The Limbu or Yakthung (endonym) are Kirati people indigenous and native to the Himalayan Limbuwan region of the Indian subcontinent, what is now modern-day Eastern Nepal, Northern Sikkim , Kalimpong India and Western Bhutan.
The original name of Limbus is Yakthung, Yakthumba or Yakthungba . Limbu males and Limbu females are called “Yakthumma” or “Yakthungma”. In Ancient texts believe that “Yakthung” or “Yakthum” is a derivative from China and some interpret its meaning as the “Yaksha winner”. In Limbu language it means “heroes of the hills” (Yak – hills, thung or thum – heroes or mighty warriors), which connotation with ancient Kiratas. Subba is also a title given by the Shah Kings to only Limbu village chiefs. Subba was not an indigenous Yakthung terminology, but now they are almost interchangeable terms.
Their history is stated to be written in a book called Bhongsoli also known as Vanisavali of which copies are kept in some of the most ancient families. There are hundreds of Limbu Clans and Tribes. Each Limbu clans are classified under their Tribe or subnational entity or according to their place of origin.
The Chinese text Po-ou-Yeo-Jing, translated in 308 AD, refers to the Yi-ti-Sai (barbarians bordering on the north), a name which is an exact equivalent of Kiratas. The Limbus were also one of the earliest inhabitants of Sikkim. Their estimated population of 700,000 is mainly centred in the District of Sankhuwasabha, Tehrathum, Dhankuta, Taplejung, Morang,Sunsari,Jhapa, Panchthar, Ilam, Kathmandu, Nakhipot, Lalitpur & Bhaktapur 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 others have recently migrated to the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, the United States and many other countries.
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. During death ceremony, they put the head of dead in chares ko thal and coin on forehead. They block the nose, ear and put alcohol on the lips of the dead body. Nikwasamma is a dead ritual done to cleanse the house by Phedangma. Relatives, neighbours, and visitors bring money as respect and put an offering on the top of the dead body. Sons of dead body shave head and eyebrows to respect the body of the dead. They will be known as the new hier in the family. They buried the dead body covered with white cloth in wooden box. 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.
Attire and ornaments
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 handloom.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.The Kiratis were also known as silk traders. According to JB Subba and Iman Xin Chemjong, the Kirat is a corrupt form of kereta, silkworm.
Female dresses and ornament
- 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 waist belt
Limbu women are famed for their use of gold jewellery and put by them on a daily basis with pride. 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. Nowadays, traditional Limbu ornaments are used by different ethnic groups and can be found in other parts of Nepal. This is due to the sold by different jewelry shops often referring Nepali. 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] means sun.
- Nessey IPA:( 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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 Traditional Architecture
The house of Limbus is a symbolic representation of a feminine character and Yuma — a goddess of the Limbu community. The details of the windows and doors are embroidered with wood carvings depicting different flowers which are used by the Limbus during rituals. Some decorative embroideries done in the wood carvings of the door and windows of the house are the direct representation of gold jewelry worn by Limbu women. In a traditional house of the Limboos, the skirting of the wall is generally painted manually with red mud paint. This is also a symbolic representation of the patuka or the belt worn by the Limboo women. There is numerous symbolism including number symbolism usually 3 and 9 in the house which is inspired by the beliefs of the tribal people. The major distinct element of the house in the muring-sitlam or the main pillar/column of the house which is in the centre of the house in the ground floor. This pillar is generally believed by the Limboo people as the shrine where Yuma goddess resides in the house. Thus to pay their gratitude they perform ritualistic prayers and offerings around the pillar, twice a year. These houses can be found at Eastern Nepal and western part of Sikkim, India. These houses are similar to other communities also due to acculturation between different communities living in the vicinity. The evolution of the form and spaces of the houses have been inspired by the everyday lifestyle and culture of the people which is similar in many communities. Therefore nowadays a Limboo house is difficult to identify through an exterior perspective. This has been intervened by the introduction of display of the symbol called Silam-sakma in the house elevation which is apparently a ritualistic element used by the phedangmas or tribal priests and has been a symbol/logo for identifying the Limboo community. This symbol is seemingly diamond in shape and has 9 concentric diamond shapes supported by two axes at the centre, one vertically and one horizontally. These days, this symbol is emerging to be visible more often in the entry gates, balcony railing of the house and the most conspicuous location is the woolen batch worn by the community people on their left chest during an occasion or event. In the present scenario, these houses are now endangered and are hardly built due to the adaptation of modern architecture. Also the reason that the poor house owner are unable to bear expenses for wood carvings for the embroideries, thus resulting in the extinction of local craftsmen and hence the traditional design itself.
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. Limbuwan organisations use the flag in Limbuwan laaje IPA: [la:jeˀ] areas.
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. Limbu Women weave Dhaka fabric cloth on their traditional small hand looms made from bamboo and wood.
Limbus generally marry within their own community. A Limbu will not be allowed to marry their own clans for up to 7 generations back to ensure that they are not related. 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: (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” or Chyabrungn Nepali. The Yalakma IPA: is characterized by men and women dancing in a slow circle, whereas the Kelangma consists of complex footwork synchronized with the beat of the drums. Anyone can join the dance, which can last for many hours. The Yalakma can also be a celebration of the harvest season or other social occasions.
Religion and Festivals
The Limbus follow the social rules and regulation of Mundhum oral ‘scripture’ and a religious book.The high god of the Limbu is called Tagera Ningwaphumang which may be translated simply as “Supreme Body of Knowledge”.Their God Tagera Ningwaphuma is described as a forceful power the creator of life on earth. In earthly form, Tagera Ninaphuma is worship as the goddess Yuma Sammang and her male counterpart Theba Sammang.The deity Yuma (literally: “Grandmother” or “Mother Earth”) known as “Yuma Samyo” or “Niwaphuma” is the most important and popular among some Limbus and is worshiped in all occasions. Yuma is the mother of all the Limbus, therefore one regards his or her mother as a goddess. They also have many different classes of ritual specialists, of which “Phedangma “Yema/Yeba” , and “Shamba” are some. 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 , Samba, Yeba (male) Yeba-Yema (female).But now most of the Limbu people follow Kirat religion also. As of the changing time, some of the Limbu people are Christian and Hindu also but it is believed that their main religion is Mundhum. A very different reformist tradition was established by the Limbu guru Phalgunanda, who established the ‘Satyahang’ religion.
Alcohol is significantly and religiously important to the Limbu culture. Limbus usually made their traditional dish from homegrown domesticated livestock meats like beef, lamb, mutton, poultry, pork, fish and yak over factory farming. They are also domesticated for religious purpose. In general, they consume dhal bhat tarkari with pickle. Dhal (beans soup), bhat (rice), tarkari (curry) with meat and different kinds of achar(pickle). Limbu people always use to prepare meats. Famous Limbu cuisines are
- Chembikeek sumbak (oil-fried kinema with spices)
- Chhurpi (made of Yak, buttermilk)
- Filinge achar (Niger seed pickle)
- Gundruk nepalese (fermented leafy vegetables with soup)
- Kaan sadeko (fried pork ears)
- Khareng (maize/ millet/ wheat roti baked and cooked)
- Khoreng (Baked bread roti made from wheat/ millet/ buckwheat/ riceflour)
- Kinema (fermented beans with soup)
- Lunghakcha (baked, maize flour rolled in maize khosela)
- Macha ko siddra (dried river fish)
- Mandokpenaa thee (fermented millet beverage served with Tongba)
- Mohi sumbak (oil-fried mohi with spices)
- Mula ko acchar (radish pickle)
- Nambong muchhi (Silam mixed with chilli, dry pickle)
- Pena manda (millet flour cooked in more water)
- Phando (chutney made from mix of soybean and chilli powder)
- Phanokeek sumbak (oil-fried fermented bamboo shoots with spices)
- Phung khey sejonwa (maize/millet distilled liquor)
- Poponda (finger millet flour wrapped in leaves)
- Pork Dameko (Pan-seared pork)
- Pork sekuwa (spicy chopped)
- Sagee sumbak (neetle tender shots, flower/fruits curry)
- Sakhekya (dry meat beef)
- Sargyang (pork blood intestine)
- Sekuwa (pork, chicken, beef, vegetables skewers)
- Sibligaan (wild edible greens with bitter taste and high in antioxidant)
- Sijongwaa aara
- Sigolya and Penagolya (Baked, millet or barley flour rolled)
- Sungur ko khutta daal (pork feet in cooked lentil soup)
- Sura-keek sumbak (oil-fried moldy cheese with spices)
- Sura sumbak (oil-fried cheese with spices)
- Tongba traditional drink
- Wamyuk (hen’s inner feathers, liver, hands, wings, intestine and spices curry)
- Yakhoo Kusee muchee (seed of pumpkin chilli)
- Yangben (wild edible lichen)
- Yangben-Faksa (Pork Curry with Yangben)
- Yangben sumbak (pork blood liver with yangben)
- Yumet (bhutuwa, a religious Mangena food meats cooked in blood)
There are some taboos while eating the foods. They use a variety of plants and herbs for medicine. Limbus always welcome their guests with foods, Tongba (traditional beverage millet beer), Rakshi (traditional alcoholic beverage), Lassi (yoghurt milk drink ), water and homemade fruit juices.
Folk Musical Instrument
Limbu musical instruments include the following:
- Niyari Hongsing Ke
- The Phamuk is a melody instrument of Limbus which includes three bamboo pipes each about 4cm thick are attached together side by side.
- Taa is made of brass, 25cm in diameter and one pair of cymbals weighs one kilo. It is played by unmarried Limbu women in Ke Lang.
- Yalambar Baja
- Yea Pongey
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 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 hunter in a forest. When the General asked the hunter about his presence and what he was doing, the Yakthung IPA: hunter replied “Lim-pfungh”. The Gorkha army later experienced the fierceness from the Yakthung -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: 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: . na:nchiŋma is the term for wrestling in Yakthung-pan