Introduction / History The Limbu are one of the largest tribal groups in Nepal. They are a sub-group of the Kirant people. The Limbu live mainly in eastern Nepal between the Arun River and the border of the Sikkim district in India. They speak a dialect of Kirant, which is a Tibeto Burman language.
The origin of the Limbu is uncertain, but they are clearly of Mongolian descent. In the later part of the 1700's, Nepal was formed by uniting various ethnic groups and principalities under a high caste Hindu dynasty. This conquest resulted in ethnic and cultural splits with the Limbu.
The Limbu are known as des limbu (ten Limbu), even though there are actually thirteen Limbu sub-groups. Legend says that five of the groups came from Banaras, India and the other eight from Lhasa, Tibet. There is no social discrimination among the Limbu sub-groups, although there are a number of different clans and sects.
What are their lives like? Agriculture is the main source of income for the Limbu. Rice and maize are their principal crops. Although the abundance of land has made cultivation of new acreage possible, productivity is greatly limited by insufficient technology. Excess crops are often traded for food that cannot be grown in the region or for necessary items.
The men generally plow the fields and the women plant the seeds. However, at harvest time, both men and women work together to bring in the crops. Extended families often unite to help each other during harvest time.
Economic hardship among the Limbu has made it worthwhile for many of the men to join the army, both in Nepal and in India. This brings them a degree of respect, especially those who have earned a high rank.
In the past, marriages were arranged by the families. Neither the bride nor the groom had much say about the marriage payments or ceremonies. Modern times have changed this; today, both parties have an opportunity to make decisions about the wedding. There are three types of legal marriages: adultery, arrangement, and abduction. In the case of adultery, a compensation must be paid to the previous husband.
Women are quite influential within the Limbu families, especially if the husbands are in the military and stay away for long periods of time. However, a woman is not fully recognized until she bears her first child.
Drinking and dancing are very important to the Limbu. Weddings, mourning, gift exchanges, and settlements of conflicts all involve much consumption of liquor. Dances are held if visitors come to the village. These affairs give the young people a chance to meet and enjoy dancing and drinking.
The Limbu society is patrilineal, which means that the line of descent is traced through the males. Related families make up clans. When a clan member dies, the entire group is considered "polluted." They then must all go through a period of re-purification.
What are their beliefs? The Limbu are predominantly Buddhists, but participate in many popular Hindu festivals. They also have a number of worship practices that involve blood sacrifices. They believe that when a woman marries, she inherits her mother's gods. The woman and her husband then recognize the deities as their household gods.
What are their needs? The immigration of high caste Hindus-mostly Brahmans-into the region occupied by the Limbu resulted in the Limbu losing most of their land. They were only allowed to keep the land that they were living on and cultivating. The Brahmans had an advantage over the Limbu in that they could read and write, were skilled, and had resources that the Limbu lacked. In the eyes of the Limbu, the Brahmans were "ungrateful servants" who stole their land. This has led to deep resentment between the groups. The Limbu's struggle for land is an ongoing process that continues to affect the social and political conditions of the region.
Prayer Points * Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to Nepal and share Christ with the Limbu.
* Pray that the doors of Nepal will soon open to missionaries.
* Ask God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the small number of Limbu Christians.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Limbu toward Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Limbu.