The Limbu or Yakthung is a Sino-Tibetan indigenous tribe (Bhot-Burmeli) of Eastern Nepal in the Himalayan region. They also live within Sikkim and Western Bhutan.
The Limbu are of Mongolian descent. They speak a Tibeto-Burman language in the Kiranti group. It has its alphabet (the Kirat-Sirijonga script), which the Kiranti ancestors invented in the ninth century.
Limbu villages are generally located between 800 and 1,200 meters above sea level. They consist of 30-100 stone houses surrounded by dry-cultivated fields. Patrilineal clans divide their families. A headman, or Subba, often a returned Gurkha soldier, leads such clans.
The title of Subba is for Limbu village chiefs. It started through bestoweth from Shah Kings. Subba was not an indigenous Yakthung term. But the two terms are now nearly interchangeable for leaders.
In the Limbu tribe, people frequently argue about using the term “Subba” as a surname. It is worth noting that only the village chiefs can use the term Subba in their names. It was how Limbu tribe village chiefs were different from other villagers. The village chiefs’ family lines are frequently found with the surname Subba.
There is an existence of patrilineal culture. But we can also see discarding it. Limbus have their own set of life cycle rituals. These rituals are quite different than the common patriarchal Nepali tradition.
They believe that ancestry is not passed down patrilineally. Rather, a woman inherits her mother’s gods. When she marries and lives with her husband, she brings deities. They will serve as household deities with her.
Moreover, the house of Limbus represents Yuma, the Limbu community’s goddess. The details of the windows and doors have embroidered wood carvings. These cravings depict various flowers used by the Limbus during rituals.
Some decorative embroideries are direct representations of gold jewelry worn by Limbu women. The wall skirting in a traditional Limbus house is typically painted with red mud paint by hand. This also represents the Patuka, or belt, worn by Limbu women.
Tibetan Buddhism primarily influences the Limbus. We can also see the influences of nearby lamaseries. Yet, they also practice traditional religion, worshiping a chief god, Niwa Buma. They also worship mountain and river deities. Each Limbu household also honors an ancestor god. They have a religious leader (a Shamba or a Fedangba) who oversees family rituals.
They adhere to Mundhum‘s social rules and regulations and an oral ‘scripture.’ It serves as their religious book. Mundum is a Limbu word that means “great strength.” The Mundhum encapsulates many aspects of yakthung culture, customs, and traditions. The depictions of Mundhum existed before Vedic civilization in the Indo-Subcontinent.
The Limbus have practiced subsistence farming. Their primary crops are rice and maize. Despite enough arable land, productivity is severely hampered by inefficient technology. Excess crops are frequently exchanged for food that cannot be grown in the area.
They cultivate rice, wheat, and corn (maize) on terraced farms. They have well-irrigated fields, maintaining a self-sufficient economy. They plant their land once a year. Water buffalo are also kept, and goats, chickens, pigs, and sheep are raised for meat.
The Limbus had great skills in silk farming in the past. The Kiratis were also known for their silk trade.
Limbu women use traditional small hand looms made of bamboo and wood to weave Dhaka fabric cloth. Dhaka is a traditional Limbus fabric woven in geometric patterns on a handloom. The craft of making Dhaka is passed down from generation to generation.
The Limbus wear Mekhli and Taga as their traditional attire. Limbu men wear Dhaka topis (hats) and scarves. But Limbu women wear Dhaka sarees, Mekhlis, blouses, and shawls.
Limbus has traditional pieces of music and folk dances. Limbu tribal music, like that of other Himalayan indigenous communities, is traditionally vocal. Limbu folk songs have performances and ceremonies, typically without written prompts. They are the result of generations of practiced and perfected interactions.
Limbus are popular for performing traditional dances during paddy farming season. This ceremony includes two special dances. They are Yalakma or Dhan Nach in Nepali.
Folk songs accompany such dances.
Samlo is one of those ethnic Limbu folksongs. Numerous folk song genres exist, but Palam Samlo is always at the top of the Limbu repertoire. They sing Palam while doing various daily activities. They sing it while doing housework or working in the fields. They also sing it at social gatherings such as weddings and festivals.
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