The Northern Himalayan People
In the northern region of high Himalayas, the Tibetan speaking, the Sherpas, the Dolpas, the Lopas, the Baragaonlis, the Manangis live in different settlements scattered along the country. The Sherpas are mainly confined in the east in the Solu and Khumbu region. The Baragaonlis and the Lopas live in the semi- deserted area of the upper and lower Mustang in the part of the Tibetan plateau in the rain shadow area; the Managis in the Manang district and the adajcent areas; and the Dolpas in the highest settlements on the earth in the Dolpa district of Nepal ( in the west) at an altitude of above 4000 m.
The Middle Hills and Valley People
In the middle hills and valleys, there coexists numerous ethnic groups. Among them are the Magars, Gurungs, Tamangs, Sunuwars, Newars, Thakalis, Chepangs and majority of Brahmans and Chhetris. The Brahmans and Chhetris have long dominance in all pervading social, religious and political realms. There are also some occupational castes e.g. the Damai (tailor), Sarki (Cobbler), Kami (Blacksmith) and Sunar (Goldsmiths). Though, there exists numerous dialects, the language of unification is the national language, Nepali, an Indo- Aryan language.
Ethnic Diversity in the Kathmandu Valley
Kathmandu Valley represents a culture cauldron of the country. The people from different stereotypes, come together, presents traveller a unique melting pot of cultures. Kathmandu is predominantly inhabited by the Newars. These people have managed to integrate both Hinduism and Buddhism to such an exceptional extent that their culture has developed into a unique one. Today many Newars are traders. Newar families , who had resided in the valley for centuries , had also travelled across the country to develop trade.
The Terai People
The main ethnic groups in Terai region include the Tharus, Darai, Kumhal, Majhi and other populace which have roots in India. They speak different north Indian dialects - Maithili, Bhojpuri etc. The fertile plain of Terai, generally known as 'grainary of Nepal' has great agricultural value. Most of the inhabitants live on agriculture. There are , however, some occupational castes e.g. Majhi ( Fisherman), Kumhal (Potter) and Danuwar (Cart Driver).
POPULATION OF MAJOR ETHNIC GROUPS
MAJOR ETHNIC GROUPS:
The most famous among the Himalayan people are the Sherpas. Because of their impeccable mountaineering skills, they are an indispensable part of mountain expeditions as leaders, guides and porters. As an individual or in groups, they have set records of many ' firsts' in the mountaineering world. Due to their close affinity to Tibet, in trade, tradition and tongue, the Tibetan influence in their living style is quite distinct. They come, however, from Solu and Khumbu region of eastern Nepal , in the vicinity of Mt. Everest, along the Arun Valley, the Dudh Koshi river and its tributary areas.
Economy and Trade
The economy of the Sherpas, is related directly to the mountain environment. They primarily live on field agriculture, animal husbandry, trade and mountaineering. The people of Solu (relatively in the lower and warmer region compared to Khumbu) grow potato, barley, wheat , maize and others and trade them in the nearby areas. The Khumbu Sherpas have limited pasture of arable land and they primarily depend upon animal husbandry, yak and sheep breeding. They produce different Yak derivatives; including butter, cheese etc. Yak butter is used in making the traditional salted Tibetan tea. Khumbu lies in an important trade route to Tibet through Nangpa La (Nangpa Pass). Namche bazaar is the main trading center in this region. This gateway to Mt. Everest is prosperous and it bustles with activities in the mountaineering and trekking seasons. Its numerous hotels provide modern facilities including various Satellite TV channels, public telephone services and different culinary delicacies; the traditional and continental. As the number of tourists and expedition increases, the scope of these highlanders for the employment as guides, and high altitude porters gradually increases. This has helped quite a lot in their living standards.
Traditions and Culture
There are two distinct castes in the Sherpa society; the Khadev and Khamedu, the former having a higher social status. There are several clans eg Chhusherwa, Chiawa Gardza, Gole, Goparma, Hirgoma, Lakshindu, Lama, Mende, Mipa, Ngawa, Paldorje, Pankarma, Pinasa, Salaka, Shargup, Sherwa, Shine, Thaktu and others. Sherpa society is exogamous. i.e. a person must marry outside his or her clan. Fraternal polyandry is found among the Sherpas, that is two brothers may marry one common wife. However, if there are three brothers in a Sherpa family, the middle brother has to serve the monastery as a monk and for a family with four brothers, the group of two may marry two common wives. The polyandry which is also found in the most of the northern Himalayan ethnic groups, could have a common reasoning of the limited arable land available to them. This may restrain the family land being sub- divided into smaller units. The attitude towards is also relaxed in general. Polygamy, i.e., marrying more than one wife is rare. Sherpas observe a number of festivals during the year. The important ones are losar and dumze. Losar is the new year's celebration according to the Tibetan calendar. It occurs sometimes in the end of February. This singing, dancing, feasting time is rejoiced by all families. Dumze is interesting festival observed in the village ' gomba' or the monastery for seven days, sometimes during the month of July. The village lama conducts the rituals by worshipping Guru Rimpoche, Phawa Cheresi, Tsanba and other deities. While the villagers gather in the evenings at the gomba and enjoy eateries and drinks. Singing, dancing , and merry making being always the part of the occasion. Khumbu- hyulla, a local deity is always worshipped on every occasion. There is one occasion , Nungne, when people take solemn fasting or partial fasting for three days by laymen and for a fortnight by the nuns and lamas. People gather in gomba and recite the sacred texts. Those who can not recite the texts, they chant; 'Om Mani padme hum'. This is marked as a kind of penitence. These famous highlanders of Nepal are always on the move; sometimes to the greener and warmer pastures southwards; sometimes to trade and sometimes to climb the mountain as a guide, a leader or simply a porter. There are many of Sherpas who have set records in the mountaineering world. Tenzing Norgay Sherpa with Sir Edmund Hillary, was the first to climb the highest mountain of the world in 1953. Ang Rita Sherpa, nicknamed ' the snow leopard' climbed the highest mountains for the 10th time in 1996, an astonishing feat for any human being that too without oxygen mask. Even collectively , this ethnic group has the most climbers and record holders atop the highest mountain.
In the middle hills and valleys along the southern slope of the Annapurna Himalaya in the mid- western Nepal; the Gurungs live together with other ethnic groups. Majority of them, the Magars and their Khasa counterparts, have formed the bulk of the famous Gorkha regiment of British and Indian Army; Royal Nepalese Army and the police. These sturdy, hardworking people are Mongoloid physionomically. They extend their living territories from Gorkha in the east through Lamjung and Kaski to Syangja district. Almost every Gurung village or a family boasts many young men in the Gorkha regiment; their pensions and salaries being one of the main resourses of their living.
Economy and Trade
The economy of the Gurungs are mainly based on agriculture, animal husbandry and services in the army. They grow rice, wheat, maize, millet and potatoes. The terraced farming is the norms. They also derive their subsistence from sheep breeding for meat and wool. While sheep herding they use fierce mastiffs (sheepdogs). Most of the Gurung families have, however, an important source of income; the pensions and salaries of the family members who are in the army. Among them, there still exist the legendary fighters of British Gorkha Regiment, who were honored with Victoria Crosses for their bravery.
Tradition and Culture
The Gurungs are very colorful, happy and flirtatious people. A caste hierarchy divides the Gurung community into ' char jat' and ' sor jat', group of four and sixteen clans respectively. They are distinctly endogamous groups. Traditionally they prefer cross- cousins marriage. Among some Gurungs, a small amount of compensation may be necessary if one wishes to avoid cross- cousins marriage. The parallel cousins marriage is , however, strictly prohibited. They also have a tradition of ' Rodi' , a club of boys and girls of similar age group where dancing and singing is performed. This institution gives them ample opportunities to know, understand each other and develop love and affection. The environment in the Rodi is very flirtatious. The whole function is guided and held in the supervision of an adult. The Gurungs have very interesting dance tradition. They perform Sorathi, Ghado, Ghatu and others on one or many occasions. The dancing season generally starts on Shri Panchami day ( On the fifth day of bright lunar fortnight some day in January or February) till the day of Chandi purnima (some day in May or April). Traditional dress of the Gurungs includes a short blouse tied across the front and a short skirt of several yards of white cotton material wrapped around the waist and held like a wide belt. The Gurung women wear a cotton or velveteen blouse tied at the front, and a sari of printed material usually a dark reddish color. Their ornaments include gold and coral necklaces, gold earrings and nose rings and bangles
Physionomically Mongoloid featured 'Thakalis' are believed to have originated from Thak Khola , the valley of the Kali Gandaki river in western Nepal. These people are famous for their neatly tended kitchens and derive their subsistence from hotels, inns, and restaurants income. They are encountered mainly in the Annapurana round trekking, one of the most famous trekking routes in the country. Thak Khola lies in Mustang district of Dhaulagiri zone of Nepal. Thak- sat-se is the traditional area of the Thakali community, which lies in the salt trading zone on the south of Tukuche mountain.
Economy and Trade
The Thakalis, with exceptional businessmanship are one of the most successful ethnic groups in the country. They derive profitably from trade and tourism through their investments in hotels, motels and trading of salt. 'Thak- sat- se' and Tukuche are the traditional areas of salt trading with Tibet. As middlemen, the Thakali get their salt from Tibet either directly or through neighboring border people of Lo, Bar gaun and Panch gaun. They barter it with rice , wheat, buck wheat from lower hills. Among the Thakalis, there persists an interesting system of financial co- operative scheme, known as Dhigur which is used to maintain the relative financial security for the Thakalis. Dhigur, the lump sum contributed by many Thakali families and persons, is lent to the one who is needy for his/ her trading activities.
Tradition and Culture
In contrast to the Gurungs, the Thakalis form a strictly endogamus group which is distinctly divided into four exogamus clans. A Thakali thus has to marry none other than Thakali, but the marriage has to be outside his or her own particular clan. The four clans are equal in status socially or ritually. However, on the basis of precedance in the worship, Gauchan clan comes first, followed by Tulachan, Sherchan, and Bhattachan. They have their particular clan gods as animal representative of dragon, elephant, lion and yak for Gauchan, Tulachan, Sherchan and Bhattachan respectively. A Thakali practices cross-cousin marriage. Marriage is usually by capture. Usually friends and relatives of the to-be-bridegroom, capture the girl in the evening and retain her confined in one of the relative's house until they get the approval from the girl's parents. Polygamy i.e. marrying more than one wife is occasionally found but polyandry are not found among the Thakalis. The religion of the Thakali is a mixture of Buddhism, Jhankrism, Bonpo and Hinduism, but they are close to Jhankrism, a kind of Shamanistic cult as their original religion. Lha Feva is the most significant festival for the Thakalis. It is observed some day in the month of November of every monkey year of the twelve year cycle according to the Tibetan calendar. Lha Feva is observed as the coming of God. The Sanskritic name of the festival is Kumbha Mela. Another festival Shyoben lava, its Sanskritic name ' Kumar Jatra', is a ceremony for boys. The Thakali society is undergoing rapid cultural change. They are constantly reforming their society with the changing times. Although they represent a small ethnic group,they have a strong contribution in the national economy on the whole.
The Tamangs live mainly in the high hills in the east , north, south and west of Kathmandu Valley in the central part of Nepal. These Tibeto- Burman speaking ethnic group derive their subsistence mainly as porters for the traders and trekking expeditions. While trekking in the Helambu or Langtang , we come across many of these people. Despite being so close to the capital city of Kathmandu, they are still backward and impoverished.
Economy and Trade
Most Tamangs, living in compact traditional settlements, are self- sufficient as far as food is concerned. Tamangs living outside such settlements are generally very poor and they mainly work as porters, coolies for the trekkers and traders in the hill areas. They can not sustain on the cultivation on their marginal strip of land. Tamangs are very skillful in making woolen garments from sheep wool. Some of them are also trained to paint beautiful thankas.
Tradition and Culture
The Tamang community is divided into several exogamous clans. A Tamang may marry any other except from his or her own clan. Cross- cousin marriage is preferred. Polyandry is not found but polygamy is common. The Tamangs are Buddhists. The religious activities are based on Jhankrism. There are several ghyangs (Buddhist temples) in every Tamang settlement. All their festivals and ceremonies are performed in Buddhist fashion. On the first day of Magh (some day in January and February), they celebrate Chho in these ghyangs. Another feasting ceremony, nara is observed on the full moon day. Altogether, the Tamangs represent a community greatly exploited and poor in general.
RAIS AND LIMBUS
The Rais come from surrounding hills in the north-eastern Nepal ; mainly near Dhankuta, Terhathum, Bhojpur and Arun and Dudh valleys. Likewise , the Limbus come from the extreme east of Nepal; mainly from the region of Taplejung, Khotang and Arun Valley. The Rais are neither purely Hindu nor Buddhist. They have their own tutelary deities and beliefs. Tibetan lamaism has, however, great influence in their rites and rituals. The Limbus follow a mixture of Shivaism, Buddhism and Animism. The Rais and Limbus altogether form 4.4% of total population.
Economy and Trade
The Rais mainly derive their subsistence from agriculture. They cultivate paddy, millet, wheat, corn and even cotton. They also form a strong group in the Gorkha regiment, Royal Nepalese Army and the police. The Limbus are mostly farmers. An ancient strange tradition prohibits them from working in the fields on the full moon and new moon days. There is no apparent and logical reason for the tradition.
Tradition and Culture
Among the Rais, marriages are monogamous. The marriages are held by arrangements, captures and elopements. The Limbus follow the same marriage tradition. Both the Rais and Limbus bury the deceased and place a tombstone on the grave, bearing the name and date.
The Tharus are the indigenous ethnic group who live in the northern part of Terai and inner Terai with a concentrated population in the middle and west of the country. They approximately form 6.4% of total population. Most of the Tharus have Mongoloid features with dark and semi- dark colors. They are aboriginal Terai settlers. Some also believe that Tharus came to Nepal from India during the Muslim invasion in the 12th and 13th century. The Tharus have their indigenous dialect, known as 'Naja'. But they speak a mixture of local dialects, such as Prakriti, Bhojpuri, Mughali, Nepali, Urdu and Maithili.
Culture and Tradition
The Tharus believe in Animism. They also celebrate Hindu festivals. There are normally two clans; Pradhan and Apradhan. The former is considered superior. Each of the Tharu family venerates its personal tutelary deity which is represented by a lump of earth mixed with multicolored cotton threads, crude sugarcane and a gold coin in the center. Each village has its own local gods and goddesses protecting the people. Marriages among the Tharus, are monogamous. It is, however, strictly endogamous. Polyandry and polygamy are practiced sometimes. Rites and rituals linked with Tharu marriages are elaborate and complex. Most of the Tharu cremate their deceased. Others, however, bury them. There is a strange custom of keeping men face down and women face up during the burial. There is no apparent reason for it.
BRAHMANS, CHHETRIS AND THAKURIS
They are predominant ethnic groups in Nepal and altogether they form approximately 31.5% of total population. They are speakers of Nepali, the national language of Nepal. Originally, it is believed that they migrated from different parts of India and settled in across the country.
Brahmans are the members of the highest social caste. Two different categories of Brahmans viz. ' Kumai Brahmans' and ' Purbiya Brahmans' are present. They only differ in their derived homeland. The ' Kumai Brahmans' are supposed to have come from the mountainous regions of Kumaon in the northern India west of Nepal. They are mainly confined in the western and central Nepal and the capital city of Kathmandu. The 'Purbiya' Brahmans derive from the eastern part of Nepal and are found scattered across the country with the greater concentration in the eastern part of Nepal and Kathmandu. Brahmans and Chhetris form a major group in Kathmandu and large number of them occupy key posts in the government services and in business. The Brahmans are priestly caste. The priests in all Hindu temples are exclusively Brahmans. The Brahmans and Chhetris are orthodox followers of Hinduism and its rites and rituals mentioned in the Vedas, Purans and other scriptures. Their marriages and other rituals are very complex and elaborate. Sometimes the parents hold marriages for their 11 or 12 years old daughters. Though this is punishable by law; one hardly gets persecuted against such crime. Child marriages, however, tend to slow down among the city dwellers and educated families. Inter-caste marriages are looked down upon and cross- cousin marriages are strictly prohibited. The body of deceased is always cremated. Women never attend the cremation. The pyre is lit by the son of the deceased. It is believed that 'doing so' will set the soul in eternal peace after the death.
CHHETRIS AND THAKURIS
In the caste hierarchy, the Chhetris and Thakuris come second to Brahmans. They are rulers, leaders and warriors. The Brahmans are their teachers and family priests. Like Brahmans, they are orthodox Hindus. Thakuries are believed to have originally come from the northern part of India mainly from Rajasthan . They could have migrated to Nepal in the 12th and 13th centuries. In Nepal , Chhetris and Thakuris are among the most influential and well-to-do social classes. They are mostly in the government services, in high ranked positions in the army and the police. Some of them have remained farmers and are relatively poor and live like any other ethnic group. The Thakuris resemble the Chhetris in most of the cultural aspects and social status. The cross- cousins marriages are forbidden among the Chhetris. The Thakuris, however, commonly practise it among themselves.
The natives of Kathmandu, the Newars, are mainly traders. With a purpose to trade, they are scattered across the country; with greater concentration in the Kathmandu Valley, Banepa, Dhulikhel, Bhojpur, Bandipur and Tansen. In Kathmandu valley, they make 44% of total population. Nationally, however, they make about 5.6% of total population. Despite the small percentage numerically, they contribute significantly in the history, art, architecture and business activities in the country. They are in to the business and government services; business being their main profession. They have negligible representations in the army and police services.Quite a few of them also have agriculture as their main occupation. These agrarian population are known as 'jyapus'. Newars speak their own language, ' Newari' better known as Nepal Bhasa which belongs to Tibeto - Burman family of languages. It has its own scripts and has no linguistic connection to Nepali, Hindi or Sanskrit. The Newari script, the 'Ranjana lipi' is exceptional. The Newari literature is also very rich. There are both Buddhist and Hindu Newars. Like elsewhere in the country, religious syncretism is blended into the culture and tradition. They celebrate numerous feasts and festivals throughout the year. Newars have a well defined occupational caste system among themselves. Though some Newars have Mongoloid features, they rather represent a community of different elements mixed together. Besides their rich cultural heritage, festivals, the Newars are impeccable artists and architects. To quote Prakash A. Raj, the Kathmandu Valley with all its temples and palaces compares no less to Florence in Italy. The Newars, of course, remained pivotal in the arts and architecture found in the Valley. Among the Newar community, an interesting ancient tradition, known as 'Ihi or Bel Biha' , requires that a young girl often 7 or 8 years old, be married to a certain tree called 'Bel tree' or to its green fruit called 'Bel'. The tree and the fruit symbolize a deity called 'Hiranya Garbha'. Among the deities, Hiranya Garbha is one of the immortals. Thus marriage with 'Hiranya Garbha' is considered to be everlasting. To put it in a nutshell, the Newars, though small in numbers, have a very strong and dominating influence in Nepal's economy, politics and society in general.
CHEPANG AND KUSUNDAS
These backward ethnic communities belong to a well defined traditional area in the south of Dhading, the west of Makawanpur and east of Chitwan along the steeper slopes of Mahabharat range of the mid- Nepal. Very few of these hunting tribal people started deriving subsistence from agriculture. Otherwise, hunting, wood collection etc. have been their foremost living subsistence. Though , they are economically backward, they have a rich and unique cultural tradition. With the increasing encroachment of the forest (their main living recourse) by themselves and other communities alike, these people lately started working in the development projects in the areas as hard labors. Physionomically Mongoloid featured Chepangs (& Kusundas) resemble the Kirantis ( the Rais and Limbus) but their lineage to them is yet to be confirmed. Their totems are dog ('Che' is dog in their dialect) and arrow ( 'Pang' is arrow). Their dialect belong to the Tibeto - Burman group of languages. It, however, differs significantly from the Tamang dialect. The Tamangs live higher in the mountains than the Chepangs and the Brahmins and Chhetris live in the lower dales. They call themselves Sunpraja and Praja. They consider themselves as progeny of Lava ( ' Lohari' in Chepang dialect) the son of lord Rama in the great Hindu epic Ramayana. According to the legends, the goddess Sita, the consort of Lord Rama gave birth to a son Lava while she was in exile in a hermitage of sage Balmiki near Narayani river in Nepal. One day, she went with her son to take a bath in the Narayani river. The sage saw the cradle empty and created another living likeness of the baby out of Kusha grass, fearing that Sita would be shocked at not finding her son and blame the sage for not watching the baby properly. On her return from bath, Sita was startled to find another baby in the cradle. The sage, later on, explained her the details and advised her to raise both of them as her own sons. The other was brought up as Kusha. Chepangs believe themselves as the progeny of Lava and Kusundas as the descendants of Kusha. (or Kushari in Chepang dialect). Chepangs and Kusundas are natural enemies. Chepangs fear that Kusundas kill them on sight. Kusundas are still in the primitive stage and live in the forests and caves in the forests of southern part of Gorkha. It is believed that only few dozens of Kusundas exist in the forest. Chyuri ( an indigenous fruit) is their favorite fruit. A Chepang family not owning a Chyuri tree is considered poor and generally looked down upon.Chepang form an strict exogamous clan. Offspring from a Chepang woman and a non- Chepang man becomes a Chepang as they are not accepted by other orthodox castes. They observe all the Hindu festivals of Dashain, Tihar and Sakrantis besides their own tribal festival Nwagi, which is performed on a Tuesday during third week of Bhadra ( some day in August and September). Chepangs do not possess other artistic skills of any kind except weaving of baskets and leaf umbrellas which they use for protection against rain. Very few Chepangs are literate. There still persists a tendency among the Chepangs to avoid schooling even if the government and other organization are trying to uplift their living standard.
Along the Gurung and Khas counterparts, the magars form an integral constituent of British and Indian Gurkha regiments and the Royal Nepal Army. They approximately make 7.2 % of total population. They speak a dialect derived from Tebeto-Burman group of languages. Their religion is Buddhism. However, there are also some Hindu Magars. The Magars celebrate the festival dedicated to the goddess Kali in great pomp (a Hindu festival). Especially in Gorkha, they sacrifice a lot of goats during the occasion. Those who live in the vicinity of Brahmans and Chhetris have their cultural rituals similar to theirs. Magar villages are typical with their round and oval houses. One comes across many of these Magar settlements in the Annapurana round trekking.
Manangi resemble physionomically and religiously to the Tibetans but they take pride to believe themselves belonging to the Gurungs who live in the lower hills and valleys. These people inhabit the pleasant valley of Manang in the upper reaches of the Marsyangdi river northwards in the central Nepal. The Manang district encloses three distinct areas of Neshyang, Nar and Gyasumdo; all of them culturally interrelated. They have agriculture as their foremost recourse of subsistence for living. The harsh and cold climate limits the cultivation to buck wheat, barley, wheat, maize, potatoes and radishes. They also breed sheep and other cattles. Now a days, they are also into trading and other professions. They have developed considerably in living style since they got special consideration from His Majesty 's Government of Nepal to trade in the South East Asian countries till 1963/ 1964. They are divided into different exogamus clans. Like the Gurungs in the lower hills, they are divided into Char jat and Sor jat ( group of four and sixteen clans respectively). They practice polyandry i.e. a tradition of two or more brothers marrying one common wife. This tradition, similar to that of other northern Himalayan people, is however common among the Gurungs. They arrange for feast, singing and dancing in the wedding. After death, they either cremate the body; throw it in the river or cut the flesh into pieces and feed them to the vultures. The funeral proceeds as the Lama directs the rituals. Losar, the new year's celebration is their main festival in the month of February. Similarly, archery is arranged in a grand way during the month of April- May.
The Dolpa or Dolpo-pa settlements are concentrated in the remote and fascinating region which is confined by the Dhaulagiri Himalaya in the south and east; the Sisne and Kanjiroba mountain in the west and Tibet on the north. They generally settle at altitudes of 3,660 m ( Approx. 12,000 ft.) to 4,070 m (14,000 ft. approx.) They are probably the highest settlements in the world. These mongoloid featured people are Tibetan speaking. Most of them are illiterate, but they are not very poor. They derive their subsistence from agriculture and cattle breeding. The transactions are still done on barter basis. Dolpa society is divided into a number of exogamous clans. Each of the clans has a totem animal which they worship. The particular totem animal is never slaughtered by the clan member. Marriages are very relaxed in general. Pre-marital and extra-marital sex union are not prejudiced. All the brothers in a family marry a common wife. Marriages can be of any type; by arrangement , capture or elopement. They wear bakhhu (a heavy warm outer covering to knee - high). Dolpa women wear colorful aprons with a pair of trousers underneath. The ornaments include brass headdress of rectangular shape and other brass ornaments. The Dolpa people are Buddhist, but the Bon- po sect of Buddhism also co-exists. They dispose off the dead in different ways. Some throw the corpse into the river while others cut the flesh into pieces and feed them to the vultures.