Meeting the Tamang People of Nepal

  • September 24, 2018      Joy Marie Salgado

Kathmandu – Travelers visiting the Himalayan regions of Nepal may experience more than the wonderful hiking adventures the country has to offer. Visitors of Nepal may also enjoy a memorable encounter with the fun-loving Tamang people. They are residents of communities within the region they call Tamasaling. The majority of them are considered as the biggest Tibeto–Burman ethnic community in the country. When visitors come to see the Tamang people, they are sure to witness a rich practice of their native language, culture, and traditions.

Community and Lifestyle

The Tamangs live mainly in the districts of Dhading, Dolakha, Kavrepalanchok, Makwanpur, Nuwakot, Ramechhap, Rasuwa, Sindhuli, and Sindhupalchok. Their homes are known to have a rich historical background. Many of their practices go back to the third century, indicating an ancient civilization. They are even believed to have been residents of the Himalayan zone longer than any other ethnic group of Nepal. As they comprise the largest ethnic group in Nepal, they practice their own district culture, language, religion, social system, and tradition.

Majority of the Tamang people’s history may have been lost over time, but many historians believe that they are indigenous to Nepal. They may even have ruled the area in ancient times, as there are evidence and fossils found that indicated the roots of this group, connecting them to the Tibeto–Mongoloid people.

The name Tamang means “horse trader.” It is a combination of two terms: ta, meaning “horse,” and mang, meaning “businessman” or “trader.” Historians and researchers believe that their name indicates the migration of the Tamang from Tibet to their most recent locations and that they did some horse trading along the way. This may not seem like their current lifestyle, as most of them now make a living through hill farming and trekking. Nonetheless, looking into their former lifestyles as horse traders is a good start to figuring out more of their history. Moreover, even their language reflects their colorful history and lifestyle. The Tamang people’s language belongs to the Tibeto–Burman family, with some of their written language represented in religious scriptures. With their communities located all over Nepal, it is not surprising that their language ranks as one of the top five spoken languages of the country.

Nepal as a Home

Despite the lost roots of the Tamang people, their current homes in Nepal serve as the reflection of their communities and their own distinct identity, from their languages to their lifestyle, as well as their traditions and beliefs. The people of this particular indigenous tribe have also taken advantage of other work opportunities outside their traditional hill farming practices. Many of the Tamang people also work as porters, like Sherpas during treks to the Himalayan Mountain region. The Tamang are known to be strong and reliable porters to the Himalayas.

As with the growing communities and the modern migration, even though Nepal is still the home of the Tamang people, some of them have migrated to nearby Asian countries. There are some who can be found in India, specifically in Darjeeling. Even if they are not in Nepal, they are able to maintain their own culture, traditions, and social system, thus keeping their ethnic backgrounds alive.

Image from Ari Vitikainen, https://500px.com/photo/10591405/tamang-girl-by-ari-vitikainen