The Tsumbas of Nepal, numbering 7,400, are a community of rare settlements in the Tsum Valley of Nepal. It exists along the Manaslu trails. This settlement is separated from the Nubri settlements by the Chikkur River. The Tsumbas belong to the South Asian Buddhist affinity group, which is part of the South Asian Peoples affinity group. This ethnic group is only found in Nepal. Tsum is their first language. The Tsum’s primary religion is Tibetan Buddhism, a branch of Buddhism unique to Tibet and certain Himalayan regions.
Guru Rinpoche established the Tsum Valley as a Beyul, also known as a sacred refuge. He was the person to introduce Buddhism in this region of Nepal in the eighth century. The Tsum Valley, a spiritually significant sacred site, is sustained by Buddhist cultural values and practices. Tsumba people institutions, and the support of dedicated leaders and revered Lamas from the monasteries.
The Tsumbas believe in a customary communal lifestyle. They have a practice of electing customary leaders of the village. The roles of the leaders are as follows
- Ghenchen – They are the primary leader of the village
- Syara – They are the leaders of a particular clan
- Ghyange – They are in charge of enforcing community decisions and rules.
- Bigo Laune– They are responsible for resolving disputes involving domestic animal damage to food crops. They also see disputes involving usage of pasture lands, forests, and agriculture. They also make and enforce irrigation decisions, organize Ne-Tonle (a harvest ritual in September), and manage and organize Chyokor, a special ritual performed by the village Lama (spiritual leader) during crop ripening in July.
They have periodic assemblies and elections. At least one member of every household, usually the family’s head, participates in it. They discuss current and new leader issues every once in a while.
Similarly, Lama plays a critical role in preserving cultural practices and spirituality. They are considered spiritual leaders. The Lamas lead the religious rituals and cultural celebrations. They teach the Tsumba religious norms, values, and spirituality through this. The Lama is a well-known figure in the valley.
Becoming a monk or nun is a highly regarded religious vocation. The local Lama, Laprang, performs life cycle and village rituals. The Lama of Gumba Monastery is known as Autari-Lama (Reborn Lama). They perform major religious ceremonies and teach religious philosophies and spirituality.
The Tsum region does not have adequate modern health infrastructure and services. But traditional doctors known as Amchi reside here. They have knowledge and wisdom about the use of herbal medicines and also play important roles in the lives of Tsumba.
The village’s Amchi has exclusive rights to collect and distribute herbal medicines in the valley. They are entrusted with ensuring their long-term use.
You can see the survival of three types of Amchi within the Tsumba community:
- those with specialized knowledge about medication for domestic animals
- those who perform general medication for villagers
- those who offer poison treatment.
The upper Tsumba residents have sworn to protect it as a Shagya since 1920. This means “non-sacrificing area.” The Tsumbas have lived by Buddha’s five precepts of “Ahimnsa Parodharma,” It means nonviolence is the most important aspect of Dharma (“religion”). The killing was considered a sin, and even cutting down trees was frowned upon. It was even forbidden near Gompas.
People practice nonviolence by adhering to a set of rules, which are as follows:
- There will be no animal slaughter.
- There is no allowance for hunting.
- There will be no honey-hunting.
- There is no forest fire.
- A complete prohibition on animal slaughter
- Maintain and promote the Shagya
If any of the above rules are broken, the punishment is to light 1000 lamps in Rachen Gompa. This is a well-known monastery in Chhekampar.
The Tsumbas have their language called Tsum language. It is a Sino-Tibetan language. The Tsum language is identified as a distinct dialect. The language is also known as Tsumke. It is a two-tone language closely related to Nubri and Gyalsumdo languages.
The Tsumba people live in unique houses with Mani-walls construction. Buddhist philosophy inspired the construction of these structures. The words of prayers are carved into the stones that form the walls or fences. They are thought to bring good luck and protect the locals’ well-being.
The Tsumba lifestyle is unique and secluded. Life in the Tsum Valley even predates officially protected areas in Nepal, including the Manasalu Conservation Area. The National Trust for Nature Conservation and the Conservation Area Management Committee co-manage this large Conservation Area. This protected area also includes the Tsum Valley.
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