|A Lepcha man|
|Regions with significant populations|
The Lepcha or Róng people (Lepcha: Róng ɂágít; "Róng tribe"), also called Róngkup (Lepcha: ; "children of the Róng"), Mútuncí Róngkup Rumkup (Lepcha: ; "beloved children of the Róng and of God"), and Rongpa (Sikkimese: རོང་པ་), are the aboriginal people of Sikkim, who 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.
Regarding the origin of the term 'Lepcha' writes Sailen Debnath "The word 'Lepcha', most probably a geo-racial term, is phonetically an elongated and much evolved form of the Bhutanese Dzongkha word (even might be of Chhokey origin) “La – chhu” which the Drukpa Bhutanese might have used to geographically identify the early people of Sikkim and Kalimpong in the bygone ages of their long connection with Tibet via the Chumbey Valley since the time of Sabdrung Nagawang Namgyal, the founding father of Drug-Yul. In Dzongkha Language, as systematized on Chhokey, “la” means hill or mountain and “chhu” means river or water; significantly, therefore, the compound word La- chhu indicates to people living in the valleys bounded by mountains and watered by rivers."
The origin of the Lepcha is unknown. Many research scholars have come up with theories regarding the origin of the Lepcha people, but the Lepcha people themselves firmly believe that they did not migrate to the current location from anywhere, and are indigenous to the region. 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. But the scholars who have suggested such migratory patterns could not come up with sufficient evidence to prove their theories. 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, Ilam District of 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,
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.
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. The world's largest collection of old Lepcha manuscripts is found with the Himalayan Languages Project in Leiden, Netherlands, with over 180 Lepcha books.
Regarding the specific features of Lepcha language, Sailen Debnath writes:
- The important characteristics of Lepcha language are as follows:
- 1. Prefixes determine the initial names of all genre and species often and thereby the categories of words indicating the names of nouns have been systematized. This system in one hand has maintained categorical rules of classifications as well as simplifications. Moreover this process has laid the ground of attuning the sounds of different words in sets of harmony in times of speech.
- 2. Most of the Lepcha words are monosyllabic; but, of course, there are words of more than one or two syllables. The monosyllability of words along with categories of prefixes used in naming genre and species have set proper harmonization in the use of the language. Thus, Lepcha language has taken its grammatical position far ahead of the other minor languages of the region.
- 3. For the reason of its being relatively monosyllabic, there are discernible musical elements in Lepcha language.
- 4. Lepcha words are simple and soft, and according to most of the linguists dealing with the language, Lepcha is euphonic in sound and pronunciation.
- 5. The scripts are relatively developed. It is believed that either Chagdor Namgyal invented the Lepcha scripts sometimes in the eighteenth century or one Thikung Men Salong at the time of Turve Panu, of whom mention has been made above, in the fifteenth century, invented the scripts. Majority of the Lepchas rely more on the latter view but scholars have problems in believing it for the reason that most probably the Lepcha scripts have not been in use for a very long period of time in history. Had it been in vogue in the remote past, the Lepchas could have at least written the Lungten Sung or the Lepcha legends and folklores or even the Namthars in Lepcha language; but regrettably that was not done. There might have been the scripts for even long time but were not in much use. But the folk lore and historical records on the Lepcha language and culture as found in Nepal take the antiquity of the Lepcha script further deep in the past.
Lepchas are divided into many clans (Lepcha: putsho), each of which reveres its own sacred lake and mountain peak (Lepcha: dâ and cú) 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.
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. 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. 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.
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.
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.
Marriage customs 
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.
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.
See also 
- Lepcha language
- Lepcha script
- Ethnic groups in Bhutan
- Ethnic groups in Nepal
- Indigenous peoples of Sikkim
- Plaisier 2007, p. 1.
- SIL 2009.
- Plaisier 2007, p. 1–2.
- Debnath, Sailen. Essays on Cultural History of North Bengal. ISBN 9788186860427.
- Debnath, Sailen. The Dooars in Historical Transition. ISBN 9788186860441.
- Plaisier 2007, p. 34.
- Plaisier 2007, p. 3.
- Joshi 2004, p. 157.
- Semple 2003, p. 123.
- Plaisier 2007, p. 4.
- Dubey 1980, p. 53, 56.
- Gulati 1995, pp. 80–81.
- Cited sources
- Plaisier, Heleen (2007). A Grammar of Lepcha. Tibetan studies library: Languages of the greater Himalayan region 5. Leiden, The Netherlands; Boston: BRILL. ISBN 90-04-15525-2.
- Lewis, M. Paul, ed. (2009). "Lepcha". Ethnologue: Languages of the World (16 ed.). Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Retrieved 2011-06-24.
- "Lepchas and their Tradition". Official Portal of NIC Sikkim State Centre. National Informatics Centre, Sikkim. 2002-01-25. Retrieved 2011-06-24.
- Joshi, H.G. (2004). Sikkim: Past and Present. New Delhi, India: Mittal Publications. ISBN 81-7099-932-4. Retrieved 2011-06-24.
- Semple, Rhonda Anne (2003). Missionary Women: Gender, Professionalism, and the Victorian Idea of Christian Mission. Rochester, NY: Boydell Press. ISBN 1-84383-013-2. Retrieved 2011-06-24.
- Gulati, Rachna (1995). "Cultural Aspects of Sikkim" (PDF). Bulletin of Tibetology. Gangtok: Namgyal Institute of Tibetology. Retrieved 2011-06-24.
- Dubey, S. M (1980). In S. M. Dubey, P. K. Bordoloi, B. N. Borthakur. Family, marriage, and social change on the Indian fringe. Cosmo.
Further reading 
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Lepcha people|
- "Lepcha script". Omniglot online. Retrieved 2011-04-17.
- Plaisier, Heleen (2010-11-13). "Information on Lepcha Language and Culture". Retrieved 2011-04-16.
- Bareh, Hamlet (2001). "The Sikkim Communities". Encyclopaedia of North-East India: Sikkim. New Delhi: Mittal Publications. ISBN 81-7099-794-1.