Yakkha (Nepali याक्खा, Yākkhā) is an indigenous ethnic group from the Indian subcontinent, mainly in modern-day Nepal and present-day India (identical with its Kirat family consisting of Limbu, Sunuwar, and Rai of Mongoloid physiognomy). It is one of the progenies of Nepal's prehistoric Kirat dynasty. The Yakkha people are subsistence farmers who inhabit the lower Arun valley in eastern Nepal. They number only a few thousand and their language is nearly extinct.
Scholars have different opinions regarding the origin of the word Yakkha. One school of thought claims that the ethnonym Yakkha as per the Aryan Sanskrit grammar had been spelled in the Aryan-Hindu mythologies as Yaksa-sh (like Bhisu-shu for an ascetic Bhikchu of the Buddhist holy scripts). Although the legendary Yaksa-sh, by the corrupt name of Yakkha, is mentioned in religious Hindu texts, the Vedas and ancient Sanskrit literature, Yakkha has historically been consistent in the use of its own endonyms. Yakkhawa or Yakkhaba is used to denote the male person and Yakkhama to denote the female person.
The Yakkhas are also known by the exonyms Majhiya, Jimidar and Dewan, titles they accepted after the conquest of the Kirat land by the Gorkhas under Prithvi Narayan Shah. The Yakkhas were not only given ownership of the land but were also given the responsibility of collecting taxes from the lands utilised by Yakkhas as well as non-Yakkhas living in the area. In Darjeeling district and Sikkim of India, Dewan is commonly used as a synonym of Yakkha, and as Dewans they are placed in the Other Backward Class category.
Yakkha Land (Yākkhālen)
Today, the Yakkha Motherland is considered a patch among the historic Kirat region (i.e., east of the Kathmandu valley). During the so-called National Unification of Nepal by Prithvi Narayan Shah, the traditional bases of the Kirat Lands were merged. The Far Kirat (Pallo Kirat) of the Limbuwan area to the east of the Arun River was divided into seventeen Thums. Among these Seventeen Thums, the Panch (5) Khapan, Panch (5) Majhiya and Das (10) Majhiya; Tin Thum Yakkhalen are regarded as the traditional area of the Yakkhas. This Yakkha area is the Southern part of Sankhuwasabha district bordering the Terhathum District and Taplejung District in the East; Dhankuta District in the South; and Bhojpur District in the West; of the Eastern Nepal. Sibhuwa, Syabun, Wana, Dadagau, Swachi, Yangsijong are the names of 5 Khapan; Madi Mulkharka, Tamafok, Mamgling, Ankhibhuin, Chanuwa, Dandagaun, etc. are the names of the 10 Majhiyas and Hattisudhe, Kingring, Chapabhuin, etc. are the name of 5 Majhiyas.
Religion, language and culture
The Yakkhas have a distinct language, culture and tradition. The Yakkha language is a Tibeto-Burman language. The onset of modernism and influence from external factors have caused a rapid disappearance of the Yakkha language. The Yakkhas practice the Kirati religion of nature worship. There are 32 family names (Thar) in the Yakkhas. Each Thar also has a sub-group called the Sameychong. Marriages do not occur between families sharing the same Sameychong.
As per the National Population and Housing Census 2011 of Nepal, the population of Yakkhas in Nepal was 24,336. As per the population census of Nepal 2001, there were 17,003 Yakkhas in Nepal, of which 81.43% were Kirats, 14.17% were Hindus and 1.04% were Buddhists. A few thousand Yakkhas live in Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts, Sikkim, North-Eastern states and other parts of India.
- K. David Harrison When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World's Languages and the ... Page 172 2007 "The Yakkha people are subsistence farmers who number only a few thousand and inhabit the lower Arun valley in eastern Nepal."
- Mark-Anthony Falzon Multi-Sited Ethnography: Theory, Praxis, and Locality in ... Page 5 - 2009 "5 He proceeded to do multi-sited fieldwork with Yakkha people in Tamaphok, Nepal, and various migrant destinations in India and elsewhere."
- "Kirat Yakkha Chhumma UK". Kiratyakkhachhumma.co.uk. Retrieved 2015-12-23.
- "Kirat Yakkha Chhumma". KYC, UK. Retrieved 2018-05-04.
- "Yakkha". Himalayan Languages. Retrieved 2015-12-23.
- "National Population and Housing Census 2011" (PDF). Central Bureau of Statistics, Government of Nepal. Retrieved 2017-10-26.
- Lewis, M. Paul, ed. (2009). Ethnologue: Languages of the World (16th ed.). Dallas, Texas: SIL International.
- Russell, Andrew (1992). The Yakha: Culture, Environment and Development in East Nepal. Wolfson College, University of Oxford. Ph.D. Thesis.
- Russell, Andrew J. (1997). "Identity Management and Cultural Change: Religion and Politics Amongst the Yakha". In Gellner, David N.; Whelpton, John; Pfaff-Czarnecka, Joanna (eds.). Nationalism and Ethnicity in a Hindu Kingdom: The Politics of Culture in Contemporary Nepal. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers. pp. 325–350. ISBN 90-5702-089-0. OCLC 468829815.
- Russell, Andrew J. (Summer 2000). "The Missing and the Met: Routing Clifford amongst the Yakha in Nepal and NE India". Journeys. 1 (1): 86–113. doi:10.3167/146526000782488045.
- Russell, Andrew J. (2004). "Traditions in Transition: Sanskritization and Yakkhafication in East Nepal". History and Anthropology. 15 (3): 251–261. doi:10.1080/0275720042000257458. OCLC 366675559.
- Russell, Andrew J. (September 2007). "Writing Traveling Cultures: Travel and Ethnography amongst the Yakkha of East Nepal". Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology. 72 (3): 361–382. doi:10.1080/00141840701576976.
- Subba, Tanka B. (1999). Politics of Culture: A Study of Three Kirata Communities in the Eastern Himalayas. Chennai: Orient Longman. ISBN 81-250-1693-7. OCLC 44510406.
- Yakkha, Durga Hang (2002). Kirat Yakkha Ko Itihas Ek Chhalphal (in Nepali). Discussion on the history of the Kirat Yakkha.