Two Waves of Transformation and Construction of Lepcha (Mon) Identity in Sikkim: An Assessment of Intra-Community Divide

Abstract

Sikkim bears numerous names which reflects the copiousness of ethnic tribes that inhibits it. Lepcha or Mu-tanchi-Rong kup (God's favorite chosen children) are believed to be the original inhabitant of Mayel Lyang (Sikkim). They have a strong community life, unique culture and distinct identity. The tribesmen were originally animist for whom the holy were their own natural surroundings. According to their Mon practices nature is invoked at times of marriage, birth and death. They firmly believe to be the descendent of Nazong Nyu (female) and Fundongthing (male) created by Itbu-debu Rum (mother creator) out of the pristine snow of holy Kongchen-Konghlo (mt. Kanchendzonga) and hence trace their origin to the mountains. They have a strong inclination towards shamanistic life and revert to Bongthing and Muns (Lepcha shamans) for ailment of both body and soul.
These very features that make them unique were lost in the gradual process of Lepcha evolutionary phase first, with the advent of Kham Tibetan rulers who later founded the Namgyal dynasty ruled over Sikkim till 1975, introduced Mahayana Buddhism propogated primarily by Latsun Tsenpo and sought to overshadow existing indigenous beliefs with their own finer ideals and second, with the arrival of Christian proselytization missionaries who bestowed a comptely new outlook to their religious belief system, culture and identity.
The two experiences have led to the amalgamation and gradual fabrication of modern Lepcha culture and identity. Once homogenous community stands divided in the lines of acquired foreign identities. It has led to a benign intra socio-cultural divide within the Lepcha community. In this context, the paper seeks to address the extent of such fissures and the empirical reasons behind such split between the Buddhist Lepchas who still firmly believe in their Mon tradition and the Christian Lepchas who have largely surpassed their Mon and Buddhist Principles.
 



Author Information
Ananta Swarup Bijendra De Gurung, Sikkim University, India

Paper Information
Conference: ACCS2013
Stream: Cultural Studies

This paper is part of the ACCS2013 Conference Proceedings (View)
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