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Monpa Tribe
About Monpa Tribe

The Monpa are a major people of Arunachal Pradesh in northeastern India. Presently they are also one of the 56 officially recognized ethnic groups in China. Most Monpas live in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, with a population of 50,000, centered in the districts of Tawang and West Kameng. Around 25,000 Monpas can be found in the district of Cuona in the Tibet Autonomous Region, where they are known as Moinba or Mönba. Of the 45,000 Monpas who live in Arunachal Pradesh, about 20,000 of them live in Tawang district, where they constitute about 97% of the district's population, and almost all of the Monpas can be found in the West Kameng district, where they form about 77% of the district's population. A small number of them may be found in bordering areas of East Kameng and Bhutan .

They also share very close resemblance with the Sharchops of Bhutan. Their language belongs to the Tibeto-Burman family, but it is considerably different from the Eastern Tibetan language. It is written with the Tibetan script.
The Monpa are sub-divided into six sub-groups because of their variations in their language. They are namely:
• Tawang Monpa
• Dirang Monpa
• Lish Monpa
• Bhut Monpa
• Kalaktang Monpa
• Panchen Monpa

History of Monpa Tribe

Earliest records to the area which the Monpas occupied today signify the existence of a kingdom known as Lhomon or Monyul which existed from 500 B.C to 600 A.D. Subsequent years saw Monyul coming under increasing Tibetan political and cultural influence, which was evident during the years when Tsangyang Gyatso, an ethnic Monpa, became the Dalai Lama. At that time, Monyul was divided into thirty two districts, all of which cross the areas of Eastern Bhutan, Kameng, Tawang, and Southern Tibet. However, Monyul, also known as Tawang Tract remained sparsely populated throughout its history.

In the 11th century, the Northern Monpas in Tawang came under the control of Tibetan Buddhism of the Nyingma and Kagyu denominations. It was at this time when the Monpas adopted the Tibetan script for their language. Drukpa missionaries made the presence felt in the 13th century and the Gelugpa, in the 17th century, which most Monpas belong to today.

Monyul remained an autonomous entity, of which local monks based in Tawang held great political power within the community, and direct rule over the area from Lhasa was set up only in the 17th century. From this time until the early 20th century, Monyul was ruled by the authorities in Lhasa. In 1793 the Manchu-authorities produced a document under the title "Ordinance for the More Efficient Governing of Tibet". It proves that Tibet, included Tawang was considered part of China. However, in the 19th century, the area began to interest British India. One of the first British-Indian travellers into Monyul, Nain Singh, who visited the area from 1875-6 noted that the Monpas were a conservative people who shunned off contact with the outside world and were making efforts to monopolise trade with Tibet. Due to its strategic position, then the British sought to make their political influence felt.

In 1914, Britain and its colonial authorities in India drew the McMahon Line, which they claimed to be the border between British India and Chinese Tibet. The line divided the land in which the Monpas inhabited, and became a source of argument in the subsequent years to come due to ambiguities to the specific location of the McMahon Line.

In subsequent years, China continued to claim the pre-McMahon border as the border between India and Tibet, while British India gradually established effective control over Monyul south of the McMahon line. Following the independence of India and a change of government in China, the dispute became a major issues in the relations between the People's Republic of China and the Republic of India. The McMahon Line was the effective line of control in this period, though the border was somewhat porous. In 1962, a Chinese military patrol which ventured south of the McMahon Line drew a military response from India, which resulted in the Sino-Indian War. During the war, China took effective control of the whole Monyul area south of the McMahon Line as well as some other surrounding areas. However, the war ended with China's voluntary withdrawal north of the McMahon Line. Negotiations on the dispute remain active.

Culture of Monpa Tribe

The Monpa are known for wood carving, Thangka painting, carpet making and weaving. They manufactured paper from the pulp of the local sukso tree. A printing press can be found in the Tawang monastery, where many religious books are printed on local paper and wooden blocks, generally meant for literate Monpa Lamas, who use it for their personal correspondence and conducting religious rituals.

It is a rule that all animals except men and tigers are allowed to be hunted. According to custom, only one individual is allowed to hunt the tiger on an auspicious day, upon the initiation period of the shamans, which can be associated with a trial of passage. Upon hunting the tiger, the jawbone, along with all its teeth, is used as a magical weapon. It is believed that its power will enable the tigers to remind the power of his guiding spirit of the ancestral tiger, who will accompany and protect the boy along his way.

The Buddhist Lamas would read religious scriptures in the Gompas for a few days during Choskar. Thereafter, the villagers will walk around the cultivated fields with the sutras on their back. The importance of this festival is to pray for better cultivation and protect the grains from insects and wild animals. The prosperity of the villagers is not excluded as well.

Principal Monpa festivals comprise Losar, Ajilamu ,Choskar harvest, and Torgya. During Losar, people would generally pray pilgrimage at the Tawang monastery to pray for the coming of the Tibetan New Year. The Pantomime dances are the principle feature of Ajilamu.


The Monpa practice shifting and permanent types of cultivation. Cattle, fowl, pigs, sheep, yaks and cows are kept as domestic animals and meat is hunted using primitive methods.
To prevent soil erosion by planting crops on hilly slopes, the Monpa have terraced many slopes. Cash crops such as wheat, barley, chili pepper, rice, pumpkin, cotton, maize, beans, tobacco and indigo are planted.

Society of Monpa Tribe

The traditional society of the Monpa was administered by a council which consists of six ministers locally known as Trukdri. The members of this council were known as the Kenpo, literally the Abbot of Tawang. The Lamas also hold a respectable position, which consists of two monks known as Nyetsangs, and two other Dzongpon.

The man is the head of the family and he is the one who takes all decisions. In his absence, his wife takes over all responsibilities. When a child is born, they have no strict preference for a boy or a girl. Some, however, prefer a daughter for she stays in the house of her parents once she is married. Her husband is the one who moves to the house of his parents-in-law. The same type of tradition is found among the Khasi tribe of Meghalaya, India.

Lifestyle and dress

The traditional dress of the Monpa is based on the Tibetan Chuba, although woolen coats and trousers may be worn as well. The men wear a skull cap of felt with fringes or tassels.The women tend to wear a warm jacket and a sleeveless blouse that reaches down to the calves, tying the blouse round the waist with a long and narrow piece of cloth. Ornaments include silver rings, earrings made of flat pieces of bamboo with red beads or turquoises are worn as well. One can see a person wearing a cap with a single peacock feather round their felt hats.

Due to the cold climate of the Himalayas, the Monpa, like most of the other Buddhist tribes, build their house of stone and wood with board floors, often accompanied with wonderfully carved doors and window frames. The roof is made with bamboo matting, keeping their house warm during the winter season. Sitting platforms and hearths in the living rooms are also found in their houses.

Religion of Monpa Tribe

The Monpa are generally believers of the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism, which they adopted in the 17th century as a result of the evangelical influence of the Bhutanese-educated Mera Lama. The evidence to this impact was the central role of the Tawang monastery–which aligns with the Gelugpa tradition–in the daily lives of the Monpa folk. But, some elements of the pre-Buddhist Bön faith remained strong among the Monpas, mainly in regions nearer to the Assamese plains. In every household, small Buddhist altars placed with statues of Buddha are given water offerings in little cups and burning butter lamps.

The Bhut Monpa led a hunter-gather lifestyle and believed that the main totem and clan idol is the spirit of the tiger, who will torment any initiate while he sleeps. It is also believed that the spirit of the tiger is the sign of the ancestral forest spirit, who took a young shaman into the jungle to be initiated.

The belief in transmigration of the soul and rebirth is widespread, as their life is largely centred on the Tawang monastery in Tawang district, where many of the young Monpa boys would join the monastery and grow up as Buddhist Lamas.



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