People of Nepal – Race, and Ethnicity.
This is a short article on the misuse/misconception of differentiating factors amongst our fellow Nepalese on Caste and Languages. I am not qualified as an expert, but these are my thoughts after spending nearly 30 years speaking to the elders of various communities in the country. It is not rocket science – after all, 1+1 always = 2 no matter what formulas are used.

There are two primary races in Nepal.

i)    The Indo Aryans or the Indo-Nepalese

ii)   The Tibeto Burmans or the Tibeto-Nepalese

People of the Tibeto-Burman race came to Nepal in different periods from Mongolia and Tibet.

The Kirats came from the East and Ruled Kathmandu sometime in the 7th or the 8th century. The Tamangs and Gurungs came to fight with a ruler of a small kingdom in the Indian Subcontinent. While returning to Tibet, after their victory over the principality; some realized that the land here was more fertile with warmer weather and decided to settle in these hills what is known as Nepal today.

The Sherpas settled in Nepal between 600-700 years ago, and other ethnic group's migration has continued over the centuries.

Although the Indo-Nepalese migrants were latecomers to Nepal compared to the migrants from the north, they have come to dominate the country not just in numbers, but also in society, politics, and economy. They managed to achieve early dominance over the native and the northern migrant populations, primarily because of the superior formal educational system that was brought with them. Their overall domination has had tremendous significance regarding ethnic, bureaucratic and political power structure.

In the case of the first two groups, the direction of their migration and Nepal's landscapes appeared to have led to their vertical distribution; most ethnic groups were found at particular altitudes. The first group, comprising those of Indo-Nepalese origin, inhabited the more fertile lower hills, river valleys, and Tarai plains. The second dominant group consisted of communities of Tibeto-Mongol origin occupies the higher elevations from the east to the west. The third and much smaller group comprised some tribal communities, such as the Tharus and the Dhimals of the Tarai; they may be remnants of indigenous communities whose habitation predates the advent of Indo-Nepalese and Tibeto-Mongol elements.

When you arrive in Nepal, you might hear someone introduce her or himself to you in this manner:

1)    “Hello, My name is Chudamani Adhikari. Chudamani is my name, and Adhikari is my caste”. 

2)    “Hi, John, nice to meet you. My name is Indra Hang Limbu, and I am from the Limbu caste.

1)    Chudamani is half-correct as Adhikari is one of the many clans within the Brahmin caste.

2)    Indra is incorrect saying his Caste is Limbu. Limbu is an ethnic group that has their clans and sub-clans.

For the Hindus, their last names reveal the caste they belong to. As the Indo-Nepalese were the pioneer educators, they taught the Tibeto-Nepalese that their surname and Caste is the same, hence the misconception.

As mentioned above, the Hindus have a caste, which is revealed by their last name. In the case of the Tibeto-Nepalese, their last names reveal either their Ethnic group and/or clan or sub-clan.

For example, The Rai ethnic group has different clans and sub-clans amongst themselves. They also have a staggering 14 dialects within their ethnic group. This is the most dialect within a single ethnic group. In 2011, The Nepalese government mentioned that there are 123 mother tongues/languages. The Tibeto-Nepalese speaks most of the dialects. Personally, I believe they are variant Dialects of the Tibeto-Burman language.

For Details on Caste

Read about The Sherpas

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