Tibetans have lived above 3,000 meters for at least 10,000 years. Consequently, they have distinctive biological traits including unexpectedly low levels of hemoglobin, the molecule that carries oxygen. Genes accounting for such hemoglobin levels were recently identified and occur at uniquely high frequency among Tibetans. A likely mechanism for this high frequency is higher fertility and child survival among people with low-hemoglobin forms of those genes. However, fertility and child survival measures integrate many factors. Fertility is the outcome of indirect influences such as socioeconomic status, education, and altitude of residence, as well as direct influences such as marital history, contraception use, miscarriages and abortions, and genetic inheritance. This seminar reports on reproductive history interviews with 1,014 Tibetan women 40 years of age and older living at altitudes of 3,000+ meters in Gorkha and Mustang Districts, Nepal, as well as on ethnographic data from the regions. The seminar will cover variation between the two districts, which are at different stages of the fertility transition, examining not only demographic trends within fertility and child survivorship but also cultural explanations and lived experiences of these patterns of pregnancy and birth, survival and loss.


Sienna Craig is Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Anthropology, Dartmouth College. Her work explores the worlds of healing across cultures, the meanings people ascribe to illness, the social lives of medicine, and the translation of science across cultural terrain – primarily in Nepal and Tibetan areas of China but also comparatively in the United States. As a cultural anthropologist, she is invested in understanding the multiple ways that so-called “traditional” medical systems interact with biomedicine: from patient-healer relationships and the cultural meanings people ascribe to suffering and affliction; to the wider socioeconomic and political circumstances in which medical practitioners are trained, healing occurs, and medicines are produced, evaluated, and distributed. She is also interested in studies of ethnicity and identity, including how experiences of diaspora and exile impact concepts of “health” and health-seeking behaviors. She works on collaborative, interdisciplinary projects as an engaged anthropologist with other scholars as well as with NGOs and through the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Her books include Medicine Between Science and Religion: Explorations on Tibetan Grounds (2010) and Healing Elements: Efficacy and the Social Ecologies of Tibetan Medicine (2012).