Rong People

Lepchas are Vanishing

Gautam Kumar Das

Peaceful Lepchas and their descent community meet difficulties and inconveniences today. In truth they have been facing them ever since the intrusion of British into their motherland. Faced with several attacks by the Nepalis and Bhutias even earlier than the British era Lepchas laid stress belief in tolerance. 'Patience is bitter, but its fruit is Sweet (Rousseau)'. The Lepchas are the original tribes of the Himalayas. Other communities in the mountainous Himalayan region call them Lepchas (means 'nonsense talks'). But Lepchas of Darjeeling and Sikkim Himalayas call themselves Rong. They speak, tattle and exchange their opinions among themselves in Rong Ring. The Lepcha people invented their own language i.e. Rong Ring. Lepchas think that they are very lucky people because they have very potential power to develop their own language but no one had had this potential power of inventing language in this large mountainous space of the Himalayan region. Col G G Mainwaring, Calcutta, 1876 commented in his article—"The Lepcha alphabet was invented at the end of the seventeenth or the beginning of the eighteenth century by King Chador of Sikkim and the Lepcha alphabet is derived from a form of the Tibetan U-med alphabet". Dikit Lepcha of Gangtok, Sikkim reversed this opinion and told that the Lepcha script was developed and invented by Punu Munsolong, and it is known as Munsojong Script, and not by Chador Namgyal as written in some books. Chador Namgyal was a Bhutia king. Col G G Mainwaring, Calcutta, 1876 detailed the Lepcha language with modesty praising their heritage—"the Lepcha was the language spoken in the Garden of Eden. It is impossible that a people with language so comprehensive; with manners, though primitive, so superior, as to entitle them to rank high among civilised nations, could be engendered amidst the wilds and fastnesses of the Himalayas. Rong Ring is a monosyllabic one and is unquestionably far anterior to the Hebrew and Sanskrit and is the oldest language extent. It is most comprehensive and beautiful one; and regarded alone, as a prolific source of the derivations and etyma of words, it is invaluable to the philological world. Rong Ring is an almost completely uninflected language." Karnyit Lepcha of Sikkim advocated for General G G Mainwaring who composed Lepcha grammar in 1876. Before that, the bible was translated into Lepcha by him in 1840 and later he worked on the Lepcha dictionary which was brought to light in 1895. Lepcha youths are in praise for General G G Mainwaring as he had done a huge work in the field of language for the Lepchas. The Lepcha youths mentioned him even in any discussion regarding Rong Ring in the present era—'he is no more but his name and fame is placed in every Lepcha's heart. A very few people also sheltered and safeguarded language, tradition & cultures, but among them G G Mainwaring is the top to preserve the language, tradition & culture of the Lepchas.'

Not involving and interacting with any sort of violence, Lepchas are blessed to be known as peace-makers. So the Lepchas are declared as one of the most peaceful communities in the world by an international body which is established to identify and make a list for peaceful societies. Social scientists all over the world have convincingly described Lepchas as peace-loving amongst the 25 societies considering the social factors like little internal violence or external warfare. Social network website www. peaceful may be checked for verifying this statement in details. Living in peaceful societies Lepcha people avoid violence and try as much as possible to live in harmony. Along with the Lepcha community the following other 25 peaceful societies are represented with entries in the Encyclopedia of peace societies: Amish, Batek, Birhor, Buid, Chewong, Fipa, Giwi, Hutterites, Ifaluk, Inuit of Utkuhikhalik and Qipisa Communities, Ju/'hoansi, Kadar, Ladakhi, Malapandaram, Mbuti, Nubians, Paliyans, Piaroa, Rural Thai, Semai, Tahitians, Tristan Islanders, Yanadi, and Zapotec of La Paz. Geoffrey Gorer identified Lepchas in his book Himalayan Village—an account of the Lepchas of Sikkim as a Mongoloid type of people living in the Himalayas on the southern and eastern slopes of Mount Kanchenjunga. It seems certain that they were originally the only inhabitants of this large tract of mountainous land.

Lepchas are by nature unselfish and hard-working. They are laborious for long hours showing steadiness in their work. Mountain Kanchenjunga is the guardian deity of Lepchas. Down to this mountain Lepchas consider MayelLang as their province since long ago that covers the areas of Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong subdivisions of West Bengal and entire state of Sikkim. Lepchas are conscious about their social concerns and they all love their own culture and language. They are united today in order to stop the gradual decimaton of their own community. They are approximately 178000 at the time of 2011 census distributed both in the Darjeeling district (130000) of West Bengal and the state of Sikkim (48000) in comparison to a total numbers of 25780 Lepchas in 1931 census distributed evenly between Darjeeling district of the then British India and the native state of Sikkim.

Dikit Lepcha, a school teacher of Gangtok once said that the Lepchas are very less in population now, dwindling with time. Lot of things have changed. Lepcha culture is polluted. Yet Lepchas are trying to preserve it.

What factors polluted the Lepcha society?

Maybe conversion of religion, inter-caste marriage, influx etc.

Influx of what... other community?


—How, by marital relationship?


Perhaps the inter-caste marriage is one of the vital factors that cater diminishing the numbers of the Lepcha people. Further, the educated English-speaking modern Lepcha girls could not match their life partners from the Lepcha community. They prefer the well-established people of the other castes like Nepali, Bhutias etc.

In another opinion Ugen Tofitongmoo Lepcha of Kalimpong said, ''Despairing fact we found within Lepchas- whatever we would do or wherever we would go, we are directly or indirectly contributing to our holy race, we're striving to uplift our race to higher & higher and we would selflessly give our hands to our partial drowned race to bring immunity within but unfortunately we've also got namesake Lepchas here who would have Lepchas by name and identity only, but not having blood of the Lepchas, naturally they don't have the true spirit of our race".

Lepcha language was the official language of Darjeeling before 1930, but after that it went to dormant stage. Further, the names of all the important and well-known places of Darjeeling district and Sikkim state are after Lepcha language. But almost all those ancient and old names are deviated from the original one and changed in both spelling and pronunciation either by the influence of the Ncpali or Bhutia people or were anglicised during the British era. The names definitely had had certain meaning at that time, but the changed names are simply meaningless of late. Darjeeling is derived from the Lepcha word 'Daarjyoolyaang', where 'Daar' means Gods and deities, 'jyoo' means to live and Myaang' means land, place, abode, locality etc. In the Lepcha, therefore 'Daarjyoolyaang' means the abode of Gods and Deities which was changed first to 'Dorjiling' as a mixture of both Tibetan and Bhutia languages. Dorji means thunderbolt, and ling means place or abode, as a whole 'Dorjiling' means the land of thunderbolt. Finally British made the change of the present name of Darjeeling combining both Lepcha and Tibetan words which is functionally meaningless, only anglicised. Like that Kalimpong is from the Lepcha word 'Kaalenpung' (Kaa—ours; len = to assemble and pung—a hillock or knoll) which means 'our assemblage hillock'; Kurseong was first corrupted by the Nepalese to Kharsaang, and then Langhicesed by the British. Actually the original Lepcha name is 'Kursaong' which has two meanings i) area of white orchid and ii) the place of viewing the morning stars. 'Sewak' is derived from the Lepcha word 'Safook' that means 'a temporary cleaning place or camp for night stays'. Like those places there are meaning of every Lepcha place-name.

Mirik : Lepcha word—Meerek (place of wild fire).

Raong Po (Lepcha word) : The place where most of the Lepchas died due to epidemics and remaining Lepchas left and abandoned the place.

Laabhaa : Lepcha word—Lavo (the place of viewing lovely rising and setting of moon).

Loley Gaon : Lepcha word—Laolel Gaong (the place where the Lepchas discussed, debated and declared).
Ghoom : Lepcha word—Gom (to meditate for salvation) Phaalut: Lepcha word—Faat Look (a variety of soil) Mongpoo: Lepcha word—Maongpung (to heap up millet).

Sandaakpoor : Lepcha word—Saongdup Pung (a hillock where scented, aromatic plants, bushes and trees are available in plenty).

Sukhia : Lepcha word—Sokhyaam (the area is mostly foggy and rains in torrent) Resyep: Lepcha word—Rusyaop (dense forest of cane area).

Siliguri : Lepcha word—Salee Gree (ordered to string and adjust the string on the bow during the battle).

Sukunaa : Lepcha word—Sokun Naam (in this area or spot, it looks as if it is going to rain).

Naxal bari : Lepcha word—Naok Syaol (Naok—to push; Syaol—dismantle; the area where small Lepcha huts, houses were totally damaged and destroyed by other communities of the plain people); Lepcha word Naok Syaol intermingles with the Bengali word 'Bari' (house) at recent times.

Tadong : Lepcha word—Tao Dong (Tao—uncommon; Dong—search; the area where the Lepcha used to search for uncommon, unusual things).

Rumtek : Lepcha word—Rum-Tek (Rum—God; Tek—offer prayer; a place to offer prayer to God).

Raong-Po : Lepcha word—Raong-Po (the place where almost all the Lepchas died due to black fever).

Rishi : Lepcha word—Rusyee (area of cane bushes) Lingtaam: Lepcha word—Lingtaam (a flat land).

Laachung : Lepcha word—Lo-chhyoong (people of few words giving correct decision in their talk in the village).

Namchi : Lepcha word—Ts'aam Tsu (Naam—year; Tsu—to keep records; annual records of all historical events, tales, legends, customs and tradition etc).

Jor Thaang : Lepcha word—Zaot Daang (Zaot—to graze; Daang—low valley area; low valley cattle grazing area).

Peyling : Lepcha word—Pey Lin (Pey—fodder; Lin—to sprout; coarse fodder used as feed for livestock composing of entire plants including leaves, stalks etc).

Sokho : Lepcha word—Sokho (So—rain; Kho—needed; the place needed more rain water for their livelihood).

Ingtek : Lepcha word—Ingtek (last child).

M S Simick, a veteran educationist and a member of the Lepcha community of Kalimpong explained the nomenclature of different places of both Darjeeling and Sikkim to this writer. Even the sophisticated, cultured and civilised Lepchas nomenclature almost all the rivers starting with "RA" namely RAONGNYOO or RAONGEET etc. It is really nice and wonderful in pronouncing those names of rivers that sounds melodies in tunes in the wonderland—MAAYEL LYANG. MAAYEL LYANG wonders again that means "Land of hidden paradise".

When Lepchas face any violence or difficulties, they lead to a lonely life entering into the denser forest and ultimately they and their community are in solitude. Then "music is the medicine of the broken heart" of those members of the Lepcha community. They recall by singing that they have the native land and the nice songs about their beautiful land.

Lepcha community is politically victimised by the dominant political party of the mountainous region, although the West Bengal State government has agreed to give appointment to the 46 Para teachers in Darjeeling hills as a resolution after 60 days long strike by some Lepchas. This is a good initiative to revive Lepeha language on behalf of the Government. Settlement of the mixed communities and multi-religion structure in the villages of Sikkim are quiet puzzling.

Rong Ring is one of the finest treasures among the 6000 languages of the world out of which 5400 languages are gradually dying with days. If this language is not promptly included in the syllabi and curriculum of the educational system, the language will die like those of the other dying languages and the children will not be able to go through scripts, grammar or other magical ornaments of Rong Ring. No political power has the right to pull down and stop Lepcha boys and girls from learning their own mother tongue or singing Rong Vom in the mountainous land covered with luxuriant dense evergreen trees where rivers flow parallel and birds fly at random. If Rong Ring is not getting importance immediately the future citizens of the Lepcha community will never see the scripts or other materials related to Rong Ring in the coming days. People in the near future would say that the great treasures lie buried among those hills and those are Rong Ring and Rong Vom. People of the world should not forget that Rong Ring is the most ancient living language in the world.

Vol. 48, No. 19, Nov 15 - 21, 2015