About Monpa Tribe
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.