Sherdukpen

by Aug 26, 2021Demographics, Tribes0 comments

Shertukpen demographic – representational

The Shertukpen are an ethnic group of Arunachal Pradesh state of India. Their population of 9,663 is centered in West Kameng in the villages of Rupa, Jigaon, Thongri, Shergaon, in Bomdila. Of late, some of them have settled in Kameng bari areas, a new settlement area under Bhalukpong circle.

The Shertukpen name is a construct, ‘Sher‘ from the settlement of Shergaon and ‘Tukpen’, apparently a Monpa name for Rupa. The correct name for Shertukpen is Mey and the language Mey nyuk. The main published source is Dondrup(1988) which is based on the Shergaon dialect and is of variable reliability. They have inhabited this mountainous region and lived in coexistence with the Monpas and other ethnic groups.

History

The Shertukpen’s oral history says that ‘they originated from the marriage of a Tibetan prince with a princess of Assam, possibly of Kachari origin‘. In their belief system, their ancestor Asu Gyaptong, a descendant of the Tibetan king Songtsan Gampo, came to the plains of Assam and married a native Ahom princess. They follow Tibetan Buddhism. There are some traces of the pre-Buddhism period too in the area, though the last few knowledgeable people are very old now.

Some scholars have thought that the Shertukpen and some of the Monpa living in the Kameng District originated in eastern Bhutan because of the many cultural similarities that these groups share. Today, visitors to the region can easily identify the Shertukpen because their dress is totally different from that of other people. The men’s dress consists of a shawl, waist belt, jacket, and a cap made of yak’s hair. The Shertukpen women wear a white cotton or silk gown called a sinka.

Buddhism first came to the Sherdukpen in the mid-1700s. The Sherdukpen adopted the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism in the 17th century as with their northern neighbours, the Monpa who were also subjected to the evangelical influence of Mera Lama. However, contrary to the Monpas, Sherdukpens are more inclined to their pre-Buddhist Animistic traditions, which is shown by the relative absence of any Buddhist Lamas within their tribe. The strength of Buddhist belief among this group can be seen from figures returned in the 1981 census, when 2,087 out of the 2,096 Sherdukpen people declared themselves Buddhists. The remaining nine individuals included a few who said they were Hindus, and some who filled their form out incorrectly!

Language

The Sherdukpen speak their own language, Sherdukpen, which isn’t directly related with the neighboring Bugun and Monpa languages. The Shertukpen language is called Mey Nyuk. The Sherdukpen language is part of the Kanauri branch of the Tibeto-Burman family. There are dialect differences between the Sherdukpen spoken in different villages. There are two distinct varieties, Mey of Shergaon and Mey of Rupa. The dialect spoken by the inhabitants of Rupa village is called Thungjee Nyuk, while the other main dialect is called Sanjee Nyuk.

Culture

Society

Sherdukpen society is divided into two classes: The Thong and Chao.

The Thong is the higher caste and are divided into eight clans. Local legend mentioned that the upper caste are the descendants of a Tibetan king (a grandson of Songtsän Gampo) and Ahom princess, of which they bore two sons.

The Chao are the descendants of the king’s porters and servants. Marriage between castes is considered taboo within the tribal society and is strongly discouraged.

In due course of time, Thongs emerged as the landlords and the Chaos served them as workers and soldiers, social barriers separated the two clans.

The Sherdukpens migrate to Doimara (a lowland hamlet close to the Assamese border) and stayed between December to March on an annual basis during the winter months, a tradition with which the tribe maintains the memory of their Assamese ancestry. In Doimara, the Sherdukpens mingled with the nearby Assamese natives and traded for rice.

The Sherdukpen society is patriarchal, property is inherited only by their male heirs. They also trace their ancestry on paternal lineage. Women do not have much influence on the Blu, or village council, which are dominated only by the men of the élite Thong clan.

The surnames of shertukpen community, like Thungon, Lama, Khrimey, Thungdok, Dingla, etc. is very important to sherdukpens. It tells a lot about one’s clan. The family is the basic unit as in other societies, and then comes the clan, which is refered to as Rhung. All members of Rhung will have the same surname but the reverse is not true. For example, Thungons have two Rhungs in Shergaon. One cannot be member of two different Rhung. Like the caste system in Hindu society, birth decides which Rhung one belongs to.

Matrimonial alliances cannot happen between persons of the same surname. People with same surname are considered as brothers and sisters even if they may be far separated geographically.

Religion

The Sherdukpen adopted the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism in the 17th century as with their northern neighbours, the Monpa who were also subjected to the evangelical influence of Mera Lama. However, contrary to the Monpas, Sherdukpens are more inclined to their pre-Buddhist Animistic traditions, which is shown by the relative absence of any Buddhist Lamas within their tribe. Lamas from the Monpa and refugee Tibetan communities were invited to conduct Buddhist communal rituals whenever necessary. The profound Animist influence is attributed to the prevalence of their traditional Shamans with which they also employ for certain religious activities, known as ‘Chizi‘ in the local tongue. Rituals pertaining to indigenous spirits, human sacrifice, and blood are prevalent within Sherdukpen mythology and legends, which is characteristically absent in Tibetan Buddhism.

Sherdukpen people celebrate Buddhist festivals similar to other Buddhist communities in the Himalayan region. The Tibetan Chaam Dances are commonly seen even among the Sherdukpen festivals. Losar, the Tibetan New Year is also a special occasion for the Sherdukpen. Wang is also celebrated twice a year in honour of the Buddha.

Khiksaba is an indigenous non-Buddhist festival of the Sherdukpen, dedicated to appease the forest deities and other mountain spirits. Rep Lapchang is the harvest festival which is also popularly celebrated by the community. Such festivals are presided by the Chizi, or local Shaman instead of the Buddhist Lamas.

Festivals

Khiksaba

The Khiksaba Festival at Rupa is held from the night of 10th December through to the 15th. It’s a 5 day festival. The Khiksaba festival showcases a large part of the village’s cultural heritage through the choice of costumes, dances, and songs that are distributed among a few well-defined groups of performers—the Tsokbos, the Batpos, the Gomchinpos, and two traditional choir groups, the Baidongpos and the Lorjangpos. The festival celebrations also feature the Khikzizis, the local priests, and the hierarchies organizing Shertukpen society.

Rep Lapchang

Rep Lapchang is the harvest festival which is also popularly celebrated by the community. Such festivals are presided by the Jiji, or local Shaman instead of the Buddhist Lamas.

PRIDOCHHEPCHI
Chekor — May-June

Chekor is the festival celebrated by shertukpens. The literal meaning of the word chekor is “parikrama of knowledge”. The festival is month-long, filled with activities throughout the month. This festival acts as coaching time for younger generations to know about their culture. This festival also tells a lot about how to behave and conduct the day-to-day activities of an adult villager. Though this festival is celebrated by Monpas as well, the mode of celebration differs.

This festival is observed during the month of May-June, the fourth month of the lunar calendar called Jipa Saka-Dawa. It starts with reciting holy scripts of Buddhist sacred text. The village council (blu) hires monks from nearby villages and monasteries for the recitation. The monks recite the scripts the whole day till a day before Poornima (full moon) day.

The whole village is divided into three Blang. Azu lampu Blang, Champu Blang and Thuksna Blang. The literal meaning of Blang is shed. The name of the first two Blang is associated with the kind of folk dance they endorse. The Blangs provide the working force for the peaceful conduction of the festival. The main participants of the Blang are the youth of that Blang. The elders of Blang act as advisors. The Blang assigns some young boys to participate as makpepu (warrior) and young girls to carry the scriptures.

The day-long procession starts from Gompa. Young girls are sent to Gompa where they are loaded with scriptures wrapped in cloth and allotted a designated slot in the procession. The Makpepu‘s of all three Blang has their permanent slot to join the procession. The procession is a depiction of how the scripture reaches from India to Lhasa in Tibet. Makpepus are the soldiers which protect the scriptures. During the day they perform war dance at several places. The war dances with war-cry are very specific to the chekor festival.

Every clan has its designated spot called Chodham to receive the procession. As the procession is lead by monks, the clan is blessed by them. After lunch, the mask dance is performed. The Zam, Kengpu, Jo-meme, Tang-tang-mu perform their dances. These are the characters in the procession.

By evening, people gather near Gompa to receive blessings from the sacred texts. The receiving of blessing is called Wang. The Gompa is very near to a small stream, made into a pool. The Makpepu arrives at the pool before Abosu. On the arrival of Abosu, the water war begins. They throw fresh stream water at each other with a war cry. Jo-meme makes sure that the sport is played peacefully with a bamboo broom. Even the hit of Jo-meme is considered a blessing.

As the moon rises, the girls gather around the Gompa to return the sacred text. Three rounds are made around Gompa for the people to take blessing. As the moon goes higher into the sky, man folks gather in front of the Gompa for Deity appeasing ritual called Nurjang. Nurjang is a song that is sung to appease all the deities of ten directions. The Nurjang is interrupted by the ritual of LhoJambe. The LhoJambe is considered a violent ritual. After the ritual of Nurgang-Lhojambe Blangpu Jomji, the young girls serve rice beer. This marks the end of the day-long celebration of chekor.

Source: Shertukpen.wordpress

Dress

The Shertukpen men wear a sleeveless cloth, which is made out of silk, with the two ends of the cloth which pins onto the shoulders that reach down to the knees. Made from yak’s hair with tassels jutting down over the face, the gurdam skull-cap is mainly worn by the men. It is decorated with a white cockade and colourful band around its brim. The warriors are often seen carrying their Tibetan sword, with the support of a waistband. A bogre, a cloth woven from natural fibers, is tied around the shoulders to form a fold at the back.

The women wear a collarless and sleeveless cloth to cover them from the shoulders to the knees. A full-sleeved embroidered jacket and waistcloth, known as mushaiks, is worn over the cloak. The ladies tie their hair tied into a bun at the back, although most grown-up girls do not tie their tresses into a knot. Weaving is considered a feminine art, and most are able to weave clothings in a highly artistic manner.

Dance

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Source: WikipediaJoshuaProjectshertukpenIGNCA