Rampant Dwindling of Lepchas – the Original Tribes of the Himalayas

by Gautam Kumar Das

Courtesy: Frontier | 18 September, 2015

Men, at sometime, are masters of their fates – Shakespeare

Peaceful Lepchas and their descent community meet difficulties and inconveniences since the intrusion of British into their mother land. Faced with several attacks by the Nepali and Bhutias even earlier than the British era Lepchas laid stress belief in tolerance. ‘Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet (Rousseau)’ are the characteristics and habits of the Lepchas who are the original tribes of the Himalayas. Other community in the mountainous Himalayan region call them Lepchas (means ‘nonsense talks’). But Lepchas of Darjeeling and Sikkim Himalayas call themselves Rong. They speak, tattle and exchange their opinions among themselves in Rong Ring. The Lepcha people invented their own language i.e. Rong Ring. Lepchas think that they are very lucky people because they have very potential power to develop their own language but no one had had this potential power of inventing language in this large mountainous space of the Himalayan region. Col. G.G.Mainwaring, Calcutta, 1876 commented in his article-“The Lepcha alphabet was invented at the end of the seventeenth or the beginning of the eighteenth century by King Cha-dor of Sikkim and the Lepcha alphabet is derived from a form of the Tibetan U-med alphabet.” Dikit Lepcha of Gangtok, Sikkim reversed this opinion and told that the Lepcha script was developed and invented by Punu Munsolong and it is known as Munsolong Script, and not by Chador Namgyal as written in some books. Chador Namgyal was a Bhutia king. Some of writer has this opinion but not true. Anyway, Col. G.G.Mainwaring, Calcutta, 1876 detailed the Lepcha language with modesty praising their heritage – “the Lepcha was the language spoken in the Garden of Eden. It is impossible that a people with language so comprehensive; with manners, though primitive, so superior, as to entitle them to rank high among civilised nations, could be engendered amidst the wilds and fastnesses of the Himalayas. Rong Ring is a monosyllabic one and is unquestionably far anterior to the Hebrew and Sanskrit and is the oldest language extent. It is most comprehensive and beautiful one; and regarded alone, as a prolific source of the derivations and etyma of words, it is invaluable to the philological world. Rong Ring is an almost completely uninflected language.” Karnyit Lepcha of Sikkim advocated for General G.G.Mainwaring who composed lepcha grammar in 1876, before that, the bible was translated into lepcha by him in 1840 and later he worked on the Lepcha dictionary which was brought to light in 1895. Every Lepcha youths are in praise for General G.G.Mainwaring as he had done a huge work in the field of language for the Lepchas. The Lepcha youths mentioned him even in any discussion regarding Rong Ring in this present era – ‘he is no more but his name and fame is placed in every Lepchas heart. A very few people also sheltered and safeguarded language, tradition & cultures, but among them G.G.Mainwaring is the top to preserve the language, tradition & culture of the Lepchas.’

‘Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding’ – Albert Einstein.

Not involving and interacting with any sort of violence, Lepchas are blessed to be known as peace-makers. So the Lepchas are declared as one of the most peaceful communities in the world by an international body which is established to identify and make a list for peaceful societies. Social scientists of all over the world have convincingly described Lepchas amongst the 25 societies considering the social factors like little internal violence or external warfare. Social network website http://www.peaceful society.com may be checked for verifying this statement in details. Living in peaceful societies Lepcha people avoid violence and try as much as possible to live in harmony. Along with the Lepcha community the following other 25 peaceful societies are represented with entries in the Encyclopedia of peace societies: Amish, Batek, Birhor, Buid, Chewong, Fipa, G/wi, Hutterites, Ifaluk, Inuit of Utkuhikhalik and Qipisa Communities, Ju/’hoansi, Kadar, Ladakhi, Malapandaram, Mbuti, Nubians, Paliyans, Piaroa, Rural Thai, Semai, Tahitians, Tristan Islanders, Yanadi, and Zapotec of La Paz. Geoffrey Gorer identified Lepchas in his book Himalayan Village – an account of the Lepchas of Sikkim as a Mongoloid type of people living in the Himalayas on the southern and eastern slopes of Mount Kanchenjunga. It seems certain that they were originally the only inhabitants of this large tract of mountainous land.

Lepchas are by nature unselfish and hard-working. They are laborious for long hours showing steadiness in their work. Mountain Kanchenjunga is the guardian deity of Lepchas. Down to this mountain Lepchas consider MayelLang as their province since long ago that covers the areas of Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong subdivisions of West Bengal and entire state of Sikkim. Lepchas are conscious about their social concerns and they all love their own culture and language. They are united today in order to stop the gradual declination of their own community. They are approximately 178000 at the time of 2011 census distributed both in the Darjeeling district (130000) of West Bengal and the state of Sikkim (48000) in comparison to a total numbers of 25780 Lepchas in 1931 census distributed evenly between  Darjeeling district of the then British India and the native state of Sikkim.

Dikit Lepcha, a school teacher of Gangtok once said that the Lepchas are very less in population now, dwindling with time. Lot of things have changed. Lepcha culture is polluted. Yet Lepchas are trying to preserve it.
What factors polluted the Lepcha society…please tell me the points – I asked Dikit.

– May be conversion of religion, inter-caste marriage, influx etc.
– Influx of what…other community?
– Yes
– How,  by marital relationship?
– Yes

Perhaps the inter-caste marriage is one of the vital factors that cater diminishing the numbers of the Lepcha people. Further, the educated English-speaking modern Lepcha girls could not match their life partners from the Lepcha community. They prefer to the well-established people of the other castes like Nepali, Bhutias etc. – am I right – asked Dikit.

– Yes, you are right.

In another opinion Ugen Tofitongmoo Lepcha of Kalimpong said, “Despairing fact we found within Lepchas- whatever we would do or wherever we would go, we are directly or indirectly contributing to our holy race, we’re striving to uplift our race to higher & higher and we would selflessly give our hands to our partial drowned race to bring immunity within , but unfortunately we’ve also got namesake Lepchas here who would have Lepchas by name and identity only, but not having blood of the Lepchas, naturally they don’t have the true spirit of our race”.

Lepcha language was the official language of Darjeeling before1930, but after that it went to dormant stage. Further, the names of all the important and well-known places of Darjeeling district and Sikkim state are after Lepcha language. But almost all those ancient and old names are deviated from the original one and changed in both spelling and pronunciation either by the influence of the Nepali or Bhutia people or were anglicized during the British era. The names definitely had had certain meaning at that time, but the changed names are simply meaningless of late. The present days Darjeeling is derived from the Lepcha word ‘Daarjyoolyaang’, where ‘Daar’ means Gods and deities, ‘jyoo’ means to live and ‘lyaang’ means land, place, abode, locality etc. In the Lepcha, therefore ‘Daarjyoolyaang’ means the abode of Gods and Deities which was changed first to ‘Dorjiling’ as a mixture of both Tibetans and Bhutia languages. Dorji means thunderbolt, and ling means place or abode, as a whole ‘Dorjiling’ means the land of thunderbolt. Finally British made the change of the present name of Darjeeling combining both Lepcha and Tibetan words which is functionally meaningless, only anglisized. Like that Kalimpong is from the Lepcha word ‘Kaalenpung’ (Kaa = ours; len = to assemble and pung = a hillock or knoll) which means ‘our assemblage hillock’; Kurseong was first corrupted by the Nepalese to Kharsaang, and then anglisized by the British. Actually the original Lepcha name is ‘Kursaong’ which have two meanings i) area of white orchid and ii) the place of viewing the morning stars. ‘Sewak’ is derived from the Lepcha word ‘Safook’ that means ‘a temporary cleaning place or camp for night stays’. Like those places there are meaning of every Lepcha place-name.

Mirik:  Lepcha word – Meerek (place of wild fire)
Raong Po (Lepcha word):  The place where most of the Lepchas died due to epidemics and remaining Lepchas left and abandoned the place.
Laabhaa:  Lepcha word – Lavo (the place of viewing lovely rising and setting of moon)
Loley Gaon: Lepcha word – Laolel Gaong (the place where the Lepchas discussed, debated and declared)
Ghoom: Lepcha word – Gom (to meditate for salvation)
Phaalut: Lepcha word – Faat Look (a variety of soil)
Mongpoo: Lepcha word – Maongpung (to heap up millet)
Sandaakpoor: Lepcha word – Saongdup Pung (a hillock where scented, aromatic plants, bushes and trees are available in plenty)
Sukhia: Lepcha word – Sokhyaam (the area is mostly foggy and rains in torrent)
Resyep: Lepcha word – Rusyaop (dense forest of cane area)
Siliguri: Lepcha word – Salee Gree (ordered to string and adjust the string on the bow during the battle)
Sukunaa: Lepcha word – Sokun Naam (in this area or spot, it looks as if it is going to rain)
Naxal bari: Lepcha word – Naok Syaol (Naok – to push; Syaol – dismantle; the area where small Lepcha huts, houses were totally damaged and destroyed by other communities of the plain people); Lepcha word ‘Naok Syaol’ intermingles with the Bengali word ‘Bari’ (house) at recent times.
Tadong: Lepcha word – Tao Dong (Tao – uncommon; Dong – search; the area where the Lepcha used to search for uncommon, unusual things)
Rumtek: Lepcha word – Rum-Tek (Rum – God; Tek – offer prayer; a place to offer prayer to God)
Raong-Po: Lepcha word – Raong-Po (the place where almost all the Lepchas died due to black fever)
Rishi: Lepcha word – Rusyee (area of cane bushes)
Lingtaam: Lepcha word – Lingtaam (a flat land)
Laachung: Lepcha word – Lo-chhyoong (people of few words giving correct decision in their talk in the village)
Namchi: Lepcha word – Naam Tsu (Naam – year; Tsu – to keep records; annual records of all historical events, tales, legends, customs and tradition etc.)
Jor Thaang: Lepcha word – Zaot Daang (Zaot – to graze; Daang – low valley area; low valley cattle grazing area)
Peyling: Lepcha word – Pey Lin (Pey – fodder; Lin – to sprout; coarse fodder used as feed for livestock composing of entire plants including leaves, stalks etc.)
Sokho: Lepcha word – Sokho (So – rain; Kho – needed; the place needed more rain water for their livelihood)
Ingtek: Lepcha word – Ingtek (last child)

M.S.Simick, a veteran educationist and a member of the Lepcha community of Kalimpong explained and assisted me to understand these meanings of the nomenclature of different places of both Darjeeling and Sikkim. Even the sophisticated, cultured and civilized Lepchas nomenclature almost all the rivers starting with “RA” namely RAONGNYOO or RAONGEET etc. It is really nice and wonderful in pronouncing those names of rivers that sounds melodies in tunes in the wonderland – MAAYEL LYANG. MAAYEL LYAANG wonders again that means – “Land of hidden paradise”.

When Lepchas face any violence or difficulties, they lead to a lonely life entering into the denser forest and ultimately they and their community are in solitude. Then “music is the medicine of the breaking heart (A. Hunt)” of those members of the Lepcha community. They recall by singing that they have the native land and the nice songs about their beautiful land.

kusa dhek lang mayal lang,
kusa lang ray rungzu lang,
kusu rem lang amuu lang,
ho,ho,ho,kusa achey mayl lang,
ho,ho,ho, kusa achey mayal lang.
Rungyu rungni eeto lang
lokung pangla dhing bu lang,
amley nansaa dhikbu lang,
ho,ho,ho,kusa achey mayal lang.

The meaning of this song is as following: MayelLyang is my homeland, my home land is like heaven, I love my MayelLyang, it is my motherland. Raongnyoo and Raongneet are the two rivers that witness the creation history of Lepchas. I love my homeland i.e. MayelLang.

Lepchas were surviving as vanishing tribes even in the 100 years back.  But of late they are on the way of flourish, progress and enlightenment. More or less they are in right path with right direction. Lepcha people are at present truly dedicated to their beautiful MayelLyang and they really want to be the part of its blessings. They compose several songs praising their mother land and the King. They sing their songs composed of Rong Ring. Rong Vom is the Lepcha Song.

This song is dedicated to their Rongkup Athing and The great king of Myal Lyang
Gyabu Punu

Rongkup.. Athing Gyabu Punu ho logekbo sukdum ka ( Myal Aamo shut hamlyuk surong Adhom Musin ba…)
Rongkup athing Gyabu punu ho logekbo sakdam ka… Myal aamola Shut hamlyuk Surong Adhom Musin ba….
(Dhong nan Surongla hunun Adhom dho ho
Sibi Faatnon tey… (Agek Adosa Surong Suknim ka Chom nan mo Saknon arey…)
Rongkup Athing Gyabu Punu ho logekbo sukdam ka.. (Myal Aamola Shut hamlyuk Surong Adhom …Musin ba…)
Dhamsang Dhaling Vam lyang Adosa Gek lyang Rumsool lyang …
Achong dhani Myal Kurvong ka Rongkup Athing Abryang …
Rongkup Athing Gyabu Punu ho logekbo Sukdam ka…

Meaning of this song in brief – Lepcha king Gaybu Aachok…please rebirth in our world. Damsang daling is your birth place. We remember you…come back…reborn again.

Another songs describing the scenic beauty, nature, eternal love and motherland of Lepchas –

Faatnun ka Amikna susong saknoon katap lyutbuna… samthik ka echyala chingba rey bunoon tho arum tuna…famnoon tho gou surong..lenchou ka aaa..
(Adomka chum vambu samnong ka chomnon sa gongkuplaa
Reepbur glunon tho reepsing nongsa mikrom la zuknon tho adom dho sakchigba
Vung naka ludhibo samthik hu achong kusa lenchou ka..
Saknoon azum dho myunbu hu non gurunglaa
(Kumbyungla ruatnon tho aungpin aungbon sa dhun mulel chomnon tho aring samnong ka. Nyenbo kususa shut arey… arum subhi chom gurungla
thobo susumla saknon ka along adho samnong ka …
fatnu ka Amukna surong saknoon katap lyutbu na samthik ka echyala ching barey bunon tho arum tuna
famnon gou surong lenchou ka agrom ka chum vambu samnong ka chom nonsa gongKupla ..

Meaning of the song: Lost from the eyes still live with the memory…want to love again but you are far away…defeated in our love affairs…a ring of love was left where we met then…all the flowers of the garden feel our fate…tears filled in the eyes feeling your memory…

Mirom la zuknon tho adom dho sakching baa ,
Reebur la glunon tho reepsing nongsa .
Vung nuka ludi bo samthik ho ..
Achong kusa lenchou ka.
Saknoon echiya la Azum dho myunbu hu non gurung laa.
reka vami tet sakching re

Meaning of this song in brief: my tears flows in your remember…flower from the tree of the garden fall down too…please come back and do love each other again…You forgot me but your memory is still alive shading with my pure love… Please understand me in order to live in this world.

Martha Lepcha of Kalimpong have corrected the meaning of these songs.

Within these melodious songs, clouds of problems meander here and there scattering on the sky of Lepchas over the footsteps of the Himalayas. The problems stand with the regional political crisis which are stumbling blocks for not to include Rong Ring, the Lepcha language in the curriculum of primary and secondary courses at school level. Inclusion of Rong Ring in the school curriculum stimulates the young generation of Lepchas in reading, writing and speaking in Rong Ring, the Lepcha language. Teaching-learning process in the school if started any day in the Rong Ring language in the Lepcha dominated area will gear up a major cultural and racial come back for the Lepchas as well as to push a thrust for revival to their community. The present educated forum of learned body expressed their willingness as reflected in a report of Himalaya Darpan (31st May, 2015) where a few members of the present generation stated that some of the Lepcha leaders tried to focus on the problem of unemployment of the Lepcha community. But introduction of Lepcha Language in primary and secondary education will be the utmost effort from the end of the Lepcha community along with the demand of unemployment. The language is dying day by day although the Education Department has the books and syllabus for bachelor degree. Lepcha community is politically victimized by the dominant political party of the mountainous region, although the State government has agreed to give appointment to the 46 Para teachers in Darjeeling hills as a resolution after 60 days-long strike of some Lepchas. This is a good initiative to revive Lepcha language on behalf of the Government. Settlement of the mixed communities and multi religion structure in the villages of Sikkim are quiet puzzling. The unfortunate villagers do not know their culture in comparison to the communities and religions in the Rong community when a population is optimum.

Rong Ring is one of the finest treasures among the 6000 languages of the world out of which 5400 languages are gradually dying with days. If this language is not promptly included in the syllabi and curriculum of the educational system, the language will die like those of the other dying languages and the children will not be able to go through scripts, grammar or other magical ornaments of Rong Ring. No political power has the right to pull down and stop Lepcha boys and girls from learning their own mother tongue or singing Rong Vom in the mountainous land covered with luxuriant dense evergreen trees where rivers flow parallel and birds flies at random. If Rong Ring is not getting importance immediately the future citizens of the Lepcha community will never see the scripts or other materials related to Rong Ring in the ensuing days comes on.  People in the near future would say that the great treasures lie buried among those hills and those are Rong Ring and Rong Vom. People of the world never forget that Rong Ring is the most ancient living language in the world. And “time doth transfix the flourish set on youth” (Shakespeare: Sonnet 60) of the Lepchas at the flowery dale of the Himalayas.

Source: http://www.frontierweekly.com/views/sep-15/18-9-15-Rampant%20Dwindling%20of%20Lepchas.html

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