Lepcha people

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Lepcha, Róng
Bundesarchiv Bild 135-S-02-11-39, Tibetexpedition, Lepscha.jpg
A Lepcha man
Total population
30,000[1]–50,000[2] (2007)
Regions with significant populations
Languages
Lepcha, Sikkimese (Dranjongke), Dzongkha, Nepali
Religion
Mun, Buddhism

The Lepcha or Róng people (Lepcha: Róng ɂágít; "Róng tribe"), also called Róngkup (Lepcha: ᰛᰩᰵ་ᰀᰪᰱ; "children of the Róng"), Mútuncí Róngkup Rumkup (Lepcha: ᰕᰫ་ᰊᰪᰰ་ᰆᰧᰶ ᰛᰩᰵ་ᰀᰪᰱ ᰛᰪᰮ་ᰀᰪᰱ; "beloved children of the Róng and of God"), and Rongpa (Sikkimese: རོང་པ་), are among the indigenous peoples of Sikkim and number between 30,000 and 50,000. Many Lepcha are also found in western and southwestern Bhutan, Tibet, Darjeeling, the Ilam District of eastern Nepal, and in the hills of West Bengal. The Lepcha people are composed of four main distinct communities: the Renjóngmú of Sikkim; the Támsángmú of Kalimpong, Kurseong, and Mirik; the ʔilámmú of Ilam District, Nepal; and the Promú of Samtse and Chukha in southwestern Bhutan.[3][2][4]

Origins[edit]

The word Lepcha is considered to be the anglicized version of the Nepalese word lepche meaning "vile speakers" or "inarticulate speech". This was at first a derogatory nickname but is no longer seen as negative.[5][6]

The origin of the Lepcha is unknown. They may have originated in Myanmar, Tibet or Mongolia but the Lepcha people themselves firmly believe that they did not migrate to the current location from anywhere and are indigenous to the region.[7] They speak a Tibeto-Burman language which some classify as Himalayish. Based on this, some anthropologists suggest they emigrated directly from Tibet to the north, or from Eastern Mongolia. They were even said to be from Japan or Korea, while others suggest a more complex migration that started in southeast Tibet, a migration to Thailand, Burma, or Japan, then a navigation of the Ayeyarwady River and Chindwin rivers, a crossing of the Patkoi range coming back west, and finally entering ancient India. While migrating westward through India, they are surmised to have passed through southern Bhutan before reaching their final destination near Kanchenjunga. The Lepcha people themselves do not have any tradition of migration, and hence they conclude that they are aboriginal to the region, currently falling under the state of Sikkim, Darjeeling District of West Bengal, eastern Nepal and the southwestern parts of Bhutan. The Lepcha people have folklore and tales that suggest they have inhabited the region since time immemorial. As to this point, writes historian Sailen Debnath,[8][better source needed]

The Lepchas, who call themselves “Mutanchi-Rong-kup” or “Rongpa” or only “Rong”, were, perhaps, the indigenous inhabitants of Sikkim and Darjeeling in the lap of the Great and Lower Himalayas. Mutanchi Rong-kup means the most cared loved offspring of Mother Earth; and this traditional belief exists in Lepcha Lore. Previously it was commonly held by scholars that the Lepchas migrated from Tibet or southern China; but the Lepchas hold on a story mentioned in Chunakh-Aakhen, a Lepcha book of history, tradition and folk-lore that a Lepcha king named Pohartak Panu sent his army to help Chandragupta Maurya, the Mauryan emperor in his war with the Greeks in Takshashila. In the book, the name of Alexander is mentioned as the leader of the Greeks. The Lepcha word Panu means king; and in Chunakh-Aakhen Chandra Gupta is named as Chandra Gop Panu. Historically there did not take place any war between Chandragupta Maurya and Alexander; but the war mentioned in the Lepcha book could the one between Chandragupta Maurya and the Greeks after the departure of the Great Macedonian from India. If Pohartak Panu, the legendary Lepcha king was at all a historical figure, then we have to accept the view of the Lepchas that they had been living in India at least as early as in the fourth century B.C., and they were autochthons of or early settlers in India and their forefathers did not migrate from Burma or southern China.

Language[edit]

The Lepcha have their own language, also called Lepcha. It belongs to the Bodish–Himalayish group of Tibeto-Burman languages. The Lepcha write their language in their own script, called Róng or Lepcha script, which is derived from the Tibetan script. It was developed between the 17th and 18th centuries, possibly by a Lepcha scholar named Thikúng Mensalóng, during the reign of the third Chogyal (Tibetan king) of Sikkim.[9] The world's largest collection of old Lepcha manuscripts is found with the Himalayan Languages Project in Leiden, Netherlands, with over 180 Lepcha books.

Clans[edit]

Lepchas are divided into many clans (Lepcha: putsho), each of which reveres its own sacred lake and mountain peak (Lepcha: and ) from which the clan derives its name. While most Lepcha can identify their own clan, they do not always know the corresponding lake or mountain peak. Lepcha clan names can be quite formidable, and are often shortened for this reason. For example, Simíkmú and Fonyung Rumsóngmú may be shortened to Simik and Foning, respectively.[10] Some of the name of the clans are "Sada", "Rongong", etc.

Religion[edit]

Most Lepchas are Tibetan Buddhist by religion, which was brought by the Bhutias from the north, although a large number of Lepchas have adopted Christianity today.[11][12] Some Lepchas have not given up their shamanistic religion, which is known as Mun. In practice, rituals from Mun and Buddhism are frequently observed alongside one another among some Lepchas. For example, ancestral mountain peaks are regularly honored in ceremonies called cú rumfát.[10] According to the Nepal Census of 2001, out of the 3,660 Lepcha in Nepal, 88.80% were Buddhists and 7.62% were Hindus. Many Lepchas in the Hills of Darjeeling and Kalimpong are Christians.

Clothing[edit]

The traditional clothing for Lepcha women is the ankle-length dumdem, also called dumdyám ("female dress"). It is one large piece of smooth cotton or silk, usually of a solid color. When it is worn, it is folded over one shoulder, pinned at the other shoulder, and held in place by a waistband, or tago, over which excess material drapes. A contrasting long-sleeved blouse may be worn underneath.[13][14]

The traditional Lepcha clothing for men is the dumprá ("male dress"). It is a multicolored, hand-woven cloth pinned at one shoulder and held in place by a waistband, usually worn over a white shirt and trousers. Men wear a flat round cap called a thyáktuk, with stiff black velvet sides and a multicolored top topped by a knot. Rarely, the traditional cone-shaped bamboo and rattan hats are worn.[13][14]

Marriage customs[edit]

The Lepcha trace their descent patrilineally. The marriage is negotiated between the families of the bride and the groom. If the marriage deal is settled, the lama will check the horoscopes of the boy and girl to schedule a favourable date for the wedding. Then the boy's maternal uncle, along with other relatives, approaches the girl's maternal uncle with a khada, a ceremonial scarf, and one rupee, and gains the maternal uncle's formal consent.[15]

The wedding takes place at noon on the auspicious day. The groom and his entire family leave for the girl's house with some money and other gifts that are handed over to the bride's maternal uncle. Upon reaching the destination, the traditional Nyomchok ceremony takes place, and the bride's father arranges a feast for relatives and friends. This seals the wedding between the couple.[15]

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Plaisier 2007, p. 1.
  2. ^ a b SIL 2009.
  3. ^ Plaisier 2007, p. 1–2.
  4. ^ NIC-Sikkim.
  5. ^ West, Barbara A. (2009). Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Asia and Oceania. Facts on File. p. 462. ISBN 978-0816071098. 
  6. ^ Subba, JJosh Raj (2007). History, Culture and Customs of Sikkim. Gyan Publishing House. p. 249. ISBN 978-8121209649. 
  7. ^ West, Barbara A. (2009). Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Asia and Oceania. Facts on File. p. 462. ISBN 978-0816071098. 
  8. ^ Debnath, Sailen. The Dooars in Historical Transition. ISBN 9788186860441. 
  9. ^ Plaisier 2007, p. 34.
  10. ^ a b Plaisier 2007, p. 3.
  11. ^ Joshi 2004, p. 157.
  12. ^ Semple 2003, p. 123.
  13. ^ a b Plaisier 2007, p. 4.
  14. ^ a b Dubey 1980, p. 53, 56.
  15. ^ a b Gulati 1995, pp. 80–81.
Cited sources

Further reading[edit]