Tamangs, the unknown Mt Everest climbers continue to Summit Mt Everest but
are mainly unknown to the western world. From
on Sir Edmund Hillary's 1953 Everest expedition to Sambhu Tamang, who in 1973 became the youngest climber in the world to Summit Mount Everest at the
time, the Tamangs climbers are unknown to the western world. EverestNews.com
plans a look into the Tamangs, their culture and their climbers throughout the
month of December.
This is part one:
Introduction to Ethnic Groups- The
TAMANGS, submitted by Saila Tamang and Peter Paul Tamang. Some of it might shock
you, but some of America's culture would surely shock them...
The Tamangs live in the high hills east,
north, south and west of Kathmandu valley. They are commonly seen on the
streets of the capital city carrying large basket loads of goods by headstraps,
the men and boys dressed in loincloths and long, usually lack, tunics and in
winter wearing short-sleeved sheep wool jackets, always with a Khukuri knife
stuck in the waistband. Women, seen in lesser numbers, wear a simple cotton
sari and blouse adorned with a few ornaments.
Tamangs form one of the major
Tibeto-Burman speaking communities in Nepal and maintain a belief that they
originally came from Tibet. No on seems to have any idea how long they have
resided on the south slopes of the Himalayas. It is said that originally they
were collectively called “Bhote”, meaning Tibetan and that later on the term
“Tamang” was attached to them because they were horse traders. “Ta” in Tibetan
means “horse” man means “trader.” “Tamang” has remained and it is all the
better because the term “Bhote” has come to be a highly objectionable and
derogatory term to most Nepalis.
In the east the majority of Tamang
settlements are found in the Bagmati Zone, just outside of the hill
surrounding Kathmandu valley and in the hilly regions of both Janakpur and
Narayani Zones. Some scattered settlements are found even as far east as west
Bengal in the Darjeeling area. In these distant and traditionally non-Tamang
areas they have been living close by various other peoples such as Magars,
Gurungs, Rais, Limbus, Brahmans, Chhetris and Newars.
Two groups of people known as Thami and
Pahari live in traditional Tamang areas of the eastern hills. They number only
a few thousand and practice similar social, religious and economic customs to
the Tamangs. Thamis have settled higher than the Tamangs in the upper Tama
Kosi river valley.
In Tamang territory a strict kipat land
system was maintained through the various clans divisions over many
generations and it has only recently been abolished. In the kipat system a
clan had exclusive and inalienable communal rights over a large defined
settlement and cultivation area. Only members of the particular clan could
hold land or reclaim the uncultivated land within the kipat jurisdiction,
which included the streams and forests. At the time that kipats were
abolished, however there were in fact several clans represented in many single
kipats due to the great dispersion of clan members in the past. Today, the
only kipat system legally intact in Nepal is found among the Limbu people.
Tamang ex-kipat land today is actually owned and farmed by the same people who
had held kipats, but with slightly change land tenure and taxing arrangements.
The headman of a Tamang village is
called talugdar and acts as an agent of the government for collection land
revenues. Formerly, under the kipat system, each kipatiya paid five rupees
yearly irrespective of the size of his land holdings. But now that the kipat
system has been abolished, each farmer pays according to the size of his
holdings. The current rate of payments is not high.
Tamangs prefer the higher, dryer
elevations for living and farming generally between 5,000 and 7,000 feet above
sea level. In some cases they live even higher, but they are also found out of
their traditional high habitat in the low Terai plains or in the Rapti valley.
The old Tamang villages are compactly
built and the streets are usually paved with stones. The houses are well built
with cut stone walls and wooden shingle roofs. In a few cases there are even
slate roofs. Most of the houses have two stories; the upper storey is
generally used for storage of grain and other household possessions, while the
ground floor is used as a kitchen, dining place and bedroom. There is usually
a balcony on the first floor and a verandah beneath it in front of the main
entrance. The verandah is used as a living room.
Most Tamangs living in the compact
traditional settlements are self-sufficient as far as food is concerned,
although many of them need to borrow money at times. Almost all are the
owner-cultivators of their land. In one village of Sindhu-Palchok District of
Bagmati zone we learned that approximately 50 per cent of the people borrowed
money occasionally. But none of these people were perpetually in debt. This
was a village of about 200 houses. Perhaps 20 of the Tamang families in the
village loaned money on a short-term basis with an interest rate of about
twenty per cent. They did not collect the interest in cash but always in
Tamangs living outside the traditional
Tamang territory are in general very poor. They are not able to grow enough on
the marginal land they cultivate and usually are found going out to earn wages
as porters, coolies, domestic servants, muleteers, grooms and such in
Kathmandu and other towns and villages. As farmers in the area of another
ethnic group they are usually tenant farmers and being poor they can afford to
live only in low thatched huts. Their staple crops at higher altitudes are
maize, millet, wheat, barley and potatoes. Those who have settled in the
lower, warmer and wetter regions also raise rice. All of them keep a few cows,
buffalos and chickens.
Tamangs eat what they grow on their own
lands: wheat and barley during the months may through July; potatoes in August
through October; millet, maize and some rice from November to April or May.
They will not allow buffalo meat, garlic, nettles or paha the treetoad to the
forest in their houses, although there is no prohibition against eating these
things if they are cooked outside in the open or in some other house.
Tamangs are in general very skilled at a
number of crafts, which they have preserved for ages in their traditional
ways. Widespread is the making of woolen jackets of sheep's wool, worn during
the winter months. This type of half-sleeved or sleeveless, open fronted thick
woolen jacket is made by the Tamang women and found even in the markets of
Kathmandu. Also woven are various types of bamboo baskets, receptacles for
storing grain and leaf umbrellas for protection against rain. There are
carpenters, masons, builders and wooden plough makers among Tamang men. Some
Tamang Lamas, the Buddhist priests are well trained in painting Tibetan-type
thangkas religious scroll paintings and some others are expert in carving
designs in wood.
Tamangs have not preserved Tibetan art,
culture or religion intact, but almost all that they have today is Tibetan in
origin. Those living outside the traditional area retain very little of their
of their original culture, art or religion and usually adopt the cultural
patterns of their immediate neighbors.
The entire community of Tamangs is
vertically divided into several subgroups known as thars. All of these clans
are exogamous, but each clan's members can intermarry with any other clan" s
except in the case of the two clans Goley and Dong, who consider themselves to
be "brother clans"'.
All the members of one clan are said to
be descended from the same ancestor. In the case of brother clans the common
ancestors were brothers. But as among so many other people in Nepal these
theories are open to all sorts of questions and no one so far has made any
attempt to prove common ancestry genealogically if it could indeed be done.
Theoretically all the clans are equal in social and ritual status. But the
offspring of marriages between Tamangs and non-Tamang women are considered
lower and are not allowed to share the common cup with other Tamangs despite
the fact that they take the clans name of their Tamang father. In some places
the terms barn jat and athara jat are used to describe people of higher and
lower status respectively. The terms mean literally "twelve clans" and
"eighteen clans". Intermarriage between these two divisions usually does not
take place. This is the only horizontal division in the otherwise completely
vertically divided exogamous and patrilineal clans of the Tamangs.
A Tamang man can marry any girl from any
clan except his own and his brother clan. Preferred marriage is between
cross-cousins, that is to one's mother's brother's daughter or father's
sister's daughter. Parallel-cousin marriage of a man to his father's daughter
or mother’s sister's daughter is not tolerated. Sons and daughters of one's
father’s brother belong to the same clan as oneself.
A widow can marry her late husband's
younger brother but not the elder brother. Polyandry is absolutely forbidden,
but there are a few cases of polygyny found among some rich men. There is no
stigma attached to a young man's marrying an elderly widow or to a divorcee or
to an unmarried girls becoming pregnant. The love affairs of unmarried girls
or boys do not prejudice their future marriages. If the lover of an unmarried
pregnant girl refuses to marry her/he can take the baby after it is weaned and
pay some compensation to the girl. Then the mother is free to marry anyone she
likes. But marriage or sexual relationships between members of the same clan
are never tolerated. Offenders are expelled immediately and have no other
choice but to go to an entirely new area and settle there.
In cases of wife-abduction the new
husband must pay sixty rupees as compensation to the former husband of the
women he has taken. Adultery is punishable by fine of 40 rupees, which is
given to the aggrieved husband as compensation. The husband can keep the wife
him if he so desires after receiving the payment from an adulterer.
Page two >>>>>
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