According to the renowned Nepalese Historian Babu Ram Acharya the original inhabitants of Nepal were Kiranti. They are from Astro-Asian group. They established their kingdom around 2nd century BC. It has been established that about 4 to 5 thousands years ago Tibeto-Burman, a stream of Astro-Asian stream, migrated from Burma through Assam (India) corridor to Nepal and in several generations they assimilated with Kiranti to become larger group of ethnic known now as Mongol-Kirant. The natural traits of the people presently living in Assam is similar to the original inhabitants of Nepal, specially the ethnic people living in East Nepal.
The diverse ethnicity of people of Nepal extending from east to the mid-west, both in the middle hill and Terai regions, has distinct languages and cultures. This is evidently seen and experience when one travel to Dhaulagiri, Annapurna, Solu-Khumbu and Kanchanjunga regions. The prominent nationalities are Rai and Limbu in East Nepal, Tamang in the Central, Gurung and Magar in West Nepal and Tharu in Southern plain. Closer to Kathmandu in the vicinity of Sun Koshi river and Ramechap district Sunar are the original inhabitants.
In Nepal the remnant of Kirati culture remained dominant in East of Banepa (Bhaktapur) for centuries until the Gorkha used the same ethnic group to defeat the Kiranti in 1774. After the advent of the extension of Gorkha expansion to the east the Kiranti/Mongol ethnic composition went into further fragmentation and most of them lost their root. Actually the decline of Kiranti culture started after Lichivi people migrated from India overran the Kiranti principalities in 236 BC in Kathmandu valley. The process of conversion to Hindu religion and culture started from the time Lichivi started adopting Hindu religion which was later propagated by the subsequent ruler that continued to infringe the original Kiranti and Mongolian cultural mix until this day. So, further east and west of Kathmandu the original culture went to drastic changes even though they still retain their originality in several aspects of their culture.
Hence the original Kiranti culture still remained intact to a greater extent in eastern Nepal. This culture is located in between Dudkoshi and Kanchanjunga Himalayan range. The region between Dudkoshi to west of Arun river used to be known as Khumbuwan and the region east of Arun river is known as Limbuwan. This region is inhabited by Rai and Limbu respectively. The area east of Arun especially Chainpur, Therathum and Taplejung villages provides the experience of meeting the people with unique culture. Ethnic diversity of Nepal with almost 102 spoken dialects and 70 different identified ethnic groups within a small Himalayan kingdom is its strength in tourism potential. Thus the vanishing culture need to be resurrected through tourism in the time when dominant international western culture, technology, road and development is pushing the originality of the unique race to oblivion at a faster rate than Hindunization of original culture institutionalized systematically throughout the past centuries.
The land of the Limbus known as Limbuwan consists of Sankhuwasabha, Dhankutta, Therathum, Taplejung, and Panchthar. Beyond the boundary of Nepal they are in Sikkim and part of Bhutan. Their settlements are in the elevation of around 2000 to 5000 meter. They live in their ancesterial land known as kipat. They retained their tax-free land after negotiated settlement with the invading Gorkha to form confederation against the war against Sikkim. It is the only autonomous region in Nepal, though at present time the meaning and usefulness of kipat or autonomous has been eroded.
House are painted with red and white earth colour; it is usually one storey with attic. Most of the villages are located in the high slopes of Tamur-river. Houses are clean and orderly. Lands are neatly cultivated.Culinary cultures of the people are varied. Some of the items are similar to the food enjoyed by the Koreans and
Japanese, especially food that are fermented. Recent survey of food items they prepare listed about 55 varieties. It surpassed the number Newar of Kathmandu boast of their preparation. Foods are prepared from range of meat, like pork, mutton, buffalo, and chicken, and several kinds of vegetable grown in their land. As for alcholic beverage Tongba, a millet brew, is popular. It is usually served in a large jug made of bamboo with a bamboo straw now replaced by other materials. This beverage is served in all occasions.
Natures of the Limbus are similar to other ethnic groups who are considered as descendent of Mongol and Kiranti. They like merry making and fun. They take pride in their heritage and are sensitive. They are fierce, brave and combative. They do not keep grudge; even serious problems are solved with a bottle of homemade spirit. If they fight they fight to the end. They are loyal and submit totally when they do submit. Perhaps this is the region why British have recruited them in their armed force. They have fought as British force since first world war.
Profession: Apart from agriculture they are employed in British and Indian army. The British considered them best soldiers ever since they had problem in controlling their empire in India. They have proved the proficiency in numerous battles fought in first and second-world war, either near home front or far away in Europe, in jungle or desert warfare. They are also considered a good business-people, but unlike Newars their business are regionally centered. The Limbu women are expert in making carpet, and knitting colourful local cloth (dhaka) with intricate design for clothing. They are also expert in bamboo work.
Custom: Their society is free of any conservative tradition. Their conjugal family and social life is based on mutual respect. They are open and flexible in their tradition. Compared to other non-Kirati and Mongoloid nationality their social and personal life style is simple and systematic. Young boys and girls are allowed to meet freely during the market days, marriage ceremony, and community gathering. They have freedom to choose partner. Women have unlimited right. Even after marriage and children they retain their right to surrender their personality and property. Until a ceremony called "Saimundri" is performed the women have all the right in their paternal home. For marriage it is the groom who has to offer all necessary goodwill things to the bride family. Though marriage is done through arrangement yet the traditional way 'capture of the lady or elopement' are commonly accepted. Limbu marriage does not have elaborate formalities; it is quite straightforward. The priest of the Limbu called 'Phedangma' perform the ceremony by reciting their religious text called 'Mundhum' throughout the night during which the bride and groom are not allowed to sleep. The ceremony is held in the groom's house. Regarding crop cultivation they perform a simple ceremony called Nwagi. In this ceremony the first cultivated crop is offered first to the deity and then only it is available to the household.
Cultural dance: Dhan-nach and Chebrung are their traditional group dance. Dhan-nach is performed in a group. Young boys and girls exchange their questions and answers through a song called palam, which they sing in unison. The dance can continue for hours until the wee hour. The dancers line up in a single row with girls and boys in alternative position. They join hand and make forwards and backward steps in uniform rhythm and slowly go around in a circle. Chembrung is name of a big drum. All the drummers are male. They form a single line, held the drum with a string around their neck and bit the drum with hand in a rhythm. They dance with the drum moving forward and backward and sideways in synchronized form beating the drum in unison. This dance is usually performed during marriage ceremony and festival only.
Religion: Like all Tibeto-Burman group Limbus has their own natural deities. Every Limbu household has their ancestor-god called mangena. Their main deity is in the form of Yuma-sam and theba-sam. Yuma-sam is original grandmother. Her spirit is the most powerful in every household. Theba-sam is original grandfather. They are the common ancestors of all the Limbus. Beside them, Limbus worships nature-earth, river, and mountain. This worship is done in the ceremony called udhauli-ubhauli. Specially flavoured rice is served on this ceremony. Their priests are called phedangma and shamba. Phedengma are generally used for birth and marriage and Shamba are used in death ceremony. Though both perform similar function however shamba are considered more proficient in their job. During special ceremony the priests wear special white dress with feathers, bells, and beaded necklace etc. and uses religious text to prepare and perform the ceremony. In such ceremony they beat metal plates to make rhythmic noise in unison when invoking their ancestors and natural gods. All these are performed according to the strict text in their texbook-mundum. Limbus buries their dead. A ceremony known as Tongshim is performed for the welfare of the dead.
Script: Script is the indicator of their civilization. The only ethnic group that enables to preserve their communication skill in the Himalayan Kingdom is the script of Limbu. This script was almost lost had it not been researched and re-established by an imminent Limbu scholar Iman Sing Chemgong. The script is known as Shrijunga. It is introduced by a Shrijunga Hang (880-915 A.D), a powerful Limbu chief who had his fort at Phedap and Chainpur; he is said to have brought the script from a cave in one of the Kanchanjung peak (Dr Harka Gurung in Vignettes of Nepal page 345).
Taplejung cultural tour: The main reason being it is easily accessible by surface and air. The hills are some of the best place to make easy walk in the forest covered by varieties of rhododendron flowers. The other accessible region are Chainpur and Therathum; they have closest large Limbu village in easy proximity to the good road that would represent Limbu Kirati culture. This region closer to Chainpur and Therathum is the best place for rhododendron flowers. And Arun river valley is one of the biggest geological mysteries of earth. And it has the biggest concentration of birds, wildlife and plants that are never found in other area because of its wet and damp climatic condition. The whole area east of Arun river is now national park conservation area because of its rich natural and cultural heritage.
After the opening of Nepal in 1950 traditional societies are changing rapidly. At present road access, development in communication and mass media, social integration and new value system are imposing rapid changes on the societies. Among the many ethnic communities in Nepal Limbu of Eastern Nepal, whose dominant culture in east of Arun river and in the vicinity of Kanchanjunga Himalaya range, has unique culture and tradition. As Kirati culture have dwindled, disappeared and mixed up with other culture throughout the centuries some of the few pockets of this original race in south Asia is being in the process of loosing their identity.
Books to read: "The Arun" by Edward Cronin. It is a rich source of information about natural history of Arun river valley. "Vignettes of Nepal" by Dr.Hark Gurung. An imminent geographer and explorer. It is interesting reading the section Chapter 19 and 20. "People of Nepal" by Dor Bahadur Bista. A prominent anthropologist whose famous book "Fatality and Development" brought to light the flaw and negative aspect of Hinduism which is related to Brahamanism