believers in the bone
faith or mune faith. This faith was basically based on spirits,
good and bad. They worshipped spirits of mountains, rivers and
forests which was but natural for a tribe that co-existed so
harmoniously with the rich natural surroundings. The Lepcha (Zongu)
folklore is rich with stories. The Lepcha population is
concentrated in the central part of the Sikkim. This is the area
that encompasses the confluence of Lachen and Lachung rivers and
The Lepchas, in appearance, have slightly accentuated Mongoloid
features, are fair and boast a bigger build than their neighbours.
Docile and peace loving, the original inhabitants of Sikkim have
now become a minority and have a reservation earmarked for them in
the Dzongu region of North Sikkim. Here, one and still find
families living by age-old customs and manners- untouched by the
rapid strides into development that the rest of Sikkim has taken.
despite their unassuming nature, the Lepchas are highly refined
lot. Their language (also known as Rong ) is highly developed and
one of the few tribes to reconize the value of education and, even
today, boast of some highly educated individuals.
The origin of the Lepcha script itself is one shrouded in, yes
myths and lore again. While most of the Rongpas (as the Lepchas
call themselves) believe that the script was invented by Thekong
Mensalong, a legendary Lepcha figure believed to have lived
towards the beginning of the 17th century. Then, of course, is the
belief that the script was invented by the Mother-Creator, Itbu-moo,
herself. There is of course no documentary evidence of either
claim. The generally accepted story of the script's genesis is
that it was invented by the third king of the Namgyal dynasty,
Chador Namgyal, in the eighteenth century.
Another version claims that the script came Sikkim's way via
Tibet, in fact, along with Buddhism it self. Tibetan scholars have
recorded that the Lepchas were given their script by Lhatsun
Chhembo, one of the three monks who "unlocked" Sikkim and then
consecrated the first Chogyal at Yuksom.
The theory of Lepcha language's origins which comes our way from
neighboring Nepal claims that the language got its script in the
7th century BC. Historians in Nepal believe that the script was
the creation of King Maw-rong, the overlord of Kirata chiefs.
Kirats at the time lived in eastern Nepal and present day Sikkim.
This theory also claims that the Lepchas at that time were known
as Imay and find reference even in the two Indian epics, Ramayana
and Mahabharata. King Maw-rong is believed to invented the script
for his subjects and its use continues to this day only among the
The language, according to philologists, falls under the
Tibeto-Burman group of languages spoken by tribes inhabiting the
sub-Himalayan region of the Tibeto-Burman curve of the Himalayas.
The language does not have its roots in Sanskrit like the other
tribal dialects of India, Bhutan and Nepal and, like mentioned
earlier, is unique because it is one of the few tribal languages
with a script of its own.
The Lepchas or Rong pa, literally the "ravine folk" are fast
dwindling in numbers. The Lepchas are very intelligent, samiable
and extremely hospitable. They love sports and games and are
sociable. They are peace-loving people who avoid quarrels. Many of
them are concentrated in the Dzongu valley in northern part of
Sikkim. The Lepchas mostly live by trade or on agriculture. Paddy,
oranges and cardamom are their favorable crops.
The Lepcha house or 'li' usually 4 or 5 feet above the ground, is
usually rectangular in shape. They are usually made of woody stems
of bamboo. Life in a Lepcha hut is very simple. Lepchas are
excellent weavers and make fine tribal cloth. They are also adept
in bamboo and cane weaving. A traditionally dressed Lepcha would
be found wearing half pajamas, under a robe made of striped cotton
resembling a loose jacket- the whole ensemble is called a pagi.
The robe, which comes to the knees, is pinned on the shoulder and
tied around the waist. Accompanying him would be a ban or payak,
the traditional Lepcha knife. Apart from their reserve Dzongu, the
Lepchas can be seen sporting their traditional dress at archery
competitions ( in which they are very good ) or during special
occasions like festivals and marriages. The Lepcha lady wears a
two - piece dress -a full sleeved blouse called tago and a skirt
called domdyan. A scarf round the head is also a common feature.
The Lepchas are also the best people to have around if you are
lost in the forest. Their close link with nature had led them to
possess a tremendous and unparalleled voclabury. They have names
and terms for every fern, bush, moss and mushroom. They also know
what is the best to eat in the forest. The delicacy of bamboo
shoots is, after their offering to world cuisine.
Their Festivals and Religion:
One of the major festivals of Lepcha is Namsoong or popularly
called as Lossong which marks the beginning of the New year.It is
the farmers New Year for this is usually the time when the farmers
rejoice and celebrate their harvest. Loosong is celebrated
privately among family members and friends; and there is an air of
festivity all around.
Lepchas celebrate Pang Lhabsol to worship Mount Khangchendzonga as
the guardien deity.The combination of the masked dance and the
warrior dance, gives the festival a unique look. The costumes are
resplendent, the masks colourful and impressive, and the
choreography of the warrior dance is spectacular.A week before the
dances,the lamas of Pemayangtse monastery offer prayers, invoking
Dzonga (as Mount Khangchendzonga is popularly called) to protect
the land and look after the people. This festival is held on the
15th day of the 7th month of the Tibetan calendar, corresponding
to late August and early September.
While most Lepchas are now Buddhists, a sizeable number of them
still follow their original faith, Bon. Their animistic belief
sees them worshipping nature in all its forms, rivers, lakes and
mountains. many aspects, like the worship of Khangchendzonga, have
also been included into Sikkimese Buddhism. Christianity, too, has
found many converts among the Lepchas. In fact, the religion is
now into its third generation in Sikkim.
Although Lepchas have no caste system, they are particular about
their clans. They are particular, one might add, not paranoid
about in since not only do they marry into other clans, but of
late they have been progressive about marrying into other
With agriculture, especially of cardamom, as their main source of
income, the Lepchas find enough time for revelry, and
participating in one of their festivals like Losoong, sometime in
November-December is a worthwhile experience. The Rongpas continue
to be what their " Mother-Creator " wanted them to be-simple folk.