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|Allied Category||Ethnic Group|
|This page contains Lepcha Script.|
The Lepcha people, or Róng people (Lepcha: , ; Plaisier: Róng ɂágít; Róng tribe), Rongkup (Lepcha: (vertically), (horizontally); Plaisier: Róngkup; children of the Róng),Mutanchi-Rong (Lepcha: (vertically), (horizontally); Plaisier: Mútuncí Róngkup Rumkup; beloved children of the Róng and of God), Rongpas (Sikkimese: ), is the aboriginal people of Sikkim, who have a population of 50,000. They are the aboriginal inhabitants of present day Sikkim. Many Lepcha are also found in western and southwestern Bhutan, Tibet, Darjeeling, the Ilam District of eastern Nepal and in the hills of West Bengal.
The origin of the Lepcha is obscure. Many research scholars have come up with as many theories regarding the origin of the Lepcha people. But the Lepcha people themselves firmly believe that they did not migrate to the current location from anywhere and are indigenous to the region. They speak a Tibeto-Burman language which some classify as Himalayish. Based on this some anthropologists suggest they emigrated directly from Tibet to the north, or from Eastern Mongolia. They were even said to be from Japan, while others suggest a more complex migration that started in southeast Tibet, migrated to either Thailand, Burma or Japan, then navigated the Ayeyarwady River and Chindwin rivers, crossed the Patkoi range coming back west, and finally entered ancient India. While migrating westward through India they are surmised to have passed through southern Bhutan before reaching their final destination near Kanchenjunga. But the scholars who have suggested such migratory patterns could not come up with sufficient evidences to prove their theories. The Lepcha people themselves do not have any tradition of migration and hence they conclude that they are aboriginal to the region currently falling under the state of Sikkim, District Darjeeling of West Bengal, Ilam District of eastern Nepal and the southwestern parts of Bhutan. The Lepcha people do have folklores and tales of the past to suggest their inhabitance in the region from times immemorial. Many eminent scholars and anthropologists have carried out detailed study of the lifestyles and traditions of the Lepchas and most among them have concluded that the Lepchas are indeed the oldest inhabitants of the region.
The Lepcha have their own language, also called Lepcha. It belongs to the Bodish-Himalayish group of the Tibeto-Burman languages. The Lepcha write their language in their own script, called Róng or Lepcha script, which is derived from the Tibetan script. It was developed between the 17th and 18th centuries, possibly by a Lepcha scholar named Thikúng Men Salóng. The world's largest collection of old Lepcha manuscripts is found with the Himalayan Languages Project in Leiden, The Netherlands, with over 180 Lepcha books.
Most Lepchas are Tibetan Buddhist by religion, which was brought by the Bhutias from the north, although a large number of Lepchas have adopted Christianity today. However, some Lepchas have not given up their shamanistic religion which is known as Mun. In practice, rituals from Mun and Buddhism are frequently observed alongside one another among some Lepchas. According to the Nepal Census of 2001, out of the 3,660 Lepcha in Nepal, 88.80% were Buddhists and 7.62% were Hindus. Many Lepchas in the Hills of Darjeeling and Kalimpong are Christians today.
The Lepcha trace their descent patrilineally. The marriage is negotiated between the families of the bride and the groom. If the marriage deal is settled, the lama will look to check the horoscopes of the boy and girl to schedule a favourable date for the wedding. Then the boy's maternal uncle, along with other relatives, approaches the girl's maternal uncle with a khada, a ceremonial scarf and one rupee, and gains the maternal uncle's formal consent.
The wedding takes place at noon on the auspicious day. The groom and his entire family leave for the girl's house with some money and other gifts that are handed over to the bride's maternal uncle. Upon reaching the destination, the traditional Nyomchok ceremony takes place, and the bride's father arranges a feast for relatives and friends. This seals the wedding between the couple.
Sex is a common recreation for the Lepcha, beginning at age 10 or 11 and lasting throughout their lives. Adultery is expected and not viewed as a problem. During the harvest festival time, the Lepcha produce homemade liquor to enhance the harvest. At this time, 4- and 5-year olds mimic copulation with each other, at the encouragement of their elders (Meyer).1
- Lepcha script at Omniglot
- Heleen Plaisier's site dedicated to the Lepcha people and Lepcha Language
- Lepcha page at Ethnologue