Gift, Greeting Or Gesture: The Khatak And The Negotiating Of Its Meaning On The Anglo-Tibetan Borderlands

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The uncertainties of the British Empire came to the fore during cultural encounters. When material things became a momentary focus (especially those entangled in much larger diplomatic events), how to negotiate them very often resulted in a series of question marks in the Foreign Department files. These micronarratives of empire, especially those played out in the Himalayan borderlands of British India reveal a less than omnipotent imperial project. Following the flight into exile of the thirteenth Dalai Lama in February 1910, this paper will trace out one tangible way in which the British renegotiated their 300 years of accumulated diplomatic ‘grammar.’ Using the arrival at state level of the khatak (kha btags): a specifically Himalayan piece of material culture, we will witness the recoding of diplomatic protocols made for ceremonials in the plains of India. Colonial archives make it possible to gain some insight into how the British and their Persianderived diplomatic nomenclature attempted to make sense and interpret these new material encounters and exchanges taking place on the edge of imperial influence and understanding. As exchange does of course require both a giver and a receiver this paper will also weave in khatak-related Tibetan sources, which make it clear that this scarf already had multiple meanings tied to it and that the Tibetans renegotiated their own diplomatic “grammar� while exiled from their power base in Lhasa.
Original languageEnglish
Article number10
JournalHimalaya. The Journal of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • gift exchange
  • British India
  • Tibet
  • Diplomatic encounters
  • Objects


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