Topics: Environment, Indigenous

EXCLUSIVE: In the shadow of Mt Everest - Tenzing Norgay's son speaks

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes
  • North Island: East Coast

Norbu Tenzing, son of Sherpa Tenzing Norgay who guided Sir Edmund Hillary to the top of Mt. Everest, speaks about his father’s legacy, how he is continuing it today and the challenges the Sherpa people face.  Tenzing says, "For a Sherpa, the last thing they want to do is to climb Everest.”

Tenzing says Mt. Everest is now a major business.

“Some 500-600 people climb the mountain every year, that is just the tourists who like to climb the mountain and doesn’t take into account the Sherpas that actually accompany them and in many instances just take them to the top,” says Tenzing.

He says no expedition on Everest can survive without Sherpas.

“It’s very very dangerous work.  The Sherpas get paid an average of $3,000-$5,000 US dollars for 3 months work on the mountain.  It seems like a lot of money but when you weigh the risks involved, when you see the inequity that takes place for those who climb the mountains, who don’t have the proper training, who don’t have the necessary insurance, whose children and families are not necessarily taken care of, that’s a real problem.”

Twelve members of the Tenzing family have climbed Mt. Everest and Norbu Tenzing says he has no intention of following the same path.  The family have lost many uncles to the mountain.

When asked if he is a climber, Tenzing says the last thing a Sherpa wants to do is climb Everest and that there are easier ways to make a living.

“Because of my father, we were able to have good access to education, so I like to continue my father’s legacy in a small way by working with the Sherpas, with the Tibetans, with the Nepalese- in giving back somehow.

"I work for an organisation called the American Himalayan Foundation that provides health, education, cultural preservation for those with no one to turn to.”

He says that dangerous mountains are places where people are not meant to live or survive.

"Those experiences for Sherpas are pilgrimages to the top of Everest, or any mountain for that matter because mountains, valleys, are our sacred places.  Mountains, valleys are places that our gods reside and these sacred places really need to be preserved.”

He says it was never about who made it to the top first.  Sherpa Tenzing Norgay was making his 7th attempt when he managed to reach the summit. 

“When my father and Sir Edmund Hillary climbed Everest, they climbed because they really wanted to climb the mountain and who made it on top [first] really didn’t matter. They agreed that they climbed Everest together, but it would not have been without the help and support of the hundreds of people that made it possible and the families who supported them on this journey.”

Tenzing says that Mt. Everest, known by his people as Chomolungma, is a sacred mountain.

“For my father, it was a pilgrimage, for Sir Edmund Hillary it was a dream and I feel, given the way that they lead their lives after Everest, there could not have been better people to have climbed Everest first than the two of them.”

While being hosted by Ngāti Porou in the East Coast of New Zealand, local radio station Radio Ngāti Porou connected Mt. Hikurangi to the Himalayas through a Skype conversation as part of the Talking Mountains of the World initiative. 

“I believe the coverage we’ve been getting has reached many corners of the world including my family in Nepal and the United States.  It’s wonderful that there is Māori Television over here, Māori Radio, broadcasting these cultural exchanges is such a great way of reaching so many people,” says Tenzing.

 The live-streams of the events over the two-day visit reached people all over the globe.

“We’ve had two spectacular days that we won’t forget anytime soon, the first thing I would like to extend is our profound gratitude to Ngāti Porou for hosting us, and to give us this very special opportunity to understand our different cultures and what the mountains and environment means to each of us."

The Tenzing brothers and family members now head south to Te Waipounamu, where they will be hosted by Ngāi Tahu and visit Mt. Aoraki.