Wednesday, June 06, 2007


1.Baby cardamom planted last year, surrounded by weeds in the forest.

This was a day I spent in the forest near the village, helping a family clear their cardamom crops. There are two "clearing periods" before the harvest around September. This is the only cash-crop in the village. It was introduced from Sikkim some 40 years ago, and has helped boost the local economy considerably. Additionally, the failed cardamom crop in Sikkim, which over the last 5 years has been affected by pest problems, has increased the market value for cardamom in Nepal. A 60kg sack of cardamom can be sold at the roadside bazaar of Tharpu (a tough two day walk) for between 10,000 and 13,000 rupees (seasonal variation). Considering that the average family in the village is, in a good year, able to harvest 2 to 4 sacks of cardamom, this plays a considerable role in village food security, as a years supply of rice will cost a 6 member household approximately 15,000 rupees per year (though there is much variation in the quantity of rice bought per household as some mix a larger proportion of their rice with barley or corn).

2/3. Lokendra, clearing a cardamom plant of rotten leaves, stones and snakes.

I am interested in the significance of cardamom to the village economy, and the way that some families, by carefully selecting potential cardamom sights and saving money, are able to improve their economic status within one generation: sending their children to private schools -> who learn English -> who work abroad for 4 years -> who return and build a large house in Dharan, or Birtamod, or Ilam. This is the sort of linear dream that many young Limbus describe to me. The dream revolves around the yearly success of the cardamom crop. There is much talk in the village about it: how much will there be this year? Who has a large crop this year? Will it rain too much and ruin the flowers? Will there be a landslide in a particular area that will wipe away the 150 plant planted only two years ago (they need three years to fruit)? etc..etc..

4. Cardamom flowers up close.

5. Cardamom plant in bloom. The fruit is alread emerging in some plants.

It is the cardamom that allows villagers to buy rice (only a handful of households grow their own). It is rice that is eaten at every meal. It is rice that it taken to the phedangma (shaman) together with a 5 rupee note (or something close) and item of the sick-person's clothing. The rice is used by the phedangma in a divination, by rearranging the grains on a plate he can figure out which spirit has possessed the sick person. It is rice that is fundamental to almost every puja I have participated in (together with the star animal to be sacrificed!). And it is carrying rice for older villagers that allows young Limbus to make small amount of cash to carry out their projects: print newspapers; publish stories; print photographs; buy stereos and tapes; pay for their secondary education.

6. Bir Bahadur's saila


1. "Ramboghe" with his 1-day-old son
2. Neighbours visiting my room
3. Another neighbour
4. Gathering for the hair-cutting ceremony of a friend's grandson
5. Me, on the Tamur khola bridge on the way back from Mewa khola, up to Taplejung bazaar.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Sansari puja

The Sansari puja, performed on three Saturdays around the Nepali new year. Here are photos of the first puja, held on the 7th of April.

Extract from fieldnotes:

"....Overall, this is a puja for the protection and well-being of all the inhabitants of Mamangkhe (excluding the villages on the other side of the river who apparently conduct their own pujas...therefore this is for all the wards in the VDC from 1-7 - excluding 8,9.) The river puja was conducted in Nepali. Mention was made of all the different groups in the village, and other groups perhaps spontaneously thought of by Deoman - Rai, Gurung, Limbu, Kami, Sarki, and others. I don't think I heard Brahmin mentioned., but then there are none here (I think).
The other pujas were conducted in Limbu, with use of Nepali for dates and years, and occassional mixing...."

The Limbu Museum in Mamangkhe

1. Building the steps up to the newly completed Limbu Museum
2. View of the museum
3. Inside the museum.
4. Cupboards with cracked glass to be filled with Limbu "cultural items"(!)
5/6. Inaugurating the museum.
7/8. Limbu dances on the opening day: women perform a variant of the traditional paddy dance, standing in a line and singing a palam (Limbu song); women and men perform a Limbu ke-lang, drum dance.

Funeral in Paua (neighbouring village)

A funeral, 45 days after the death of the mother of a family in Paua, ward 7 in the Mamangkhe VCD.
1. Empty tongba (millet beer) drinking containers;
2. The phedangma (shaman), beginning proceedings which will end tomorrow with the final safe-journey away from earth of the dead-mother's spirit;
3. A view of the temporary structures and space prepared for the "celebration". Some 300-400 people attended.

Dungdunge Puja

This was a week after my arrival in the village, on my longer stint.
From my fieldnotes:

"ketipathi, a scented plant, in large amounts. The bamboo leg-tops were the actual plant top, long leaves spouting upwards.
The altar was a sort of extension of the terrace, a sort of balcony basically, facing south when one looked towards it. There were four men initially working on it, tying it all together. One of them was the sparkly eyed man I had met a few days before at the shop. Two others were the drunk Limbus I had met and chatted with the day before. The other was a younger Limbu I think I may have seen before but couldn't remember.
Later another, (what turned out to be the fourth and youngest Phedangma) turned up with a container of millet (whose was this? his? why was he bringing millet to a puja he was "working" at?).
There were a largish number of women, 4-5 coming and going, getting firewood, boiling water, boiling rice, getting tongbas served up, bringing mats to sit on.
The rice was cooked and laid out on a tightly woven mat (the food kind as opposed to sitting-on-kind): (names/terms missing here!).
It was immediately busily and skillfully shaped into two largish statues (15cm high and 20 wide), representations of mountain spirits of some kind, and much of the rest of the rice was patted into little cones, much like the little statues one sees in Tibetan monasteries. 32 little ones in total and 2 big ones. The same was done with millet-flour which had been cooked into a sort of polenta, so that in total 64 little statues and 4 big ones had been made. These were placed on the altar on top of a woven mat on either side of a pair of brass plates with kethipathi and uncooked rice, in 5 lines of 6, with the remaining two placed diagonally just below. (plenty of photos of this).
Flags of some kind were places in the big and small statues, and little lizard like models were placed on the outside of the altar, on banana leaves.
The puja got going with two lines of chanting, in front the younger looking phedangmas, and behind the older looking ones, one of whom beat the drum and the other started the chanting. It was sort of fugal in style, there must be a technical term for this, where the older phedangma would start and the younger one would repeat his words a split second later, as if he didn't really know them himself.
There were a number of interesting things about the puja. There was an informality about the proceedings, about the sitting arrangement, about the breaks taken by the phedangmas very frequently between long verses. I was asked over by the drummer to sit next to him and he made jokes in between drumming about who I should marry of the Limbu girls among the group (there must have been a total of some 20 people)."

The Dungdunge puja, performed for the entire village including non-Limbus) by 4 Phedangmas (Limbu shaman), on the 31st March. This is a puja to appease a particularly "mad" spirit. The only way to do this, so explains one of the Phedangmas, is to perform a live sacrifice of a goat (that is, the goat's heart is removed while the goat is still otherwise alive; it is then placed on a stick in the centre of the altar - still beating!)

The top two photos show the altar being prepared. Three more photos show the tiny statues being prepared to place in the altar. The white ones are made of rice, black of ground-and-boiled millet.Other photos show the altar from a distance.