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Introduction to Ethnic Groups- The TAMANGS: The unknown Mt Everest Climbers


Marriages are of the three standard types: arrangement, capture and mutual agreement. Only the very rich arrange marriages for their sons or daughters. Such arrangements are made when they are only fourteen or fifteen years old. When the arrangements are agreed upon, the boy's father takes the boy and goes to the girl's parents house accompanied by 40 or 50 people and brings the bride back to his own house, where the actual wedding ceremony takes place. The wedding consists of putting the tika mark on the forehead of both the boy and girl by all senior members of the family and relatives. The neighbors and relatives are fed boiled rice, mutton or buffalo meat, and given much spirit to drink.

A capture marriage usually occurs when the boy selects a bride who may not consent easily or when he wants to avoid the long procedure and expenditure of an arranged marriage. It is done even in the case of preferred cross-cousin marriages to save trouble, time and expense. If the captured girl persistently refuses to get married for three days, she is allowed to return to her parents. If she agrees, a proper wedding ceremony is organized and friends and relatives, including the girl's parents are invited. A girl may be captured from a fair or a market. It her parents take the offence too seriously, they approach the boy's family making demands for compensation. Once they are pacified the rest of the procedure follows smoothly.

Most Tamang young people get married by mutual agreement. When a boy and girl are in love and decide to marry, the boy asks his parents to approach her parents for their consent. Once consent is given the wedding can be organized in the same way as in the case of an arranged marriage. If by any chance either the boy's or the girl's parents do not consent to the match the only choice for them is to elope and remain hidden until their parents either agree or totally ignore them.

In cases of marriage by capture and by elopement the bride and the groom go to the girl's parents' house only when the parents have given their consent. Usually they are accompanied on this visit by a party of 20 or 30 people and their activities are known as zendi. The new couple must take a bottle of spirit as a gift to the girl's parents. The girl receives dowries from her friends, relatives, and parents. Her parents give brass and copper pots and utensils, clothes, ornaments and sometimes cattle, while the others give her a rupee or two or even five rupees each. These gifts are called gordha and the husband must return any of them, which he may have appropriated should he divorce his wife later. The amount of gordha usually depends upon the amount her parents are prepared to spend on the feast provided for the guests. A zendi is usually held within three days after the boy takes the girl. The couple may stay for several days when they come with their friends to the girl's parents' house for zendi while the party itself returns the next day. When the young couple returns home, they are accompanied by a group of people and carry a bottle of spirit as a gift for the boy's parents.

If a man has only one daughter and no sons he can bring in a husband for his daughter to inherit and own property. The husband is not subsequently allowed to take another wife, but should he do so while he is enjoying the property of his first wife's father, it automatically goes back to his first wife. Should the wife leave the husband her father has brought in she is not entitled to her father's property; if she dies the husband can with her parents' permission marry another women.

Lamas usually marry the daughters of other Lamas and teach their sons to act as Lamas. "In this way" notes Furer-Haimendorf, "a class of lamas have grown up and though neither strictly endogamous nor formally privileged, this class now forms an upper stratum distinct from the ordinary cultivators. Lama however is a broad term. The priestly class among the sherpas and all the disciples and monks of any monastery are also popularly called "Lama". There is also a clan called lama among the sherpas. All non-Tamangs, when trying to be polite use the flattering term "Lama" for any Tamang individual.

The Tamangs are professedly Buddhists. There are ghyangs Buddhist temples in every sizeable village. The gods and the religious paintings in the temples are in the sherpa style the religious texts are all in Tibetan script. The few festivals and the ritual ceremonies conducted in the ghyangs are in the proper Buddhist fashion like those of the sherpas and other northern border people. The lamas of the Tamang community are trained in these lamaistic Buddhist ritual procedures and as the official priests conduct different kinds of ceremonies and funerals. In some of the ghyangs they perform chho, a worshipping ceremony on the first days of certain month; for example, chho is observed on the first day of Magh (in mid-January) and in observance of nara, a feast ceremony for the full moon day in August. Most of the ghyangs have an endowment of lands for their maintenance and for giving occasional feasts.

Tamangs inscribe prayers and the names of gods on stone tablets and put them by the roadside framed by a stone wall. There are called hiki. Bibs and manis (chortens of sherpa style) are built as memorials to dead relatives. When one is completed, a big feast is given to the villagers. All of this is supposed to bring some merit, which will help both the dead and the person who spends the money and time in the building process. Lamas are employed for such occasions. At the wedding ceremony, however, Lamas are not necessary; they have no role. But they are employed in reciting religious scriptures for the general welfare and at the name-giving ceremony of a newborn baby. The name-giving ceremony is done on the seventh day for a girl and the ninth or eleventh day after birth for a boy. Many Tamang Lamas have studied in Sherpa monasteries and a few even in Tibet.

Other Tamang religious activities include Jhankrism. Jhankrism is not peculiar to the Tamangs but is found throughout the country among almost all groups of people. Tamangs call their Jhankri priest their bonpo. He conducts kyon gyalsi the 'driving away of the spirits', when people fall ill. He worships and sacrifices animals at the shipda than, a shrine for worshipping and offering sacrifices to the earth deity at the time of bhumi puja in the month of October-November and he officiates at other seasonal agricultural rites.

The bonpo propitiates gods and spirits whenever necessary. He decides when a lha, a clan deity, should be worshipped and which family has the responsibility. Each clan has its own lha and usually the richer members bear the expenses, but all members of the clan living nearby join in the festivities. Each family attending the ceremony brings its contribution of rice and other food and some money, so the family giving the ceremony is partly compensated. The Iha is usually worshipped between November and February. When proper lamas worship their clan deity and observe bhumi puja, they do so with offerings of vegetables only; they do not sacrifice any animals.

Tamangs also perform, on rare occasions, a ritual known as phola Ihasu, a kind of feast of merit in honour of a clan god. This is extremely expensive. When proper Lamas perform it they avoid animal sacrifices of the type that the Jhankri priest would do, but they give a lavish feast to the villagers and make enormous figures of cooked rice. A phola lhasu can be given either by one individual family or by all the members of a clan resident in one village. Tamangs observe the Hindu festival of dashain in honour of the goddess Durga by sacrificing goats and chickens and feasting on them.

The Jhankri bonpo is usually chosen from among the clan members and is considered the clan's priest, whereas a Lama can be of any clan. The bonpo receives one pathi (six to eight pounds) of grain per year from each family in return for the services he renders. He also receives the heads of the animals he sacrifices. The bonpo can call the spirits and becomes possessed in order to enable the gods or spirits to speak through him. When he dies, his spirit selects a new bonpo to take his place.

Between the Jhankri and the Buddhist Lama priest, the lama ranks higher, commanding greater respect from his clients and enjoying a greater income. But Jhankrism is not less important in the socio-religious life of the Tamang community. At funeral rites only the Lama is entitled topreside and a Lama must be present at the time of cremation at the traditional site, which is always on the top of a hill. All villagers bring a bundle of firewood, incense, drinks and rice to the cremation. Then, within 7 to 13 days after death, a funeral ceremony called syarku tongsi is done at the convenience of the family survivors. They bring rice and fifty pice each as their contribution when they come to the feast.

Another ceremony is held sometime in the period beginning thirty-five days after the funeral and before six months have elapsed. This ceremony involves much greater expense. Many guests are invited and they bring rice and a few rupees with them. All these gifts are reciprocal; each family, whenever there is a death within it, provides a feast for the villagers and receives some food and money. The food and money thus collected is usually not quite enough to meet the entire cost but is of considerable help.

The leader of most social activities of the village is the mulmi. He is selected by the people for a definite number of years in some cases, while in others the post of mulmi is hereditary. The office is endorsed by the district government. A new mulmi is officially appointed by the villagers on the day of bhumi puja the worship of Mother earth. They mulmi is the agent for collecting land revenue fro the villagers~ from which he receives a certain percentage when he takes it to the district revenue office. He is also entitled to one day's free labour from each household within his Jurisdiction. The mulmi with the help of the village elders also controls the forest in his area, which is the source of firewood and timber for the village houses. He is entitled to settle disputes, to levy fines and to mete out punishment except in the case of a few extreme penalties, capital punishment life imprisonment shaving the head for degradation of caste or loss of caste all of which are discharged by a higher government official. Whenever the villagers have complicated caste disputes over marriages between members of unequal caste they invite lamas to adjudicate.

End of Part One
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