It is 11.30 a.m. on May 29th, 1953; and though Europe now lies dormant in post-war exhaustion, although global decolonisation from the once great European empires is proving itself everywhere to be an unstoppable force, the paradigmatic moment in British imperial self-representation is about to go down. Two men stand roped together on top of the world’s highest mountain. The first is a beekeeper from New Zealand: a citizen of the old, white Commonwealth of nations. The second proves a little more difficult to define. Ethnically, he identifies himself as a ‘Sherpa’ — by which he means in part that he comes from Mongolian background, via Tibet. Nationally, because born in Nepal but now living in Darjeeling, he calls himself Nepali, but sometimes Indian, and sometimes Nepali- Indian. Linguistically, he identifies Sherpa as his mother tongue — this language derives from Tibetan.
Slemon, Stephen, Tenzing Norgay’s four flags, Kunapipi, 34(2), 2012.