People and language of Nepal
The total of about 26 million Nepalese population can be divided into two
distinct groups, Tibeto-Burmans, or Mongoloids from the north, and Indo-Aryans
from the south, Which makes more than 70 different ethnic groups in Nepal
living in different part of the country with their own unique cultures,
languages and religions.
The direction of their migration and Nepal's landscapes appears to have led to
their vertical distribution; most ethnic groups were found at particular
altitudes. The first group, comprising those of Indo- Nepalese origin,
inhabited the more fertile lower hills, river valleys, and Tarai plains. The
second major group consisted of communities of Tibeto-Mongol origin occupying
the higher hills from the west to the east.
Alpine Based Cultural Groups(High
Sherpa, in Tibetan language means people of the east. Originally from Tibet
about 500 years ago they have a close affinity with the Tibetan language,
culture and religion. Sherpas major occupations include agriculture, animal
husbandry and trade. They are really famous for trekking and mountaineering
known worldwide for their skill and hardiness. They follow Buddhism as their
major religion. The largest Sherpa settlements are in Solu Khumbu at the
foothill of Mt. Everest.
The settlement of these people is considered the highest of any living ethnic
group in the world. These people live beyond the mountains, west of the Kali
Gandaki river valley. These people practice Buddhist customs.
Larke and Siar people:
Larke is the northern most part of Nepal's Gorkha district while Siar is the
northern part of the Dhading district. These people mainly speak the Tibetan
and Gurung languages and have ethnic affinity with Gurungs.
The people of Manang are known Manang Bas. The major occupations are trade and
business. They have their own language and scripts and maintain their own local
religious practice with 12 villages called Bara Gaule-Baragaun. The famous
pilgrimage spot on the Annanpurna Circuit, Muktinath, lies in their area.
Although Buddhism is part religion, they follow Bon-Po which pre-dates the
reign of Bhuddha.
Lo pas of Mustang:
The settler of Lo are called Lopas. They carry on trade between Nepal and Tibet
in the Upper and Lower Mustang areas. Buddhism is their major religion. They
have their own local language and festivals outside typical Buddhists as well.
These people are the inhabitants of Olanchung Gola, the main trading route
along Eastern Nepal. Besides Buddhism, they have their own customs and
Others: Thudam, Topke
Gola and Lhomis are other ethnic groups within Nepal's alpine region.
Temperate Zone Based Cultural Groups
Brahmins are the priestly class of indo-Aryan origin, also known as Bahuns,
occupying the highest position in the Hindu hierarchy. They have sharp
Indo-Aryan features and an olive complexion. They are said to have come to
Nepal from different parts of India. Today they are found in every part of
Nepal and have taken up different occupations. These people follow Hinduism as
their main religion and socially they have many sects. They speak Nepali, the
national language of Nepal and use a script with basis in Sanskrit.
The Chhetris like the Brahmins also have an indo-Aryan origin with olive colour
complexion traditionally classified as warriors and administrators. They are
recognized for their bravery and administrative skills. Today, they are
scattered in almost all the parts of Nepal. They have been working in different
fields. They are said to have originally come from northern India during and
after the time of Buddha. The Khas are generally regarded as Bahuns and
Chhetris who set up their own kingdoms in the far-western parts of Nepal. They
speak Nepali, the national language of Nepal and use a script with basis in
Sanskrit and follow Hinduism as their main religion and socially they have many
sects unlike the Brahmins.
The Kirati’s are among the first group of people ruling over Nepal. Ancient
Hindu texts like Himvat-Khanda and Mahabharat have mentioned their names. They
basically come from eastern Nepal. These people of Tibet-Burman origin worship
their ancestors and at the same time follow Buddhism, Hinduism, Animism and so
on. Kirati people are well known for their courage and bravery and are often
recruited into armies abroad like the more famous Gurkhas. They are rich in
culture and have several languages and scripts.
The Newars are among the largest indigenous groups of Nepal and make up the 7%
of the total population. Newars are mainly settled in Kathmandu Valley where as
are also found in all major trading centres throughout the kingdom. They have
Mongolian features and their own language and script, Newars believed to have
its origin from Tibeto-Burmans. Several Newari families follow Buddhism as well
as Hinduism. The people of this groups usually inclined towards commence, trade
and farming. They have excelled in art, literature, sculpting, casting bronze,
silver and fascinating forms of architecture. They have complex social systems
and practices and are comprised of many castes.
In Tibetan language Tamang means horse traders. It is believed that they
originally came from Tibet. The majority of Tamangs live in the hills
surrounding Kathmandu Valley. Their social practices and customs are based on
Buddhism and they have their own language, Tamang. They work mainly as farmers,
labours and as porters.
Their origin is basically found in hill regions of western Nepal. They speak
the Tibeto-Burman language and are Hindu by faith but they also follow
Buddhism. The Magars are mostly farmers but their martial qualities and
physical fitness have made them perfect soldiers. The language, Magar Kura,
depicts their affinity to the Tibeto-Burmese tongue and culture.
Gurungs are famous for their innocence, simple mindedness, and bravery while
serving in military forces. They are mostly settled along the higher slopes of
the Annapurna areas and the Kali Gandaki River above the Baglung district. They
are farmers of rice and grains and also sheep. They are ethnically related to
Magars, Thakalis and Kiratis in eastern Nepal. The Gurung people love music and
they have their own language.
Thakalis: The origin of
Thakalis is Thok Khola, a high valley in central Nepal along the Muktinath
region. They have Mongolian features, a fair complexion and narrow eyes.
Thakalis are divided into four major groups: Gauchan, Tulachan, Sherchan and
Bhattacan. Their religion is a mixture of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jhankrism.
They are known for their hospitality, good salesmanship, and cleanliness.
Certain ethnic groups in Nepal are categorised according to their occupation.
They are Kamis (smiths), Damais (tailors), Dhibis (washerman) Sarkis
(cobblers), Gaines (professional singers) and Khumbharas (porters). The origin
of these castes has not been investigated yet by the anthropologists. Hinduism
is their major religion and Nepali their major language. Many have their own
local festivals and practices.
Furthermore, Sunwars, Jirels, Chepangs, Kusundas and Panchgaule (five villages)
are other minor ethnic groups of the Nepal midland hill regoins. Sunwars are
Jirels are considered to be the off shoots of Magars. Panchgaule are similar to
Thakalis. Kusundas still live in primitive conditions. They live in caves,
under trees and in temporary huts in the forest. Only a handful of them are
settled into occupational farming. Chepangs, who are believed to be the
offshoots of Kirats, are slowly moving into urban areas.
Subtropical Based Cultural Groups
(Ethnic Groups of Terai Region and Southern Nepal border)
Brahman and Rajputs:
These people are similar to Brahmins and Chhetris of the middle hills. Their
major differences are a high degree of influence from the neighbouring North
This is the largest and oldest ethnic group of the Terai belt found living in
close proximity to densely forested regions. They are dark in complexion and
have smart, trim bodies. They follow the Hindu religion and their practices are
dependent on many typical Aryan practices. Farming and business are their main
occupations. Danwars, Majhis and Darais are very similar to Tharus, physically
and culturally. Nevertheless, they speak their own languages which are of
Rajbansis are a dominant ethnic group of far eastern Terai areas of Jhapa and
Morang. Although they follow both Hindu and Muslims religions, they have their
own local practices. Farming is their major occupation.
They are similar to Santhals of Bihar, India. They are very much like Tharus
and their social life is organised and disiplined. They believe in Hinduism.
Dimals, Bodos, Dhangars are agriculturist Hindu. Bodos are settled in an area
know as the Mechi Zone and are more known as Mechain people. Dhangars, who live
in one part of the eastern Terai have their origin in Madhya Pradesh, India.
Dhimals are the Terain counterparts of the Limbus from the eastern Terai,
mainly in Jhapa.
Musalmans: There are
Muslims migrated from Northern India. They speak Urdu and their social
practices correspond with the Muslim religion.
Although these above accounts depict a fundamental description of Nepalese
ethnic groups, it is difficult to pin point the ethnicity and who is
"indigennous" and who is "non-indigenous" in a particular place.