between house dog and wild dog was not lasting long and often unclear.

Middle Eastern gray wolf (Canis Lupus), known as the ancestor of dog.

Dogs are among the first (or, perhaps the first) domesticated animals at least 10,000 years ago before the introduction of agriculture.  They had been a kind of wolf, staying around hunter-gatherers, scavenging carcasses and participating in human hunting.  Early humans caught some docile animals, while keeling fierce ones before they thrived, to breed and raise a specific kind of descendants leading to the evolution of the dog we see today.  Though the dogs I have seen in Nepal might not be genetically different from those I can joyfully mingle with in Korea or in America, the patterns of ecological adaptation Walung Sherpas have constituted locally and regionally have left the dogs less domesticated, not in the biological sense, emulating the individualistic feature of the highlander Sherpa society.  Nature of dogs in Walung nebulously overlaps nurture that is part of Sherpa culture.

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