Thinking Like a Mountain: The Life and Career of E. O. Shebbeare

Westaway, Jonathan orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-4479-3490 (2018) Thinking Like a Mountain: The Life and Career of E. O. Shebbeare. The Alpine Journal, 122 .

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E. O. Shebbeare was the transport officer on the 1924 Everest expedition and subsequently transport officer for the Germans on Kanchenjunga in 1929 and 1931 and deputy leader of the 1933 Everest expedition. Shebbeare’s knowledge of Sikkim and of indigenous peoples and their languages was central to the success of these and other expeditions. Despite this, his contribution has largely been downplayed by historians of Everest. Lacking a degree or university education, he joined the Indian Forest Service in 1903, eventually becoming Chief Conservator of Forests for Bengal. In the mountains, jungles and forests of the Himalaya, he became a pioneering naturalist and forest conservationist, eventually becoming Chief Conservator of Wildlife for Malaya. As well as significant contributions to the scholarly literature on the flora and fauna of S. E. Asia, in his retirement he wrote Soondar Mooni: The Story of an Indian Elephant (1958), a book that explores non-human subjectivities and agency, providing us with evidence of Shebbeare’s deep sensibility for the ‘more-than-human’ world. This paper therefore examines the hidden histories of exploration, highlighting the colonial subject’s role in traversing imperial and indigenous cultures, framing colonial encounters, mediating alterity and making expeditionary knowledge possible. It highlights Shebbeare’s use of extreme landscapes and encounters with animals and aboriginal groups to explore the possibility of becoming ‘other’, of experiencing new ways of being human. Disappearing, getting lost, relying on indigenous knowledge, opening yourself up to animal agency, seeking out the primitive – techniques of travel and encounter Shebbeare actively sought out in his journeys, techniques that break down oppositions seemingly inherent in Imperialism: between culture-nature, colonist and colonized, the human and the non-human.

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