Introduction / History The Limbu are one of the largest
tribal groups in Nepal. They are a sub-group of the Kirant people. The
Limbu live mainly in eastern Nepal between the Arun River and the border
of the Sikkim district in India. They speak a dialect of Kirant, which
is a Tibeto Burman language.
The origin of the Limbu is uncertain, but they are clearly of Mongolian
descent. In the later part of the 1700's, Nepal was formed by uniting
various ethnic groups and principalities under a high caste Hindu
dynasty. This conquest resulted in ethnic and cultural splits with the
The Limbu are known as des limbu (ten Limbu), even though there are
actually thirteen Limbu sub-groups. Legend says that five of the groups
came from Banaras, India and the other eight from Lhasa, Tibet. There is
no social discrimination among the Limbu sub-groups, although there are
a number of different clans and sects. What are their lives like? Agriculture
is the main source of income for the Limbu. Rice and maize are their
principal crops. Although the abundance of land has made cultivation of
new acreage possible, productivity is greatly limited by insufficient
technology. Excess crops are often traded for food that cannot be grown
in the region or for necessary items.
The men generally plow the fields and the women plant the seeds.
However, at harvest time, both men and women work together to bring in
the crops. Extended families often unite to help each other during
Economic hardship among the Limbu has made it worthwhile for many of the
men to join the army, both in Nepal and in India. This brings them a
degree of respect, especially those who have earned a high rank.
In the past, marriages were arranged by the families. Neither the bride
nor the groom had much say about the marriage payments or ceremonies.
Modern times have changed this; today, both parties have an opportunity
to make decisions about the wedding. There are three types of legal
marriages: adultery, arrangement, and abduction. In the case of
adultery, a compensation must be paid to the previous husband.
Women are quite influential within the Limbu families, especially if the
husbands are in the military and stay away for long periods of time.
However, a woman is not fully recognized until she bears her first
Drinking and dancing are very important to the Limbu. Weddings,
mourning, gift exchanges, and settlements of conflicts all involve much
consumption of liquor. Dances are held if visitors come to the village.
These affairs give the young people a chance to meet and enjoy dancing
The Limbu society is patrilineal, which means that the line of descent
is traced through the males. Related families make up clans. When a clan
member dies, the entire group is considered "polluted." They then must
all go through a period of re-purification. What are their beliefs? The
Limbu are predominantly Buddhists, but participate in many popular
Hindu festivals. They also have a number of worship practices that
involve blood sacrifices. They believe that when a woman marries, she
inherits her mother's gods. The woman and her husband then recognize the
deities as their household gods. What are their needs? The
immigration of high caste Hindus-mostly Brahmans-into the region
occupied by the Limbu resulted in the Limbu losing most of their land.
They were only allowed to keep the land that they were living on and
cultivating. The Brahmans had an advantage over the Limbu in that they
could read and write, were skilled, and had resources that the Limbu
lacked. In the eyes of the Limbu, the Brahmans were "ungrateful
servants" who stole their land. This has led to deep resentment between
the groups. The Limbu's struggle for land is an ongoing process that
continues to affect the social and political conditions of the region.