According to Gurung records
Economics in the nineteenth century was based mainly on sheep herding and trade of products from Tibet over long distances, where they acted asa intermediaries in the exchange of Tibetan salt for rice from the Nepalese lowlands and on the cultivation of some plants preferring high heights, such as buckwheat. They were also avid hunters, made precise orders, and traveled abroad to serve as soldiers in foreign armies. During this period, they lived in small huts in the high parts of the forest, between 7,000 and 12,000 feet, managing their crops. During the summer, when snow was melting on high pastures, they took their huge herds of sheep there.
Over the next hundred and fifty years, the Gurung population increased from 30,000 to over 200,000, and new villagers built their homes in the lower parts, where rice could be grown in wet fields. They were far away from the high pastures and finally their flocks began to decrease.
Beginning in the early nineteenth century, the British army began recruiting them to the Gurkhas. During the First World War, about 7,000 Gurungs were recruited from western Nepal to regular battalions. Even in times of peace, many thousands of Gurungs served in the army abroad. Beginning from 1947, they were recruited to Indian regiments too. The army paid a salary, providing the family with income as good as in agriculture. Retired soldiers then built large houses of stone in the hills, and the wealth of their families raised the price of the lands.
Looking at the Tamu-mae story, it is known that they have repeatedly been prominent rulers. In the region of the village of Lamjung, has always lived a ruler managing the area from the height of over a thousand feet from his fortifications, whose ruins are still in the forest.
After the unification of Nepal in the middle of the eighteenth century, these rulers lost their strength. The Gurung villages were always more or less self-governing communities, establishing their own law under the leadership of the assembly of elders. They paid several different taxes to the government. They could not count on the help of the state in return, but no one interfered with their internal policies. The tradition of keeping the policy of non-interference by the government in internal affairs was consolidated when introducing in 1950 a system based on panchayats. Of course, here, too, power is a subject of conflict, but the system works: a large part of everyday affairs is settled at rural meetings.
Government bureaucracy increases with the introduction of new forms of birth registration, deaths and marriages, purchase of land, etc. Gurungowie reject the protectionism and uselessness of some institutions of administration. Generally, the village of Gurung is a model of how people left behind can calmly settle their affairs without much interference from the government.
An important and special feature of this community is extremely low crime. One would expect that in the distant mountains, far from government authorities, where police forces do not have access, they could rule a stronger one. But it’s not like that. The Gurung normally do not carry any weapons with them. Their known kukri are seen on rare occasions, most often when killing animals for meat. Some of them have hunting shotguns, but in principle the human race known as magnificent soldiers lives unarmed. Criminal acts are virtually unknown. In twenty years, in the entire area north of Pokhara, among a population of over 5,000 people, one murder and one serious theft were reported. Of course, there are sometimes small thefts among children, but basically people are honest with each other. This is not a result of fear or repression. The police forces in Nepal are not large and have their headquarters mainly in cities, the police are not seen in the hills. It is widely believed that a suspect in custody can be physically beaten by the police, thus people prefer to settle conflicts themselves. The point here is actually that people respect each other and act with their neighbor as much as they would like him to deal with them. The crime would result in the loss of respect and favor of the neighbors and expulsion from society.
If conflicts are so rare, if everyday behavior is so passive and non-aggressive, and even gentle and tolerant, how is it that the Gurung along with other Gurkhas have gained an international reputation among the best infantry infantry in modern history? How have they collected so many awards for heroism in the last two world wars?
First of all – an infantry man must be strong – while a civilian in Europe can barely bear the weight of many kilograms of weapons, Gurung, who has been used to carry a fifty-kilo sack of rice during the harvest, does not consider it a heavy load. Tamu-mae can smile with a smile across any shape, have excellent eyesight and are excellent shooters.
Secondly, their moral and mental qualities are even more important than physical abilities. They are communicative, calm and absolutely conflict-free, hence they easily operate in difficult conditions with other soldiers, issues such as food and cleanliness are not a subject of conflict for them. They work together to support each other without any misunderstandings. They are very hardworking, have a considerable sense of humor and the ability to make others laugh and themselves. They are very optimistic and full of trust and rarely fall into despair or breakdown. They are practical and they try to do everything right from the plaiting basket to the hair cutting. They are curious about the world and eager to learn, they will gladly admit that someone will make a reasonable argument or suggestion. And above all, they are proud, confident but modest people who will follow the leader at the end of the world if they trust him once. Tasks are performed without any questions. They may not be leaders, but as soldiers, they risk their lives radically if the order is required. They can not be bribed with money for a foreign army. Without questioning in this article the reason for the institution’s existence, which is war, we can generally conclude that the Gurung are unquestionable masters of survival.
In the peak period of recruitment to the Gurkh Army, most men from many Gurung villages took up military service. This allowed them to obtain outside influence and obtain such significant access to cash. It was estimated that in the village of Thak in 1970, about one-third of all village income comes from foreign camps. Transfers for foreign service and payments from military pensions raised the inhabitants of these villages above the level of farmers’ maintenance and helped them to become one of the most prosperous groups in Nepal. However, the effects of military service were surprisingly mild in social and cultural life.
As soldiers Gurungowie introduced to the village a few novelties – radio, sewing machines, Scottish tartan material, oil lamps. Although living in Hong Kong or England adapted to urban life and with little difficulty they could implement in trains, buses, telephones and shops, but within a few days after returning to the village, they put away most of the affairs brought from elsewhere in the world to re-enter the world hard physical work, magical ritual and communal rather than individual goals.
Recently, there have been changes in the amount of incoming money and their use. Whereas earlier wages and pensions from military service were used to purchase land and build houses in the village, which was a way to redistribute wealth and increase the value of agricultural land, now this function of financial resources from the army is decreasing. Retired soldiers, especially those who receive high payouts for their service in the army, consider investments for houses in the city to be more lucrative, because in this way they provide education for their children and can enjoy relative luxury and comfortable, easy life offered by civilization.
If we add to this further decrease in British recruitment to the Gurkhs – in 1948 – 377,000 were recruited, 1965 – 15,000, and in 1980 – 7,000 men, it becomes clear that the Gurung in the villages can no longer rely on a steady flow of money, as in past. To a large extent, finance is currently being provided by the Indian Army, which currently employs at least 40,000 Gurkhas, as well as civilian jobs in India and Arabia.
In the process of adaptation to new times, this mild and flexible nation finds its place in many other areas of life. Born with a smile on their lips – how could one describe them briefly – they are sometimes grateful material for the camera, making a career in the Bollywood productions or on the boards of the fashion world. From a small, patient and steadfast in making physical effort, they can reach the highlands.
The latest – the extremely lucrative interest for the inhabitants of the hills is the collection of Yarsagumba. Ophiocordyceps sinensis – Yarsagumba – is a type of fungus that parasitizes the moth larva, producing an extremely valuable fruiting body in medicine. Its market price reaches $ 100 for 1 gram. The harvest covers several days of trekking at an altitude above 2,500 meters meters.
A few years ago, several retired Gurkha officers with significant agricultural experience decided to invest their energy and savings to improve life in the Gurung village. The old water pipes were replaced with plastic piping. The new primary school was built at the expense of the residents, another necessary investment had to be school equipment. New technologies such as plastic containers, corrugated sheets, transistor radios, diesel grinders and water pipes are now a common feature of many villages. Not all projects were successful, but the comfort of the inhabitants of the hills significantly improved.
Over the last twenty years, the pace of change has increased. Poverty is clearly increasing in the hills, and thus also dependence on the outside world. The diet worsens, paths and fields – unused – grow over with weeds. Golden jewelry has been sold, and once delicious clothing now seems not so great and quite inadequate to the situation.
It is difficult to determine the situation in numbers, but a good indicator may be the fact that the total production of cereals in Thak fell by half in 1969-1987, while the population remained unchanged. This is mainly due to the less intensive use of the land, which does not use – as before – earth potential. Some fields have been destroyed by landslides, the land is no longer cultivated to the extent previously, and most importantly, much less animals are kept and as a result there is too little manure to keep the fields in good condition.
To be – more or less – self-sufficient, the inhabitants of the village buy seed for sowing at a nearby supermarket. The total population in the Gurung villages has risen, but not as expected due to very significant migration.
In Thak, the balance of castes has shifted so that smiths and tailors now form a very important part of the workforce, working in the lands of absent Gurung. Over the past twenty years, the share of rice, millet and maize has grown in popularity. This fact reflects a very large increase in migration. This is one of the most dramatic changes in the Gurung villages, from the temporary absence of men serving as soldiers in foreign armies to permanent migration towards cities.
Only during the post-mortem rite, when the richly dressed inhabitants of the city visit their cousins, you can see how the Tamu-mae village comes alive.