Regional fields

Asia, Himalaya, Nepal, Terai, Assam

Thematic fields

rituals and officiants, chieftainship and kingdoms, peasants and roaming
anthropology and tribal arts; representation of the invisible; masked theatre and comedy


Himalaya, Terai, Tharu, territory, rituals, politics, tribal art, masks, woodwork

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Young women during a fishing ritual,
Dang valley, 1982
(photo G. Krauskopff)

Since 1980, Gisèle Krauskopff has been working on the Himalayan region, mainly Nepal. She began her research in a low-altitude valley (Dang) among the Tharu, once-mobile peasants who developed the forests and marshes for the benefit of invisible powers. She studied these deities by combining fieldwork and archive collections research (in Nepal, India and England) and by visiting the sites of former Hindu principalities as far as the northwest Nepalese highlands. The increasing upheaval Nepal has been experiencing since 1990 – particularly on the ethnic political scene – has led her to extend her study to include all of the lowlands as far as Assam, India. Since 2001, relying on her cross-disciplinary knowledge of the Himalayan regions, she opened a new field of research dedicated to Himalayan tribal art, tracing their local uses and the transformation they undergo as they circulate on the so-called “primitive” art market and in collections.

The first phase of Gisèle Krauskopff’s work related to rituals (officiants, spaces, social units and the invisible powers involved). Articulating them brought to light not only the territorial anchoring (political and economic) of Tharu peasants who “refuse to be linked to the soil”, but also their place in a history. Being a Dang Tharu means belonging to a “small kingdom” of the same name, understanding the organisation of the Tharu territory, and also understanding the ritual centralisaiton processes that accompany the genesis of every Indianised kingdom. In the tradition of E. Leach and P. Mus, this research makes it possible to redefine “Tharu ethnicity”, asserting the primacy of political and ritual territory over “tribal” groups conceived as sui generis. She made the Tharu the actors of this story, creators of a territory and stakeholders – along with their chiefs – in the Hindu kingdom thus engendered. Principle themes developed: “Masters” of the forest, gods of the soil and chiefs; large houses and village residence; the exchange of sisters between houses; the lack of a link to the soil and forms of resistance; the construction of an origin and territory by delegated Tharu chiefs, and more recently “original” Buddhism conversion movements.

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Masks that no longer dance, bharigad theatre,
northeast India, 2009 (photo G. Krauskopff)

“Works of Himalayan tribal art”: this is another aspect of the production of the tribal that has been noted since 2001. Plastic productions – mainly wooden masks and statues that have been on the “primitive” art market since the 1980s – constitute a “new genre”, generated by the process of assembling collections. These sets bring together objects from different regions and stem from local practices on which there exists little ethnographic data. Her work addresses this “void” and the tension between the silence of ethnological sources and the proliferation of discourse by Western collectors and dealers, particularly striking in the case of “primitive” masks, supposedly created by “tribals” of Nepal’s “Shamanic culture”. Gisèle Krauskopff is currently running the ANR Himalart (a program of the National Research Agency, 2008-2012) organised at the LESC with a twofold objective: to record and compare the local uses of wooden masks and statues, combining cross-disciplinary fieldwork and archives; to study how the identity of these objects progresses and changes on the market and in collections.

Since 1995, Gisèle Krauskopff has been teaching in the “Himalaya” field at the University of Paris West Nanterre La Défense. She is a member of the administrative council of the Ethnology Society where she co-directs the collection Recherches sur la Haute-Asie (Research On Upper Asia).

Principal publications

  • 2009 (ed.), Les Faiseurs d’histoires: politique de l’origine et écrits sur le passé (Nanterre, Société d’ethnologie) [Recherches thématiques].
  • 2009, Bouffons masqués, in B. Goy, M. Itzigovitch (eds), Bouffons et protecteurs: sculptures de bois au Népal (Milan, 5 Continents): 32–43 [bilingual french/english].
  • 2007, Travestissements: à propos des masques dits «primitifs», in Masques, Himalaya. Catalogue de l’exposition «Masques et Art tribaux de l’Himalaya», Mairie du 6e (Éditions Findalki/Galerie le toit du Monde): 93–100.
  • 2006, Itinérance ou résistance? Voter avec ses pieds ou une forme instituée de contestation paysanne dans les jungles du Téraï, in B. Steinmann (ed.), Le Maoisme au Népal, lectures d’une révolution (Paris, CNRS): 146–178 [Monde indien].
  • 1996 eds (with M. Lecomte-Tilouine), Célébrer le pouvoir, Dasai une fête royale au Népal (Paris, Éditions du CNRS) [Chemins de l’ethnologie].
  • 1989, Maîtres et possédés. Les rites et l’ordre social chez les Tharu (Népal) (Paris, Éditions du CNRS).


Publications available at the Éric-de-Dampierre library


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Mis à jour le 26 October 2016

Directeur de recherche émérite, CNRS
[Emeritus Research Professor CNRS]