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The Yolmo (or Yholmo, Hyolmo, Yolmopa, Hyolopa, Kaagatey) people are an indigenous group that natively reside in north-eastern Nepal and in regions of Tibet adjacent to its boundaries, most notably the Kyirong valleys, situated over 120 kilometres/76 miles to the north of Kathmandu. They also have sizeable communities in some territories within India, viz. Darjeeling and Sikkim, and Bhutan. They speak the Yolmo (or Yholmo/Hyolmo) language which has a high lexical similarity to Tibetan.


The Yolmos are among the 59 indigenous groups officially recognized by the government of Nepal as having a distinct cultural identity.[1] They refer to themselves as the "Yolmopa" or "Hyolopa".[1] Their primary religion is Tibetan Buddhism, intermixed with animism and paganism.[1]



According to the Nepal National Census of 2011, the population of the Yolmo people living within Nepal is 10,752, and they are distributed over 11 districts of the country. 99% from this population speak the Yolmo language. The number of monolingual Yolmo speakers is very low and on a gradual decline.[1] The largest Yolmo settlements, comprising a total of about 10,000 people, are located in the Helambu and Melamchi valleys, about 44 and 27 kilometres/27 and 17 miles to the northeast of Kathmandu, respectively. A separate group of about 700 reside in the Lamjung district near Pokhara.[2] There are also a number of villages in the Ilam district where Yolmo is spoken.

Other countries[edit]

The Yolmos are listed as a Scheduled Tribe in the states of West Bengal and Sikkim in India.[3] The Yolmo language is also spoken by a noticeable population in Tibet and Bhutan.[1]


The term "Yolmo" or "Hyolmo" consists of two separate words — Hyol, which means "a place or area surrounded by high mountains", and Mo, "goddess", indicating a place under the protection of a female deity.[1]

For centuries, Tibetan Buddhists have referred to the Helambu region using the term "Yolmo". In more recent times, most people, Yolmos and otherwise, seem to prefer the name "Helambu" itself. It is often claimed that the name "Helambu" is derived from the Yolmo words for potatoes and radishes (Hey means "potato" and lahbu is "radish").[4][5] This etymology is disputed and often considered spurious. Some refuters of this explanation argue that "Helambu" is an ambiguation of the word "Yolmo" derived from Nepali.[6]

In the 1980s, an increasing number of Yolmos began identifying themselves as the "Helambu Sherpa", even using the appellation as a surname to align themselves with the more prominent Sherpa people of the Solukhumbu District.[7] Although this name is still used to refer to the Yolmo people and their language in certain instances, including the ISO 639-3 language codes,[8] very few Yolmo people would be likely to identify themselves as a subsection of the Sherpas in the current date.[9]

There is an ongoing discussion amongst Yolmo scholars regarding the spelling of 'Yolmo' in the Latin script. Some favour 'Yolmo' while others prefer 'Hyolmo' or 'Yholmo'. The presence of the letter 'h' in the spelling is to indicate that the word is spoken with a low, breathy tone. It is worth noting that Robert R. Desjarlais and Graham E. Clarke (works cited below) both use 'Yolmo'.


The Yolmo people speak a language of the Central Bodic or Tibetan group of the Tibeto-Burman language family. It has a high level of lexical similarity to Sherpa (61% lexical similarity) and Standard Tibetan (66% lexical similarity). Nonetheless, it is generally agreed that it has enough dissimilarities with either of the aforementioned dialects for it to be considered a language in its own right.[10]

The Yolmo language consists largely of classical Tibetan terminologies as used in the religious Buddhist scripts - the 'Pechhas'. In keeping with historical tradition, most Yolmo scholars transcribe their language in the Sambhoti script, which is very similar to the Tibetan script and used by other Tibetan people too.[1] However, today, an increasing number of Yolmo speakers in Nepal opt for the Devanagari script (which has conventionally been used for Nepali and Hindi) to perform the same. This can be seen in two recent dictionaries where Yolmo is written in Devanagari.[11][12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Hyolmo: Who is Yolmopa/Hyolmo?". Indigenous Voice. Retrieved 28 January 2015. 
  2. ^ Gawne, Lauren (2013). "Report on the relationship between Yolmo and Kagate". Himalayan Linguistics. 12(2): 1–27. 
  3. ^ List of Notified Scheduled Tribes, Census of India
  4. ^ Clarke, Graham E. (1980). "A Helambu History". Journal of the Nepal Research Centre 4: 1–38. 
  5. ^ Clarke, Graham E. (1980). M. Aris and A. S. S. Kyi, ed. Lama and Tamang in Yolmo. Warminster: Aris and Phillips. pp. 79–86. 
  6. ^ Hari, Anne Marie (2010). Yolmo Grammar Sketch. Kathmandu: Ekta Books. p. 1. 
  7. ^ Clarke, G. E. (1980). M. Aris and A. S. S. Kyi, ed. Tibetan Studies in honor of Hugh Richardson. Warminster: Aris and Phillips. p. 79. 
  8. ^ Lewis, M. Paul. "Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Sixteenth edition". Retrieved 17 February 2013. 
  9. ^ Desjarlais, Robert (2003). Sensory biographies : lives and deaths among Nepal's Yolmo Buddhists. California: University of California Press. p. 12. 
  10. ^ Hari, Anne Marie (2010). Yolmo Sketch Grammar. Kathmandu: Ekta Books. 
  11. ^ Hari, Anne Marie; Lama, C. (2004). Yolmo-Nepali-English Dictionary. Kathmandu: Central Dept. of Linguistics, Tribhnvan University. 
  12. ^ Gawne, Lauren (2010). Lamjung Yolmo - Nepali - English Dictionary. Melbourne: Custom Book Centre, The University of Melbourne. 


  • Clarke, G. E. 1980. "A Helambu History." Journal of the Nepal Research Centre 4: 1-38.
  • Clarke, G. E. 1980. Lama and Tamang in Yolmo. Tibetan Studies in honor of Hugh Richardson. M. Aris and A. S. S. Kyi. Warminster, Aris and Phillips: 79-86.
  • Clarke, G. E. 1983. The great and little traditions in the study of Yolmo, Nepal. Contributions on Tibetan language, history and culture. E. Steinkellner and H. Tauscher. Vienna, Arbeitskreis fuèr Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien, University of Vienna. 1: 21-37.
  • Clarke, G. E. 1985. Hierarchy, status and social history in Nepal. Contexts and Levels: Anthropological essays on hierarchy. R. H. Barnes, D. De Coppet and R. J. Parkin. Oxford, JASO Occasional Papers, vol. 4. 1: 193-210.
  • Clarke, G. E. 1990. "Ideas of merit (Bsod-nams), virtue (Dge-ba), blessing (byin-rlabs) and material prosperity (rten-'brel) in Highland Nepal." Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford 21(2): 165-184.
  • Clarke, G. E. 1991. Nara (na-rang) in Yolmo: A social history of hell in Helambu. Festschrift fuer Geza Uray. M. T. Much. Vienna, Arbeitskreis fuer Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien, University of Vienna: 41-62.
  • 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.

External links[edit]

  • [1] A preliminary analysis of tone in Lamjung Yolmo [presented with Lauren Gawne, University of Melbourne] (HLS 18)