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Traductions

The drums of Nyishang (Nepal)

Rituals and political centralisation
Les tambours de Nyi-shang (Népal) : rituel et centralisation politique
Philippe Sagant
Traduction de Matthew Cunningham

Notes de la rédaction

First published in 1990 as “Les tambours de Nyi-shang (Népal): Rituel et centralisation politique”, in Tibet: civilisation et société, colloque organisé par la Fondation Singer-Polignac à Paris, les 27, 28, 29 avril 1987 (Paris, Éditions de la Fondation Singer-Polignac/Éditions de la MSH): 151–170. Thanks to Boyd Michailovsky for correcting the paper, and to Pascale Dollfus for her help with the Tibetan. Translated thanks to support from the CEH (UPR299-CNRS), which we thank.
Ny indicates Nyishangba words, N, Nepali, others are Tibetan words.

Texte intégral

fig. 1 – “Braga and his monastery in the December snow”

fig. 1 – “Braga and his monastery in the December snow”

Photo Philippe Sagant, 1986; source: LESC_FPS_7.2.1

  • 1 Thanks to A. W. Macdonald, who kindly read this manuscript, making corrections and suggestions.

1In a paper published in 1906, Ernest Herbert Cooper Walsh provided valuable information on how, in Tibetan culture, one experienced the relationship between political power and the worship of the sacred mountains—the local deities (yul-lha).1

2His article concerns the Upper Tromo community in the Chumbi Valley, which is made up of seven or eight villages divided into two halves. Power is exercised by two officers called kongdu, alternating from one of the halves to the other. Every three years new elections are held. On the 15th day of the 4th month, the citizens of the “little republic” flock from all of the villages to a cairn in order to celebrate the local deity (yul-lha). A banner is planted in front of the altar. The two officers reaching the end of their terms preside over the election. Each village puts forward candidates called tsho-pa. From this open list, on which any given village can present several candidates, the two officers choose four names, those of the men they consider best equipped to succeed them. From among these four names, the two new officers are chosen by lot.

3The elected officers take up their post on the 11th month. Another ceremony is held before the altar to the local deity. A yak is sacrificed. With their hand on the bleeding skin, the officers take their oath. They receive the banner—the insignia of their office.

4The officers of Tromo told Walsh they did not get their power from the Tibetan government, but from the local deity (yul-lha). Through rolls of the dice, it is the gods that indicate their choice, singling out those who should take power.

5Thus in Tromo, the officers are elected by the sacred mountain, the local deity.

  • 2 Sagant, 1985; Karmay and Sagant, 1987, 1998.

6For several years, I have been exploring this relationship between sacred mountain worship and political organisation. This study has concerned small, marginal populations that remained partly autonomous until recently, like those of the Chumbi Valley: the Limbu of Nepal, certain populations of Arunachal Pradesh, the people of Nyishang in Nepal and, in collaboration with Samten Karmay, the Sharwa people of Amdo, very close to the small Chinese town of Songpan in Sichuan.2

7The political organisations of these populations are different. Nevertheless, three common constants have appeared:

    • 3 On the mnga’-thang, equivalent to the dbang-thang, cf. among others Tucci (1955: 199–200; [1956] 19 (...)

    It is the sacred mountain, the local deity that bestows the dbang or dbang-thang, a virtue that some individuals possess more than others. This is translated by Tibetologists as “majestas”, power, prosperity, etc. It opens access to political power.3

    • 4 For Tucci (1955: 200) the mnga’-thang and the “powerful helmet” or the “high head” cannot be separa (...)

    Inseparable from this virtue, the notion of “head held high” appears, or dbu-’phangs mtho in Tibetan, śir-uṭhāune in Nepalese, sām phongmā in Limbu, etc. It is a characteristic similar to honour.4

    • 5 Editor’s note: In French “la place du rang” go’phang is the non-honorific for dbu-phangs, meaning “ (...)
    • 6 On the “ranked sitting position” among the Limbus, cf. Sagant, 1976.

    This notion of “head held high” or “powerful helmet” varies depending on the individual. At a given moment, the honour of some members of the community dominates over that of the others. It determines the “ranked sitting position” (go-’phang)5 of each individual in an assembly, or even in a house when the community assembles there, during a wedding for example.6

8As we see, although these small populations are marginal, they are nonetheless players in Tibetan tradition. Comparable themes appear in studies by Giuseppe Tucci (1950, 1955), Ariane Macdonald (1971), Erik Haarh (1969) and others on the Yarlung dynasty of the first Tibetan kings, and also in Rolf Stein’s studies on the Epic of King Gesar (1956, 1959).

  • 7 Survey conducted in the village of Braga in November-December 1986 and continued among the Manangis (...)

9In this article, I would like to present the main conclusions of a recent study conducted in the Nepalese community of Nyishang, whose Nepalese name is Manang.7

  • 8 Snellgrove, 1961: 207. These “Three Communities” first designate the three villages of Ngawal, Mana (...)

10The Manang people live in the upper Marshyangdi river valley in central Nepal, between the Annapurna Massif and the Tibetan border. Speaking a dialect similar to Gurung (Mazaudon, 1978), the Nyishang population is made up of seven villages located at an altitude of 3500 metres, with a combined total population of approximately 4500. Bka’-brgyud-pa monasteries have been established there since the 15th century (Snellgrove, 1961: 206–217), even though the Nyingmapa sect is still influential today: they are at the centre of social life. Monks are involved in all areas of everyday life: illness, house-building, life-cycle rituals, etc. The Nyishangba are primarily farmers, and secondarily yak and sheep breeders and especially big traders (Spengen, 1987). Their society has been developing rapidly over the past twenty years. Their work as tradesmen is getting the edge over the rest, and they are increasingly moving to Kathmandu or other cities, abandoning their upper Himalaya valley with no regrets. However, up until 1977, their political organisation remained special and original: within the context of their valley, it unified the ethnic community, made up of the seven villages plus the two non-Nyishangba villages of Nar and Phu in the neighbouring valley. Under the name “Three Communities of the Nyishang Region”, this organisation was recognised by the king of Nepal.8 And up until 1977, the seven Nyishang villages curiously enjoyed the same kinds of political advantages that the Nepalese government granted to a vassal state like the small kingdom of Lo (Mustang in Nepali). It was not until 1977 that this system officially vanished, making way for the introduction of the Panchayat system like everywhere else in Nepal, but fifteen years late.

  • 9 At present, our knowledge of Nyishang is based primarily on three studies, two of which, unfortunat (...)

11Until recently, the Nyishang community remained little-known. In 1985, one author counted four publications on it, whereas there were one hundred and fifty publications on the neighbouring Kali Gandaki river valley. In fact, until recently, Nyishang was rarely studied. We did not know much about the Manangis and the Nyishangbas.9

12What interests me in Nyishang is that one finds a close relationship between rituals and political organisation. However, unlike the populations mentioned above, power was strongly centralised in the context of the three communities or three Cho (Ny). Here I would like to show how in Nyishang, as elsewhere among earlier populations of Tibetan culture, rituals are the foundation of political life, and how the “religion of men” (mi-chos) is ready to be governed, as Tibetans say.

fig. 2 – Map of Manang (Nyishang)

fig. 2 – Map of Manang (Nyishang)

Source: LESC_FPS_2.4, Matériaux de terrain Manang, Rapport mission

Annual festivals and the god of the soil’s “chosen ones”

  • 10 Nyishang’s calendar festivals remain poorly known. Information is given by N. J. Gurung (1977a: 190 (...)

13The three communities of the Nyishang region consist of seven villages. Each of these villages has its own annual festivals, which are dying out as a result of emigration to Kathmandu and other cities. The main festivals are: the New Year (so-nam lo-gsar) with its white demons (‘dre-dkar), nine-ingredient soup, scapegoat, etc., and a spring festival dedicated to archery (mi-mda’ phen-pa) to drive away the demon, on whose cadaver the inhabited site was built, and whose tomb is located above the village. Another one, held around the same time, called ichikeme (Ny), takes place during the filling of the irrigation canals. And there is a midsummer festival (dbyar-ston) that includes horseraces, dances and alternating chants. An autumn festival (lha-bsangs) sees the village clans gathering in groups at various houses, where they used to slaughter a yak.10

  • 11 The ngo-plih drum of Nyishang is of the same type as the Gurung drum called dhandu, cf. Messerschmi (...)

14Each of the festivals marking the passing of a season is a meeting of all of the gods (lha-’dus), which in Manang is presided over by a god of the soil called Jo-bo Yul-sa. Every village has its own god of the soil connected with the worship of a ma-mo: in principle he should not leave the village; if he did, it would be a very bad omen. Sometimes he appears in dreams. He is a white horseman. He is said to be a lha, a god. He is considered the land owner and the master of the soil. During each of these festivals, he is summoned by the sound of a drum called ngo-plih (Ny), a type found among the Gurung of the lower valleys.11

15The fundamental rite of each festival is a fumigation (bsangs). It is both a purification of the village and an offering of incense to the gods. Possessed people called lha-phen (Ny) call the god of the soil by means of a drum. They make him “descend” upon them. They embody him. In every detail, these possessed people are comparable to the lha-pa who appear during annual festivals just about everywhere in Tibet.

  • 12 Cooke (1985a: 46, 193) distinguishes between villages ones (yul-pe) and clans ones (pho-be). See Pi (...)

16These acts of worship are a chance to recite or sing legends of origin (dpe) about the filiation groups and the founding of the villages.12

17All kinds of competitions and jousts take place during these seasonal rites: archery and horseraces as we have seen, but there are also tugs of war between boys and girls, rock-lifting competitions, alternating chants etc.

18The winners of some of these competitions, like archery and horseracing, enjoy acclaim and a kind of triumph. It is said that their “name is big”, that their feat is a sign of the god’s favour.

  • 13 On mi-chos, cf. for example Stein, 1959: 468–471; 1962: 165; Tucci and Heissig, 1973: 218–220; Aris(...)

19As we have seen, the seasonal rites in Nyishang are not rooted in Nepalese cultural traditions, but rather in those of Tibet. The Nyishangba also partake of the old “religion of men” (mi-chos). Their festivals match the general descriptions by Rolf Stein and Giuseppe Tucci.13 However, there are a number of differences. One of them concerns weapons. Elsewhere in Tibet, the sacred mountains—the local deities (yul-lha)—are generally armed from head to toe. Likewise, at the cairn around which the incense offering is often made, weapons have a significant presence. There is nothing of the kind in Nyishang. On his white horse, the god of the soil is unarmed. The incense offering is often made in the village around a flagstaff (dar-lcog), not on the mountain. With the exception of the archery competition, weapons are absent.

The god of the soil’s chosen ones and political power

20In the Tibetan epic, Gesar wins the horserace during celebrations in the land of Ling, and all at once he conquers a treasure, a woman and a kingdom. These details are not solely the stuff of poetic fiction. There are Tibetan-culture populations in which the winner of a joust held during an annual festival is said to be favoured by the sacred mountain, the local deity. His feat brings him renown. If it is confirmed, this renown leads him to political power.

21In the winter, the Sharwa of Amdo used to assemble large caravans that set off on trading missions from Songpan across the plateau. These expeditions were risky. The land was infested with bandits. When the caravan was being formed, there was an election to choose a headman, who had extensive powers. The election was comparable to that of the officers of Tromo in the Chumbi Valley. The villagers would come from the four corners of the Sharwa river valley to put forward their candidates. These were men who had acquired good reputations in their community. They were said to have obtained the favour of the local deity, to have shown this by performing feats. Some had gained their renown though speech. They knew the legends and chants, or they had succeeded at a difficult political arbitration that benefited their small community. Others had displayed extraordinary strength or corporeal dexterity. These were the men who had won the horseraces or gun-shooting competitions during the seasonal festivals, or they were great hunters in everyday life. Others had displayed strength of mind: they knew how to earn everyone’s trust. If they fell into an ambush, they were capable of courage and decisiveness. More than others, all of these men possessed that dbang-thang virtue, a gift from the mountain god. And it was because of this virtue that they were put forward as election candidates. At the entrance to Amdo’s broad plateau, the people in the caravan would hold discussions. Some names were selected, others were set aside. From among the selected names, the expedition headman was chosen by lot through a roll of the dice. He took charge.

22As we have seen, in Tromo and in Sharwa country, the election essentially proceeds through three rounds. In the first, the sacred mountain—the local deity—singles out candidates by making them perform feats. In the second, when the caravan is being formed, the men recognise the god’s chosen ones and select the best of them as candidates for power. Finally, in the third round (the lot-casting round), it is once again the sacred mountain that intervenes: through the dice, the local deity chooses the headman.

23What happens in Nyishang? There are jousts, just as there are among the Sharwa. The winners are said to be favoured by the god of the soil. That is the first round. Will those men rise to power?

  • 14 On the Three Communities, cf. N. J. Gurung, 1977a: 148–151, 205, 226–228; H. Gurung, 1980: 228; Coo (...)

24The “Three Communities of the Nyishang Region” (Nyi-shang Cho Sum Khuwa),14 as recognised by the King of Nepal until 1977, have three political authorities: the Councils of each of the nine villages (the basic units), the large Council of the Region, and the General Assembly of House Headmen.

Village councils

  • 15 On the councils of villages, we know the composition of each of them on the eve of the implantation (...)

25Each of Nyishang’s seven villages, as well as Nar and Phu in the neighbouring valley (which are integrated with Nyishang without belonging to the ethnic group), has its own share of political autonomy and its own authority, called dhapa sabhā by the Nepalese. Depending on the size of the village population, these councils have 3 to 15 members, with various political responsibilities that vary in name and number and may or may not exist from one village to another. Among the main posts, first there are the headmen, dhapa (Ny).15 There can be several of them in each village. The Nepalese recognise them as being at the top of the political hierarchy. Two deputies, sherpa (Ny), assist them. Furthermore, councillors, or wise men, answering to various names like mukhya (N) or bhaladmi (N), sit on the council without decision-making powers. Only headmen (dhapa) have this power.

26Elections are held every year. There are two systems. The first concerns the headman and his deputies. The second, which differs in some villages, concerns the councillors.

  • 16 Editor’s note: probably a local term.

27The election of headmen and their deputies is done by lot. Election day is a festival day in honour of the god of the soil (Jo-bo Yul-sa): in the morning, each candidate asks for the god’s favour in his home chapel. Summoned by the drum on that day, the god descends among men, embodied by the drummer (lha-phen) (Ny).16 The winner of the draw is considered the village god’s “chosen one”, as among the Sharwa or the people of Tromo.

28However, the similarity ends there. Among the Sharwa, candidates for power are subject to a strict selection process based on feat-morality criteria, the “nine strengths of man” (Stein, 1959: 328). In Nyishang there is also a preselection process, but it is done in a quite different spirit. It has nothing to do with feats or renown. It is age—seniority in an age category—that is decisive, as is clan representation. In the village of Braga for example, each of the clans puts forward as candidates all of the young men who turned 25 that year. It is from among them that the choice is made by lot. And every year, the older ones make way for the younger ones.

29Therefore in Nyishang, they do not give power to men who have in some way shown more talent, courage or dbang-thang virtue than others. The winner of the archery competition or the horserace can also be a candidate if he is the right age. But his feat gives him no advantage over the others. In Nyishang, they have a different, profoundly egalitarian idea. The aim is, over the course of the years, to place as many young men as possible at the head of the council for a short period, preserving the process of election by the god of the soil, underpinned by feat-morality, and then dismiss them after a year to make way for others.

30Thus in Nyishang, in this first type of election involving young men from all clans, we find the idea of a headman being elected by the god of the soil, as among the Sharwa. Winning the draw is in itself a feat. But during the candidate selection process, the god’s favour is controlled by men. The ideas of rotation, equal opportunity among clans, age and majority, demonstrate a kind of reservation with regard to the inherent elitism of feat-morality. One might say that they are mistrustful of the god of the soil’s favour.

31The process of electing councillors (mukhya) is different from that for headmen and their deputies. As soon as they are elected, the young headmen (dhapa) consult each clan, particularly its elder, to choose the councillors. There is no drawing lots as far as they are concerned. Usually, based on the favourable opinion of the members of a given clan and its elder, the headmen renews the mandate of the previous year’s councillor. It is only when one of them has failed in his task that a new councillor is named. Therefore, generally it is not consultation with the god of the soil that enables a headman to gather his councillors around him, but primarily consultation with the elders of the clans.

32Other differences appear between the Sharwa and Nyishangba. Among the Sharwa, a man rises to power to perform a given task for a limited period. The authority the population delegates to him is extensive and real. In Nyishang, almost the opposite is true. The political bodies are permanent. And although the headmen and their deputies are officially recognised as standing at the top of the council hierarchies, their posts are in truth more honorary than real. Those headmen are young men with no political experience. Having gained a bit of that experience, they are removed from the body after a year, and their mandate is not renewable. Of course, they officially possess judicial authority and decision-making power. But usually they only record the councillors’ proposals. They are primarily managers who deal with everything that comes in from the everyday life of the village. They are highly comparable to their Sherpa neighbours’ naua, which are sort of like France’s garde-champêtres (Fürer-Haimendorf, [1964] 1980: 136). Real power lies elsewhere.

  • 17 If the dhapa elections are open to all clans, the same is not true of the appointment of mukhiya co (...)

33In Nyishang, the real, but more discreet, power is concentrated in the hands of the councillors and the elders of certain clans. Unlike the headmen and their deputies, the councillors’ mandates are not limited to one year. Their political life lasts ten years, twenty years, sometimes more. They are older men who make a career in politics. They know all of the workings of power. Furthermore, unlike the post of headman, filled by all of the clans, they only represent certain filiation groups.17 Thus in the village, power is centralised. It belongs to older men who represent particular clans.

The two bodies of the valley

34Let us now turn to an examination of the two bodies in the Nyishang region.

  • 18 On this Council, cf. especially N. J. Gurung, 1977a: 148–151; 155–159.
  • 19 On taxe, sirlo, cf. N. J. Gurung, 1977a: 61–67, 323; 1976: 305; 1977b: 241; Cooke, 1985a: 305.
  • 20 On the Khampa affair, cf. N. J. Gurung, 1977a: 206; 1976: 305; 1977b: 234, 241; H. Gurung, 1980: 23 (...)

35First, there is a council with authority over all of the villages. It is called the “Council of the Three Communities of Nyishang”.18 It is the sovereign decision-making body. In one assembly, the council brings together all members of all of the village councils. Its powers are extensive. It has fiscal prerogatives that have led the Nepalese to recognise it as the political administration of a vassal state.19 It manages land assets because the Three Communities of Nyishang represent a territorial entity. For example, to build an airport, the Council of the Three Communities bought land from the village of Pisang (Cooke, 1985a: 149). It constitutes a judicial authority. A village council that fails to find a solution to a conflict cannot bring the case before the Nepalese courts. It would have to pay a heavy fine to the Council of the Three Communities. It is this council that is asked to take the case in hand, as happened for example in Phu in 1966 (N. J. Gurung, 1977b: 240–243). Its remits also include the defence of the land. In 1964, the villages of Nar and Phu, threatened by Tibetan Khampas who were fighting the Chinese along the border, turned to the Council of the Three Communities, asking it to issue a call to arms. All of Nyishang’s villages mobilised to put an end to the Khampas’ acts of violence.20

  • 21 On the sepur paiment, cf. N. J. Gurung, 1977a: 68, 71, 240; Cooke, 1985a: 166.

36In that Council of the Three Communities, power is even more centralised than in the villages. The system of representation favours certain filiation units of the two villages of Manang and Braga. Meetings are held in Manang, and the Manang village council holds the presidency. The Manang council often acts alone in the name of the Three Cho. Payment of taxes to the Nepalese can only take place in the presence of Manang’s representatives. The other villages’ recognition of Manang’s political leadership role, and that of Braga to a lesser extent, is institutional. Every year, each village council has to make a payment called sepur (Ny)—a mdzo, or a goat, or a sum of money—to the councillors of the privileged clans of Manang and Braga.21 Power over the whole of Nyishang, Nar and Phu is in the hands of the elders of the five sub-clans, descended from two clans from the villages of Manang and Braga, according to the following structure:

  • 22 On Manang the father and Braga the mother, cf. N. J. Gurung, 1977a: 147.

37Manang is said to be the father, Braga the mother and the others the children.22 The two valleys are actually controlled by a handful of men, based on two criteria: first age, then the hereditary privileges of certain clans.

38Finally, the last body recognised by the King of Nepal until 1977 is the Assembly of the Representatives of the Three Communities of the Nyishang Region (Cooke, 1985a: 152), which in principle is convoked by the Council of the Three Communities. It is made up of all of the house headmen. Representation is very egalitarian. The voice of one house carries as much weight as that of another. Votes are cast with stones.

  • 23 On the armed faction struggles, cf. Kawakita, 1957: 57; Snellgrove, 1961: 207; N. J. Gurung, 1977a: (...)
  • 24 On this call to arms, cf. N. J. Gurung, 1977a: 206; 1977b: 234.
  • 25 On the surrender of arms to the King of Nepal, cf. Cooke, 1985a: 132-133.
  • 26 On the implementation of Panchayat and their political stakes, cf. N. J. Gurung, 1977a: 14, 146, 20 (...)

39Over the past thirty years, the general assembly has met quite frequently. It has taken a position on fundamental political issues: twice putting an end to fighting between armed factions during the civil wars that raged in Nyishang (1953, 1974);23 answering the call to arms against the Khampas in 196624; deciding whether or not the weapons used against the Khampas had to be surrendered to the King of Nepal (1976)25; deciding to abandon the political status of the Three Communities in order to accept the Nepalese municipality system (Panchayat) (1977);26 discussing clan representation in the context of that new system (1980) (Cooke, 1985a: 154).

40Merritt Todd Cooke attended the assembly in 1980 (ibid.). A thousand men sat in a ring. Bottles of alcohol were passed from mouth to mouth, marking, by commensality, the common acceptance of the ritual purity of all members of the ethnic group. At the beginning, confusion reigned: half of the participants demanded the floor. Then little by little, the orators took over, confronting one another. The assembly finally reached a consensus on the proposals of some members: they were acclaimed. The representatives of the three communities offered them a delegation of power.

41In Braga in 1986, I was told how on other occasions, lone men and women representing only themselves succeeded in being heard by the representatives of the powerful factions, requesting that the assembly of the Three Communities—in declared opposition to the Council—put an end to armed conflicts, or decide to introduce the Nepalese municipalities. These orators “spoke from the heart”. They were favoured by the local deities. They had accomplished a feat. Their names were remembered. Then in the villages, lots were dawn and the “chosen ones” received the resources to implement their policy. Here we find the three rounds used among the Sharwas to elect a caravan headman.

42In the Council of the Three Communities power is so centralised (giving primacy to age and to the privileges of a few clans), and the assembly meetings are so marked by very old political practices reflecting feat-morality and the favour of the local gods, that it is as if in its dying days, the organisation of the Three Communities of Nyishang reverted to the way it had done things in its infancy.

43Thus in the village and valley, there are two contradictory political ideologies. We should verify that the first ideology (centralisation, age, privileged clans) has broadly supplanted the second ideology in institutions. To this end, we need to turn to an examination of “ranked sitting position” criteria.

44However, it should be noted in passing that, like weapons, the notion of dbang-thang has vanished from political life. In the village they tell me that this is a matter for the king.

The god of the soil’s favour and ranked sitting position

45Among certain populations, the Limbu for example, the notion of dbang, which is linked to power, is inseparable from that of “head held high”. And these two qualities, interrelated as they were among the kings of the Yarlung Dynasty (Tucci, 1955: 199–200), constitute the main criterion determining each individual’s hierarchical position in his society, his “ranked sitting position” What of Nyishang?

46In Nyishang, the winner of the archery competition or horserace, the headman elected by lot, and many others who win more ordinary competitions such as a successful mediator or a man who wins his court case, benefit from a triumph presided over by the god of the soil Jo-bo yul-sa, embodied by his drummer. On the day of their triumph, the “chosen ones” are carried back to their house on the shoulders of their fellow citizens. At home, they receive congratulations from the village. A white turban is placed on their head. Women line up to attach juniper branches, signs of purity. Gifts from every house are placed at their feet. The political leaders congratulate them. The lamas also join the party, burning incense sticks to celebrate the presence of the gods of the soil in these men. All night long, the young people of the community dance to the beat of a drum on the roof terrace of the house. And that night, at home, as they receive the population’s tributes, the god of the soil’s “chosen ones” occupy the highest ranked sitting position.

47However, this triumph is short-lived. And the day after their victory, the god of the soil’s chosen ones—including the headman dhapa—submit to rules of precedence that are quite different. These rules are seen in operation in every house that receives visitors. They are closely connected with a very elaborate organisation of domestic space, which I will return to later. They bring out the social hierarchy criteria. And for the most part, these criteria are no longer those of feat-morality.

48Lamas sit at the top of the rank; among them, seats of honour are determined by the ecclesiastical hierarchy. In the social order, men of religion are above laypeople, so Buddhist monks are above house headmen.

  • 27 On the “elevated centre”, cf. Jackson, 1984: 64, 73; Tucci, [1949] 1972: 719; Haarh, 1969: 221. On (...)
  • 28 According to the idea of “encased worlds”, the house becomes a representation of society; cf. Stein(...)

49There is one exception, however. In addition to the rank line, with its high and low ends, running through the fireplace room along one of the walls of the house, there is, at the centre of the house near the fireplace and the central pillar, a place that is considered “elevated”, called kung (Ny). The house headman sits there when he offers his guest the highest ranked sitting position, which is his own when he is among his family. This “elevated centre” (gung) is also found elsewhere, for example among the Nyishangba’s neighbours in Mustang (Lo): it is the place that a large assembly presided over by lamas reserves for its king.27 It seems significant that this notion is found integrated into the organisation of domestic space in Nyishang. In my view, by virtue of idea of “encased worlds”, this notion can only appear among populations that have a long tradition of political centralisation.28 For example, it does not exist among the Limbu or Sharwa, who have never had royalty.

  • 29 On the strata in Central Nepal, cf. among others Spengen (1987); Pignède (1966: 170–173); Messersch (...)
  • 30 This is the case, for example, in Braga, for the Churpen, Kurtsong, Dzamal Thapki, called kutak in (...)

50With the exception of the house headman, laypeople give way to monks, and in the rank-line along the wall of the fireplace room, they are positioned after them, lower down. To determine the hierarchy among the laypeople, first there is the clan criterion. Nyishang is a stratified society. There are clans recognised as superior to others. This hereditary hierarchy used to be a decisive factor. That is no longer the case today. However, something has survived from that old state of affairs. We know that these strata exist elsewhere in Nepal.29 Nyishang only partially recognises external hierarchies. An “aristocrat” from a neighbouring valley can settle in the village and found a line there.30 At home in his new house in Nyishang, he is free to impose his own precedence criteria. But in other people’s homes, he has to defer to the valley’s common clans, those that partly centralise power in the Council of the Three Communities.

51Between two men who belong to the same stratum, the fundamental criterion that determines the rank hierarchy is age. It is according to their respective age that laypeople of identical status take their place, those who are older occupying the higher positions.

52Beyond the triumphs of the god of the soil’s chosen ones, the feat criterion has a presence in everyday life. But it remains entirely secondary. It only appears on rare occasions. Between two men from the same clan who are the same age or almost the same age, precedence is given to the best singer, the most inspired orator, headman (dhapa), archer or dancer—to the hero.

53An examination of “ranked sitting position” therefore confirms the facts of everyday political life. The feat-morality tradition has a presence on certain exceptional days, when the god of the soil’s favour underpins the social hierarchy. But in everyday life, this type of hierarchy broadly gives way to another. And among laypeople, we once again find the primacy of age and clan heredity, and on top of that, there is the pre-eminence of the monastic order.

  • 31 However, the expression “the great men” (mi-chen) is not used. It remains reserved for the men-at-a (...)

54Furthermore, like weapons and dbang-thang, one observes that the notions “head held high” and “powerful helmet” are disappearing. It is said of the god of the soil’s chosen ones that their “name is big”, that they are “men of honour”.31 But no one in Nyishang feels entitled to claim the “head held high” or “powerful helmet” states. Once again, it is said that these states are only for the Nepalese king.

55We have arrived at a turning point in this paper. The political ideology of feat-morality has a presence in Nyishang. But it gives way to another one, stemming from different values, based on age and clan privilege, which determines both political centralisation and the social hierarchy, in harmony with Buddhism since lamas preside over lay gatherings.

56As far as feat-morality and the god of the soil’s favour are concerned, it is clear to see that it is the extension, into the social hierarchy and political life, of elements that exist in the annual festivals, in the rituals organised by villages in honour of the god of the soil.

57But what about that second ideology, the one which favours age and clan heredity with the blessing of the monks? Is there no other ritual that it is based on, that could explain it?

  • 32 Few things appear in the bibliography concerning Paten, Badde or Baden: cf. N. J. Gurung, 1977a: 19 (...)

58This ritual does in fact exist. Authors usually call it Paten.32 It takes place in autumn. When evoking the particular festivals of each village, I did not mention it since it brings together the whole population of the “Three Communities of Nyishang” for the same act of worship.

The Paten ritual: the principal stages

  • 33 Dorje Legpa is the chief protector of the Braga Monastery, where his weapons are in part stored. A (...)
  • 34 Animal sacrifices have ceased since the intervention of a Braga lama, cf. H. Gurung, 1980: 232; N.  (...)
  • 35 On the festivals of Nar and Thini. cf. N. J. Gurung, 1977a: 195; Fürer-Haimendorf, 1983: 96, Cooke, (...)

59The large Paten ritual used to bring together all villages of the Three Communities to worship a deity called Dorje Legpa, a btsan.33 Until 1961, animals were sacrificed to him;34 and at one time, the sacrifices were human. The festival took place in autumn, every three years. It started on the 15th day of the 9th month and lasted one week. During that three-year cycle, it alternated with two other comparable acts of worship held in neighbouring valleys: the worship of Yakchia in Nar, and the worship of Dumja in Thini, in the Kali Gandaki river valley. The ritual in Nyishang was the only one that staged the character of a king extolled by all Nyishangba. The acts of worship in Nar and Thini have disappeared. Only the population of Nyishang still performs its own, although it too is on the way to being abandoned.35

  • 36 Ngawal was the village where khe kings reigned.

60In an earlier time, the ritual was performed in the village of Ngawal, but today it takes place in Manang.36 It used to bring the whole ethnic group together, although only three villages took charge of organising it: Ngawal, Manang and Braga. Ngawal withdrew from the festival a long time ago for political reasons, as did Braga more recently (Cooke, 1985a: 159). It was in the early sixties, maybe 1961, that Braga and Manang performed the act of worship together for the last time. Today, Manang is the last village performing a ritual that, because of this, has lost all meaning. Based on accounts from informants who participated in the 1961 worship, I will mention the most striking phases. It did not observe these myself.

61Dorje Legpa worship is primarily a lay event, and the ritual roles are played by laypeople. Like the annual village festivals, it reflects Tibetan cultural tradition and the ancient “religion of men” (mi-chos). Nevertheless, in the course of its pomp, the festival incorporates a Buddhist exorcism ritual (tarkya) (Ny), held at the monastery in Bodjo near Manang, and offers the population a dance show (’cham) organised by the lamas.

  • 37 Tibetan mi-chen-po; Nepali thulomanche.

62The big ritual begins on the 15th day of the 9th month. That opening day begins with the assembling of an army. The call to arms is held in a district called Leshiung, located between the villages of Braga and Manang on the very broad valley floor. The men-at-arms are called mi-chen (Ny), or “big men”.37 Soldiers are dressed in red, wearing coats of mail and copper helmets. They are armed with swords, old blunderbusses and sometimes bows and arrows. As they leave their village, they are saluted by gunfire. Arriving from in Braga and Manang, the population surrounds them as they immediately make their way to Leshiung, where a drum called dara-dara (Ny) is sounding in the distance. They are accompanied by the god of the soil’s drummers from each of the two villages, as well as by seven women from each village, all dressed in white. It is said that there were thirty or forty warriors at the turn of the century. In 1961, the “army” consisted of two men. Be that as it may, as we see, weapons are reappearing.

  • 38 A flag (ala) is used, with the drum dhandu during the funeral of the Gurung (Messerschmidt, 1976a: (...)

63In Leshiung, around eleven o’clock in the morning at the meeting place where the whole population floods in, a pole called lha-sing (Ny) or dar-lcog is erected. It is a tree that seven men from Manang cut down early in the morning in the neighbouring forest on the slopes of the Annapurna Massif, and was selected by a half-wit medium (lha-phen). Hoisted to the top of the pole are a white yak’s tail—a royal emblem—and just below it a red pennant called aten (Ny), which the Nyishangba consider the army’s flag.38 This ceremony is performed to the sound of the dara-dara drum: there is only one drum, but two drummers, dressed in red. They too are mediums (lha-phen). While one of them beats the drum, the other officiates near the pole. As during the annual village festivals, all of the gods (lha-’dus) are assembled, but this time, the red priest is calling them from Kathmandu. He describes the stages of the journey, and each time, new gods assemble: those from Kathmandu, Dumre, Bagarchhap, Chame, Thonje, and all of the villages of Nyishang, starting with the god from Pisang at the entrance to the valley.

  • 39 Pleh: the life breath, the soul. Among the Gurung, the soul is plah (Pignède, 1966: 173). The idea (...)

64However, this meeting of all gods is no longer presided over by the white gods of the soil as it is in the village, but rather by the god Dorje Legpa, the red btsan. Now the offering of incense (lha-bsang) and of alcohhol (gser-skyems) to the gods takes place. The population assembled around the pole throws roasted balls of barley flour to cries of “the gods have conquered (lha rgyal-lo)”. Everyone claims to regain all of the strength they had lost from their life breath (pleh) (Ny).39

65At the end of the ceremony, taking the red pennant and yak tail, the army sets off for Manang, “ready for battle”. At the front of the procession are the two red Dorje Legpa drummers, followed by the carrier of the white yak’s tail, the red warriors, a man wearing a white mask called khe-li (Ny), who represents the king, and two people who will later play the role of yaks. The whole population follows, precedes and surrounds. Gunfire rings out all round.

  • 40 Ngawal and Manang accuse each other of having once stolen the flag (Cooke, 1985a: 267).

66In Manang, the “army” goes to the central square. Once again, the pole lha-sing is erected to the sound of the red drummers’ beats, and once again, after the king’s emblem and the army’s Dorje Legpa flag have been hoisted, all of the gods are summoned so that the same offerings of incense and alcohol can be made to them. Night falls. Then the white drummers of Manang and Braga’s gods of the soil enter the scene, beating the opening chant called the “night dance” (borko cheuba) (Ny). They summon the population to stay, to celebrate and dance until morning. The two “yaks” have disguised themselves, one in white and the other in black. They have painted their faces. They beat the “yak dance” (yak cheuba) (Ny). They speak of their role, which consists in “bearing the king’s burdens”. They recount how the king of legend once plunged into the forest to sacrifice seven women, after snatching one per day from each of the villages in the valley, to obtain the support of the gods. Then the “king” himself appears with his white mask, and dances the “king’s dance” (rgyalpo cheuba) (Ny). On either side of him, the men-of-arms from Manang and Braga take up their position. They confront one another through a joust of alternating chants, then dance together, and the populations of both villages join in and imitate them. The dances continue until dawn. On the square of the Chemal ward in the centre of Manang, friends and allies come together. They offer each other food and drink. The emblems of the king and army have long been taken down from the pole and placed under the protection of the seven lamas who will keep watch over them all night, in a house with windows giving onto the square, to make sure they are not stolen.40 One of the men who played the role of yaks has fallen asleep in a corner. The red Dorje Legpa drummer comes along and makes him a discreet offering of incense.

67At dawn on the second day, another offering of incense and alcohol is made to the flag, still to the sound of the red drum. At the end of the ritual, the young women dressed in white who play the role of the women once sacrificed by the king withdraw, led by the god of the soil’s white drummers. They come face-to-face with the red men-at-arms, their past sacrificers. A traditional jostling ensues, using only the shoulders.

68On those three days, the exorcism ritual is held at the monastery in Bodjo near Manang, with the expulsion of a scapegoat. The whole population leaves Manang to watch the lamas’ dances. Two lay rituals take place in front of the monastery.

  • 41 They are considered as the daughters of the god of the soil and the ma-mo.

69In the first, the gods of the soil’s drummers introduce a dance of the white young women, called the “queens’ dance” rgyalmo cheuba (Ny).41

70Later, during a break in the lamas’ dances, children come and offer alcohol to the monastery’s dancers. The Dorje Legpa drummers and the warriors mi-chen are also invited, and they receive their share amid the lamas.

  • 42 On Tengar and the “red stone”, cf. N. J. Gurung, 1977a: 7, 160; H. Gurung, 1980: 225; Cooke, 1985a: (...)

71On the fifth day, the day after the celebrations at the monastery in Bodjo, once the traditional offerings have been made, the army leaves the Manang square led by the flag, and goes to a place near the village called Tengar, where Dorje Legpa’s “red stone” is located (yu welga) (Ny).42 This stone is at the base of an old juniper. The army’s pennant is placed above it. After all of the gods have been summoned, offerings of incense and alcohol are made, still to the sound of the red drum. In the evening, the gods of the soil’s white drummers introduce the same dances as on the first day—the yak dance, the king’s dance and the warriors’ dance. Once again, the whole population spends the night dancing.

72On the morning of the sixth day, the same offerings are once again made to the army’s flag and to Dorje Legpa’s red stone. Next, summoned by the dara-dara drum, the “big men” prepare to sacrifice goats—seven from Manang and seven from Braga in 1961. They lay down their weapons and remove their coats of mail. They start running to catch the animals. They press the nose of each of goat against the red stone three times. They grab it by its hind legs and hold it over their head. They smash it down on the red stone until its skull shatters.

73In the afternoon of the same day, everyone returns to the central Chamal square in Manang, following the same ceremonial as during the outward journey. The sacrificed goats are transported back, surrounded by the crowd. On the plaza, three men dismember the animals so they can then be cooked. Every villager from Braga and Manang gets a share of the meat “the size of a half-fist”. This guarantees him the strength of Dorje Legpa. Then there are new offerings to the army’s flag. To the sound of the red dara-dara drum, a final goat is sacrificed, by either Manang’s or Braga’s warrior (they take turns every three years). The flag is brought. The sacrificed goat is carried by the two “yaks” (one black and the other white, those who “bear the king’s burdens”) to the house where the king and all of the Dorje Legpa ritual officiants are waiting. The animal is dismembered. Everyone gets a share.

74On the seventh day, a closing ceremony is held near Manang in the “large stone” (yongben-yu) (Ny) area, but without the red pennant, nor the white yak’s tail, nor the dara-dara drum, which were given to one of the drummers the previous day to keep in his house until the next ritual in three years, in accordance with tradition. The men confront the women with alternating chants. The political leaders of the villages of Manang and Braga throw bread rolls called khurpa (Ny) into the crowd. The festival is over.

fig. 3 – Drum and drummer

fig. 3 – Drum and drummer

Photos Philippe Sagant, 1990-1991; source: LESC_FPS_7.2.4

A few interpretations

1. Ritual roles

75A number of ritual roles appear during the Paten ritual: the two red drummers on the dara-dara drum, the two white drummers from Manang and Braga on the ngo-plih drum, the king, the two yaks, the sacrificer-warriors and the young white women, seven each from Manang and Braga. Who plays these roles?

  • 43 On the organization of this age class, cf. N. J. Gurung, 1977a: 142, 177; Cooke, 1985a: 187, 197, 2 (...)

76It should be noted that these ritual roles are divided between the two age groups that make up adult society in Nyishang. The first is that of the house headmen and married women. It is attained through marriage and relinquished at the age of 60. With one exception, all of the ritual roles are filled by this age group. The second is that of unmarried young people.43 One joins it at the age of fifteen, and leaves it through marriage, or at the age of 30 if one has not married. In the Paten ritual, it is the white women who contribute on behalf of the unmarried young people.

77In 1961, seven of the young women were from Manang, and the seven others were from Braga. In Braga, the selection process is rigorous. It is done in springtime, during the filling of the irrigation canals. These women must have undergone menarche, but should be unmarried—that is to say pure. They must have a father and mother in the village and belong to the Tongraden clan. All other clans are excluded, even though these make up the majority of the population. These women are the elders of their age group, the last of the unmarried. There must be seven of them, and this usually necessitates a secondary selection by lot. It used to be the case that these women, like the headmen dhapa, were chosen from among those who had reached age twenty-five that year. Sometimes there were not enough of them, so the age was lowered, or if there were too many of them, the age was raised. The draw by lot was identical to that of the headman. They too were considered to have been chosen by the god of the soil. In short, two fundamental criteria determine their selection: age group seniority and clan membership.

78All of the other ritual roles are filled by the other age group (the married adults) according to the same principles for the most part.

79Ever since the withdrawal from the Paten ritual of the village of Ngawal, where one still finds the ruins of the fortress of the kings who once reigned over Nyishang, the king in the ritual has been played by the elder house headman of Manang’s Khe clan, which has royal ancestry.

80The two yaks—one from Manang and the other from Braga—are played by the men who held the roles of the sacrificers three years earlier.

81The two warriors (mi-chen) who sacrifice the animals—the “elder” from Manang and the “younger” from Braga—are chosen by lot prior to the ritual from among the elders of the filiation groups descended from the Tonde clan (the Tonde and Samden in Manang, the Tongraden in Braga).

82And the same goes for the god of the soil’s drummers from Manang and Braga, who also belong to the same privileged sub-clans. Only the selection of the two dara-dara drummers is a bit special. The office is handed down through heredity within the two houses descended from the Ngarchopa clan in Manang.

83Regardless of age group, almost all of the roles are allocated according to the same criteria: seniority in one of the two age groups and centralisation in the hands of a few clans.

2. Worship of the ancestor, and founding clans

  • 44 These two terms, priest and sacrificers, are also used constantly in the Himalayas to designate bot (...)
  • 45 Both the ancestor and the sorcerer (Stein, 1959: 168).

84What is the reason for this centralisation? Paten worship primarily concerns Dorje Legpa, a warrior god to whom animals are sacrificed (it used to be women). He is considered a btsan, a divinity of the rocks, whose seat is in Tengar at a place called the “Red Stone”. The men-at-arms (mi-chen) who are his sacrificers also constitute his army.44 The dara-dara drummers are his priests. In both cases they are possessed; they embody him. He is called me-me.45 He is a tantrist (sngags-pa) to whom all kinds of powers are attributed. He is also said to be the first ancestor (amnye) who came from Tengar in southern Tibet. And in commemoration, upon arriving in Nyishang, he gave the name Tengar to the place where he settled. Only clans directly descended from Dorje Legpa—his children—are authorised to worship him. This is why, during the Paten ritual, the ritual roles are held by descendants of the two founding clans: the Tonde, which arrived first through the Nar river valley, and the Ngarchopa, which settled later, arriving via Mustang (N. J. Gurung, 1977a: 7, 107). The sacrificers are chosen from among the Tonde, the priests from among the Ngarchopa.

3. The “elected king”

  • 46 On this hermit, mKhas grub karma blo-bzang, cf. Snellgrove, 1961: 214.
  • 47 On “elected” king, cf. Stein, 1959: 242, 253 and 1962: 182, 184.

85According to legend, the king of the ritual is a historical king. He belongs to the dynasty of the Khe kings of Nyishang, who lived in their Ngawal fortress, the ruins of which can still be seen. Lower down in the valley, the Gurung call those kings Ghale. Van Spengen (1987) even says that the king of the ritual, embodied by his descendent (the elder of the Khe clan in Manang), is the fifth of the Khe kings. According to legend, he had no male heir. A Buddhist hermit, who lived at the base of a rock in Braga that is still decorated today, assured him he would have an heir on two conditions.46 The first was that a monastery be founded in Braga. The second was that he give his youngest son over to the monastic vocation. The king promised, and had three sons. He kept his promise. During his reign he founded the White Rock monastery (after which the village of Braga was named), and he made his youngest son a Buddhist monk, an ancestor of the lamas’ clan, called Braga Lam or Braga Lama. Thus the Khe king of the Paten ritual, the fifth Khe king, is the one who introduced Buddhism into Nyishang.47

86Furthermore, through comparison with Tibetan facts relating to the “religion of men” (mi-chos), the brief analysis of Paten enables a few other characteristics to be attributed to that king.

87The dances would seem to suggest that he belongs to the “elected” kings category. He subjugates the two yaks, which then “bear his burdens”. As we know, wild yaks and sheep often embody the sacred mountains, which are the local deities (yul-lha), or at least their traditional representation. On the first night of Paten worship, a red drummer approaches one of the men who played the role of a yak: probably with a view to purifying him, he makes him an offering of some incense. This gesture only makes sense if the yak character is possessed (lha-phen), if he embodies the Manang peak or the Braga lake.

4. The “army king”

88There are two types of drummer, the god of the soil’s “white” drummer, and Dorje Legpa’s red drummer. Examining their roles shows the mechanisms by which the Khe kings of Nyishang, like Gesar, became “army kings”.

89A legend recounts the origins of the white drum. It is the three sons of the Khe king—that of the ritual—who gave it to the population. They were children. One day, they built the first white drum to amuse themselves, then started playing it and dancing. This delighted the god of the soil, who appeared and joined in the fun. Later, the drum was played when they got married, and once again the god of the soil appeared in order to take part in the festivities. Still today, if the drum is silent, then the village cannot gather, the god of the soil does not appear, and no celebration is possible. In other words, the drummers now control the coming of the gods. The opportunities to call them are numerous, as they concern all aspects of social life. Every village therefore has considerable freedom to organise itself as it sees fit. However, there is one exception to this autonomy: unmarried young people have the mission of defending the village. But it is not to the sound of the white drum that they can take up arms. Thus, ever since the king’s sons made a gift of the white drum to the population, the call to arms no longer depends on the village authorities.

  • 48 On arms, the god of armies, the king of armies, cf. A. Macdonald, 1971: 204, 209, 221, 323, 327; St (...)

90The call to arms now depends on the “red” drum: unlike the “white” ones, there is only one red drum for the whole valley. And ever since the kings took as their protector the ancestor of the founding clans (srung-ma), the two Dorje Legpa drummers have been the king’s chaplains: the king controls the call to arms.48

5. Creative dismemberment

91I have described the phases of the Paten ritual that bring together the whole population for the same act of worship. However, outside of these collective events, the rest of the time, the clans meet separately in different houses (N. J. Gurung, 1977a: 195; Fürer-Haimendorf, 1983: 69, 93).

92During annual festivals, this type of meeting also exists in the villages, and the social order is fully reflected in it. Among other things, it underpins each clan’s right to worship the god of the soil. It determines the system for choosing the white drummers. In Braga, only one of them is authorised to officially take part in the Paten ritual. But there were three of them in the village in 1986. And those three men were selected by lot from among eleven candidates. I will explain the reason for these numbers.

93The number eleven: in Braga, aside from the Tibetans and the Nepalese smiths (kāmi, N), there are six clans that include a total of eleven sub-clans. Each of these sub-clans has the right to put forward an elder as a candidate for the election.

94The number three: during the autumn festivals in the villages, Braga’s six clans meet in three different houses to slaughter a yak in each of them. In the first house, the Tongraden sub-clans (28 houses in 1986) meet with the seven houses of the Khe clan. In the second house, the 52 or 53 houses of the Braga-lam sub-clans meet. And in the third house is a meeting of the Kurtsong (25 houses), the Chyurpen (26 houses) and the Dzyamal Thapki (3 houses). Each of the three houses has a right to its own drummer. The election by lot is conducted according to a system of three separate rounds.

95The number one: of the three elected drummers, only the one from the first ballot (from the Tongraden clan) has the official right to take part in Paten.

96These village hierarchies concern the god of the soil. They are expressed through clan meetings in different houses. They get interconnected during Paten, this time in a social order that applies to the whole of the ethnic group, related to worship of the great red bcan, the army god.

  • 49 On “creative dismemberment”, cf. among others A. W. Macdonald, 1980c; A. Macdonald, 1971: 240, 265, (...)

97When the two “yaks” carry away the carcass of the final slaughtered animal, they take it to a house where the men at the top of the hierarchies of Nyishang’s villages are gathered. They join the king (khe-li), the two sacrificers (mi-chen) and the two dara-dara drummers. A final feast takes place. The animal is shared only among the officiants of Paten worship. This is a “creative dismemberment”.49 The king gets the head. Before becoming political, centralisation proceeds through rituals.

6. Strata

98This hierarchy of ritual roles underpins social stratification, not only in Nyishang but throughout the Nepalese hills to which the Khe descended to found a line.

99Among the Gurung, for example, Bernard Pignède observed the presence of two hierarchical, endogamous strata (1966: 170–173). The first was made up of four clans, the second of sixteen. Here are the components of the upper stratum as he noted them:

  • The Ghale: clans with royal ancestry. Is the word Nepalese? It relates to the king (rgyal-po) of the Tibetans. It corresponds to the khe of Nyishang.

  • The Ghotane: past administrators of the Ghale kings, often still village headmen in 1961, the Kon clans of the Gurung.

  • The Lama among the Gurung, the clan from which Buddhist officiants are recruited.

  • The Plon: Gurung clans whose members are often also village headmen. The word relates to the Tibetan blon, king’s advisers, often descendents of the headmen of earlier, subjugated principalities.

  • The Lamichane, which relates to the Tibetan bla-ma mchod-gnas: “chaplains, priests who make offerings, sacrificers.”

100Pignède also notes that the Plon and the Lamichane ended up merging into one category in modern times. He concludes that the four clans in the upper stratum form two pairs: the lords (the Ghale and Ghotane) and the priests (the Lama and Lamichane). Among themselves, they follow special marriage rules, including stratum endogamy, which perpetuates their superiority over the sixteen other clans.

  • 50 The yaks are the sacrificers of the previous Paten, so they too come from the Tonde clan.

101Studying the Paten ritual makes it possible to partly rectify Pignède’s data. In the dismemberment house, one finds the following ritual roles: the king, the yaks, the sacrificers and the drummers. With the exception of the yaks, each role is the hereditary privilege of a particular clan that has been perpetuated over centuries to the modern era.50 They directly reflect the hierarchy of the four Nyishang clans, which still underpins the social stratification in Nyishang:

  • The king, Khe clan, Ghale among the Gurung.

    • 51 We thus find the questions of classification by 2, 3, 4: cf. among others Haarh, 1969: 77 sqq.

    The lamas, Braga Lam clan: they somewhat pushed aside the yaks in the time of the king of the ritual; they introduce a fourth component into a classification that previously had only three.51

  • The sacrificers, Tonde clan.

  • The drummer-priests, Ngarchopa clan.

  • 52 Like those of Braga, but also those of Khangsar (Cooke, 1985a: 195, 308), those of Nar and Phu (Für (...)

102The king’s “administrators” and “advisers” do not appear in the dismemberment house. They are probably present in other houses in order to form the basis of inferior hierarchies.52

103Therefore, we find the four clans described among the Gurung. They make up an endogamous stratum that has special marriage rules and consist of two pairs in a hierarchy: the Khe and the Braga Lam (descended from royalty), and the Tonde and the Ngarchopa (the founding clans of the phalme of Nyishang, called lamichane by the Gurung).

104Pignède was essentially right: in Nyishang and also among the Gurung, social stratification is based on ritual tasks.

7. Political power

105The status of the “Three Communities of the Nyishang Region”, granted by the Gurkha king of Nepal in 1783, was ultimately only the recognition of a political state of affairs that existed in the time of the Khe kings. This reality is staged during the Paten ritual.

106The Khe king of the ritual introduced Buddhism into Manang. There was a shift from worship of the local deities (Yul-lha)—the Manang peak, the Braga lake—to worship of the gods of the soil (Jo-bo yul-sa) confined to the villages, and of the army god controlled by the king. With its gift of the two drums, Buddhism no doubt changed the religious practices.

107It was necessary to restrain the traditional political system as it still existed recently among the Limbu of Nepal, the Sharwa of Amdo and the Tromo of the Chumbi river valley. The king’s authority was constantly being challenged by the unpredictable favour of the mountain god. It was no longer possible for just any feat to bring just anyone the “head held high” status, or the highest ranked sitting position, or that virtue called dbang-thang, which opened doors to power. Now the king, supported by the clan elders, controls the presence of the gods. There has been a shift from a system based on feat-morality—that of the old Tibetan aristocracy (Stein, 1959: 328, 330), some forms of which have been preserved—to another system that bases authority on age and clan heredity.

  • 53 These two striking features should not make us forget that the story of Nyishang seems particularly (...)
  • 54 This type of integration is fundamental to understand both the notion of “elected” king and the pol (...)

108Later, the Khe kings disappeared. The country fell into the hands of the Lamjung princes (16th century), then into those of the Gurkha kings of Nepal (18th century).53 Foreigners settled, creating new clans that merged with the old ones.54 The number of villages in Nyishang increased from three to seven. And yet, up until 1977, the foreign kings who dominated the valley continued to make reference to the “Three Communities”, a state of affairs five centuries old. This is because doing so was in their own interest. They benefitted from a centralised political tradition that made them successors of the Khe kings. They therefore granted Nyishang the status of a vassal state. In exchange, the population recognised their monopoly over weapons, the “head high” status and the dbang-thang virtue. And the Khe’s old sacrificers and chaplains received a guarantee that they could keep their ritual monopoly. Through the generations, they continued to play their role in the Paten celebrations. Those men were the elders of a few sub-clans descended from the founding clans (the Tonde and the Ngarchopa) of the villages of Manang and Braga. And five centuries later, by virtue of their ritual roles, they still preserved their political power, having only conceded a few crumbs to the newcomers, as we saw above.

*

* *

109The Paten ritual is royal worship linked to the historical Khe or Ghale dynasty that once reigned in central Nepal. For the duration of this festival, the ritual gives presence to the fifth of those kings, an “elected king”, the “army king”, like Gesar or the Yar-lung kings in the past, and at the same time it manifests the religious organisation, social stratification, individual hierarchy principles, and political order as they existed in the society of that king’s own time. Paten is a representation of what were once the Three Cho of Nyishang.

110Even though the Khe kings disappeared centuries ago, the ritual was perpetuated into modern times, because it expressed the consensus surrounding Nyishang’s traditional institutions among the nine villages, including Nar and Phu.

111When the consensus disappeared and the social and political order was brutally attacked, including with weapons over the last particularly turbulent thirty years in Nyishang, the ritual also disappeared and the institutions collapsed. In 1977, Nyishang agreed to introduce the Nepalese municipalities.

112Five centuries: the Tibetans are right when they say that the “religion of men’, mi-chos, is ready to be governed.

113Above all, the Paten ritual shows the shift from a decentralised political system (or one could almost call it “undivided”, to use Pierre Clastres’s term), in which the mountain god’s “chosen ones” have access to power in accordance with feat-morality, to another centralised system based on the primacy of age, heredity and clan privilege, supported by Buddhism. Both ideologies have a presence in Nyishang, and in light of the complexity of the political institutions that carry the scars of multiple confrontations, it seems that it has been with great difficulty that the second ideology succeeded in controlling the first one.

114In Tibet, regardless of the diversity of its political organisations, both systems coexisted until recently. For two centuries, they have been rising up against one another on the margins. The first system survived among the Limbus of Nepal, the Sharwas of Amdo, and to a lesser extent among the Tromo in the Chumbi river valley. And the second system, inaugurated long ago by the Yarlung kings, is found in Sikkim and even among the Golok headmen. The shift from one to the other still resulted from the favour of the sacred mountains, the local deities. In order for power to survive, this change must be reflected in the annual festivals, those moments when the passing of time is interrupted. This then leads to political centralisation.

115Ultimately, a Tibetan house-headman is not much different from the Chinese emperor, whose subjects’ fate depends on his virtue. And the most formidable concentrations of power start in a house and extend to the far reaches of the empire. They are achieved with the help of simple ideas: the “head held high” status, the “powerful helmet”, the “dbang-thang” characteristic, those domestic virtues that all depend on the sacred mountains, the local deities.

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Notes

1 Thanks to A. W. Macdonald, who kindly read this manuscript, making corrections and suggestions.

2 Sagant, 1985; Karmay and Sagant, 1987, 1998.

3 On the mnga’-thang, equivalent to the dbang-thang, cf. among others Tucci (1955: 199–200; [1956] 1983: 141; Tucci and Heissig, 1973: 234, 235, 245, 314), Ariane Macdonald (1971: 283, 301), Haarh (1969: 102, 313, 370, 379), and, in the epic of Gesar, Stein (1956: 242, 363, 364, 371, 374). This notion is closely linked to that of dbang, which is found in many Himalayan populations that are not all of Tibetan culture.

4 For Tucci (1955: 200) the mnga’-thang and the “powerful helmet” or the “high head” cannot be separated: the first is the essence of power, the second its symbol. Ariane Macdonald defines the religion of the Yarlung dynasty by the term gtsug-lag (1971: 350). For Stein (1985: 95, 105, 109) the expression refers to the notion of “high head”. It concerns kings, ministers, heroes, sages.

5 Editor’s note: In French “la place du rang” go’phang is the non-honorific for dbu-phangs, meaning “head held high”.

6 On the “ranked sitting position” among the Limbus, cf. Sagant, 1976.

7 Survey conducted in the village of Braga in November-December 1986 and continued among the Manangis in Kathmandu in early January 1987. I thank Eric Meyer, Director of the Centre for Indian and South Indian Studies (CEIAS) for help that he brought me, as well as the CNRS.

8 Snellgrove, 1961: 207. These “Three Communities” first designate the three villages of Ngawal, Manang, Braga, and, by extension, the entire Nyishang area, including the villages of Nar and Phu, in the neighbouring Valley that are not Nyishangba; cf. also N. J. Gurung, 1977a: 227.

9 At present, our knowledge of Nyishang is based primarily on three studies, two of which, unfortunately, have never been published to date: N. J. Gurung, 1977a, which remains fundamental and Cooke, 1985a and b. I warmly thank N. J. Gurung, B. R. Ojha, of the Tribhuwan University Library, and my friend Kishor Uprety who, from Kathmandu, sent me, on my return to France, a copy of the only available copy of Gurung study. I also thank Alexander Macdonald and Katia Buffetrille who allowed me access to the other two texts.

10 Nyishang’s calendar festivals remain poorly known. Information is given by N. J. Gurung (1977a: 190–196), Cooke (1985a: 263–268), Spengen (1987), Maréchaux (1981: 251).

11 The ngo-plih drum of Nyishang is of the same type as the Gurung drum called dhandu, cf. Messerschmidt, 1976a: 8, 94, 101.

12 Cooke (1985a: 46, 193) distinguishes between villages ones (yul-pe) and clans ones (pho-be). See Pignède (1966: 166, 323) for the Gurungs, Jest (1975: 369) in Dolpo; Stein (1959: 457–458) for Tibet, A. W. Macdonald (1980a, b and c) for the Sherpa of Nepal.

13 On mi-chos, cf. for example Stein, 1959: 468–471; 1962: 165; Tucci and Heissig, 1973: 218–220; Aris, 1987; Jackson, 1984.

14 On the Three Communities, cf. N. J. Gurung, 1977a: 148–151, 205, 226–228; H. Gurung, 1980: 228; Cooke, 1985a: 139, 329.

15 On the councils of villages, we know the composition of each of them on the eve of the implantation of the Panchayat (N. J. Gurung, 1977a: 149). We know almost nothing about those of Pisang, Khangsar, Ngawal-Ghyaru. Those of Manang, Nar, Phu, are the best known. I worked on Braga myself. I must say that despite the relative importance of the bibliography, a certain amount of information remains contradictory and our understanding is limited.

16 Editor’s note: probably a local term.

17 If the dhapa elections are open to all clans, the same is not true of the appointment of mukhiya councilors.

18 On this Council, cf. especially N. J. Gurung, 1977a: 148–151; 155–159.

19 On taxe, sirlo, cf. N. J. Gurung, 1977a: 61–67, 323; 1976: 305; 1977b: 241; Cooke, 1985a: 305.

20 On the Khampa affair, cf. N. J. Gurung, 1977a: 206; 1976: 305; 1977b: 234, 241; H. Gurung, 1980: 235; Chorlton, 1982: 150, 156; Cooke, 1985a: 131.

21 On the sepur paiment, cf. N. J. Gurung, 1977a: 68, 71, 240; Cooke, 1985a: 166.

22 On Manang the father and Braga the mother, cf. N. J. Gurung, 1977a: 147.

23 On the armed faction struggles, cf. Kawakita, 1957: 57; Snellgrove, 1961: 207; N. J. Gurung, 1977a: 155, 157, 205; H. Gurung, 1980: 228; Cooke, 1985a: 166.

24 On this call to arms, cf. N. J. Gurung, 1977a: 206; 1977b: 234.

25 On the surrender of arms to the King of Nepal, cf. Cooke, 1985a: 132-133.

26 On the implementation of Panchayat and their political stakes, cf. N. J. Gurung, 1977a: 14, 146, 206; 1977b: 236, 241–243; Chorlton, 1982: 94; Cooke, 1985a: 135, 150, 154, 288.

27 On the “elevated centre”, cf. Jackson, 1984: 64, 73; Tucci, [1949] 1972: 719; Haarh, 1969: 221. On the house in Nyishang, cf. Maréchaux, 1981.

28 According to the idea of “encased worlds”, the house becomes a representation of society; cf. Stein, 1962: 177.

29 On the strata in Central Nepal, cf. among others Spengen (1987); Pignède (1966: 170–173); Messerschmidt (1976a: 4–20); Fürer-Haimendorf ([1964] 1980: 35, 1975: 151); Jest (1975: 247); N. J. Gurung (1976: 300–303; 1977a: 96; 1977b: 236, 240); H. Gurung (1980: 240–247); Cooke (1985a: 193, 200); Manzardo (1985).

30 This is the case, for example, in Braga, for the Churpen, Kurtsong, Dzamal Thapki, called kutak in the Kali Gandaki (Fürer-Haimendorf, 1975: 151–155).

31 However, the expression “the great men” (mi-chen) is not used. It remains reserved for the men-at-arms of the ritual of Paten.

32 Few things appear in the bibliography concerning Paten, Badde or Baden: cf. N. J. Gurung, 1977a: 195; H. Gurung, 1980: 225; Cooke, 1985a: 139, 164, 263. A. W. Macdonald poses the question of a Tibetan etymology of this word, evoking ‘bag, mask (of the king) and ston the head, or bstan, demonstration.

33 Dorje Legpa is the chief protector of the Braga Monastery, where his weapons are in part stored. A booklet concerning the worship that the Nyingmapa devote to him as srung-ma “protector” was found by Rinchen Sherpa, lama Nyingmapa, my assistant at Nyishang, at the Bodnath monastery in Kathmandu: it is the same text which is recited by the lamas of Nyishang when they officiate with the heads of the house who consider Dorje Legpa as their ancestor. On rDo-rje legs-pa, cf. among others Nebesky-Wojkowitz, [1956] 1975: 154–159.

34 Animal sacrifices have ceased since the intervention of a Braga lama, cf. H. Gurung, 1980: 232; N. J. Gurung, 1977a: 195.

35 On the festivals of Nar and Thini. cf. N. J. Gurung, 1977a: 195; Fürer-Haimendorf, 1983: 96, Cooke, 1985a: 267. See also Fürer-Haimendorf, 1975: 140; Jest, 1974: 184–185. On this type of celebration, cf. Stein (1962: 178, 182; 1959: 453): it concerns the renewal every three years of loyalty oaths and is accompanied by sacrifices, dances where a shepherd, a hunter, a banished like Gesar, is surrounded by two yaks, military parades to ward off the demons.

36 Ngawal was the village where khe kings reigned.

37 Tibetan mi-chen-po; Nepali thulomanche.

38 A flag (ala) is used, with the drum dhandu during the funeral of the Gurung (Messerschmidt, 1976a: 86, 136). A clan of the name ale exists among the Gurung (Pignède, 1966: 179). This flag refers to the log of the Tibetans, to the lug of the Mongols, and partly to the niśān of the Nepalese: cf. Stein, 1959: 449–450.

39 Pleh: the life breath, the soul. Among the Gurung, the soul is plah (Pignède, 1966: 173). The idea refers to the wind horse rlung-rta throwing in Tibetan rituals to restore the vital breath, increase it, in relation with the ideas concerning the five components of the human person.

40 Ngawal and Manang accuse each other of having once stolen the flag (Cooke, 1985a: 267).

41 They are considered as the daughters of the god of the soil and the ma-mo.

42 On Tengar and the “red stone”, cf. N. J. Gurung, 1977a: 7, 160; H. Gurung, 1980: 225; Cooke, 1985a: 268.

43 On the organization of this age class, cf. N. J. Gurung, 1977a: 142, 177; Cooke, 1985a: 187, 197, 203, 253.

44 These two terms, priest and sacrificers, are also used constantly in the Himalayas to designate both categories of shamans. However, in Nyishang, the bonpo are also present.

45 Both the ancestor and the sorcerer (Stein, 1959: 168).

46 On this hermit, mKhas grub karma blo-bzang, cf. Snellgrove, 1961: 214.

47 On “elected” king, cf. Stein, 1959: 242, 253 and 1962: 182, 184.

48 On arms, the god of armies, the king of armies, cf. A. Macdonald, 1971: 204, 209, 221, 323, 327; Stein, 1959: 450–453; A. W. Macdonald, 1987: 10: The military parades in Lhasa date from the fifth Dalai Lama.

49 On “creative dismemberment”, cf. among others A. W. Macdonald, 1980c; A. Macdonald, 1971: 240, 265, 276; Stein, 1956: 110; 1959: 257, 430, 462; 1962: 20, 176; Tucci and Heissig, 1973: 217; Aris, 1987: 158.

50 The yaks are the sacrificers of the previous Paten, so they too come from the Tonde clan.

51 We thus find the questions of classification by 2, 3, 4: cf. among others Haarh, 1969: 77 sqq.

52 Like those of Braga, but also those of Khangsar (Cooke, 1985a: 195, 308), those of Nar and Phu (Fürer-Haimendorf, 1983: 90, 93; N. J. Gurung, 1976: 302).

53 These two striking features should not make us forget that the story of Nyishang seems particularly complicated.

54 This type of integration is fundamental to understand both the notion of “elected” king and the political organization of the Three Cho, cf. for instance Fürer-Haimendorf, 1983: 94.

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Table des illustrations

Titre fig. 1 – “Braga and his monastery in the December snow”
Crédits Photo Philippe Sagant, 1986; source: LESC_FPS_7.2.1
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ateliers/docannexe/image/14217/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 609k
Titre fig. 2 – Map of Manang (Nyishang)
Crédits Source: LESC_FPS_2.4, Matériaux de terrain Manang, Rapport mission
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ateliers/docannexe/image/14217/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 260k
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ateliers/docannexe/image/14217/img-3.png
Fichier image/png, 29k
Titre fig. 3 – Drum and drummer
Crédits Photos Philippe Sagant, 1990-1991; source: LESC_FPS_7.2.4
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ateliers/docannexe/image/14217/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 845k
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Philippe Sagant, « The drums of Nyishang (Nepal) », Ateliers d'anthropologie [En ligne], 49 | 2021, mis en ligne le 11 janvier 2021, consulté le 26 janvier 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/ateliers/14217 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/ateliers.14217

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Philippe Sagant

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