Limbu people

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Limbu, Yakthung, Sikkimese, Shong
A Limbu Woman.jpg
A Limbu woman
Total population
Regions with significant populations
   Nepal 387,300[1]
 India 30,000[citation needed]
Limbu (IPA: [yɑkthuŋ pɑ:n]), Nepali
Hinduism, Shamanism, Buddhism
Selected ethnic groups of Nepal: Sherpa, Thakali, Gurung, Kirati, Rai, Lohorung, Parali, Bahing, Limbu, Newar, Pahari, Tamang

The Limbu (exonym) or Yakthung (endonym) (IPA: [yɑkthuŋ]) tribes and clans are a Kirati people of Tibetan origin indigenous to the hill and mountainous regions of East Nepal between the Arun and Mechi rivers to as far as South Tibet, Bhutan, Darjeeling, Sikkim, Assam, Nagaland, and Burma.

The name Limbu is an exonym of an uncertain origin. They call themselves Yakthumba (IPA: [yakthuŋbɑ]. In Standard Tibetan, they are referred to as "Sikkimese people" (Tibetan: འབྲས་ལྗོངས་སྐད་Wylie: 'bras ljongs pa) and in Sikkimese as Shong or Tsong "Tsang people". Their estimated population of 700,000 is centered in the districts of Sankhuwasabha, Tehrathum, Dhankuta, Taplejung, Morang, Sunsari, Jhapa, Panchthar, Ilam District, Kathmandu District, Lalitpur District, Bhaktapur District' in Nepal, These are all within the Mechi and Kosi Zones or "Limbuwan".

Portions of the Limbu population are also located in the east and west districts of Sikkim. A smaller number are scattered throughout the cities of Darjeeling and Kalimpong in West Bengal, Assam, Nagaland and in north and south Sikkim, Bhutan, Burma and recently migrated to the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, the United States and many other countries.

Limbu clans and tribes are divided into two gotras indicating their origin: Lhasa and Yunnan. The Limbu are known as Yakthung Thibong (IPA: [yɑkthuŋ thibo:ŋ]) or "Ten Limbu", from which thirteen Limbu subgroups have emerged. According to legend, five of the groups came from Yunnan and the other eight from Lhasa.

The Chinese text Po-ou-Yeo-Jing[which?] translated in 308 AD refers to the Yi-ti-Sai (barbarians bordering on the north), a name which is an exact equivalent of Kiratas.[2][3]

Limbu language[edit]

Main article: Limbu language

Accounts with Sirijonga

Limbu, Lepcha and Newar are the only Sino-Tibetan languages of the Central Himalayas to possess their own scripts. (Sprigg 1959: 590), (Sprigg 1959: 591-592 & MS: 1-4)

Limbu vowels and consonants[edit]


ʌ, ɑ, i, u, e, ɑi, o, ɑu, ɛ, ɔ


k, kh, g, gh, ŋ, c/ts, ch/tsh, j/dz, jh/dz, t, th, d, dh, n, p, ph, b, bh, m, j, r, l, w, sh, s, h, tr

Limbu Universal Vocabulary[edit]

1. Sun : nam; 2. Moon: la:ba; 3. Star: tanchoˀba; 4. Soil: kham; 5. Water: cwat; 6. Stone: luŋ; 7. Fire: mi; 8. Home: him; 9. Tree: sinŋbuŋ; 10. Mother: mamaˀ; 11. Father: papaˀ; 12. Path: lam; 13. Flower: phuŋ; 14. Head: thibokpa; 15. Eye: mik; 16. Leg: laŋ; 17. Hand: huk; 18. Eat: cama; 19. Drink: thuŋma; 20. Walk: laŋghekma; 21. Sleep: imma;

Limbu Religion[edit]

Main article: Mundhum

Limbu culture[edit]

Limbu women with traditional clothing and traditional tongba drink.

Limbus practice many of their own life cycle rituals. They believe that lineage is not transmitted patrilineally. Rather, a woman inherits her mother's gods, and when she marries and lives with her husband she brings with her the deities that will then be recognized as the household deities.

Limbu bury their dead and observe for two-to-three days through practiced death rituals. The length of the mourning period varies depending on the gender of the deceased. Weddings, mourning, gift exchanges, and settlement of conflicts involve consumption of alcohol i.e. liquor, especially the Limbu traditional beer popularly known as thee which is also drunk in a container called Tongba. Dancing parties are arranged for visitors to the village. These affairs give the young Limbu girls and boys a chance to meet and enjoy dancing and drinking.

Limbu attire and ornaments[edit]

YalangTemplate:Yɑˀlɑ:ŋ (Nep. Dhan nach), paddy dance, in Taplejung, Nepal

The traditional dress of the Limbus are mekhli and taga.

While performing mangsewa IPA: [mɑŋsewɑ] (God+worship), Yakthung IPA: [yɑkthuŋ] people wear mekhli and taga in white colour as it symbolizes purity.

Dhaka is the traditional fabric of the Limbus which are made by weaving it in geometric patterns in a handloomm. The art of making dhaka is taught by one generation to another. You will always see a Limbu man clad in dhaka topi (hat) and scarf, and a Limbu lady in dhaka saree, mekhli, blouse and shawl.

In the olden days, the Limbus were skilled in silk farming.[4] The Kiratis were also known as silk traders.[5] According to JB Subba and Iman Xin Chemjong, the Kirat is a corrupt form of kereta,silkworm.

Female dresses and ornaments[6][edit]

  • Mekhli- Long dress worn with a horizontal strip of cloth (phɔˀi:) with collars crossing over or in a Vneck style.(Laghea)
  • Chunglokek/sunghamba- Blouse
  • Chaubandi Cholo- Blouse with collars overlapping each other
  • Sim- 'gunyo' in Nepali. A long strip of cloth wrapped around like a skirt.
  • Phaoee IPA: [phɔˀi:]- waist belt

Limbu women are famed for their use of gold jewellery. Aside from samyang IPA: [sɑmyɑŋ] (gold), they use yuppa (silver), luung IPA: [luŋ](glass stones), ponche (coral/amber), and mudhin (turquoise). Most Limbu ornaments are nature inspired. As many other global indigenous people, they are shamanistic and worship nature.

  • Samyanfung IPA: [sɑmyɑŋphuŋ](Gold flower)- Huge circular disc like in gold. The common design features a coral on the centre. Amongst Limbus, Samyangfung IPA: [sɑmyɑŋphuŋ] represents sun.
  • Nessey IPA: [nɛssɛˀ] ( ne>nekho ear +se>to bulge)- Large circular flattened gold earring. Common designs are water springs with coral or glass stones.
  • Laksari- Gold earrings worn continuously on the ear lobes In the shape of leaves, diamonds etc.
  • Namloyee or yogakpa- Large silver necklace in the shape of a square or circle embedded with coral stones. Same as Tibetan ghau.
  • Yangyichi or Reji - Long necklace with coins
  • Sesephung (Bright Flower) - A forehead piece with coral moon. Nepali Sirbandi.
  • Yarling- Lotus bud shaped earrings
  • Pongwari or kantha- Necklace with golden beads and red felt.
  • Hukpangi- Silver bangle
  • Swagep- Finger ring
  • Ponche-Red coral beads

Male dresses and ornaments[edit]

  • Paga- Head wear that is pointy and tied at the back with long strips.
  • Ningkheng- Muffler
  • Phaoee IPA: [phɔˀi:]- Waist belt
  • Sandokpa- Upper body dress
  • Sungrehba- coat like upper body dress
  • Lapetta and pagappa- Upper body dress
  • Paohao- Main body dress
  • Hangchang- Upper body dress for royal family
  • -Te't
  • Hangpen- Lower body dress for royal family*


  • toppree- cap

This form of clothing was worn until Nepal forced "one religion, one dress, one language" policy which is why many Limbus in Nepal wear the traditional Nepalese dress, chaubandi cholo and daura sural. The Yakthung of Sikkim still wear traditional Limbu clothing. Many efforts are being made by groups such as Yakthung Chumlung to raise awareness on the cultural dress and heritage.

Limbu flag[edit]

The Flag of Limbuwan.

The Limbu people have their own flag. The blue represents the bodies of water and the sky, the white represents air and peace, and the red represents the earth and pure blood of the Limbu people. The sun in the centre represents various Limbu spiritual practices and everyday living. The use and recognition of the flag ended in the eighteenth century during the Gorkha invasion. Recently, Limbuwan organisations have started to publish the flag in Limbuwan laaje IPA: [la:jeˀ] areas.

Limbu economy[edit]

Gurkha Soldier Monument at London.

The Limbus traditionally practiced subsistence farming. Rice and maize comprised their principal crops. Although there is an abundance of arable land, productivity is greatly limited by insufficient technology. Excess crops are often traded for food that cannot be grown in the region.

A sizable number of Limbu youths are enlisted in the British and Indian Gurkha regiments, providing their families with a steady stream of income. This income from military service helped to improve the Limbu community as a whole in terms of health and education.

Wedding practices[edit]

Limbus generally marry within their own community (Jones and Jones, 1976). Cross-cousin marriage is not allowed in Limbu culture. Marriage between a man and the widow of his elder brother can take place if they mutually agree. Marriage between a man and a woman outside the clan is also possible either by arrangement or by mutual consent of the man and woman in question. It is conventionally said that the customs and traditions of Limbus were established in the distant past by Sawa Yethang IPA: [sawa yethaŋ] (council of eight kings). The marriages are mostly arranged by parents or they can also result when a man elopes with a woman. Asking for a woman's hand is an important ceremony. In that system, the woman can ask for anything, including an amount of gold, silver, etc. This confirms to the woman's family that the man is financially secure enough to keep their daughter happy. A few days after the wedding, the man's family members have to visit the woman's house with a piglet and some alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, depending upon the financial standard of his house. The most important ceremonies of a Limbu wedding take place in the groom's house rather than the bride's because the bride has to stay with her husband. There are two special dances in this ceremony, one is called "yalakma" or dhan nach in Nepali (rice harvest dance) and "Kelangma" IPA: [ke la:ŋma] or Chyabrung IPA: [cyɑbruŋ] in Nepali. The Yalakma IPA: [yɑˀlɑ:kmɑ] is characterized by men and women dancing in a slow circle, whereas the Kelangma IPA: [ke lɑ:ŋmɑ] consists of complex footwork synchronized with the beat of the drums. Anyone can join the dance, which can last for many hours. The Yalakma IPA: [yɑˀlɑ:kmɑ] can also be a celebration of the harvest season or other social occasions.

Limbu religion and festivals[edit]

The Limbus follow the social rules and regulation of Mundhum oral 'scripture' similar to the Bön, shaman. However, their religion is also influenced by Tibetan Buddhism and mainstream Hinduism. Their beliefs are known as "Yumaˀ Samyo" or "Yumaˀism". They also have many different classes of ritual specialists, of which "Phedangma IPA: [phɛdɑŋmɑ]", "Yema/Yeba" IPA: [yɛma/yɛba], and "Shamba" are some. Their supreme deity is Tagera Ningwaˀphuma IPA: [niŋwɑˀphu:mɑŋ], but the deity Yuma IPA: [yumɒˀ] (literally: "Grandmother" or "Mother Earth") is the most important and popular among the Limbus and is worshiped in all occasions. Yuma IPA: [yumɒˀ]is the mother of all the Limbus, therefore one regards his or her mother as a goddess. Their religion is enshrined in the evergreen Cynodondactylon (Dubo) grass. Traditionally, the Limbu bury their dead, but due to the influence from other Hindus, cremation is becoming more popular. Limbu people also have their own clergy, such as Phedangma IPA: [phɛdaŋmɑ], Samba, Yeba (male) Yeba-Yema IPA: [yɛba/yɛma] (female).

Limbu traditional music and singing styles[edit]

Kirati Limbu women performing Kelang IPA: [ke:lɑ:ŋ]dance during the festival of Kirat festival Udhauli 2012 in Sydney.

Limbus residing in Sikkim, Darjeeling, Assam, Nepal, Bhutan and Burma have their own identity because of a strong belief in "Yumawad". Yumawad is a type of religious scripture which has been kept alive by their religious leaders and handed down verbally from generation to generation. Some of the retellings of Yumawad are also included in Limbu traditional music with social stories, dreams, and everyday life. There has been a rich tradition of Limbus singing their folk songs. Their folk songs can be divided into the following groups:

  1. Khyali - a conversational song in which young lash and lads sing in very poetic expressions and in a very sweet tone.
  2. Traditional Love Songs -
    1. Sakpa Palam IPA: [pɑ:lɑm]Samlo - This song is sung during the Kusakpa Yaalang IPA: [yɑˀlɑ:ŋ] dance in a fast beat.
    2. Kemba Palam IPA: [pɑ:lɑm]Samlo - This song is sung during the Kemba Yeaaˀlang dance in a slow beat.
    3. Domke Akma Palam IPA: [pɑ:lɑm] Samlo - It is sung when doing the normal chores and also during the Domke Akma dance.
  3. Hakpare Samlo - this song is sung by middle-aged men and women who have interest in Mundhum and who are well versed in it. One can find spiritual and worldly specialties in this song.
  4. Nisammang IPA: [nisɑmmɑŋ]Sewa Samlo - This song is sung during religious functions. It is a devotional song. Dancing is an important aspect of life among Limbus. Based on acting style, the following types of dances are performed:
    1. Dance performed after origin of life: This type of dance is known as Ke Lang or Chyabrung dance. The dance imitates the actions of animals, insects and any form of living beings.
    2. Agricultural dance: Under this type of dance there are -
      1. Yea Kakma- This dance is performed in the evening after the crops are reaped.
      2. Damke Akme- This dance is performed while sowing crops.
    3. War dance: This form of dance is known as 'Nahangma IPA: [nɑ.hɑŋmɑ]' and is performed during "Nahangma IPA: [nɑ.hɑŋmɑ]"- their religious function. In this dance, only adult males and "Shamani" priests can take part. During the dance, they carry a sword in their right hand and a shield in their left hand, or an arrow in their right hand and a bow in their left hand.
    4. Historical dance: In this dance form, the historical war of ten Limbus fought in Aambepojoma IPA: [ɑmbɛˀpɔjɔˀmɑ] Kamketlungma is depicted.
    5. Mysterious and ancient dance performed by Shamani priests: this type of dance is known as Yagrangsing, Phungsok Lang, Tongsing Lang. The dance is performed only by the Shamani priests.

Folk musical instruments[edit]

Limbu musical instruments include the Niyari Hongsing Ke(Chyabrung),Ting, Drum, Miklakom, Simikla, Chethya/Yethala, Ta, Tungeba, Ungdung, Yalambar Baja, Tetlafakwa IPA: [tɛˀlɑphɛkwɑ], Mephrama, Negra, Yea Pongey, Puttungey, Phakwa, Phamuk, Phenjekom, and Megphama.

Traditional sports[edit]

For the Limbu people, Archery has always been considered as the main traditional sport. Archery often involves religious demonstrations and rituals. Historically, Limbu cavalry archers were the important when resisting invasions before the pre-Nepal era. The word Limbu itself came from the word Lim-pfungh which in translation means "Shooting-Arrows" or "Act of archery".

There are legends about the beginning of the Limbuwan Gorkha war. In these legends, a Gorkha Military General met a Yakthung IPA: [yɑkthuŋ] hunter in a forest. When the General asked the hunter about his presence and what he was doing, the Yakthung IPA: [yɑkthuŋ] hunter replied "Lim-pfungh". The Gorkha army later experienced the fierceness from the Yakthung IPA: [yɑkthuŋ]-Tribes' horseback archers for years during the Gorkha-Limbu war. Thus, the name "Limbu" was recorded on the papers of the Gorkhas to describe the Yakthung IPA: [yɑkthuŋ] people. However, after the success of Gorkha invasion, horse breeding and keeping declined swiftly in Limbu territories.

Bare-hand Wrestling has also been practised among the Limbu men during festivals. This was also used to settle personal matters after a festive drinking in which the losing wrestler would have to pay the winner by buying him a drink or inviting him to his house for a drink of traditional tongba IPA: [tɔ:ŋbɑ]. na:nchiŋma is the term for wrestling in Yakthung-pan IPA: [yɑkthuŋ pɑ:n].

Notable Limbu people[edit]

  1. Te-ongsi Sirijunga Xin Thebe
  2. Bairagi Kainla, poet and kiratologist
  3. Dr. Chandra Laksamba Gorkha[7]
  4. Nabin Subba film director/maker
  5. Dinesh Subba, composer and singer
  6. Subash Chandra Nembang, politician and lawyer
  7. Malvika Subba, model, actress
  8. Kumar Lingden, politician
  9. Rambahadur Limbu, war veteran, Victoria Cross holder
  10. Anup Lingden, Business Man

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Government of Nepal.National Planning Commission Secretariat.Central Bureau of Statistics. National Population and Housing Census 2011 (National Report), November 2012 (PDF). Kathmandu. 
  2. ^ Saklani, Dinesh Prasad Ancient communities of the Himalaya Indus Publishing Company,India (1 Mar 2002) ISBN 978-81-7387-090-3 p. 36
  3. ^ Levi, Sylvain Le Nepal Asian Educational Services,India; Facsimile edition (20 Dec 2007)ISBN 978-81-206-0580-0 p. 78
  4. ^ Chaintanya Subba, The Culture and Religion of Limbus, K.B. Subba, 1995
  5. ^ Kumar Pradhan, The Gurkha Conquests, Oxford University Press, 1991
  6. ^ J.R. Subba, History, Culture and Customs of Sikkim, Sikkim(India),2008, Gyan Publishing House
  7. ^,-senior-research-officer

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]