Limbu people are known as Yakthungba (refers to a Limbu male) and Yakthungma (refers to a Limbu female) in their own language. Yambechha means a male and menchhuma means a female. They are the descendents of the Kirant dynasty of ancient Nepal. The Kirant dynasty ruled Nepal from 3102 B.C. to 7th century A.D. as the first rulers in Nepal.
Historically, until 225 years ago, the Limbus had their own territory that was known as Lumbuwan before King Prithvi Narayan Shah united the territories that make up present-day Nepal. At present, this area is in the eastern part of Nepal (including Taplejung, Sankhuwasabha, Panchthar, Ilam, Dhankuta, and Tehrathum and northern parts of Jhapa, Morang and Sunsari districts). According to the 2001 Census of Nepal, the population of the Limbus is 359,371 (1.58% of Nepali population). Traditionally they have been followers of the Kirant religion that is a type of animism, a belief that both living and inanimate things, such as trees, rivers and mountains possess souls. They have their own spoken and written Limbu language. LIMBU script is known as Sirijanga script.
Historical Social Role of Limbu Women:
Traditional Limbu women wore sim (it is 7-yard long material wrapped as a skirt) with a cholo, a blouse that is made of locally hand-woven dhaka material. Phaee (a long cloth) is wrapped around the waist to tie the sim. They always covered their heads with thakhumya (a large scarf) as an accessory. They loved wearing large gold and silver ornaments. Limbu women traditionally wore a pair of Nesse (a large flat designed gold earrings), a gold mundri as a nose ring, and a dhungri, a stud nose ornament. On their hands, Limbu women wore gold or silver bangles. Silver kalli were worn as anklets. They also wore different kinds of ornaments on different occasions, ceremonies and festivals. Some of these ornaments were Phangsese (a necklace made of nine gold beads which are 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 stud earrings), reji (coin necklaces made of ancient silver coins) and Swagep (a gold ring worn on their fingers). Also in the past Limbu females used to wear Laskari in their ears, 5 or 6 similar tiny gold rings in a row. You can still see old Limbu women in the villages dressed up in this way. All the types of clothing and ornaments women wore suggest that the Limbu economy provided adequately for their needs in those days. Traditional Limbu women looked very elegant and created a unique identity in the world.
Limbu women like to dance the Ya-Lang (paddy dance) and Ke-Lang (Limbu traditional drum dance) at formal occasions like marriages and religious ceremonies. There is also a dance named Mang Lang (Dev naach-God dance) to celebrate religious occasions.
Most of the Limbus are farmers, and many men serve as Gurkha soldiers with foreign armies (e.g., British, Indian) or as security personnel in Singapore, Brunei, and Hong Kong. Women help in farming by working in the fields. They plant rice, harvest the crops and take care of the domestic animals. They also bring up children and take care of their in-laws as well.
My mom used to talk about “pewa” (Pewa is a Limbu word, it is a source of pocket money). Limbu parents were very generous towards their unmarried daughters, for they let them have own money by providing them “pewa”. Some unmarried women used to own a couple of goats or pigs, so they could sell their livestock to get money to buy what they wanted.
My grandfather gave my mom a couple of orange trees, from which she could get her pocket money by selling oranges in the Dharan market. This enabled her to buy her own jewelry or whatever she needed. In those days, buying gold and silver jewelry was a type of family investment.
This article is about Limbu women. I should not forget their gourmet cuisine. Generally Limbus eat the usual Nepali meal, steamed white rice, dal (lentil soup), tarkary(curry) and aachar(a kind of salsa sauce). I would like to mention some Limbu gourmet food- kinema ko achar (fermented soya been pickle), gundruk ko achar or gundruk ko soup ( fermented mustard leaves), yangben (moss that grows on trees), etc. They also a drink a mild beverage called tongba (millet beer), consumed in particular bamboo or wooden large containers with tiny bamboo straws).
Limbu women used to be great fabric-artist entrepreneurs and very hard working. There wasn’t imported thread available for weaving, therefore they used to grow cotton themselves in their fields. They used to spin thread for weaving after harvesting raw cotton and drying it in the sun. Once open a time, “chhitko sari”, woven by Limbu women, was very popular among other Nepali women. They also used to weave handloom cloth called Dhaka. They would be very creative by coming up with different kinds of ethnic patterns such as tanchhokpa (star). They sold that cloth material to women and men in other communities, since imported clothing was not readily available. This type of traditional weaving has been bequeathed to their female descendents. Dhaka material is very popular now, and you can get Dhaka topis (caps), traditional pachheuras (large scarves) and Dhaka cholos (blouses). Today, ties and Dhaka kurta-suruwals (pant suit) are very popular. The traditional material is also used in interior decoration for modern contemporary houses; you can find it used for cushion covers, curtains, table runners, tablemats, etc. This material is also used in boutiques to make unusual and unique designer outfits. Definitely the credit goes to our mothers and grandmothers for passing such skills down through the generations.
Contemporary Limbu Women and Their Social Role:
Today’s Limbu women generally do not dress up in traditional clothes or wear heavy jewelry. They wear all kinds of contemporary outfits such as kurta suruwal, saree and other formal and casual western outfits. Married women wear traditional Nepalese ornaments such as Tilhari with sarees and kurta suruwal. Unmarried women wear light jewelry such as a stud, hoop or dangle earrings, a pendant with a chain, gold link bracelets, a ring, and anklets with kurta suruwal and western-inspired outfits. Some married women also wear formal Indian inspired gold jewelry too, such as heavy mangal sutra necklaces and large dangly earrings.
Contemporary Limbu society, especially in urban areas, has evolved from the village society of one hundred years ago. Modern society has brought about a lot of changes. Limbu women’s responsibilities usually include maintaining the home, cooking, taking care of children and in-laws, as before, but now also include helping educate their children and perhaps managing a shop or pursuing a professional career outside the home. Of course stock market investments are not common in Nepal. The Limbu women manage financial investments in land or property. There are many women whose husbands still work as Gurkha soldiers in foreign countries. Those women learn to manage their lives very efficiently by themselves.
Today, some Limbu women have established careers in every field– in politics, media, business, professional performing arts, legal services, education, and the medical profession. Some names of Limbu women who are active in different fields are mentioned below:
Anjana Limbu (Shrestha): Movie Actress, her best-known movie is Balidaan
Anupama Subba: Actress in the famous movie “Numafung”
Bishnu Chemjong: The first Lux Nepal Star; she was chosen from 5000 other contestants for her beautiful voice.
Jina Lingden: The first Limbu woman pilot
Jayan Subba Manandhar: Choreographer and owns modeling agency called Ramp
Kala Subba: Active model, choreographer and Hits FM RJ.
Lila Subba (Shrestha): Member of Nepal’s Parliament.
Pabitra Subba: An established, well known Nepali singer and actress.
Malvika Subba: Miss Nepal 2002, working with Kantipur telvision as an anchor, and event manager for 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. She is working as a program officer for the NGO-FONIN.
Contemporary Limbu women are highly appreciated for their incredible achievements in a short period. Young Limbu women today, whose mothers and grandmothers may be illiterate or barely literate, may go on to college or obtain specialized training for skilled employment.
Although there are only a small number of Limbu women compared to Nepal’s total population, they are actively involved in every field.