Limbu: The distressed king fights back

Posted by Kaahon Desk On March 7, 2017

The history of a fringe tribe called the Limbu is no less than the stories of conquests that we hear of great dynasties. It is really difficult to believe when we look at the ordinary men and women like us are descendants of a tribal dynasty who had fought great political wars to save their ethnicity. Limbus straddle between the two nations- India and Nepal. In India, they are spread in states like West Bengal and Sikkim. The oral traditions always mentions of the stories of migration by their ancestors. There was an effort to hinduise their history of origin through quoting their gotras, which is straight away rejected by the historian’s and academicians of the Limbus of Sikkim. There’s a very less relevant documentary source regarding the origin of the Limbus and the historians have also not much elucidated on this fact. What is left with us is nothing but some fragmented memories.

The mostly accepted view of their origin is that they belonged to the Kirat origin. This is again a very wide view as the Kirats engaged a very vast range of ethnic groups and communities. Some scholar is of the view that they had their own kingdom called the Limbuwan beside the Rongs of the Lepchas. Limbus had fought against the Aryans for forty years and there is a mention of this fact in the Rig Veda. In regard to their migration, it is said that they were once part of the Indus valley civilization, and due to the arrival of the Aryans, they migrated through Wallanchuk into India and Tibet. People speaking fluent Limbu language is found near Wallangchuk, even their tradition and cultures match that of the Limbus. Though it is very difficult to come to any valid conclusion based of the Kirat origin of the Limbu tribe.

The second theory, explains the migration of the Limbus from China. They are supposed to be migrants from the Sichuan Yunan province of China. They had left their land due to tribal antagonism, and had settled in a place called Nam Maw under the leadership of Pongbo Hang. A group which had spread further east, had settled in a place called Mokwan and called themselves Shan Mokwan. This group stretched further east of Nepal and came under the leadership of the eight Kirat chiefs. Here they were oppressed, and war was inevitable. Shan Mokwan turned victorious, and had put up a boundary to their kingdom, which stretched its boundaries as Tibet in the North, Jalalgarh near Purnia in the south, River Teesta in the east and river Dudkosi in the West. They had named this kingdom as Limbuwan. They divided this kingdom among ten tribal chiefs and started calling themselves as Yakthumba or the head of the hill tribes. This view also holds relevance as the natives of Arakan shares similarity in culture, costumes, food and military tactics with the Limbus. Historians have agreed that the Limbu progenitors have started descending downwards as hunter gatherer tribe after the Ice-age, along the Yellow river of North China, and Yangtze River of South China, bringing along with them the knowledge of millet and soybean cultivation.

It is impossible to differentiate Limbu culture from their religion

In Sikkimese context, the most accepted theory for the origin of the Limbus is the theory of the Tibetan origin. It’s said that the Limbus have migrated from the Tsang district of Tibet. The Gods and Goddesses of the Limbus match the description of the nameless pre Buddhist religion of the Tibetans. The Nahangma a Limbu goddess is very similar to dgra-Iha God of the Tibetans. It is said that Uba Hang, who had revived Yuma Samyo (religion of the Limbus) had discouraged Buddhism and had led a campaign southwards and had established a kingdom for himself in April 846CE. Even today, the festival Tong-Sum-Tong-Nam is celebrated in his name. It’s also said that the second brother, among a clan of three brothers, had migrated southwards, defeated the Lepchas and had carved out the place, Limbuwan for them. History also whispers of a mass migration from Tibet to Sikkim, as some Limbus had strongly resisted against the conversions to Buddhism. The Buddhist Limbus were more associated with other ethnic similar groups of Tibet; the non-Buddhists were forced to migrate to Bhutan and Nepal. Guru Padmasamvaba had also come to convert some of the Limbus to Buddhism, it is said that he was forced to flee back. This had angered some of the Tibetans, who had waged a war against the Limbus residing in Nepal. Some of the Limbus had fled and thus they had settled in parts of Sikkim. The Limbus are also found to be under the famous Namgyal dynasty, under the rule of Phuntsok Namgyal.

The history of marginalization for the Limbu tribe is very recent under the process of Hinduization as started by Prithvi Narayan Shah by implying the codes of Aryan culture and racial linkages to subjugate the Limbu people. The Limbus were very confident in the land of Nepal. They were very sure that the Gorkhas cannot defeat or disrespect them. All the three wars that were fought between the Gorkhas and the Limboos, the Limbus had won. Till, when the Gorkhas took other ways of treachery, they tempted many Limbu Chiefs or Subedars with King’s titles and medals to betray with their own tribe. Many of the Limbu chiefs under this temptation accepted the suzerainty of the Gorkha ruler in 1774. But later, the subsequent Gorkha kings were taken all these titles away. The Limbus had a Kipat system (communal ownership). Though Prthvi Narayan Shah promised to uphold the rights and virtues of the Limbus in order to avoid a direct clash, simultaneously, converting the Kipat lands through complicated laws into Raikar lands (land of the Government). The British Government backed Prithvi Narayan Shah, the Sikkim king was also a lost power by then to back the Limbus to get back their position.

Though it is very difficult to get a clear solidified historical timeline regarding the history of the holistic tribe called the Limbus, we can get some ideas if we stich the broken bits of information as gathered regarding them. We can conclude at least on some points, like they were nomadic hunter gatherer tribe, who had migrated from someplace like Tibet, China, plains of Northern India to parts of Nepal and India. They possess an ethnic vanity for their political position and also rich language, culture and tradition. Though fringed and marginalized, they are trying hard to earn back their past glory.

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