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About Historical and Contemporary Limbu Women of Nepal
The Limbu people are known as Yakthungba (referring to Limbu male) and Yakthungma (referring to Limbu female) in their own language. Yambechha means male and menchhuma means female. They are descendants of the Kirant dynasty of ancient Nepal. The Kirant dynasty ruled Nepal from 3102 BC to the 7th century as the first rulers in Nepal.
Historically, the Limbus had their own territory known as Lumbuwan until 225 years ago, before King Prithvi Narayan Shah united the territories that make up present-day Nepal. Currently, this area is located in eastern Nepal (including Taplejung, Sankhuwasabha, Panchthar, Ilam, Dhankuta and Tehrathum and northern parts of Jhapa, Morang and Sunsari districts). According to the 2001 Nepal census, Limbus has a population of 359,371 (1.58% of Nepal’s population). Traditionally followers of the Kirant religion, which is a type of animism, a belief that both living and non-living things such as trees, rivers and mountains have souls. They have their own spoken and written Limbu language. The LIMBU script is known as the Sirijanga script.
The historical social role of Limbu women:
Traditional Limbu women wore a sim (a 7-yard long cloth wrapped like a skirt) with a cholo, a blouse made of locally hand-woven dhaka fabric. A phaee (long scarf) can be wrapped around the waist to tie the sim. They always covered their heads with a thakhumya (large scarf) as an accessory. They liked to wear large gold and silver ornaments. Limbu women traditionally wore a pair of Ness (large, flat gold earrings), a gold mundri as a nose ring and a dhungri, a studded nose ornament. Limbu women wore gold or silver bracelets on their hands. Silver calli was worn as an anklet. They also wore various ornaments on different occasions, ceremonies and festivals. Some of these are Phangsese (a necklace made of nine gold beads strung with glass beads), Labaphung (a crescent-shaped gold ornament worn as a hair clip), Namloi or Yogakpa (a large silver necklace), sisiphung or nekkhophung (flower-shaped gold earrings, reji (ancient coin necklaces made of silver coins) and Swagep (a gold ring worn on the finger). In the past, Limbu females also wore Laskari in their ears, 5 or 6 similar small gold rings in a row. You can still see old Limbu women dressed like this in the villages. all kinds of clothes and ornaments worn by women indicate that the economy of Limbu at that time catered to their needs.Traditional Limbu women looked very elegant and created a unique identity in the world.
Limbu women like to dance Ya-Lang (riceless dance) and Ke-Lang (traditional Limbu drum dance) on official occasions such as marriages and religious ceremonies. There is also a dance called Mang Lang (Dev naach-God dance) to celebrate religious occasions.
The majority of Limbus are farmers, and many male Gurkhas serve as soldiers in foreign (e.g. British, Indian) armies or as security personnel in Singapore, Brunei and Hong Kong. Women help with farming by working the land. They plant rice, harvest crops and take care of domestic animals. They also raise children and take care of in-laws.
My mom talked about “pewa” (Pewa is a Limbu word, a source of pocket money). Limbu parents were very generous to their unmarried daughters because they made them earn their own money by giving them ‘pewa’. Some unmarried women had a few goats or pigs, so they could sell their animals to get money to buy what they wanted.
My grandfather gave my mother a couple of orange trees, from which she could earn her pocket money by selling oranges in the Dharan market. This allowed her to buy her own jewelry or whatever she needed. At that time, buying gold and silver jewelry was a family investment.
This article is about Limbu women. I must not forget their gourmet cuisine. Limbus usually eat the standard Nepalese food of steamed white rice, dal (lentil soup), tarkary (curry) and aachar (a type of salsa sauce). I would like to mention some Limbu gourmet dishes – kinema ko achar (fermented soybean pickle), gundruk ko achar or gundruk ko soup (fermented mustard leaves), yangben (moss that grows on trees) etc. a drink called tongba (millet beer) especially consumed in large containers made of bamboo or wood with small bamboo straws).
Limbu women were great textile entrepreneurs and worked very hard. Imported thread was not available for weaving, so in the past they grew cotton themselves in the fields. After the raw cotton was harvested and dried in the sun, yarn was spun for weaving. The “chhitko sari” woven by Limbu women was once open and very popular among other Nepalese women. They also used to weave a hand-woven cloth called Dhaka. They would be very creative in coming up with various ethnic designs like tanchokpa (star). They sold this clothing material to women and men in other communities as imported clothing was not readily available. This type of traditional weaving was left to their female descendants. Dhaka fabric is very popular now and you can get Dhaka topis (caps), traditional pachheuras (big scarves) and Dhaka cholos (blouses). Ties and the Dhaka kurta-suruwal (trouser suit) are very popular these days. The traditional material is also used in the interior design of modern, contemporary houses; For cushion covers, curtains, table runners, table mats, etc. can be used. This material is also used in boutiques to create unusual and unique designer clothes. Credit certainly goes to our mothers and grandmothers for passing these skills down through the generations.
Contemporary Limbu women and their social role:
Today’s Limbu women do not usually dress in traditional clothes or wear heavy jewelry. They wear all kinds of contemporary clothes like kurta suruwal, saree and other formal and casual western clothes. Married women wear traditional Nepalese ornaments such as Tilhari with saree and kurta suruwal. Unmarried women wear light jewelry like stud, hoop or dangle earrings, chain pendant, gold bangles, ring, anklet with kurta suru and western inspired clothes. Some married women also wear formal Indian-inspired gold jewelry, such as heavy mangal sutra necklaces and large dangling earrings.
Today’s Limbu society, especially in urban areas, has evolved from the village society of a hundred years ago. Modern society has brought many changes. Limbu women’s responsibilities usually include maintaining the home, cooking, taking care of the children and in-laws, as in the past, but now help with the children’s schooling, perhaps running a business or a professional career outside the home. Of course, stock market investments are not common in Nepal. Limbu women make financial investments in land or real estate. There are many women whose husbands are still working abroad as Gurkha soldiers. Those women learn to manage their lives independently very effectively.
Today, some Limbu women have established careers in all fields – politics, media, business, professional performing arts, legal services, education and the medical profession. Listed below are some names of Limbu women who are active in various fields:
Anjana Limbu (Shrestha): Film actress, her best known film is Balidaan
Anupama Subba: Actress in famous movie “Numafung”.
Bishnu Chemjong: The First Lux Nepal Star; She was chosen from 5,000 other contestants because of her beautiful voice.
Jina Lingden: The first female Limbu pilot
Jayan Subba Manandhar: Choreographer and owner of Ramp modeling agency
Kala Subba: Active model, choreographer and Hits FM RJ.
Lila Subba (Shrestha): Member of the Nepali Parliament.
Pabitra Subba: Established, well-known Nepalese singer and actress.
Malvika Subba: Miss Nepal 2002, worked with Kantipur television as an anchor and host of the Miss Nepal pageant for 2 years.
Srijana Subba: Active member of Kirat Yakthung Chumlung and representative of the Association of Limbu Shamans from Nepal. He works as a program manager at the NGO FONIN.
Contemporary Limbu women are highly regarded for their incredible achievements in a short period of time. Today’s young Limbu women, whose mothers and grandmothers are illiterate or illiterate, can go to college or acquire skills for skilled work.
Although there are only a small number of Limbu women compared to the total population of Nepal, they are actively involved in all areas.
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