Limbu Tribe and Clans Belong to the Kirati Nation:

Limbu tribe and clans belong to the Kirati nation or Kirat confederation that includes the Rai and Sunuwar who are believed to be the descendants of the ancient Mongolian-Tibeto people and are still referred as "Mongolians" in Nepal. The name Limbu is an exonym of uncertain origin. Anyhow the word Limbu roughly means or translates as an archer or 'the bearer of bows and arrows'. They call themselves Yakthumba/Yakthung (in Limbu language). They are also known as Shong, Xong or Drenjongka དརེན་འཛང་ཀ་ (in Tibet) orChong, Tsong འསང་ in (Sikkim). Their approx population of 700,000 is centered on the districts of Sankhuwasabha, Tehrathum, Dhankuta, Taplejung, Morang,Sunsari, Jhapa, Panchthar and Ilam, all within the Mechi and Kosi zones inNepal, also known as Limbuwan, as well as the East and West districts ofSikkim. A smaller number are scattered throughout the cities of Darjeelingand Kalimpong in West Bengal, India and also in North and South Sikkim andBhutan.

Limbu Clans and Tribes are divided into the Lhasa gotra (those from Lhasa,Tibet) and Yunan gotra (those who come from Yunan China). The Limbu are known as das limbu (ten Limbu), even though there are actually thirteen Limbu sub-groups. Legend says that five of the groups came from Yunnan, China and the other eight from Lhasa, Tibet.

Unlike the caste systems brought forward to Nepal region since the Hindu invasion, social discrimination or caste system is not practised among the Limbu people and Limbu sub-groups, however there are numerous different clans and sects.

The Chinese text called 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.

Yakthungba or Yakthumba

Yakthungba is most likely a combination of three Limbu syllables: Yak means Hill, thum means place or district, and ba or pa means inhabitant. which together may be translated as "Hill people". They are also known as Yak Herders because sections of clans belonging to the Lhasa Gotra people have legends about their migration from the north (Southern Tibet) via the Olang Tshung Gola pass (above Taplejung district). Limbu females are called "Yakthungma", which "Ba" or "Pa" is replaced by Ma to a female gender.

It is set to believe that Tsong people or Limbu clans in Sikkim were natives from the U-Tsang territory of Tibet. They migrated from Sjiyatse, Penam, Norpu, Giengtse etc. of the Tsang province of Tibet. They followed their guru Matog Lama and settled in Sikkim. The local people in Sikkim are called Chong, Tsong because of their migration from the "district of Tsang/ Tsong in Tibet". In Nepal and Darjeeling this word is also seldom used by Limbus to describe Sikkimese Limbu clans.

Limbu Language

Main article: Limbu language

Limbu (Limbu:Yakthungpan; "Language of the Yakthung/Limbus") is a Sino-Tibetan language spoken in Nepal, Sikkim, Kashmir and parts of Northern India, by the Limbu community.

Limbu language has its own unique evolution of Tibetan and Devanagiriwriting system. Far more Limbus are literate in Nepali than in Limbu, thus many Limbu publications are accompanied by Nepali translation.

Limbu language is one of the major spoken and written languages of Nepal, Sikkim and other parts of Northern India. Today, linguists have reached the conclusion that pronominalization is indigenous development of Tibeto-Burman language and Limbu language bears close resemblance with Khambu Sampang and unique Tibetan dialects. Limbu language has four main dialects-Panchthare, Tamarkhole, Phedape and Chatthare.

Before the introduction of Sirijonga script among Limbu Kiratas, Rong script was popular in East Nepal specially in early Maurong state. Sirijonga script had almost disappeared for 800 years and it was brought into practice again by Te-Ongsi Sirijonga Thebe (1704 - 1741 A.D.) of Tellok Sinam who fled to Sikkim where he was put to death by the Lamas of Sikkim in charge of educating people in Limbu language and script in 1741. However, historical evidence show that Te-Ongsi Sirijonga Thebe studied under Sikkimese Lamasand Brahamans in India.

Tshri; Bshikhum phuma ningwahangma pbhadhunglo. Sakhshing O'mahlo. Kuseng kugren Yakgthunghang bsapla kneetmalo. Kuseng kugren sewa czogmalo. Sen sen ren rensapbla nitmalo. Czhof hukgshig chukralo. Czamen migksan chukralo sabpla nilu Yakgthunghang. Shabpla Yakgthunghang nolo. Sabpla sabtu'g yagk -- "

The Limbu language and literature has been less practiced in Nepal since the last eighteenth century. The cultural identity of any community was taken as a threat to the national unification by ruling elites until the recent years. The use of Limbu alphabets was banned and the possession of Limbu writings outlawed. There were no specific law about it, but Security Act was enforced for such cases under the strong directives of Kathmandu.

Omniglot modern Limbu writing system: [1]

Limbu Culture

Limbus have a number of their own rituals. They worship by means of blood sacrifice. They believe that lineage divinities are 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 gods of the Household. Every time a bad thing or feeling is caused by the man, he will have to be washed clean of it. There are also forest deities that inhabit the area. Limbu bury their dead and observe three to four days of pollution; the length of the period depends on whether the deceased is a female or a male, respectively. Drinking and dancing are very important to the Limbus. Weddings, mourning, gift exchanges, and settlement of conflicts involve much consumption of liquor, especially Limbu traditional beer popularly known as Tongba. Dancing parties are given for visitors to the village. These affairs give the young Limbu girls and boys a chance to meet and enjoy dancing and drinking. Yakthung Limbu Culture is so rich both in terms of its developmental aspects, its meaning and value. Yakthung Paan, Limbu language is one of the most primitive language all over the world. Only the reason to prove that is about its Mundhum the holy scripture based on oral traditions that Yakthungs do know as insight book or Sik Sapla. It always starts from its nought point i.e. before the creation of the universe and the Earth. Language is so unique and great that we can prove from its highly developed form of linguistic richness. It reaches to the bottom of the feelings and height of the feelings. It is also regarded as a science because it always advocates how artistically and logically the Universe, the Earth was made by Porokmiba Yambhamiba seems like a particular scientist like albert einstein and some other physisists.

Limbu Flag

The Flag of Limbuwan.

The Limbu people have their own flag. The blue resembling the water bodies and the sky, the white: air and peace, the red: the earth and pure blood of the Limbu people. The sun in the centre is the most important for all Limbus for various spiritual practices and everyday living. This flag was destroyed in 18th century after the Gorkha invasion.

Limbu economy

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. A sizable number of Limbu youths are enlisted in the British and Indian Gurkha regiments, providing their families with a steady stream of income. The Limbu community as a whole was lifted considerably in terms of health and education. They have good living standard compared to others.

Wedding practices

Limbus, in general, marry within their own community. Boys are at liberty to choose a girl and girls are equally free to decide whether to spend life with the boy in question or not (Jones and Jones, 1976). 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 family relations and having different thars (clans) is also possible either by arrangement or by mutual consent of the boy and the girl in question. It is conventionally said that the customs and traditions of Limbus were established in the distant past by Sawa Yethang (council of eight kings/leaders). The marriages are mostly arranged by parents or result when a boy elopes with a girl. Asking for a girl's hand, that is the most important ceremony. In that system, the girl can ask for anything and an unlimited amount of gold, silver, etc. This confirms to the girl's family that the boy is financially secure enough to keep their daughter happy. Few days after the wedding, the boy's family members have to visit the girl's house with a piglet and some alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks depending upon the financial standard of his house. The key ceremonies of a Limbu wedding take place in the groom's house rather than that of the bride's because girl 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" orChyabrung in Nepali. Yalakma is characterized by men and women dancing in a slow circle, whereas Kelangam consist of complex footwork that goes with the beat of the drums. Anyone can join the dance and they can go for long hours. Yalakma also celebrates the harvest season in addition to being a feature of social occasions including weddings.

Limbu religion & festivals

The Limbus follow the Kirant Mundhum oral 'scripture' similar to the Bön,shaman. However, their religion is also influenced by later Tibetan Buddhism, and Hinduism. They have their own distinct religion known as "Yuma Samyo" or "Yumaism". They also have many different classes of ritual specialists, of which "Phedangma", "Yema/Yeba", and "Shamba" are some. Their supreme deity is Tagera Ningwaphuma, but the deity Yuma (literally: "Grandmother" or "Mother Earth") is the most important and popular among the 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. Their religion is enshrined in the evergreen Cynodondactylon (Dubo) grass. Traditionally, they buried their dead but due to the influence of their Hindu neighbours, cremating is gaining in popularity as well. Limbu people also has its own clergy/ priest, such as Phedangma, Samba, Yeba (male) Yewa-Yema (female). Mundhum is spoken in a form of poetry or a song. According to the Nepal Census of 2001, out of the 359,379 Limbu, 86.29% were practising traditional Kiranti religion and 11.32% were Hindu and others. Modern Limbus, especially those living in parts of India also been influenced by Christianity.

Limbu traditional music and singing styles

The folk-literature of the Limbus is very rich and because of this, the Limbus residing in Sikkim, Darjeeling, Assam, Nepal and Bhutan, have their own identity because of immense belief in "Yumawad". Their traditions and cultures are still alive. Yumawad is a type of religious scripture, which have been continuously kept alive by their religious head and handed over from generation to generation verbally. Some of these oral transmission of religious and traditional teachings are also included in Limbu traditional music with the mixture of social stories, dreams or just plain everyday life. There has been a rich tradition of Limbus singing their folk-songs. Their folk-songs can be divided into the following groups:

1.     Khyali - a conversational song but young girls and boys sing it with poetic expressions and in a very sweet tone.

2.     Traditional Love Songs -

        1.     Sakpa Palam Samlo - This song is sung during the Kusakpa Yeaalang dance in fast beat.

        2.     Kemba Palam Samlo - This song is sung during the Kemba Yeaalang dance in slow beat.

        3.     Domke Akma Palam Samlo - It is sung when doing the normal chores and also during the Domke Akma dance.

3.     Hakpare Samlo - this song is sung by middle-aged men and women, who have interest in Mundhum and who are well-known in it. One can find spiritual and worldly specialities in this song.

4.     Nisammang Sewa Samlo - This song is sung during religious functions. It is a devotional song. Dancing is one of the important aspect of the life of Limbus. Based on acting-style, the following types of dances are performed:

        1.     Dance performed after origin of life: This type of dance is known as Ke Lang or Chyabrung Lang. The dance imitates the actions of animals, insects and any form of living beings.

        2.     Agricultural dance: Under this type of dance there are -

                1.     Yea Kakma- This dance is performed after night falls after the crops are reaped.

                2.     Damke Akme- This dance is performed while sowing crops.

        3.     War dance: This form of dance is known as 'Nahangma' and is performed during "Nahangma"- their religious function. In this dance, only adult males and "Shamani" priests can take part. During the dance, they carry a sword in their right hand and a shield in their left hand, or an arrow in their right hand and a bow in their left hand.

       4.     Historical dance: In this dance form, the historical war of ten Limbus fought in Aambepojoma Kamketlungma is depicted.

       5.     Mysterious and ancient dance performed by Shamani priests: this type of dance is known as Yagrangsing Lang, Phungsok Lang, Tongsing Lang. The dance is performed only by the Shamani priests viz. Fedangma, samba, Yewa and Yema.

Folk Musical Instruments

Limboo musical instruments are Niyari Hongsing Ke, Chyabrung, Miklakom, Simikla, Chethya/Yethala, Ta, Tungeba, Ungdung, Yalambar Baja, Tetlafakwa, Mephrama, Negra, Yea Pongey, Puttungey, Phakwa, Phamuk, Phenjekom, Megphama etc.

Traditional Sports

For the Limbu people, Archery has always been considered as the main traditional sport. Archery often involve religious demonstrations and rituals. Historically, Limbu cavalry archers were the main key for resisting certain invasions that were followed before 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 when Limbuwan Gorkha war began, a Gorkha Military General met a Yakthung hunter in a forest and when the General asked the hunter his presence there and what he was doing, the Yakthung hunter replied "Lim-pfungh". Gorkha army had later experienced the fierceness from the Yakthung-Tribes' horseback archers which the Gorkha-Limbu war lasted for years. Thus, the name "Limbu" was registered and recorded on the papers of the Gorkhas to describe the Yakthung 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 males during festivals. This was also done to settle personal matters after a festive drinking which the losing wrestler would then have to pay the winner by buying him a drink or inviting to his house for a drink of traditional tongba. "Lakhpa" is the term for wrestling in Yakthung-pan.

Limbus & Hindu caste system

Though Limbus aren't Hindu, they are recognized in Hindu Society. Nepal's pre-eminent sociologist, Professor Dor Bahadur Bista, asserted that, of all the proverbial thirty-six caste and ethnic groups of Nepal, the Hindu caste system made the least impact on the Limbu. In part, this reflected not only their geographical distance from the seat of power in the capital city of Kathmandubut also their cultural independence.


1.     ^ Saklani, Dinesh Prasad Ancient communities of the Himalaya Indus Publishing Company,India (1 Mar 2002) ISBN 978-81-7387-090-3 p. 36

2.     ^ Levi,Sylvain Le Nepal Asian Educational Services,India; Facsimile edition (20 Dec 2007)ISBN 978-81-206-0580-0 p78

See also

External links

Retrieved from ""

Kirat-Ma Gu Ra Li the Gurkhas: Warrior Gentlemen from the Hills and Mountains of Nepal.

Budha Subba Temple in Dharan



First Tamra Patra issued B.S. 1814/04/22 Monday

Limbus: Photographic Images Reprodused Under J. Forbas Watson and John William Kaye Between 1868-1875

Limbus: Photographic Images Reprodused Under J. Forbas Watson and John William Kaye Between 1868-1875

Limbus: Photographic Images Reprodused Under J. Forbas Watson and John William Kaye Between 1868-1875

History of Tamalung

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