Wandering at the Annapurna massif, you can see the villages placed on high-lying borders, which`12qw fields are descending down the valley. Who are the people living in these villages, whose cheerfully bright, slightly Mongoloid faces can be found on the paths? It is a Gurung caste inhabiting the foothills of the Himalayas, meaning “Tamu-mae” – as they call themselves in their own language.
The Gurungs are the dominant ethnic group inhabiting the region around Annapurna, but they are surrounded by other ethnic groups with which they penetrate to a large extent. Some of them also belong to Tibeto-Burmese ethnic groups and it is very difficult to distinguish their language and culture – the Tamangs, as well as the inhabitants of Lower Manang and Mustang – they all have the same roots as the Gurung and in fact many of them consider themselves Gurungów; they have the same priests, similar rituals, and speak mutually understood languages. They remain in very close relationships and marriages between these caste are quite common.
In addition, a lot of Gurung information also qualifies for the above-mentioned ethnic groups. Magarans, another Tibetite-Burmese group living more to the south and west is culturally close to the Gurung, as well as Bhoteas and Tibetans from the north. Other ethnic groups that are adjacent to them are Indo-Arians from the southern Brahmin caste (priests), Chetris (warriors) and service caste, tailors, shoemakers and metallurgists. These people can be easily distinguished from people from hills with mongoid qualities through their Aryan features.
This area is therefore a cultural breakthrough between the Indo-Aryan south and the Sino-Tibetan North. In a situation of growing competition for slopes suitable for cultivation, one could expect significant disputes between people historically divided by language, race and religion. For now, it is not so visible. Gurongs maintain polite contacts with others and there are many friendships between groups.
The Gurung were originally from the distant north, which is clearly seen in their language classified as a combination of Chinese and Tibetan and their physical characteristics – low height, slanted eyes, flat noses and general mongoloidal features. It is almost certain that many thousands of years ago their ancestors lived in the high mountains of western China. The course of a long migration process through wooded mountains is recorded only in myths and legends. Some suggest that the main road ran through the regions of Burma and then west through Assam, Eastern Nepal to their present seats, where they have been living for more than seven hundred years.
Other legends tell us that the Gurung were nomadic shepherds who went through high pastures in Tibet and the Mustang kingdom to settle on the southern slopes of the Annapurna massif.
Another tradition, on the other hand, suggests their double origin: the ‘chaar jat’ clans who came from the south, from the territories of northern India and ‘sohra jat’, who came from the north. Chaar jat includes four clans considered to be higher, equal to the Brahmnins, having royal roots: Ghale, Pangilama, Ghotane and Lamichane. Sohra jat includes 16 clans: Mahji, Kumal, Darai, Danuwar, Bramu, Murini, Hayu, Chepang, Khapang, Pahari, Neware Kurna, Pechahari, Kusalya, Palahari, Musahari, Hurkya. Os 192 year is suggested equality of all Gurungów. There was even a period when talking about the superiority of one clan over another was seen as the basis for claims for a fine of 20 NRS.
The mongoloid societies of Tibet and China from which the Gurungans came did not have a caste system because they did not practice caste politics. For at least several centuries, the Gurung and other hill people mixed their culture with the caste culture of Aryan India and were influenced in various ways from that side. They entered the caste system as a pure caste, but still lower than the brahmin caste, who traditionally do not allow marriages with them, and do not take their dishes or water from them.
In turn, Gurung accept service castes who live with them in their villages as a lower caste. Traditionally, Tamu-mae do not deal with metallurgy, tanning and tailoring. For centuries, every village had a small habitat for blacksmiths, purse makers and tailors who worked for the Gurung. The relations between them resemble the relationship between the client and the service provider in the Indian village. Every blacksmith had to work for many Gurung families, producing pots, pans, knives and plows for years, with which he was paid. They did not have permission to visit the Gurung houses and if they had publicly, ostentatiously touched someone from the Gurung caste, this had to be cleared by a simple ritual of dipping gold in water. In practice, however, there were quite frequent contacts and no one was too concerned about them.
Changes have occurred over the last thirty years. The purchase of metal products from factory production, leather products and clothing in the bazaar deprived the service caste of their traditional roles. Instead, they occupied abandoned farmlands, as the Gurung left their villages to settle in cities. These employees are paid daily rate, or the rule of participation in cultivation applies. Thanks to this, the position of service groups did not deteriorate significantly despite the loss of traditional functions, but only changed.
Changes in the city are comprehensive. Outside the caste, it is not formally recognizable; in public places – buses, shops and restaurants, the caste law is abandoned. But privately, the Gurung still consider it inappropriate to be in the house of a metallurgist or take food from him. In this way, we have an indirect variant of the caste system far more than the still functioning caste system in India. Europeans are essentially outside the system, although it often happens that traditional Brahmins do not allow them into the kitchen.
Gurongs were always migrant shepherds, herds breeders also cultivating small amounts of rice. Currently, their activities are fairly evenly distributed to agricultural production and pastoralism. The higher you go into the mountains and further away from the city, the more important the animals become, so very old Gurung villages such as Siklis, Bhujung and Ghanpokhara still depend on large herds of cattle, sheep and goats. Well, if the village has access to high pastures, where they can be taken away in the summer. Goats are kept for meat, which is considered a greater rarity than, for example, sheep’s meat. The sheep are mainly kept for wool.
Neither sheep nor goats, however, give much milk. Buffalos are kept in large numbers in both high and low villages. They are kept on farms throughout the year and do not require summer grazing. They produce about three liters of milk per day and a large amount of “dung”, ie dung constituting a valuable agricultural fertilizer and more. Water buffalo meat is also eaten, while eating meat from cows is prohibited by Hindu law. However, a buffalo being held in the village needs about 12 kg of green mass brought to him.
In April, before the beginning of the monsoon, flocks of goats, sheep and sometimes also cattle are led to high pastures. Here, at an altitude of 8 to 10 thousand feet, melting snow fertilizes the soil, creating good conditions for grazing herds. Shepherds and cattle farmers from many villages gather together and build a seasonal camp in which they live during the summer months. In October and November, animals are brought down through forests to fresh stubble where rice harvest has just been collected. There, they feed on the remains after harvest, leaving valuable fertilizer on the field. When the millet is harvested from the fields, animals are transported there. On the rice fields, in turn, wheat is sown as another crop after rice. Then the animals stay close to the village until spring, when the migration cycle begins again. Such migration is highly risky. It is estimated that usually about half of all sheep in the herd and their children born annually in the Lamjung region are killed by leopards and tigers.
No travelers across Nepal can not be impressed by the wonderfully hewn terraces on the steep slopes. The efforts of many people for centuries created fertile fields instead of stony slopes. The main crop in the Gurunga villages is in the lower fields of rice, while the corn and millet above. Different types of lentils, small beans and vegetables are sown between fields or in gardens. Potatoes are grown as another crop after harvesting millet or corn, or at new places after cutting the forest. Terraces are usually small. In the village of Thak, the size of the estate is usually two-thirds of acres of crop per person. If the yields are sufficient and the village is functioning properly, an adequate cycle of subsequent tasks is carried out. Here are the main tasks of the village, grouped by months:
January – fertilization of fields, construction of houses and roads;
February and March – cutting and destroying firewood before monsoon;
April – plowing corn fields, planting rice;
May – plowing rice fields, planting millet, digging corn;
June – replanting of rice and millet to positions;
July – planting corn;
August – corn planting and rice growing;
September – millet pollen;
October – rice harvest;
November – harvest of rice and millet, threshing rice;
December – grain threshing and storage
The Gurung village may seem like a jumble of houses, separated from each other by a tangle of narrow paths tainted with manure. However, there are a few points worth paying attention to.
In the main places there are taps with water or sources to which women come to fill their pitchers, do the laundry or wash their children. Usually on the main road in the village, this place is the main social center where you can listen to the latest gossip. It is believed that witches meet here at night, and fire flashes from their fingers.
Many villages also have a shop selling basic products: sweets, batteries for flashlights and radio devices, matches, cigarettes, sugar, oil, rice, pasta, kerosene and sweetened drinks. In larger villages, you can also buy sandals or clothing. In such a place, you can have a cup of tea or occasionally eat a meal or stay overnight.
Many villages also have a kind of large hall serving meetings of the village council, where travelers can sleep. Some of them have large stone seats in the yard for these meetings. On the outskirts of the village there are usually one or two small temples dedicated to local deities. Here you will find information about accommodation in Sikles, the traditional village of Gurungów.
The entrance to the village is often marked with a line of flowers along the path. In some villages, public latrines are built, sometimes there are private outlets in homes. Basically, however, everyone goes to the edge of the village.
Gurung houses were originally built of wood covered with mud and fertilizer, covered with thatched grass. Recently, however, stone and tile have replaced construction materials of the earlier type, but still a mixture of mud and fertilizer is used within the built verandas. Roof tiles are currently replacing a fairly common corrugated iron.
When entering a traditional Gurung house, low ceilings, smoke and lack of daylight usually prevent you from seeing anything. Please take off your shoes in front of the entrance door to prevent the smoothness of the floor. You can be invited to take a seat on a bed in the living room, or on a mat or stool by the fire. When it is already used to the darkness that prevails in the room, you can see numerous pots and dishes on the shelves and an indistinct outline of the house’s structure. Almost always, the Gurunges reserve the ground floor as a residence for Europeans. There is usually a utility room nearby to store grains, baskets, mats and tools.
The kitchen is the central place of home life. Above the hearth hangs from the ceiling a large wooden frame used to hang meat and fish smoked meats, and to dry small amounts of grain. Around there are shelves with copper vessels, bowls and cups used for special occasions; these shelves also define the welfare or poverty of the farm. Larger pots with water, oil or “raksi” – local moonshine and rice baskets stand on the floor. There are various tools tucked in between the ceiling beams. Often you can see toothpaste, which has now replaced the ash used previously for this purpose. Ash, however, is still used to clean pots and plates.
Nowadays, many houses do not look so traditional anymore. Even in high places villages with stone floor and Western style kitchen are built, and often with a toilet.
People sit opposite each other. Women perfect the art of braiding their long skirts around their legs and between crouching or sitting on the floor. When you sit down with your legs rolled up, it’s less likely that someone will support you. Stepping on someone or even just touching someone with your feet is considered bad manner.
Eating is eaten with bare hands, washing them before and after eating. It is a good habit to ask an older person in the family for permission before eating or drinking. The guests eat first, then the family; when everyone finishes it, usually an elderly woman at home.
Sleeping is being prepared on hard wooden beds, sometimes on mats on the floor. People sleep wrapped in rugs or cotton covers. Usually, women, men and children are separated. Sometimes a newly wedded couple also gets a separate “bedroom” using a bamboo wall.
The collection of wood and water is two important activities for the farm, but non-agricultural activities. The fire is sustained throughout the day; the average Gurung family burns about five cubic meters of wood a year, or some 120 heavy beams. One half of the working day is needed to gather one such large bundle. Most of the year, dead wood is collected, but in the spring fresh trees are cut and left to dry before the monsoon season. In the summer, people are too busy to pull wood from the forest, which is often wet and infected with leeches at the time.
The time and effort devoted to bringing water to the home has been reduced by introducing piping in the villages. Still, the lady of the house or her children sacrifices over one and a half hours a day to bring water. Each farm needs around three large buckets of water per day for cooking, washing and drinking for cattle. The ground floor is easily disturbed and must be soaked at least once a day and smoothed with a mixture of manure and mud. Other home activities such as washing, sweeping and cooking take up the rest of the women’s day.
Gurung home equipment is usually very simple. For digging or weeding, they use smaller races to plow the field with an iron plow harnessed with oxen. For all work related to cutting, from harvesting grains to cutting wood, a small curved crescent is used. Occasionally – for killing animals and cutting meat – serves kukri knife known as the traditional weapon Gorkhów branches.
The grain is husked with the help of the feet and a special device. Small stone grains are used to grind small amounts of grain, while larger quantities of grain are made with a water mill or powered with diesel oil.
The Gurung are practical people and rarely give presents to someone; however, these are always things that seem to be practical. Stubbornly, they are still using the natural materials available around them in a full attention. Clay does not have much in this region, so only some villages produce dishes. In almost all Gurung houses you can see a vessel for the production of “Raksi” – a traditional whiskey distilled from millet.
Tamu-mae people do not process metal and do not use stones at all except construction of houses. In some villages you can see beautifully carved dishes made of carefully selected wood. Wooden vessels for water are carried out within the village, but copper pots and tanks have been made in the last 50 years. Recently, however, copper, wooden and clay dishes are replaced by plastic buckets and bowls.
Each village has access to bamboo and is used in many ways – for building gazebos, cells for animals, fences. Various types of baskets for carrying and storing, corn trays, fish traps, rain covers and various sizes of woven mats are made of it. Simple furnishings include a bamboo table and seating mats. Men traditionally gossip baskets, working with bamboo. Women make home mats using thick grass. During the winter months, many women still handle weaving. There is a simple loom tied on the back, which – to give tension to the matrix – uses the body weight. The reel is also simple: the torque is given by a large round stone in the center. Women also use a simple spindle, thanks to which weaving while walking.
The materials are woven from wool, nettle fiber and, of course, also from imported cotton. The specific type of nettle is washed, beaten and then twisted, finally to weave a piece of cloth from it, from which the bags worn by men are sewn. The thicker thread is used to weave sacks; previously, men’s skirts were also woven from them, but now they are sewn from cotton available in the bazaar. In the villages that breed sheep flocks, the thick cloaks worn by men are also sewn, thick rugs are made, and other things to which sheep’s wool is suitable. Recently imported wool has also been imported to the hills, used for the production of Tibetan-style plaids for the international market. However, now the fabrics from which the clothes are made come mostly from the city bazaar.
You can meet all kinds of clothing in the Gurung villages, ranging from denim jackets of teenage sons of wealthy hosts, to traditional thick clothing and rags worn by the poorest. Children now wear western clothing, but women still prefer traditional clothing tying. The traditional dress of a Gurung woman consists of a small skirt dressed for a long tubular skirt; the complement is a square of black velvet interspersed with colorful cotton strands, folded from the back of the skirt in the shape of a triangle. The structure is held in place by a three-and-a-half meter long sash wrapped around the waist. Above her, women wear a lace-up blouse sewn high to the neck. On the top, a velvet coat is applied over the left shoulder. Older women from Tibet like to wear necklaces of gold, turquoise and other semi-precious stones. Gold jewelry, earrings and bracelets are bought in the city. Married women wear glass or plastic red bracelets. When one of them breaks, they are thrown away immediately, because it is believed that the life of the husband is threatened if the woman still wears a broken bracelet. They are all destroyed after the death of their husband.
Man and woman traditionally wear shirts made of the same fabric. The man wears a “kilt” tied with a belt and a sack worn on his back with cross braces on his chest, and a Nepalese hat. All the above elements of clothing, except for the men’s shirt, are still dressed today in the Gurung villages.
There is an important understanding of the family structure because it is key in their entire social and economic system. Gurungów are characterized by a calm disposition, non-aggressive, humorous attitude, and the ability to cooperate without conflicts. Older people are treated with respect and – especially in the villages – there are small problems with growing adolescents.
Another important feature of the system is the pattern of terms defining the order of birth and gender that is functioning among the Gurungów. Although they sometimes differ, most often family members are referred to as follows:
The oldest daughter – nani,
the second – moeli,
third – saili,
fourth – kaili,
last – kaji;
The eldest son – thargu,
second – email,
third – saila,
fourth – kaila,
the last – kancha;
Addressing an elderly person with whom you have no blood ties, you can talk to her grandmother – “bujae” or grandfather – “bajae”. Each person of a generation of one’s parents may be called a father – “aha” or a mother – “ama”. If we turn to someone a little older than ourselves, we can say brother – “agi / dhai” or sister – “didi”. Analogously to the younger one – “bhai” or younger – “bhaini”. If you do not know your family status or age, you can refer to the girl – “nani” and the boy “thargu / ali”.
Similarly, these elements of the language have been adopted in the entire Nepalese community.
In the Gurung society considered to be a somewhat strange cry of people with their real names. Often people in the village do not even know their neighbors by name. It is very unkind to address someone directly by his name, or even using the word husband – “pa” and wife – “mri”. When talking about them or turning, you should use “mother” or “father”. Names in the family are often used – substitute names. However, the Nepalese society – on the contrary – has already adopted the Western style to a certain extent by calling people with their own names.
The closeness in the family can be emphasized by the way children are brought up. They are a real treasure for the family and are fondled by their parents from the first day of their life. When the child cries, the mother almost calms them down by the breast, while older children are constantly supervised by somebody during play in order to prevent them from being hurt. You do not see an adult strike a child in anger, but sometimes he yells at children.
It is very obvious to worship older siblings; in turn, they spend hours each day playing with their younger siblings or wearing them on their backs. Only some families use disposable diapers, and traditional nursing is preferred. Such a full of hidden feelings builds a strongly connected family. The sons remain very close to their mother and have a great respect for her parents throughout their lives.
The parent-child relationship remains strong throughout life as well in all castes that sustain their traditions. The mother has full power over her son even after his marriage – which in the West seems unthinkable.
Children in Tamu- mae society usually accept parental decisions, for example in the matter of marrying or choosing a career in life. They also realize that it is their duty to ensure that parents are worthy and look after them well, just as they have been treated in their childhood.
Marriage has traditionally always been an issue too important in the Gurung society, so that it can be left to the whims of youth. The wedding exerts a great influence on the existing social relations not only of the married couple, but also of all her relatives. The mother and father, assisted by an elderly relative from the family, choose an adequate bride or groom, and then inform the main interested person. Sometimes a couple never meets before the ceremony before. If the couple do not cling to each other, they may refuse to intercourse and the issue of the relationship is closed, as the marriage is an irreversible event among the Gurung. The choice – fortified by many rules – can be very limited. The partner can not be from the same clan, but he should be closely related to the neighboring clan. Usually the cousin of the first line is preferred as the wife – either the mother’s brother’s daughter or the father’s sister’s daughter. The partner should come from a family with a similar economic status and be at a similar age. The Gurung get married at the age of twenty, although the Brahmins who live with them usually get married in their teenage years.
It is preferable to spend the daughter’s husband in the order of birth, the oldest should come out first. You also need to communicate with the priest to choose the right wedding date. He will consult astrological charts to find out if the couple is compatible and can live together happily. In the past, the Gurung family could marry more than one wife, but now it is forbidden by Nepalese law. Isolated cases still work – if the first wife does not object, then there are no contraindications.
For some time after the wedding, the girl can stay in her family village and only occasionally meet her husband, especially when he is employed abroad. If they do not have children within a few years of marriage, or simply if the couple do not like each other, the relationship can be dissolved.
Looking at a couple working together, or taking care of one another in illness, it becomes clear that the majority of wives and husbands remain in very close relationships. However, such a relationship is almost never based on personal choice or romantic love from time before the relationship.
The relationship is concluded in two stages. First, rituals involving the meeting of the couple and relatives of the bride and groom are held: the bride’s friends bring her from her village to the groom’s home usually in the evening. The mother of the groom closes the door of the house and only after several knocking they are allowed to enter. The bride and groom are seated near each other, the face and head of the girl is covered with a veil. The eldest man in the groom’s family speaks a few words and then introduces him to the bride using the term that she should refer to him from now on. The young people receive tikka from him on their foreheads of rice mixed with milk and similarly they make tikka mutually. There is no priest at the time. Now the couple are already married according to the Gurunga custom and guests can have their meals together with the hosts.
A few years later, the second ceremony is held, which officially takes the bride from her line to her husband’s family. This is happening in the village forum. The parents of the bride are given money, raksi – a regional vodka run from millet, and rice, and her father formally transfers it to her husband’s family. This is an officially concluded relationship. The Nepali government recently introduced a registration of unions, which should be made after the first ceremony. This formal confirmation of the relationship at the first stage makes the second ceremony unnecessary.
Among the young, especially in the cities, “love marriage” is very popular now. In the villages, the parents’ old system of partner selection is usually still functioning.
After birth, the child is protected from misfortune by suspending magic threads tied around the neck, wrists and ankles. The baby is fed on call, washed and lubricated with olive oil every day. During the day, he sleeps in a bamboo cradle suspended on the veranda. When he is awake, he is carried on the back by his mother, father or siblings.
The first haircut of the boy is delayed until the village priest determines the appropriate day, so you can sometimes see five or six year old boys with hair falling on their backs. By the age of five, young children still have no responsibilities and play with their peers at all times. Then they are expected to take care of younger siblings while their parents are working. Sometimes they are already doing small tasks like collecting water. As they grow, more tasks are assigned to them, so that at the age of fourteen or fifteen they perform all the work of adults, except for plowing. There are no special rituals related to the achievement of age, except for the ceremony of cutting the hair of boys and girls’ ceremonies when they start to wear adult clothing when they are seven or nine years old. Generally speaking, children are spoiled by the age of five, but older children are treated like young adults. Of course, they respect older people, but in principle their position does not differ from adults.
Important changes have occurred over the past thirty years in connection with the introduction of education. Every village has access to school and education is compulsory until the age of fifteen. Children learn foreign languages - Nepali and English – mathematics, exact sciences and practical sciences like diet and health. In addition, education gives children a view of the outside world outside the village and the opportunity to escape from a life filled with daily drudgery. Until the fifth grade, the school is free – you only pay for books, but then you also have to pay for the school. Many parents make great sacrifices to educate their children.
As the village school does not reach the tenth grade, children must go further to regional High Schools, or live near it. Some parents take a drastic step in selling their land to move to the city and ensure the child attends school and university. They try to find employment in a factory or office there.
For most of the children who do not move to the city, the day is still full of physical work. As a standard it starts with a trip to the forest to collect wood or feed animals, followed by breakfast. Then from ten to four a school and usually a long way to it. After returning from school, children still have work at home or in the field. During the holidays and at weekends, the children work together with their parents.
The low wages received by school teachers are connected with the fact that they are also farmers and understand the need for agricultural work. All this changes when children go to schools in cities. Even if the parents remain in the village, the roots die very quickly. Their world grows into bazaars, tea shops, cinemas, cars and buses, and although they sometimes return to the village, they rarely take part in field work. Urban boys can be easily distinguished by their fashionable clothing and shoes. They are being prepared for the urban way of life, however, offering a limited number of jobs for a wide stream of inflowing qualified young people.
Imported toys are rarely found in the village, children play with stones, nuts and berries, which are replaced by pawns or glass balls. With the help of animal blisters they can make the ball into the game. Older boys are racing with their friends in running and throwing stones, playing football or basketball on an improvised pitch. Youth of course also likes to listen to songs on the radio, read novels.
Still, the most popular entertainment among the Gurung is singing and dancing. Anyone who spent even one night in the Gurung village had to hear the sound of the drum and groups of singing girls and boys. Traditionally, the songs sound in the Gurung language. It seems peculiar that the favorite subject of songs in this society of arranged marriages is love.
Songs, sung by girls are different than boys’ songs, each group sings different content and each of them tries to make a special impression on the opposite sex by means of annoying personal trips and chants called the “pigeon game”. Nowadays, however, there is a strong tendency to sing songs of rather Nepalese pop, which very much fall into the ear. Boys and girls dance together or individually creating a show for a group of viewers.
In the regions of distant hills the shepherds still dance while singing traditional songs and accompanying themselves with a simple two-string instrument. He dances slow pace with a developed hand movement, short ballads are sung about a few lines. The most famous dance is “Garda Sheba”, considered a traditional Gurung dance, although originally it came from the south.
“Garda Sheba” tells the story of the wife of King Thakuri, who was obliged to the “sati” ritual after the death of her husband, that is, burn him along with him on the funeral pyre. It is danced in the period after the harvest, between January and March. The dance master instructs two young girls between the ages of nine and sixteen. On the first evening, the girls fall into a trance. They stand slowly, swaying their hips from side to side and shaking their fingers. The dance is accompanied by the rhythm of the drum and the slow slow singing of the male voice. Girls have beautiful costumes and gold necklaces and bracelets, flower garlands and dresses embroidered at the top with gold. The dance can last for over twelve hours and the whole event takes three days. The ritual is carried out for a specific household or a person who will pay money between 100 and 1000 NRS. The obtained money is a reward for dancers and singers.
The tradition of the “Garda Sheba” dance, however, dies in many villages. Similarly, the ritual “Rodi” disappears, during which young people gather to dance and sing together.
The essence of “Rodi” is a joint meeting and night time grouping of girls and boys of a similar age, usually between 14 and 17 years old, practiced by young people around the world. Such a group “Rodi” works together in the fields during the day and it happens that in the evening someone gets an invitation to the house “Rodi” from the opposite sex to dance and sing together. Traditionally, this home is the residence of one of the parents of young participants or the home of another adult who becomes a “father” or “Rodi’s mother” for the night. The adult oversees the play of the young, stays with them all night and sleeps with them. During the night of “Rodi” young people often sing and dance all night, sometimes they also do expeditions to the neighboring village; they come back at dawn then, to cope with daily tasks. It does not happen in this society that sexual liberty occurs during such a nightly event. Basically, the youth behaves more like in school, taking advantage of the opportunity to play safely together with slightly older and experienced people. This innocent and highly useful institution is currently dying fairly quickly in the villages, driven by Hindu values and the pressure of the city. This tradition was once a subject of criticism from the Hindu side as immoral action. It looks like it’s not a problem for anyone anymore.
However, the greater threat lies in the fact that common work and shared values are of less and less importance to the community, as many young people leave their villages to go to cities or to employment in India, and work in the countryside becomes a fever for wage laborers. The point is that a strong separation between the concepts of “work” and “rest”, “work” and “play” seems to be based on the Western definition. It’s good to combine singing and flirting to improve work in the field, and in the evening to meet together to dance and sing when shelling beans, or to flirt when combing wool. This explains why hard work is done so quickly and cheerfully.
What strikes passengers arriving to the Tibetan-Burmese high is the feminine openness and self-confidence. Although they eat the next in order of men, they can not be priests and do not get too visibly involved in public life, but they do most of the activities allowed for men and are generally considered equal. Women can own land on their own, and as a widow or daughter, they are sometimes the richest people in the village. They open a shop or business; during the absence of their husband, they run a farm, rent workers, sell crops and arrange all activities related to planting and harvesting.
Even a short acquaintance with the Gurung village will reveal to us that women work harder than men. While men relax with conversation or game, women rarely rest. They get married and then give birth to their children without anesthesia and usually without a midwife; they breastfeed without interrupting their work. They are extremely durable, flexible and cheerful. They mix with young and old men without any signs of submission or unnecessary coquetry. They join with enthusiasm for sometimes bawdy singing and jokes, and often carry out family rituals. They also play a key role in the post-mortem ceremony. Although their life is filled with hard physical work, it may seem more interesting and better to people from the West than the lives of women in other parts of the world, or even in the neighboring Brahmin community. Little emphasis is placed on the sexual purity of women and they are not strictly separated from men during childbirth or menstruation.
There is not a great deal of puberty, there are no specific rituals or segregation where women are to sit, no humiliating surgery on the sexual organs or painful tattoos. Loss of cleanliness before the wedding is not well understood, but a daughter who has an illegitimate child is seldom rejected by her family. Abortion is not approved and it is extremely rare. Both when talking to women and men, we hear about gender equality and – if we drill down – it is argued rather that the strongest are women who keep finances and guide the life of the family or rural community.
When visiting the village of Tamu-mae, many older men and women are seen. It is worth mentioning that these people do not give up their economic, social or ritual functions with age. Until death, the elderly are useful: they grind, spin, baskets baskets and mats, thresh millet, shell beans look after children and basically allow younger people to do harder work. In addition, the older they are, the more their spiritual status increases. They communicate with ghosts, go on pilgrimages, run family rituals and serve as a family priest. In the Gurung community, the children give as much as they receive; parents can expect their children to be respectful, respectful and help in every way possible in their old age. This is one of the biggest duties. The idea of ”old people’s homes” could never take place in the Gurung philosophy.
People in the west are far from the fears, threats and risks that the Gurung encounters on a daily basis. One of the biggest are weather changes: hailstorms in summer can destroy crops of rice and corn. Rain during the harvest season causes the rice to begin to mold and to fall, because it lies in the fields. Too little or too much rain at the wrong time can ruin your work weeks. There is no insurance fund and a minimum amount of food is envisaged for a poor period. The risk is always close.
Houses with thatched roofs can easily handle the fire and – despite the neighbors helping to rebuild the house and give some food – the family will be destined for poverty for some time.
Landslips can not only sweep valuable farmland, but also homes. Small landslides occur annually. After passing such an avalanche of rocks, stones and mud, people are afraid that their home can also be swept away. Bears, tigers and leopards sometimes also attack people, and quite often kill their animals. There is a high risk of poisonous snakes. Honey collectors – despite their professionalism – risk falling from high altitude during each trip. The only safe protection against these threats is collective, mutual help.
Older people have to count on the care of their children because no pension system exists, except for military service. The area is too high for malaria infections and although sometimes meningitis occurs, serious risks from this group of diseases remain under control. However, the infant mortality rate is still very high – at least one child out of fifteen dies in the first year of life. The most common cause is dehydration caused by diarrhea at amoebic or bacterial infection. Humid months from June to September are particularly dangerous because the latrine-filled water and groundwater mix and then be used as drinking water.
In recent years, the situation has significantly improved thanks to the supply of pipes pulling water from clean places and this has significantly reduced infections. In addition, oral irrigation techniques are now widely known and used.
Basic health care has been extended beyond the city for several years. Currently, health centers are found in every “Panchayat” or district. Medicines are mainly sponsored by charities.
Children walk cold for most of the year, adults often have intestinal parasites, suffer from headaches. Many people suffer from eye infections and older people often have cataracts. Various types of ulcers and skin diseases are common.
Nevertheless, every visitor is able to see the spirit of Tamu-mae and their ability to work regardless of their well-being.
It does not happen among them that someone behaved inappropriately, and then justified it with a bad mood, how often we used to do it in the West. It seems to be surprising that despite heavy weight lifting, which in the West often leads to excessive number of sprains and dislocations, muscle or bone complications, such ailments are rare. Rheumatism and arthritis are not widely known, although some older people are inclined and complain of general body aches. You can – if you delve into the causes of your ailments – think about the lifestyle itself as a source of health.
The Gurung farms lie on the slopes of the highest mountains in the world, and climbing altitudes between 1,000 and 3,000 feet during harvest or harvesting is a normal thing. At these heights, the strength of the draft animals is used to a minimum. On a simple diet of rice or millet they carry around three large bags of rice per day on their back, each weighing as much as himself, at an altitude of about a thousand feet, where their fields are cultivated. Girls over the age of fourteen carry loads, with which an adult European will not pass several meters.
The Gurung diet in the villages changes quite quickly and unfortunately for worse. When there were still large herds of animals in the villages, they had a high-protein diet with a high calcium content. In Thak, the average Gurung family in the ’70s ate meat on average three times a week. Currently – except for major festivals – they eat meat twice a month. The meat deficit is partially compensated for with vegetables. The most popular is lentil being a valuable source of protein, from which it is prepared, given to practically everything. Increased cultivation of green vegetables and potatoes is important especially in high regions. Ghee, fat made from milk and honey from wild rock bees are now replaced by bought soybean oil and sugar.
Getting up in the morning – between four and five in the morning and six in the winter – they drink sweetened tea, in winter with the addition of ginger. Breakfast is between the ninth and tenth and includes rice or cake made of millet or corn called “pengo” with daal and sometimes with a hint of vegetables. This is a big breakfast that has to provide energy for the whole day’s work. Most often they do not eat until the evening, when they have a second meal again consisting of rice or a pengo of daal. If they do a hard job away from home, they take some food with them – a thermos of tea and some corn. During the harvest, when heavy sacks of rice are being picked from the arable fields, some snacks are eaten during the break to have the strength to carry the next bag. Such a diet may be monotonous, but you can get used to it unexpectedly easily. You can quickly see how many kinds of rice there are, which subtly differ in taste and consistency.
After the evening meal, the day of work ends and social life begins. Many people – both young and old – visit each other to bathe or sing together, but around nine in the evening most people are going to sleep, sometimes with the exception of young women and men who like to dance and sing long at night.
In cities inhabited mainly by the Nevada caste, there is a tradition of eating including breakfast – lunch – supper. This style is taken over by Gurung who become students and office workers, although they are still trying to stick to the pattern of rural food.
Gurongs are unfeigned drunkards and alcohol poisoning of both men and women quite often happens in their societies. The main drink is rakshi – vodka made from millet distilled in the village, being both strong and cheap in production. The average household consumes several bottles per month. Fermented beer is also made of millet or rice and drunk in huge quantities. They also drink large amounts of tea.