04 May The lovely children of the woods – Chepang Community
Nepal is a multi ethnic, lingual, religious, and cultural country. Our country has more than one hundred ethnicity and caste group who speak more than 90 different languages. Indigenous people are descendents of the original inhabitants of many lands strikingly diverse in their cultures, religions and patterns of social and economic organizations. In simple word, the term ethnic groups or Janajatis refers to people with distinct language, culture, and native area.
Chepang are also one of those janajatis who lives in the upper slopes of the central region of the country. There are 81000 chepangs all over Nepal. More than 98% of the chepangs are residing in Chitwan, Makawanpur, Dhading, and Gorkha districts. Recently there has been increasing rate of migration for better opportunities. Now they are scattered to Gorkha, Tanahaun,Lamjung, Banke, Bardiya, Kailali, Nawalarasi and Bara districts.
Origin of Chepang:
The word “chepang” is derived from the word Chyobang or Che Pang
Chyo means on the top and bang means stone. In other words, people living in the hills. (Caulghly, Dahal, Bandhu, 1971). Chepangs claims that their ancestors lived and sheltered in caves and most believed that they originated from stone. However, in chepang language Che means dog and Pang means arrow. Therefore it is believed that they used to take dog and arrow in hunting long ago and they were named as Chepang.(Gurung, 1989)
Physical appearance : Round face, flat and shot nose, dark brown complexion, thin and medium ears dark eyes, medium height. In short they are in stature with Mongolian features.
Social life: The house of Chepangs are narrow and small. They are two storied huts covered by thatched roofs. The huts are built on wooden pillars that are kept few feet below the ground. Wooden planks and mud fence the walls of these huts. The construction materials are easily available locally. The huts do not have separate compartments and it consists of only one single room. On right and one side of the corner of the kitchen a bamboo platform is placed which is used for drying goods such as meat corns etc. they have few utensils in the kitchen, earthen pots for water and aluminum for dishes. The mattress used by Chepang people are made of paddy and millet straw, dried leaves of banana and wooden planks. They spread little ash under their mattress before sleeping on the ground or body to make themselves warm.
They claim that they belong to kirati goup of people. The chepang language belongs to Tibeto Burman strains.
Culture : culture provides identity to ethnic community . The chepangs have their own cultural practices including language, rituals, art and artifacts, personal behavior and tradition. The chepang worship the nature and they pray them. Before they consume new productions, they worship to the god in new season. They believe in witch doctors called Shaman ( Pandey/ Phal). The Pande is the main person in the community. They invite Pande to get rid off every type of sickness.
They have their own “Kulpuja” called Tongkolan or Sangma. In this ceremony they sacrifice pig, male goat, rooster, led by the oldest person of this community. They enjoy singing and dancing.
The bow and arrow is the main weapon of this community. This ethnic groups have their own ethnic songs – Mansa geet and Eunrai geet. The Eunrai geet represents and describe human civilizations. This represents formation of the earth, the sun gives rays, the god takes space, and plant takes space. The Mansa geet represents and describe the love story. These geet have own lyrics (laya) sung by the old age person of the society. They sing a song and ask questions and get answers from Kuldevta like Sime and Bhume. They sing this song at the time of harvesting.
Duties : among chepangs, women look after the household while men look after their affairs outside the house. The pande (shaman) takes leadership role in almost all the religious and social activities of the chepang society. The chepangs have the practice of propitiating ancestors (kulpuja) and observing dewali.
The Dhyangro is the unique baja in their community. The superstition is the main problem for development i n this society. The relationship between man and women is not based on domination. Women participate in every decision making process actively. The communal system, Parma system (labor exchange system) shows community has strong cohesion for social integration. After the death of husband women do not remove Sindhur, Pote but can remarry. The women do not hesitate to interact with each other.
Individual characteristics: Simple, trustworthiness, lazy, ashamed habit, does not want to understand the external thing and want to be far from outdoor environment, have the tolerant capacity, unmanaged residence, feeding, and dressing system and politeness are the individual habit and culture of chepang community.
The natural resource is the main source for their livelihood. They have indigenous knowledge to use the natural resource. however, it needs to be improved with new technology.
Begins with birth ceremony, the naming ceremony (Nwaran), Pasni ceremony, the hair cutting ceremony (Chhewar), the marriage ceremony and the death ceremony.
Conception/ Birth: Offspring’s is considered as the blessing of god. A pregnant women and her husband have to follow certain taboos. To touch a dead body, kill snakes or any other animal is considered sinful. The pande gives the sacred rice and water to the mother for the safe delivery of the baby. Generally, father cuts the saal (umbilical cords) with the sterilized knife and buried in a safe place. The period of seclusion varies from ten days to one month. She resumes her normal work after one week for household activities.
The naming ceremony among chepangs takes place in the nine days after the birth of a child. During the ceremony the chepang shaman (pande) reads sacred texts over a cock, a hen, thread colored with turmeric, thin roti(bread) made of maize flour, totala flowers, egg and takes them outside for worship. The child and mother are tied with the thread; a child is given a name. The mother and mother and baby is purified by sunpani (water touched gold) and cow urine and tying a dorra (sacred thread) on the wrist of baby and mother.
After five or six month of babies, birth they start to feed with celebration feast to their relatives known as pasni. The chhewar is another ceremony but it is not important as this s transferred from the other higher caste.
Marriage ceremony: They accept the kinship marriage, inter caste marriage but the endogamous marriage is prohibited. The chepang community does the arranged mariage, capture marriage and love marriage. They welcome to the new couple with sacred diyo and tika. This community also accepts marriage with widow or widowers. This community accepts the marriage with high caste but does not accept with low caste. The chicken (cock from groom and hen from bride), alcohol, banana and jand (yeast) etc are the important things for marriage ceremony. In this ceremony they offer pigs, rakshi, banana, rice, fish etc. the figure 22 digit is very good digit for the marriage ceremony. The quantities of 22 dharni, pathi, kainyo kera, sikka are needed to complete the marriage.
The death ceremony: The death ceremony is another important culture of this community. The dead body is bathed and covered with white clothes and put garlands of flowers on their body and wrapped with burial cloth. The relatives of family comes to give last condolence with flowers, garland, red powder. The funeral procession is akin to the practices enshrined in the Hindu religion. They believes in rebirth after death of the peoples, so they prey to the god and carry out all the funeral procession as described by pande. After 13 days all kins and clans are purified from the day of departure. Chepang men wear single piece of clothes around their waist and women wear clothes similar to majetro up to their necks.
Religion: the religion of chepang is forest (bon). They worship nature. The chepangs follow animisms, although they are strongly influenced by both Hinduism and buddhism , which come from tamang just north of them. They observe all kinds of Hindu festivals of Dashain, Tihar, and sakrantis. Besides this their own tribal festivals are Nawagi which is performed on Tuesday during third week of Bhadra (between august and September). According to the 2001 Nepal census, there were 52,237 chepang people all over Nepal.
Social cohesion: The community has different type of social structures: Both homogeneous and heterogeneous settlements are found. They want to live in homogeneous settlements; as such, type of settlements is strong, consistent and has the strong social integrity. This community is gradually moving towards modernization. Information technology plays an important role to increase awareness. Due to poverty and vulnerability, they have no access to the resources. The patriarchal system dominates women but all women enjoy independence. The local elite class control natural and government resources.
The daily routine of the Chepang community is to collect the feeding materials from the jungles to overcome famine period. They live in scarcity, hard life, and severe oppression by the local elite class. The homogeneous settlements have strong interrelation among them, democratic decision-making process, strong interrelation. After transformation into the heterogeneous settlement, they lose their own system and identity. The women participate in labor equal to man and they have strong social spirit. The labor exchange system is called Parma system.
Parma system is practiced in agricultural works, manufacture and building houses, cattle shed etc. They finish their production in Jand and Rakshi mostly. They are backward in education, health, sanitation, hygiene. In the name of Chepang several nongovernmental organizations launches lots of programme but there is no satisfactorily change in their social and economic status.