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History shows that the Yolmo people are indigenous people of Nepal. Yolmo is almost directly north of the Kathmandu Valley, just inside Nepal but bordering on Tibet. In Nepal the region is called Yolmo (spoken by Buddha/ Guru rinpoche/ Marpa/ Milarepa etc.) or (Helambu is part of Yolmo, which is also place where main Yolmo people live). They speak a Tibetan-derived language called Yolmo language (which is totally different to Nepali language).
The name Yolmo is widely used by buddhas and Bodhisattavas from centuries ago and is still in use by great Tibetan Masters and great practitioners, although most Yolmo persons and others call the name of region Helambu, it is believed by some that the name Helambu is named after potatoes and raddishes. In the Hyolmo language Hey means Potato and in Yolmo lahbu is radish. This etymology is now considered spurious, 'Helambu' is a Nepali derivation from the original 'Yolmo language'.
In the 1980s Hyolmo speakers began using the name 'Helambu Sherpa' to align themselves with the more prestigious Sherpa people of the Solukhumbu District. This name is still used to refer to Hyolmo speakers, and their language, including for the ISO 639-3 language codes. Today, speakers are actually less likely to refer to themselves as 'Sherpa' and instead use the term 'Yolmo'.
There is an on-going discussion amongst Yolmo people as to how to spell 'Yolmo' in Latin script. Some speakers prefer 'Yolmo' while others prefer 'Hyolmo' or 'Yholmo.' The presence of the 'h' in the name is to indicate that the word is spoken with low tone. Desjarlais and Clarke both use 'Yolmo' while it is found to use 'Hyolmo' and Yolmo is most commonly found in Nepali government documents and correct form is Yolmo.
The Yolmo people have close cultural and linguistic affinity with the inhabitants of the Gyirong County and Rongsyar areas of Tibet. Trade, tourism, Thanka painting, carpet weaving and farming are common occupations of Hyolmo. Long ago, Yolmo people were Yak herding people and their main source of income was based on herding. The number of Yolmo people in Nepal is disputed. The Yolmo Community itself claims their population to be in excess of 1,98,000. The word ‘Yolmo’ is mentioned in many religious manuscripts of Tibetan Buddhism and is considered as a holy region which in Tibetan or Yolmo is called "Bhe-yul Yolmo" or Hidden Valley. Many great Buddhist masters practiced in YOLMO, including the Tibetan yogi Milarepa, Guru Rinpoche and YOLMO Terton Ngagchang Sakya Zangpo. Yolmo is famous for innumerable holy and sacred sites. Among the famous caves there are Tag-phug Sen-ge Jong (The Tiger Cave Lion Fortress) just below the village of Tar-kye Gyang, where Milarepa sang his "Song of a Yogi's Joys", Yang-dag Tsoe-ki Drag-phug Just above Takeyghyang(Completely Pure Supreme Cave) which is locally known as "Drub-phug" (Cave of Accomplishment) at an altitude of 14,000 feet, where Guru Rinpoche stayed. Nearby there is a small cave called "Khandro Sang-phug" (The Dakini's Secret Cave) where his consort Shakya Denma (Shakya Devi) stayed. Another cave of Guru Rinpoche is found in Pema-thang (Tibetan: Zema-Thang= Sandy Flats) a small hidden valley within Yolmo. There is another cave of Guru Rinpoche in Yolmo, re-discovered by Jyadral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche in 1984, which is called Yanglashel (not to be confused with a renowned cave of the same name in Pharping, Nepal). Near the village of Milimchhim is yet another cave in which Padmasambhava stayed named "Nyida Rang-zung" (Naturally Appearing Sun and Moon). Just above Tarkeghyang holy mountain "Ama Yangri stupa " the dakkini who is protector of entire Yolmo people is situated.It is clearly mention that Ama Yangri Gonpa (Monastery) was first Gonpa in the area and afterward Pema Chholin Gonpa (present Tarkeghyang monastery ) was built with Lamas and villagers. Chiri Monastery, old and historic Buddhist Monastery in all of the Hyolmo region is the Dzo-dril or Chudi Monastery or Chiri Chuklakhang founded by Yolmo Terton Ngagchhang Shakya Zangpo. It is situated just at the base of Tarkeyghyang monastery.
Yolmo people speak a language of the Central Bodic or Tibetan language group of the Tibeto-Burman languages language family. Although it has a high level of lexical similarity to Sherpa (61% lexical similarity) and Standard Tibetan (66% lexical similarity), there is enough difference for it to be considered a language in its own right.
Many educated Yolmo speakers traditionally wrote their language in the same Tibetan alphabet as other Tibetan people do. The Yolmo language is close to the Tibetan language and consists largely of classical Tibetan terminology as used in Religious scripts-'Pechas'. The Hyolmo dialect belongs to the Tibeto-Burman language group and uses the like script as the Tibetan people, which is widely used in their religious books. It is spoken by most of central Tibetans but the difference is only in the way of speaking the words. Today, as Yolmo is spoken in Nepal, many speakers write their language in the Devanagari script that is used for Nepali. This can be seen in two recent dictionaries where Hyolmo is written in Devanagari script.
The people of Yolmo celebrate Sonam Losar but at a different time, one month earlier than Tibetans and customs differ from Tibetan Buddhists. Sonam Losar is all over in Nepal also celebrated by another ethnic group of Nepal like Sherpa people from Khumbu region of Khunde Khumjung, Thame, Phortse, Thame, Gurung people from Manang, Mustang etc. Apart from this great new year festival Yolmo people also celebrate other religious festivals such as Nhara, Tse chu, Buddha Jayanti and Manu Bum. In the Yolmo community traditionally the men wear Laptar Fungshok made with wool of sheep and ladies wear Tshuba and Burisurku.
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- Desjarlais, R. R. 1989. "Healing through images: The medical flight and healing geography of Nepali Shamans." Ethos 17(3): 289-307.
- Desjarlais, R. R. 1989. "Sadness, soul loss and healing among the Yolmo Sherpa." Himalaya, the Journal of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies: 9(2): 1-4.
- Desjarlais, R. R. 1991. "Dreams, divination and Yolmo ways of knowing." Dreaming 1: 211-224.
- Desjarlais, R. R. 1991. "Poetic transformations of Yolmo sadness." Culture, medicine and psychiatry 15: 387-420.
- Desjarlais, R. R. 1992. "Yolmo aesthetics of body, health and "soul loss"." Social Science and Medicine 34(10): 1105-1117.
- Desjarlais, R. R. 1992. Body and emotion : the aesthetics of illness and healing in the Nepal Himalayas. Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press.
- Desjarlais, R. R. 2000. "Echoes of a Yolmo Buddhist's life, in death." Cultural Anthropology 15(2): 260-293.
- Desjarlais, R. R. 2003. Sensory biographies : lives and deaths among Nepal's Yolmo Buddhists. Berkeley, Calif., University of California Press.
- Hari, Anna Maria and Chhegu Lama. 2004. Dictionary Yolmo-Nepali-English. Kathmandu: Central Department of Linguistics, Tribhuvan University.
- Hari, A. M. 2010. Yohlmo Sketch Grammar. Kathmandu, Ekta books.
- : Article on Yolmo people (in English)