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101 Trade, Religion, and Civic Relations in the Manangi Long-Distance Trade Community Prista Ratanapruck It was the work of Stanley J. Tambiah that transformed me from a student of economics into a student of anthropology. At a time when I was feeling a growing dissatisfaction with the field of economics,I enrolled in a social studies seminar on the history of economic thought taught by Steve Marglin, an economist at Harvard. While discussing the topic of economic rationality, we read Tambiah’s “Magic, Science, Religion, and the Scope of Rationality” (1987). I was fascinated by the author’s comparative analysis, and set out to find out who Stanley Tambiah was. Learning that such comparative, historical, and philosophical work was also in the domain of anthropologists’ pursuits , I followed the course catalogue to sit in on Tambiah’s economic anthropology course. He introduced the course by saying, “This is a course in economic anthropology in which we will be reading a lot of obscure ethnographies. It is not an introduction to economic theories ; Ec 10 is designed for that.”1 It was from this course that I learned how economic facts are social facts. I continued to be fascinated by Tambiah’s analysis of ritual efficacy and the framework of “causality” and wanted to learn more, but enrollment in his “Magic, Science, and F5920.indb 101 F5920.indb 101 12/17/12 3:00:40 PM 12/17/12 3:00:40 PM 102 Prista Ratanapruck Religion” seminar was limited to graduate students. This led me to apply for graduate study in anthropology. An important part of Stanley Tambiah’s work is devoted to critically examining how cosmologies are embodied in ritual actions. He describes rituals as “totalities constituted of both word and deed” (1985b, 1). In this paper, I attempt to show how his perspective led me to see an articulation between ritual and religious practices and trade practices in the Manangi long-distance trading community, as these practices share a certain “cosmology”—or a “cultural logic”— about how Manangis view the relationship between individuals and the collective. During the last seven years, I have been following extensive trade and kinship networks of the Manangis, who are Nepalis of Tibetan ethnic origin. They are descendants of caravan traders who used to trade in salt and grains between Tibet and India.2 Over the past century , their trade has shifted and expanded to northeast India, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. Today, Manangis are skilled gem and handicraft traders; some are airline shareholders, and some are owners of hotels, factories, and real estate in Nepal and elsewhere in South and Southeast Asia. In the established historiography of transregional trade and commerce inAsia,the role ofAsian merchants was eclipsed by eighteenthcentury Western colonial trade and expansion (Van Leur 1955,Steensgaard 1973). How have Manangis continued to thrive?3 Unlike European company merchants, Manangis were endowed with relatively little economic and political capital. They did not have claims to sovereignty from their mother countries, backed up by guns and armies, to influence trade in foreign countries. They also had insufficient capital to accumulate large stocks of commodities to manipulate global market prices through monopoly. Endowed with relatively little economic and political capital, Manangi traders developed external social relations and kinship ties with local communities. Through local marriages, they gained special entry into local markets, including access to supplies of local resources, cheap labor, and knowledge about commodity production—access that would have been harder for larger company merchants to acquire.Yet, despite local marriages and successes in foreign lands, Manangi traders abroad did not naturalize into their adopted communities. They instead remained part of the Manangi community by maintaining cross-cultural kinship ties and a larger transnational community. F5920.indb 102 F5920.indb 102 12/17/12 3:00:40 PM 12/17/12 3:00:40 PM Trade in the Manangi Long-Distance Trade Community 103 While turning external social relations into internal social ties within their expanding community, Manangis also seek to reinforce particular kinds of social relations within their community. Abroad, they establish communal rooming houses, share knowledge about their trade internally, and develop a system of mutual trust. At home in Kathmandu, they pool trade surpluses to organize elaborate religious and social gatherings, taking turns to sponsor the events through a system of rotation among households. These partnerships, which may be described, using a phrase from Aristotle, as civic relations , make up the cultural logic...


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