The Rais are ethnic groups that comprise one of Nepal’s cultivating tribes. They inhabit mainly Nepal between the Dudh Koshi and Tamur rivers. They claim their country is independent, called Kiratdesh, and they identify as Kirants. They have since spread to Nepal, Sikkim, and West Bengal.
The Rai population, which numbered around 750,000 people, lived in eastern Nepal. Linguists have identified up to 28 different Rai languages. Most of which are incomprehensible compared to one another.
The Rai languages are members of the Sino-Tibetan language family. They are members of the Kiranti group of the Sino-Tibetan family’s Tibeto-Burman languages branch. Around 800,000 people declared one of the Kiranti languages as their “mother tongue.”
According to the Rai people of Eastern Nepal, their first ancestral Kiratis entered Nepal’s eastern hills via the Barahachhetra gorge of the Koshi valley. Kirati ancestors emerged from the “Khuwalung” and followed the small river or the Saptakoshi. Before arriving in the Bhote Koshi Valley, they passed through the Arun, Dudh Koshi, Sun Koshi, Tama Koshi, and Bhote Koshi Valleys.
As per historical beliefs, Kiratis are aborigines who lived in Eastern Nepal and had their administrative structure. The Kirantis also has a history of ruling over the Kathmandu Valley. The Kirant dynasty is a significant part of history books in Nepal.
Rai people of Eastern Nepal have practiced the Kirat religion since ancient times. Kirat religion is based on nature’s animism and ancestor worship. This religion is not a believer in either heaven or hell. There is no religious order. Kirati-Rais involve their tribal shamans, Nakchong, Mangpa, Bijuwa, and Nakso, in their religious rites.
Rais also follows the Kirant Mundhum. It serves as a guideline for religious life. According to religious texts, the power of great strength, Mundhum is a Limbu word. It contains religious scripture and folk literature from Nepal and India’s Kirat people.
The religious texts have variations. They are of the four Kirats, Khambu (Rai), Limbu (Subba), Sunuwar (Mukhia), Yakkha (Dewan), and Newars. They all differ slightly.
Customs, habits, rituals, traditions, and myths passed down from the Kirati tribe’s ancestors comprise the religious texts for each tribe. Religious texts, in a sense, serve as customary laws that guide Kirats in their daily lives. Their religious texts also distinguish Kiranti tribes from other Kiratis and non-Kiratis.
Kirati Rai’s most important festival is Sakela. This festival is celebrated twice a year. The first is ubhauli on the full moon day of Baisakh. The second is udhauli on the full moon day of Mangsir.
Kirati people consider themselves to be followers of nature. So, they celebrate Sakela to worship the sky, earth, rivers, and forest. This festival has various names. Some of them are Sakenwa, Sakela, Tosh/Toshi, Bhume, Sakel, Wass, Segro, Sakewa, Dhuulu, and Phagulak.
The Rai community does not have strictly patriarchal beliefs passed on from their Kirati ancestors.
In Rai society, men and women have equal status in the family and community. The man is typically the head of the family. But the woman’s role in domestic planning and decision-making is equally important.
Male and female family members work together on a range of household initiatives. But there are a few exceptions. Activities like meal preparation are traditionally considered a woman’s responsibility. However, when women are overworked, men also take on the responsibility of cooking.
Similarly, plowing the field is generally considered men’s work. But unmarried girls are also found doing it to assist men in their work.
The Rai people’s primary occupation is farming. They grow maize, millet, wheat, and mustard in dry terraces and rice in wet fields. The grains grown are mostly for their daily food and animal feed needs.
Aside from that, they use it to make spirits and beer to sell at the local bazaar. Women raise buffalo, pigs, and chickens in almost all households. They run small provision stores selling homemade beer and alcohol for extra money.
Rais historically had the occupation of hunting. They enjoyed using bows and arrows, so they used to weave their own clothes out of Bhangra (allo) to wear.
Rai people of eastern Nepal are also used in foreign military service in modern times. Foreign employment includes the Indian and British Gurkha Regiment. They are also recruited under the Singapore Police Gurkha Contingent.
The Rai community has a diverse set of cultural rituals. Some are well-preserved from the beginning, while others are dying or have already died. The community has a large collection of “Chham” songs.
These sings are Rungpuwachham, Hakparechham, Yari/Hiyarichham, Saimachham, Sakelachham, Dolokupmachham, Risiya/risiwa, etc.
They also have many folk dances. Some of these dances are Sakenwa,Hang , Wass, Gelang, Toshi, etc
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