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Tribes

Socio-economic condition of the people in the Himalayas

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Clothes of the Himalayas

Title:Tribes
Credit:Compiled from multiple sources by Pragya
The Himalayas are home to several tribes, each with their distinct socio-cultural heritage and customs. Their populations are mainly adapted to the challenging topography and climate of the region, where remoteness and poor connectivity has often kept them away from external influences. In recent years, better communication facilities and road infrastructure have improved the local lifestyle, though often at the cost of cultural erosion. With a population of approximately 44 million people, the people living in the Himalayan belt exhibit a rich tapestry of distinct tribes. The people can be divided on the basis of their location, with Tibetan Buddhists inhabiting the Greater Himalayas (from Ladakh to the northeast), Hindus in the middle Himalayas (especially in Nepal) and Muslims in western Kashmir (owing to their proximity to Afghanistan). At many places, a mixture of Buddhism and Hinduism is seen, a reflection of the intermingling of the peoples of this region over the years.
The people of this region are mainly pastoralists or agriculturalists with yaks, sheep, goats and cows forming the livestock and wheat, rice potatoes and local grains being the chief crops cultivated. Nowadays, the people are engaged in horticulture (apples, kiwi, apricots, walnut etc.) and trade has increased because of a better road network. Details of a few important tribes are given below:
The people living in Jammu and Kashmir are a blend of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists because of influences from various countries, namely Tibet, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Ladakhi people are mostly Buddhists and can be divided into two major tribes.
  • The Changpas (chang = plains + pa = people) inhabit the Changthang valley are mainly pastoral in nature and rear yaks, sheep, goats and donkeys.
  • The Brokpas live in Dras Valley and are descendants of the Dards, the Indo-Aryan initial inhabitants of the region.
The tribes in Himachal Pradesh are mostly followers of Hinduism or Buddhism while some follow a mixture of both. The main tribes are:
  • The Gaddis (gaddi = seat, referring to Bharmaur, the seat of the Raja of Chamba) are nomadic in nature moving with their sheep to higher pasturelands in the summer and returning to their permanent settlements in villages at lower altitudes during winter.
  • The Kinners or Kinnauras famous for their rich heritage of songs and dances and their talent finds mention in most Indian scriptures. They live solely in Kinnaur district and have links with Tibetans because of their proximity to the border.
  • The Lahaulis living in Lahaul and Spiti district whose culture is richly influenced by the cultures of Ladakh and Tibet.
  • The Pangwals inhabiting the upper, snow-bound regions of Chamba district.
  • The Gujjars lead a semi-nomadic lifestyle with cattle rearing being the chief source of income.
  • The word Gujjar is derived from the ‘gurjana’, referring to a warrior class of the Rajput community. Hindus are found mostly in Mandi, Kangra, Sirmaur, Solan and Bilaspur districts while Muslim Gujjars are found in Chamfollow a ba, Mandi, Bilaspur, Solan and Sirmaur districts.
The people of Uttarakhand are colloquially called “pahari” meaning people of the mountains and can be divided into Kumaoni or Garhwali depending on where they live (Kumaon or Garhwal). The two groups speak different dialects of pahari and have slight variations in their social customs and food habits. Within these two major groups, there are various tribes such as the Jaunsaris, the Bhotias (living in the high-Himalayan region on the Tibet border and practicing Buddhism, Hindusim or a mix of both religions), the Bukshas, the Tharus and the Rajis or Vanrawats (lords of the forests).
The people of Sikkim belong to three major tribes. Apart from the Bhotiyas and Nepalis, there are the Lepchas who were the original inhabitants of the area and are now in minority and confined to North Sikkim. The Lepchas are mostly Buddhist though now many of them are adopting Christianity. They are of the Mongolian racial stock and speak a language called rongring. The Lepchas are famous for their expertise with bamboo crafts especially basket weaving and hunting abilities.
The inhabitants of Bhutan are the Bhutiyas or Drukpas (druk = thunder dragon + pa = people) and are Bhuddhists. There are three major ethnic groups in the region:
  • The Ngalongs who migrated from Tibet, brought Buddhism to the land and live in the western and central regions.
  • The Sharchops who live in eastern Bhutan and have ethnic affinity with northeast India and Burma.
  • The Lhotshampas who are of Nepali origin who live in the lowlands to practice agriculture and are predominantly Hindu.
The people of the mountain country of Nepal are either Hindu, Buddhist or follow a religion that is a blend of Hinduism and Buddhism. The main tribes of this region are:
The Sherpas who live in the central and eastern regions and have close ffinity to Tibetans in terms of religion, lifestyle and social customs.
The Gurkhas, Gurung, Thakali, Magar, Tamang, Karmarong, Limbu, Yakka, Khamba, Lepcha, Murimi, Yakthomba, Newar
Arunachal Pradesh is known for its distinctive tribes, of which the best known are:
  • The Monpas, Sherdukpens, Akas, Khowas, Mijis, and Sulungs living in the high altitudinal districts of Tawang and West Kameng).
  • The Nishis, Apatanis, Adis, Hilll Miris living in the districts Upper and Lower Subansiri
  • The Mishmis and Singhphos of Lohit and Dibang Valleys
  • The Wanchos, Noctes and Tangsas of Changlang and Tirap
The people are of Mongoloid origin and the society is not demarcated into castes. Each tribe has its own dance style, weaving patterns and cultural identity.