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The Yolmo people (also Yholmo, Hyolmo, Yohlmo, Yolmopa) are an indigenous group of people that natively reside in the Helambu and Melamchi Valleys of northeastern Nepal situated over 43.4 kilometres (27 miles) and 44.1 kilometres (27.4 miles) to the north of Kathmandu respectively. They also have sizeable communities in Bhutan and some territories within India, primarily Darjeeling and Sikkim. They speak the Yolmo language which has a high lexical similarity to Tibetan, although the two languages are not completely mutually intelligible.

The Yolmo communities in Nepal were badly affected by the Nepal earthquake, particularly the communities in Drupadong, Sermathang, Tarkeghyang, Melamchighyang where many local residences were destroyed.[1]


Yolmo speakers [2] migrated from the Kyirong Valleys of southwestern Tibet around two to three hundred years ago.[3] They settled in the valleys of Helambu once they arrived there, and gradually, intermarriages between the male Yolmo lamas and the Tamang women local to the region became common.[2]

In the 1980s, an increased 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.[4] 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,[5] very few Yolmo people would be likely to identify themselves as a subsection of the Sherpas in the current date.[6]


The Yolmos are among the 59 indigenous groups officially recognized by the Government of Nepal as having a distinct cultural identity.[7] They refer to themselves as the "Yolmopa" or "Hyolopa".[7] Their primary religion is Tibetan Buddhism of the Nyingmapa school, intermixed with animism and paganism as incorporated within the general dimensions of Shamanism.[7]

Essentially, the Yolmo people are agriculturalists. Potatoes, radishes, and some other crops constitute their primary sustenance, along with the milk and flesh from the yak which Yolmos are known to herd.[8] Theve villages or in various other parts of Nepal.

The Yolmo people are organised into several clans, all of which follow the patrilineal system of descent. They used to practice a form of bride "stealing" as part of their tradition, but that practice is no longer encouraged.[9]

The Helambu region has become a popular site for tourism and trekking in the last few decades, and some Yolmos are now employed in the tourism industry, serving as guides either in their own respective villages or in various other parts of Nepal.



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, as many people also speak Nepali.[7] 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 while some have settled closer to Pokhara.[10] There are also a number of villages in the Ilam district where Yolmo is spoken.


The Yolmos are listed as a Scheduled Tribe in the states of West Bengal and Sikkim in India.[11]

Other Countries[edit]

The Yolmo language is also spoken by a considerable population in Bhutan and the Gyirong County of southwestern Tibet.[7]


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.[7] 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 also often claimed that the name "Helambu" is derived from the Yolmo words for potatoes and radishes (Hey means "potato" and lahbu is "radish").[12][13] This etymology is disputed and often considered spurious. Some refuters of this explanation argue that "Helambu" is an ambiguation of the word "Yolmo" phonetically contoured by Nepali speakers.[14]

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 first syllable of 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', while the Nepal Aadivasi Janajati Mahasangh (Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities) use 'Hyolmo'.[15]


Main article: Yolmo language

The Yolmo language has high lexical similarities to Sherpa and Tibetan. It has been recorded in both the Tibetan and Devanagari scripts.

The Yolmo language is also very closely related to Kagate, another language of the Kyirong-Kagate language sub-group. The Kagate people stem from the original Yolmo inhabitants of the Helambu and Melamchi valleys. What distinguishes them from the Yolmo is the fact that they began migrating southeast from Helambu (and eventually, into the Ramechhap District) over one-hundred years ago,[10] and that during their peregrinations, they practiced the craft of paper-making in order to make a living. Hence, the name "Kagate" (which is Nepali for 'Paper maker'). They have since developed certain characteristics in their speech that are distinct from traditional Yolmo. The Yolmo speaking groups in the Lamjung District and Ilam District have also historically been called Kagate although both groups claim a clear distinction between themselves and the Kagate of Ramechhap.[10] Oftentimes, people will use 'Yolmo' and 'Kagate' as terms for both the ethnic group and the dialect interchangeably.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bishop, Naomi H (1989). "From zomo to yak: Change in a Sherpa village". Human Ecology 17 (2): 177–204. doi:10.1007/bf00889712. 
  • Bishop, Naomi H. (1993). "Circular migration and families: A Yolmo Sherpa example." South Asia Bulletin 13(1 & 2): 59-66.
  • Bishop, Naomi H. (1997). Himalayan herders. Watertown, MA: Documentary Educational Resources. with John Melville Bishop (Writers).
  • Bishop, Naomi H. (1998). Himalayan herders. Fort Worth; London: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.
  • Clarke, Graham E. (1980). The temple and kinship amongst a Buddhist people of the Himalaya. University of Oxford, Oxford.
  • Clarke, Graham E (1980). "A Helambu History". Journal of the Nepal Research Centre 4: 1–38. 
  • Clarke, Graham E. (1980). "Lama and Tamang in Yolmo." Tibetan Studies in honor of Hugh Richardson. M. Aris and A. S. S. Kyi (eds). Warminster, Aris and Phillips: 79-86.
  • Clarke, Graham 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 (eds). Vienna, Arbeitskreis fuèr Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien, University of Vienna: 21-37.
  • Clarke, Graham E (1985). "Hierarchy, status and social history in Nepal." Contexts and Levels: Anthropological essays on hierarchy". JASO Occasional Papers 4 (1): 193–210. 
  • Clarke, Graham 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, Graham E. (1991). "Nara (na-rang) in Yolmo: A social history of hell in Helambu." Festschrift fuer Geza Uray. M. T. Much (ed.). Vienna, Arbeitskreis fuer Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien, University of Vienna: 41-62.
  • Clarke, Graham E (1995). "Blood and territory as idioms of national identity in Himalayan states". Kailash 17 (3-4): 89–131. 
  • Corrias, S. (2004). "Il rito sciamanico Sherpa (Helambu, Nepal)." in G.B. Sychenko et al. (eds) Music and ritual, pp. 228–239. Novosibirsk: NGK. [in Italian]
  • Desjarlais, Robert (1989). "Healing through images: The medical flight and healing geography of Nepali Shamans". Ethos 17 (3): 289–307. doi:10.1525/eth.1989.17.3.02a00020. 
  • Desjarlais, Robert (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, Robert (1991). "Dreams, divination and Yolmo ways of knowing". Dreaming 1: 211–224. doi:10.1037/h0094331. 
  • Desjarlais, Robert (1991). "Poetic transformations of Yolmo sadness". Culture, medicine and psychiatry 15: 387–420. doi:10.1007/bf00051326. 
  • Desjarlais, Robert (1992). "Yolmo aesthetics of body, health and "soul loss"". Social Science and Medicine 34 (10): 1105–1117. doi:10.1016/0277-9536(92)90284-w. 
  • Desjarlais, Robert (1992). Body and emotion : the aesthetics of illness and healing in the Nepal Himalayas. Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Desjarlais, Robert (2000). "Echoes of a Yolmo Buddhist's life, in death". Cultural Anthropology 15 (2): 260–293. doi:10.1525/can.2000.15.2.260. 
  • Desjarlais, Robert (2002). "'So: Ragged woman'": The aesthetics and ethics of skilled action among Nepal's Yolmo Buddhists". Ethnography 3 (2): 149–175. doi:10.1177/1466138102003002002. 
  • Desjarlais, Robert (2003). Sensory biographies: lives and deaths among Nepal's Yolmo Buddhists. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Desjarlais, Robert (2014). "Liberation upon hearing: Voice, morality, and death in a Buddhist world". Ethos 42 (1): 101–118. doi:10.1111/etho.12041. 
  • Ehrhard, Franz-Karl (1997). "A "Hidden Land" in the Tibetan-Nepalese Borderlands." In Alexander W. Macdonald (ed.) Mandala and Landscape, pp. 335-364. New Dehli: D.K. Printworld.
  • Ehrhard, Franz-Karl (1997). "The lands are like a wiped golden basin": The Sixth Zhva-dmar-pa’s Journey to Nepal. In S. Karmay and P. Sagant (eds) Les habitants du Toit du monde, pp. 125–138. Nanterre: Société d’ethnologie.
  • Ehrhard, Franz-Karl (2004). "The Story of How bla-ma Karma Chos-bzang Came to Yol-mo": A Family Document from Nepal. In Shoun Hino and Toshihiro Wada (eds) Three Mountains and Seven Rivers, p. 581-600. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.
  • Ehrhard, Franz-Karl (2007). "A Forgotten Incarnation Lineage: The Yol-mo-ba Sprul-skus (16th to 18th Centuries)". In Ramon Prats (ed.) The Pandita and the Siddha: Tibetan Studies in Honour of E. Gene Smith, p. 25-49. Dharamsala: Amnye Machen Institute.
  • Gawne, Lauren (2010). "Lamjung Yolmo: a dialect of Yolmo, also known as Helambu Sherpa". Nepalese Linguistics 25: 34–41. 
  • Gawne, Lauren (2011). Lamjung Yolmo-Nepali-English dictionary. Melbourne, Custom Book Centre; The University of Melbourne.
  • Gawne, Lauren (2011). "Reported speech in Lamjung Yolmo". Nepalese Linguistics 26: 25–35. 
  • Gawne, Lauren (2013). Lamjung Yolmo copulas in use: Evidentiality, reported speech and questions. PhD thesis, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne.
  • Gawne, Lauren (2013). "Notes on the relationship between Yolmo and Kagate". Himalayan Linguistics 12 (2): 1–27. 
  • Gawne, Lauren (2014). "Similar languages, different dictionaries: A discussion of the Lamjung Yolmo and Kagate dictionary projects." In G. Zuckermann, J. Miller & J. Morley (eds.), Endangered Words, Signs of Revival. Adelaide: AustraLex.
  • Gawne, Lauren (2014). "Evidentiality in Lamjung Yolmo". Journal of the South East Asian Linguistics Society 7: 76–96. 
  • Gawne, Lauren (2015). Language documentation and division: Bridging the digital divide. Digital Studies.
  • Gawne, Lauren (forthcoming). A sketch grammar of Lamjung Yolmo. Canberra: Asia Pacific Linguistics.
  • Goldstein, Melvyn C (1975). "Preliminary notes on marriage and kinship among the Sherpas of Helambu". Contributions to Nepalese studies 2 (1): 57–69. 
  • Goldstein, Melvyn C. (1980). "Growing old in Helambu: Aging, migration and family structure among Sherpas." Contributions to Nepalese studies 8(1): 41-56. with Cynthia M. Beall.
  • Goldstein, Melvyn C. (1983). "High altitude hypoxia, culture, and human fecundity/fertility: A comparative study." American Anthropologist 85(1): 28-49. with Paljor Tsarong & Cynthia M. Beall.
  • Grierson, George Abraham. (1909/1966). Linguistic survey of India (2d ed.). Delhi: M. Banarsidass. [for mention of Kagate only]
  • Hári, Anna Mária (2000). Good news, the New Testament in Helambu Sherpa. Kathmandu: Samdan Publishers.
  • Hári, Anna Mária (2004). Dictionary Yolhmo-Nepali-English. Kathmandu: Central Department of Linguistics, Tribhuvan University. with Chhegu Lama.
  • Hári, Anna Mária (2010). Yohlmo Sketch Grammar. Kathmandu: Ekta books.
  • Hedlin, Matthew (2011). An Investigation of the relationship between the Kyirong, Yòlmo, and Standard Spoken Tibetan speech varieties. Masters thesis, Payap University, Chiang Mai.
  • Mitchell, Jessica R. and Stephanie R. Eichentopf (2013). Sociolinguistic survey of Kagate: Language vitality and community desires. Kathmandu: Central Department of Linguistics Tribhuvan University, Nepal and SIL International.
  • Parkhomenko, N.A. and G.B. Sychenko (2004). "Shyab-ru: Round dance-Songs of the Sherpa-Yolmo of Nepal." in G.B. Sychenko et al. (eds) Music and ritual, pp. 269–285. Novosibirsk: NGK. [in Russian]
  • Pokharel, Binod (2005). "Adaptation and identity of Yolmo". Occasional Papers in Sociology and Anthropology 9: 91–119. 
  • Sato, Seika (2006). "Discourse and practice of Janajt-building: Creative (dis)junctions with local communities among the people from Yolmo". Studies in Nepali History and Society 11 (2): 355–388. 
  • Sato, Seika (2007). "I Don't Mind Being Born a Woman the status and agency of women in Yolmo Nepal."Social Dynamics in Northern South Asia, Vol. 1: Nepalis Inside and Outside Nepal. H. Ishii, D. N. Gellner & K. Nawa (eds). New Delhi: Manohar, 191-222
  • Sato, Seika (2007). "「私は行かないといった」ネパール・ヨルモ女性の結婚をめぐる語りにみる主体性 ['I said I wouldn’t go’: Exploring agency in the narratives of marriage by women from Yolmo, Nepal]" 東洋文化研究所紀要 152: 472-424(137-185). [In Japanese]
  • Sato, Seika (2007). "Crossing 'capture' out: On the marginality of the capture marriage tactics in Yolmo, Nepal". 帝京社会学第 20: 71–100. 
  • Sato, Seika (2008). "'We women have to get married off': Obedience, accommodation, and resistance in the narrative of a Yolmo woman from Nepal". Studies in Nepali History and Society 13 (2): 265–296. 
  • Sato, Seika (2009). "彼女との長い会話 あるネパール女性のライフ・ストーリー (pt. 1)[A long conversation with Ngima: the life story of a woman from Yolmo, Nepal (pt. 1)]." 帝京社会学第 22: 69-104. [In Japanese]
  • Sato, Seika (2010). "彼女との長い会話 あるネパール女性のライフ・ストーリー" (pt. 2)[A long conversation with Ngima: the life story of a woman from Yolmo, Nepal (pt. 2)]. 帝京社会学第 23: 171-240. [In Japanese]
  • Sychenko, G.B. (2009). "In the place, where angels live (Musical ethnographic expedition in Nepal, 2007, part 1)." in Siberian ethnological expedition: Comparative research of the process of transformation of intonational cultures of Siberia and Nepal, pp. 104–125. Novosibirsk: NGK. [in Russian]
  • Sychenko, G.B. and A.V. Zolotukhina (2012). "Hyolmo of Nepal: Ritual, myth, music." in Pax Sonoris N. [In Russian]
  • Torri, Davide (2008). "Il sacro diffuso. Religione e pratica sciamanica presso l'etnia himalayana degli Yolmo." Scritture di Storia 5: 7-32. [in Italian]
  • Torri, Davide (2011). "Shamanic Traditions and Music among the Yolmos of Nepal." Musikè International Journal of Ethnomusicological Studies 5, III(1): 81-93.
  • Torri, Davide (2013). "Between a rock and a hard place: Himalayanencounters with human and other-than-human opponents." Shamanism and violence: Power, repression and suffering in indigenous religious conflict. D. Riboli & D. Torri (eds.). Abingdon: Ashgate.
  • Torri, Davide (forthcoming). Il Lama e il Bombo. Sciamanismo e Buddhismo tra gli Hyolmo del Nepal. Rome: Sapienza. [In Italian]
  • Zolotukhina, A.V. (2011). "Rural ritual and secular traditions in the urban context: Music of Hyolmo (Kathmandu, Nepal)." in Musical urban culture as an artistic and social problem: Proceedings of the Scientific Conference (April, 2011), pp. 67–74. Novosibirsk: NGK. With G.B. Sychenko. [in Russian]
  • Zolotukhina, A.V. (2012). "Ritual Phurdok (pur-pa puja) and its musical features." in Music and time 1:32-36. [In Russian]


  1. ^ "CLICK HERE to support Help the Yolmo community in Nepal!". Indiegogo Life. Retrieved 2015-06-02. 
  2. ^ a b Clarke, Graham E. (1980). "Lama and Tamang in Yolmo". Tibetan Studies in honor of Hugh Richardson: 79–86. 
  3. ^ Clarke, Graham E. (1980). "A Helambu History". Journal of the Nepal Research Centre (4): 1–38. 
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ Lewis, M. Paul. "Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Sixteenth edition". Retrieved 17 February 2013. 
  6. ^ Desjarlais, Robert (2003). Sensory biographies : lives and deaths among Nepal's Yolmo Buddhists. California: University of California Press. p. 12. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f "Hyolmo: Who is Yolmopa/Hyolmo?". Indigenous Voice. Retrieved 28 January 2015. 
  8. ^ Bishop, Naomi (1998). Himalayan Herders. Fort Worth; London: Harcourt Brace College Publishers. ISBN 9780534440602. 
  9. ^ Sato, Seika (1997). "Crossing 'capture' out: On the marginality of the capture marriage tactics in Yolmo, Nepal". 帝京社会学第. 
  10. ^ a b c Gawne, Lauren (2013). "Report on the relationship between Yolmo and Kagate" (PDF). Himalayan Linguistics 12 (2): 1–27. 
  11. ^ List of Notified Scheduled Tribes, Census of India
  12. ^ Clarke, Graham E. (1980). "A Helambu History". Journal of the Nepal Research Centre 4: 1–38. 
  13. ^ Clarke, Graham E. (1980). M. Aris and A. S. S. Kyi, ed. Lama and Tamang in Yolmo. Warminster: Aris and Phillips. pp. 79–86. 
  14. ^ Hari, Anne Marie (2010). Yolmo Grammar Sketch. Kathmandu: Ekta Books. p. 1. 
  15. ^ "Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities". Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities. Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities. 2014. Retrieved 2014-11-24.