MIDDLE HILLS PEOPLE OF NEPAL
Numerous ethnic and caste groups live in the middle hills and valleys. Among them are the Magars, Gurungs, Tamangs, Sunuwars, Newars, Thakalis, Chepangs, Brahmans, Chhetris and Thakuris. There are also occupational castes namely: Damai (tailor), Sarki (cobbler), Kami (blacksmith) and Sunar (goldsmiths). [Source: Nepal Tourism Board welcomenepal.com ]
Peoples inhabiting the medium and low hills south of the high mountains — particularly the Gurung, Magar, Tamang, Rai, and Limbu groups — have traditionally depended on farming and herding in relatively equal amounts because their environment was relatively more suitable for agriculture. Among these groups, the Gurung, Magar, and Rai historically have supplied the bulk of the famous Gurkha contingents to the British and Indian armies, although their ranks have been augmented from the Thakuri and Chhetri castes of the Indo-Nepalese Paharis. The term Gurkha was derived from the name of the former principality of Gorkha, about seventy kilometers west of Kathmandu, and was not an ethnic designation. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]
Caste groups found mainly in the hilly region include the Kamis (smiths), Damais (tailors), Dhibis (washerman) Sarkis (cobblers), Gaines (professional singers) and Khumbharas (porters). The origin of these castes has not been investigated yet by the anthropologists. Hinduism is their major religion and Nepali their major language. Many have their own local festivals and practices. [Source: visitnepal.com ]
The Sunwars, Jirels, Chepangs, Kusundas and Panchgaule (five villages) are minor ethnic groups that live in midland hill regions. Sunwars are Jirels are considered to be offshoots of Magars. Panchgaule are similar to Thakalis. Kusundas still live in primitive conditions. They live in caves, under trees and in temporary huts in the forest. Only a handful of them are settled into occupational farming.
Groups of the Middle Hills
Chhetris and Brahman and are the two largest groups in Nepal. They are distributed in scattered patterns all over the country and are caste groups — the two highest castes in Nepal — rather than ethnic groups. They have sharp Indo-Aryan features and an olive complexion. Brahmans are believed to have migrated from India while Chhetris are relatives of the present day Khasa people from Khasi. These people follow Hinduism and socially have many sects. They are divided into two major groupings: the Purba and Umai. The Kumain people are from Kumo in Uttar Pradesh, northern India. They practice Hinduism and speak Nepali, the national language of Nepal and use a script derived from Sanskrit. [Source: visitnepal.com ]
Kirati mainly consists of the Rai and Limbu people. Rai or Limbu literally means “headman”. They are decendents of the Kirati's who first formed the kingdom in the Kathmandu Valley. They now mainly live in far eastern Nepal. Kirati people are well known for their courage and bravery and are often recruited into armies abroad like the more famous Gurkhas. The religious text of Limbu is the Mundhum.
Magars originated in the hill regions of western Nepal and are still associated with that area. They practice Tibetan Buddhism. Their language, Magar Kura, is a Tibeto-Burmese tongue. They embrace many aspects of Tibetan Buddhist culture. Farming, military service, weaving, hunting, and fishing are their major occupations.
Gurungs are famous for their bravery while serving in military forces and are the group most associated with the Gurkas. They are mostly settled along the higher slopes of the Annapurna areas and the Kali Gandaki river above the Baglung district. They are primarily rice and grain farmers and sheep herders. They are ethnically related to Magars, Thakalis and the Kiratis of eastern Nepal. The Gurung people love music and they have their own language.
Thakalis originate from Thok Khola, a high valley in central Nepal near the Muktinath region. They have Tibetan features, a fair complexion and narrow eyes. Thakalis are divided into four major groups: Gauchan, Tulachan, Sherchan and Bhattacan. Their religion is a mixture of Tibetan Buddhism, Hinduism and Jhankrism. They are known for their hospitality, salesmanship, and cleanliness.
Chepang is a small group that lives in the middle hills area of central Nepal and traditionally were hunters and gatherers. In recent decades most have turned to farming or some other way to feed and take care of themselves. They are regarded as primitive by other groups and are looked down upon and have been exploited, particularly by Brahman landowners and moneylenders. Chepangs, who are believed to be the offshoots of Kirats, are slowly moving into urban areas.
Pahari is a term that is used to refer to mountain dwelling people and is generally used to describe Indo-European-speaking peoples of the Himalayas in north India and Nepal. Among the groups that fall into this category are (from west to east): 1) the Churachi, Gaddi. Kinnaura and Sirmuri (all in Himachal Pradesh); and 2) Jaunsari, Garhwali and Kumauni (all in Uttar Pradesh). [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures: South Asia, edited by Paul Hockings, C.K. Hall & Company, 1992]
There are believed to be around 30 million Pahari: 10 million in Himachel Pradesh and Kashmir; 11 million in Uttra Pradesh; and 9 million in Nepal. The languages they speak—identified as Western Pahari, Central Pahari and Eastern Pahari (Nepalese)—are noticeably different than the languages spoken in the plains.
The Pahari people are generally believed to have originated from people that migrated from the plains to the mountains during the past 3000 years, presumably to escape population pressure, famines, droughts, disease and military and civil conflict. Great numbers are believed to have migrated after the Muslim invasions. Some of these people lived in fortresses villages, of which ruins can be seen throughout the region.
The vast majority of Pahari are Hindus. Most of their beliefs and customs are in line with the Hinduism practiced in the plains. There are some key differences though. There is little systematic differentiation between castes. Taboos on eating beef are recognized but otherwise other dietary restrictions are treated lightly or ignored as are some aspects of ritual purity and restrictions on women. There are a number of gods that are associated with their alpine environment. Households and villages worship their own sets of gods. Many homes have shrines.
The are two main categories of religious practitioners: 1) Brahman priests, who fulfill the role defined for them by Hindu texts; and 2) folk practitioners, which include shaman, diviners, mediums, exorcists, and healers. Many of these belong to lower castes.
In her paper “Rejection and Reaffirmation of Hierarchy in the Himalayas, Sarah Levenstamm wrote: “Among the distinctive practices and traditions of the Seepur area are the worship of devtas, localized forms of Shiv and Shakti Hindu deities, and even the deification of powerful men in their lifetimes, including some of the current “Raja’s” ancestors. Distinctive local mythologies and legends surround such deifications and provide justifications for beliefs, practices, and phenomena, such as the explanation for the absence of the Kshatriya caste. With the practice of deifying localized devtas and individuals, rivalries betweenneighboring villages often emerged. A typical legend that embodies a rivalry between villages outside Shimla centers on the assertion of the sanctity and power of a village’s devta. This myth recounts a time when Seepur’s central deity, Seep Devta, went on pilgrimage, and villagers from the other side of the valley visited the sacred grove of Seep Devta and stole one of his sacred cedar trees. The stolen tree allegedly can still be seen in the neighboring village, where it grows “upside down,” with multiple trunks that look like tree roots in the air instead of the characteristic single straight trunk of most cedars. It is said that when Seep Devta saw the stolen cedar, he rained down a hail of iron balls on the offending village. This myth accounts for distinct natural phenomenon: the hill on the other side of the valley even today has a pocked appearance. [Source: Sarah Levenstamm Rejection and Reaffirmation of Hierarchy in the Himalayas, SIT Graduate Institute, April 2013]
Pahari Rope-Sliding and Other Ceremonies
Ceremonies are numerous, complex and vary according to deity and region involved. Some are held as rites, to honor ancestors or ward off evil spirits. Others are associated with life cycle events. Animal sacrifices are performed. Cremations are generally performed next to a stream, with ashes thrown in the water afterwards. Children and people who die from particularly nasty diseases or accidents are buried.
In the old days, spectacular rope-sliding events were held in some Pahari communities in conjunction with numerous sacrifices and activities led by shaman, priests and other religious practitioners. In the rope-sliding event a lower caste man was tied to a gigantic oil-soaked rope that was hung down a cliff. The man let go and slid down the rope, often with a trail of smoke behind him, created by friction. If he survived, the gods were deemed pleased and the event was deemed a success.
Gerald Berreman wrote in the Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Among several events “peculiar to the Pahari region (all well within the range of Hindu ceremonies) is the famous rope-sliding ceremony. Too complex to describe adequately here—and now outlawed—it is worth mentioning because it incorporates the features of all Hindu ceremonies in a unique and spectacular Pahari idiom. Basically, it is an attempt to appease the wrath of the most powerful deity of the region, who has wrought dire and persistent misfortune on a village, by offering him a magnificent and expensive entertainment accompanied by many subsidiary sacrifices and supplications carried out by scores of priests, shamans, and other specialists before hundreds of worshipful participants and spectators. The climactic event occurs when a ritually prepared low-caste man who has been secured to a saddle astride a gigantic oil-soaked rope that is stretched between a tree at the top of a cliff and another at a distance below to form a steep incline, is released to careen down the rope, smoke streaming behind, to an uncertain fate at the end of his ride. If the spectacle is successful, the rider survives, the god is pleased, the community is relieved of its misfortune, the many who contributed to the event are benefited in proportion to their material or financial contribution, and everyone who witnessed it is blessed. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures: South Asia, edited by Paul Hockings, C.K. Hall & Company, 1992]
In her paper “Rejection and Reaffirmation of Hierarchy in the Himalayas, Sarah Levenstamm wrote: “The practice of Himalayan “rope sliding” provides an example of a “Little Tradition,” perceived by many followers of the “Great Tradition” of Hinduism as deviant, which has been transformed by interaction with the exterior. A beda, a member of a specified lower caste in Mid-Hills village hierarchy dedicated to the worship of Mahadev, is chosen by a village shaman to build and slide down a rope in a ceremony performed when villagers “have been experiencing difficulties such as sickness or poor crops” to please the deity Mahadev and ensure improved harvest and health for the community. Historically, it is said the beda would often fall to his death, or would even be killed by townspeople if he performed the ritual unsatisfactorily. However, Berreman asserts, “the danger in rope sliding is greatly emphasized and probably exaggerated in the folklore of the region,” and it is thus a practice sensationalized to be “a quaint, improbable, and fascinating performance…derived from a form of human sacrifice.” Berreman analyzes rope sliding as “a Hindu ceremony well within the range of ceremonies found in villages throughout India. That is, it is equivalent in function, meaning, and use to many ceremonies of propitiation of deities in India,” essentially, “a sub-regional expression of a pan- Indian tradition.” [Source: Sarah Levenstamm Rejection and Reaffirmation of Hierarchy in the Himalayas, SIT Graduate Institute, April 2013]
Paharis in Nepal: Brahmans, Thakuri and Chhetris
The north Indian antecedents of a number of caste groups in the hills (that is, the first group of Indo-Nepalese migrants), which, in the early 1990s, made up more than 50 percent of the total population, are evident in their language, religion, social organization, and physical appearance. All of these features, however, have been modified in the Nepalese environment. These groups — several castes of Brahmans, the high-ranking Thakuri and Chhetri (the Nepalese derivative of the Kshatriya) castes, and an untouchable category — generally are classified as Pahari, or Parbate. However, in most parts of Nepal (except in the Terai), the term pahari has only a limited use in that the Paharis generally are known by their individual caste names. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]
Nepali, the native tongue of the Paharis and the national language of Nepal, is closely related to, but by no means identical with, Hindi. Both are rooted in Sanskrit. The Hinduism of the Pahari has been influenced by Buddhism and indigenous folk belief. The Paharis' caste system was neither as elaborately graded nor as all embracing in its sanctions as that of the Indians; physically, many of the Paharis showed the results of racial intermixture with the various Mongoloid groups of the region. *
The Paharis traditionally have occupied the vast majority of civil service positions. As a result, they have managed to dominate and to control Nepal's bureaucracy to their advantage. It was not until the 1980s that a prime minister came from the non- Pahari segment of the population. Despite some loosening of the total Pahari domination of the bureaucracy, 80 percent of the posts in the civil service, the army, and the police in the 1990s were held by the Brahmans and Chhetris of the hills, who comprised less than 50 percent of the population of Nepal. *
Thakuri are the 13th largest ethnic group in Nepal. According to the CIA Factbook in 2020 they make up 1.6 percent of the population. Thakuris are the self-proclaimed elite of the Chhetris and the highest ranking of the many Chhetri groups. The king and the royal family are Thakuris. The Ran clan, which provided all the prime ministers, between 1846 and 1950, and ran Nepal behind the scenes, were Chhetri but not Thakuris. The movement to overthrow the Ranas was led by Brahmans and Chhetris.
Brahman and Chhetri
The Brahman and Chhetri are upper caste groups that have played pivotal roles in Nepal’s development and history. Brahmans are the highest caste and have traditionally been priests. Chhetri are the Nepalese equivalent of Kshartriya, the second highest caste and have traditionally been warriors. They have many of the same customs as Brahmans and are found throughout Nepal but are concentrated most heavily in the lowlands near India and mid level hills and valleys such as the Kathmandu valley,
Chhettri are the largest ethnic group in Nepal. According to the CIA Factbook in 2020 they make up 16.6 percent of the population of Nepal. Brahman-Hill are the second largest ethnic group in Nepal. They make up 12.2 percent of the population of Nepal. Chhettri made up 15.5 percent of the population and Brahmans made up 12.5 percent of the population in 2001. Brahmans are known in Nepali as "Bahuns."
The Brahman and Chhetri have traditionally been regarded as like single group and viewed like an ethnic group even though they are caste groups. They are most dominant in the western hills where they make up about 80 percent of the population and are scattered throughout the rest of the country.
Chhetris and Brahman have sharp Indo-Aryan features and an olive complexion. Brahmans are believed to have migrated from India while Chhetris are relatives of the present day Khasa people from Khasi. Both groups are Hindus and have many subgroups. They are divided into two major groupings: the Purba and Umai. The Kumain people are from Kumo in Uttar Pradesh, northern India. They practice Hinduism and speak Nepali, the national language of Nepal and use a script derived from Sanskrit. [Source: visitnepal.com ]
The moral, social and political leadership of Brahman and Chhetri continue to play a major role in Nepalese life. Those living in the Terai lowlands are a lot like their counterparts across the border in northern India. Those who inhabit the middle hills of Nepal are more distinct. Their percentage of the population declines as one moves eastward from the western hills, where they comprise well over half the population, to the east, where they are usually one among many minorities. [Source: James. F. Fisher, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]
Brahmans are though to have first arrived in Nepal in the 12th century during one of the early Muslim invasions of India. In Nepal they mixed with the Khas, a people of similar Aryan background but were not Hindus and were of lower rank than the Brahmans. The offspring from Brahman men and Khas women (Khatri) were called Chhetris and were allowed to wear the sacred thread that Brahmans wear. However, the existence of Matwali Chhetris (those who drink liquor), who do not wear the sacred thread, is seen as evidence that not all Khas were accorded Chhetri status. |~|
Brahman and Chhetri Customs and Traditions
Chhetris and Brahman are Hindus and their customs and lifestyles define and conform with those of most Nepalese Hindus because they are the largest Hindu groups in Nepal. Brahman and Chhetri traditionally have had much higher levels of education and literacy than other castes and ethnic groups. They often occupy the best farming land. Customs regarded marriage, family and religion are similar to those of the Brahman and Kshartriya castes in India. [Source: James. F. Fisher, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]
In rural areas Brahman traditionally served as priests and worked as farmers. Some work as shop owners and inn keepers. Many perform no priestly duties at all but still rely on other castes for their commercial needs. Chhetri also work as farmers but also have a long tradition of serving in the military. In urban areas both groups have traditionally dominated government administration, politics, education and financial services, in many cases because they were the only ones allowed to get an education. They are often landowners, and in many cases absentee ones. By virtue of being landowners they powerful politically and economically.
Chhetris and Brahman are not as powerful as they once were but are still powerful. Brahmans still own much of land in the countryside and still force peasants to work for them in feudal arrangements. Brahman women are expected to bathe their husband's feet each morning as a sign of respect. Brahmans are sometimes paid for their services with cows rather than money.
According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: Brahmans and Chhetris are members of two kinds of clans, the thar (indicated as a surname) and the gotra. Most marriages are monogamous, but polygynous unions were traditionally frequent and are still occasionally found. Second and subsequent wives are often members of other ethnic groups, such as the Gurungs, Magars, Tamangs, Sherpas, and Newars, but not low-caste artisan groups. With the exception of Thakuris, the self-proclaimed aristocrats among the Chhetris who practice matrilateral cross-cousin marriage, cousin marriage is not practiced. Brahman girls traditionally married by the age of 11, and Chhetri girls a few years later; but educated urban dwellers now marry in their late teens or early twenties. Grooms are normally a few years older than their brides.
The Gurung is an ethnic group that live primarily the Himalayan foothills of central Nepal around Pokhara and the Annapurna, Lamjung and Himalchuli regions. They speak Gurung — a tonal language related to Tibetan, similar to the languages of other middle hills people such as the Thakali and Tamang, with no written form — and have traditionally been Tibetan Buddhists but have been strongly influenced by Hinduism. They have a long military tradition, serving as mercenaries for medieval Nepalese dynasties, and have contributed the greatest percentage of population to the Gurkhas. [Source: Ernestine L. McHugh, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]
Gurung are the 11th largest ethnic group in Nepal. According to the CIA Factbook in 2020 they make up 2 percent of the population of Nepal. There are around a half million Gurung-speaking Gurungs. There are more who speak Nepali or another language. The 1981 Nepal census reported 174,464 Gurung speakers, accounting for 1.2 percent of the country's total population. Again this number does not include Gurung who speak other languages. That census showed Gurungs were most numerous in the districts of Lamjung, Syangja, Kaski, Gorkha, Tanahu, Parbat, and Manang in Gandaki Zone, central Nepal. |~|
The Gurung have traditionally married and socialized mostly among themselves, living in villages of close-to-the-grounded, whitewashed, slate roof houses built on ridges between 1,000 and 2,000 meters high. Most are farmers, who raise millet, wheat, barley, potatoes, rice, goats, chickens and water buffalo The Gurung were involved in the Tibetan salt trade until it was closed by China. Money from Gurka salaries and pensions is an important source of income.
The origins of Gurungs is not clear. Linguistic evidence suggests that their ancestors may have migrated from Tibet about 2,000 years ago. Their villages are located on mountain slopes in the foothills of the Annapurna and Lamjung Himalaya and Himalchuli among wide gorges with tall craggy ridges rising above them. The villages are often high on the mountainsides with jungle and terraced fields below. Winters are cold and dry, though it seldom freezes. Monsoon rains come from the south in summer. "Gurung country" lies between the alpine highlands and the low subtropical valleys and between Tibetan Buddhism to the north and Indian Hinduism to the south. Most Gurungs are bilingual and tend to be fluent from childhood in Nepali. |~|
Ernestine L. McHugh wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Gurung legends describe a "Ghale Raja," a king who ruled the Gurungs in ancient times. He was overthrown by the Nepali raja of a neighboring principality about the fifteenth century AD. By the sixteenth century, Khasa kings of the Shah family had conquered most of the principalities that make up Present-day Nepal. [Source: Ernestine L. McHugh, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]
“Gurungs acted as mercenaries in Khasa armies, including those of Prithvi Narayan Shah, the ancestor of the present king of Nepal, who completed unification of the kingdom of Nepal when he conquered the Kathmandu Valley in 1769. Because of their service, Gurungs enjoyed relatively high status in the new kingdom. They continued to act as mercenaries, and in the nineteenth century the Nepalese government signed a treaty allowing the British army to recruit them and other hill peoples into the Gurkha regiments, in which they continue to serve. Beyond ancient legend and documented relations with the nation-state (such as military service), little is known about the history of Gurungs. |~|
“The Gurungs are neither geographically isolated from other groups nor unaware of the social conventions and cultural values of the peoples around them. They are involved in trading relations with members of neighboring ethnic groups, including Thakalis and Tibetans, and high-caste Hindu merchants who travel through the villages selling household goods. Gurungs also have ongoing patron-client relationships with members of blacksmith and tailor service castes who live in hamlets attached to Gurung villages. Although interethnic marriage is strongly disapproved of, friendly social intercourse with members of other ethnic groups is usual, and bonds of ritual friendship (nyel ) are forged between Gurungs and members of equal-status ethnic groups.
Although they practice Tibetan Buddhists the Gurung celebrate Hindu festivals and have retained many elements of their pre-Buddhist folk religion. Funerals are important ceremonial occasions. The Gunung believe that men have nine souls and women seven. The goal of the funeral is to dislocate the elements f the body from the soul and send the souls to the Land of the Ancestors. [Source: Ernestine L. McHugh, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]
According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Gurungs believe their locale to be inhabited by supernatural forest creatures and by a variety of formless wraiths and spirits. Some of these exist in and of themselves, while others are believed to be the spirits of humans who have died violent deaths. Gurungs believe in the major Hindu deities and in the Buddha and bodhisattvas. Particular villages have their own deities, which are felt to be especially powerful in their immediate surroundings.
“Practitioners of the pre-Buddhist Gurung religion, called panju and klihbri, are active in the performance of exorcisms and mortuary rites. Buddhist lamas are also important in funerary rituals, as well as performing purification rites for infants and some seasonal agricultural rituals. Wealthier Gurungs occasionally call lamas in to perform house-blessing ceremonies. Brahman priests are summoned to cast horoscopes and perform divinations at times of misfortune. Dammis from the local service castes are believed to be particularly potent exorcists and are often called in cases of illness. |~|
“Death is of central symbolic importance for Gurungs. The funerary ritual (pae ) is the main ceremonial occasion in Gurung society, involving two nights and three days of ritual activity. It is attended by kin, villagers, and a large number of people who come for the conviviality and spectacle. Buddhist lamas and the panju and klihbri priests of the pre-Buddhist religion may officiate at the pae. Death is believed to involve the dissolution of elements that make up the body, so that the earth element returns to earth, air to air, fire to fire, and water to water. This process leaves the plah or souls (nine for men and seven for women), which must be sent through the performance of the pae to the Land of the Ancestors. There life continues much as it does in the present world, and from there the spirit can take other rebirths. |~|
Gurung Daily Life and Houses
According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Gurung villages are built high on ridges and consist of closely clustered groups of whitewashed houses with slate roofs. Houses of lineage members tend to be built alongside one another. While most Gurungs remain in rural villages, since the mid-1970s many more prosperous Gurung families have chosen to move to Pokhara, the nearest urban center, because of the greater comfort of urban living and improved access to educational facilities and medical care. [Source: Ernestine L. McHugh, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]
“There is little formal division of labor among Gurungs. Men may not weave cloth and women may not weave bamboo or plow. Women generally look after the house, cook, and care for the physical needs of children. Men and women engage in most agricultural activities, as well as chopping wood for fuel and gathering fodder for livestock. Livestock in high-altitude pastures is most often tended by men. Metalwork, tailoring, and carpentry are performed by non-Gurung service castes who live in hamlets attached to Gurung villages. |~|
“The goods that they produce, such as baskets and blankets, are useful and tend to be of a conventional plain design.The artistry of Gurungs is expressed in their folk music and dance and especially in the evanescent form of song exchanges between young men and women.” Khukuri Naach is kind of dance during which Gurkhas display their power and pride and their knives. Gurungs often employ exorcists as well as scientific drugs when suffering from an illness. Scientific medicine is highly valued, but it is costly and is not easily available in rural areas. Herbs and plants are also used in treating illness and injury. |~|
Gurung Family and Dating Customs
Cross cousin marriages are preferred with girls generally getting married in their late teens (they used to get married at between ages 9 and 12). Bride wealth in the form of gold jewelry has traditionally been given from the family of the groom to the bride. The couple has traditionally gone to live with the groom’s family after marriage. [Source: Ernestine L. McHugh, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992]
Teenage Gurung form groups called rodi with a dozen or so boy and girl members. Members of the rodi work with each other in fields during the day and share a dormitory supervised by a chaperone at night. The teenagers entertain themselves with songs, dance and stories. As they grow older they are expected to pair off with the person they expect to marry. The rodi dissolves when the majority of its members get married.
According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Among Gurungs, the domestic unit changes over time. A household will begin as a nuclear family, and, as sons reach adulthood and marry, their brides come into the parental home and remain there while their first one or two children are small. The domestic unit is then an extended family for a period of five to ten years. As the son's children grow, he will build a separate residence, usually next to that of his parents. Divorce can be initiated by either the man or the woman. If the husband initiates a divorce without due complaint, such as adultery, the wife has the right to keep the bride-wealth. However, if the wife causes or initiates the divorce she is required to return the bride-wealth to her husband. |~|
Gurung Society and Agriculture
Ernestine L. McHugh wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Gurung society is organized into two tiers or subgroups called the "Char Jat" or "four clans" and the "Sora Jat" or "sixteen clans." The subgroups are endogamous and within subgroups each clan is exogamous. The Char Jat group has traditionally claimed superior status to the Sora Jat group. Clans within each subgroup intermarry and otherwise treat one another as equals. [Source: Ernestine L. McHugh, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]
“Until 1962 the Gurung villages were governed by hereditary clan leaders and village headmen. In 1962 the national government instituted an electoral system whereby villages are grouped together in units of five, called panchayats, and divided into neighborhoods or wards from which local councillors are elected. The electorate also chooses a pradhan panche and uper pradhan (like a mayor and vice mayor, respectively) to lead the panchayat. |~|
“The main occupation of Gurungs is subsistence agriculture. Millet, wheat, barley, maize, potatoes, soybeans, and rice are grown. Some households also maintain vegetable gardens. Goats, chickens, water buffalo, and oxen are kept within the villages. Sheep and water buffalo are still grazed on high-altitude pastures, but deforestation has caused a reduction of fodder and thus in the last fifty years pastoralism has become a less significant economic activity. The rugged terrain on which Gurungs farm does not allow much agricultural surplus.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Nepal Tourism Board (ntb.gov.np), Nepal Government National Portal (nepal.gov.np), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated February 2022