A Limbu woman
|Regions with significant populations|
|Limbu (IPA: [yɑkthuŋ pɑ:n]), Nepali, Hindi, Tibetean, Burmese, Dzongkha|
|Hinduism, Shamanism, Buddhism|
The Limbu (exonym) or Yakthung (endonym) (IPA: [yɑkthuŋ]) tribes and clans are a Kirati people of Tibetan origin indigenous to the hill and mountainous regions of East Nepal between the Arun and Mechi rivers to as far as South Tibet, Burma, Bhutan and Indian states of West Bengal (particualrly Darjeeling, KaLimpong and Jalpaiguri districts), Sikkim, Assam and Nagaland.
The name Limbu is an exonym of an uncertain origin. They call themselves Yakthumba (IPA: [yakthuŋbɑ]. In Standard Tibetan, they are referred to as "Sikkimese people" (Tibetan: འབྲས་ལྗོངས་པ, Wylie: 'bras ljongs pa) and in Sikkimese as Shong or Tsong "Tsang people". Their estimated population of 700,000 is mainly centered in the districts of Sankhuwasabha, Tehrathum, Dhankuta, Taplejung, Morang, Sunsari, Jhapa, Panchthar, Ilam District, Kathmandu District, Lalitpur District, Bhaktapur District' in Nepal, These are all within the Mechi and Kosi Zones or "Limbuwan".
Portions of the Limbu population are also located in the east and west districts of Sikkim. A smaller number are scattered throughout the cities of Darjeeling and Kalimpong in West Bengal, Assam, Nagaland and in north and south Sikkim, Bhutan, Burma and recently migrated to the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, the United States and many other countries.
Limbu clans and tribes are divided into two gotras indicating their origin: Lhasa and Yunnan. The Limbu are known as Yakthung Thibong (IPA: [yɑkthuŋ thibo:ŋ]) or "Ten Limbu", from which thirteen Limbu subgroups have emerged. According to legend, five of the groups came from Yunnan and the other eight from Lhasa.
Accounts with Sirijonga
1. Sun : nam; 2. Moon: la:ba; 3. Star: tanchoˀba; 4. Soil: kham; 5. Water: cwat; 6. Stone: luŋ; 7. Fire: mi; 8. Home: him; 9. Tree: sinŋbuŋ; 10. Mother: mamaˀ; 11. Father: ambo; 12. Path: lam; 13. Flower: phuŋ; 14. Head: thibokpa; 15. Eye: mik; 16. Leg: laŋ; 17. Hand: huk; 18. Eat: cama; 19. Drink: thuŋma; 20. Walk: laŋghekma; 21. Sleep: imma;
kiratism or Kirat Dharma
Limbus practice many of their own life cycle rituals. They believe that lineage is not transmitted patrilineally. Rather, a woman inherits her mother's gods, and when she marries and lives with her husband she brings with her the deities that will then be recognized as the household deities.
Limbu bury their dead and observe for two-to-three days through practiced death rituals. The length of the mourning period varies depending on the gender of the deceased. Weddings, mourning, gift exchanges, and settlement of conflicts involve consumption of alcohol i.e. liquor, especially the Limbu traditional beer popularly known as thee which is also drunk in a container called Tongba. Dancing parties are arranged for visitors to the village. These affairs give the young Limbu girls and boys a chance to meet and enjoy dancing and drinking.
The traditional dress of the Limbus are mekhli and taga.
Dhaka is the traditional fabric of the Limbus which are made by weaving it in geometric patterns in a handloom. The art of making dhaka is taught by one generation to another. You will always see a Limbu man clad in dhaka topi (hat) and scarf, and a Limbu lady in dhaka saree, mekhli, blouse and shawl.
In the olden days, the Limbus were skilled in silk farming. The Kiratis were also known as silk traders. According to JB Subba and Iman Xin Chemjong, the Kirat is a corrupt form of kereta,silkworm.
Limbu women are famed for their use of gold jewellery. Aside from samyang IPA: [sɑmyɑŋ] (gold), they use yuppa (silver), luung IPA: [luŋ](glass stones), ponche (coral/amber), and mudhin (turquoise). Most Limbu ornaments are nature inspired. As many other global indigenous people, they are shamanistic and worship nature.
This form of clothing was worn until Nepal forced "one religion, one dress, one language" policy which is why many Limbus in Nepal wear the traditional Nepalese dress, chaubandi cholo and daura sural. The Yakthung of Sikkim still wear traditional Limbu clothing. Many efforts are being made by groups such as Yakthung Chumlung to raise awareness on the cultural dress and heritage.
.|right|thumb]] The Limbu people have their own flag. The blue represents the bodies of water and the sky, the white represents air and peace, and the red represents the earth and pure blood of the Limbu people. The sun in the centre represents various Limbu spiritual practices and everyday living. The use and recognition of the flag ended in the eighteenth century during the Gorkha invasion. Recently, Limbuwan organisations have started to publish the flag in Limbuwan laaje IPA: [la:jeˀ] areas.
The Limbus traditionally practiced subsistence farming. Rice and maize comprised their principal crops. Although there is an abundance of arable land, productivity is greatly limited by insufficient technology. Excess crops are often traded for food that cannot be grown in the region.
A sizable number of Limbu youths are enlisted in the British and Indian Gurkha regiments, providing their families with a steady stream of income. This income from military service helped to improve the Limbu community as a whole in terms of health and education.
Limbus generally marry within their own community (Jones and Jones, 1976). Cross-cousin marriage is not allowed in Limbu culture. Marriage between a man and the widow of his elder brother can take place if they mutually agree. Marriage between a man and a woman outside the clan is also possible either by arrangement or by mutual consent of the man and woman in question. It is conventionally said that the customs and traditions of Limbus were established in the distant past by Sawa Yethang IPA: [sawa yethaŋ] (council of eight kings). The marriages are mostly arranged by parents or they can also result when a man elopes with a woman. Asking for a woman's hand is an important ceremony. In that system, the woman can ask for anything, including an amount of gold, silver, etc. This confirms to the woman's family that the man is financially secure enough to keep their daughter happy. A few days after the wedding, the man's family members have to visit the woman's house with a piglet and some alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, depending upon the financial standard of his house. The most important ceremonies of a Limbu wedding take place in the groom's house rather than the bride's because the bride has to stay with her husband. There are two special dances in this ceremony, one is called "yalakma" or dhan nach in Nepali (rice harvest dance) and "Kelangma" IPA: [ke la:ŋma] or Chyabrung IPA: [cyɑbruŋ] in Nepali. The Yalakma IPA: [yɑˀlɑ:kmɑ] is characterized by men and women dancing in a slow circle, whereas the Kelangma IPA: [ke lɑ:ŋmɑ] consists of complex footwork synchronized with the beat of the drums. Anyone can join the dance, which can last for many hours. The Yalakma IPA: [yɑˀlɑ:kmɑ] can also be a celebration of the harvest season or other social occasions.
The Limbus follow the social rules and regulation of Mundhum oral 'scripture' similar to the Bön, shaman. However, their religion is also influenced by Tibetan Buddhism and mainstream Hinduism. Their beliefs are known as "Yumaˀ Samyo" or "Yumaˀism". They also have many different classes of ritual specialists, of which "Phedangma IPA: [phɛdɑŋmɑ]", "Yema/Yeba" IPA: [yɛma/yɛba], and "Shamba" are some. Their supreme deity is Tagera Ningwaˀphuma IPA: [niŋwɑˀphu:mɑŋ], but the deity Yuma IPA: [yumɒˀ] (literally: "Grandmother" or "Mother Earth") is the most important and popular among the Limbus and is worshiped in all occasions. Yuma IPA: [yumɒˀ]is the mother of all the Limbus, therefore one regards his or her mother as a goddess. Their religion is enshrined in the evergreen Cynodondactylon (Dubo) grass. Traditionally, the Limbu bury their dead, but due to the influence from other Hindus, cremation is becoming more popular. Limbu people also have their own clergy, such as Phedangma IPA: [phɛdaŋmɑ], Samba, Yeba (male) Yeba-Yema IPA: [yɛba/yɛma] (female).
Limbus residing in Sikkim, Darjeeling, Assam, Nepal, Bhutan and Burma have their own identity because of a strong belief in "Yumawad". Yumawad is a type of religious scripture which has been kept alive by their religious leaders and handed down verbally from generation to generation. Some of the retellings of Yumawad are also included in Limbu traditional music with social stories, dreams, and everyday life. There has been a rich tradition of Limbus singing their folk songs. Their folk songs can be divided into the following groups:
Limbu clan people traditional dish are made from pork. In general, they consume rice, dal( beans soup) and achar(pickle) . However, inorder to perfrom ritual; porl is essential Limbu people famous dishes are: Kenama(fermented beans), Sukuti(dry meat), Jhyau(moss) , Pork feet, Chimpbin, Gundruk, Timbur(himalayan schezwan pepper).
Limbu musical instruments include the Niyari Hongsing Ke(Chyabrung),Ting, Drum, Miklakom, Simikla, Chethya/Yethala, Ta, Tungeba, Ungdung, Yalambar Baja, Tetlafakwa IPA: [tɛˀlɑphɛkwɑ], Mephrama, Negra, Yea Pongey, Puttungey, Phakwa, Phamuk, Phenjekom, and Megphama.
For the Limbu people, Archery has always been considered as the main traditional sport. Archery often involves religious demonstrations and rituals. Historically, Limbu cavalry archers were the important when resisting invasions before the pre-Nepal era. The word Limbu itself came from the word Lim-pfungh which in translation means "Shooting-Arrows" or "Act of archery".
There are legends about the beginning of the Limbuwan Gorkha war. In these legends, a Gorkha Military General met a Yakthung IPA: [yɑkthuŋ] hunter in a forest. When the General asked the hunter about his presence and what he was doing, the Yakthung IPA: [yɑkthuŋ] hunter replied "Lim-pfungh". The Gorkha army later experienced the fierceness from the Yakthung IPA: [yɑkthuŋ]-Tribes' horseback archers for years during the Gorkha-Limbu war. Thus, the name "Limbu" was recorded on the papers of the Gorkhas to describe the Yakthung IPA: [yɑkthuŋ] people. However, after the success of Gorkha invasion, horse breeding and keeping declined swiftly in Limbu territories.
Bare-hand Wrestling has also been practised among the Limbu men during festivals. This was also used to settle personal matters after a festive drinking in which the losing wrestler would have to pay the winner by buying him a drink or inviting him to his house for a drink of traditional tongba IPA: [tɔ:ŋbɑ]. na:nchiŋma is the term for wrestling in Yakthung-pan IPA: [yɑkthuŋ pɑ:n].
Phathe Limbu Menyangbo, retired Nepalese Army Lt General Imansing Chemjung, Kirat Historian
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