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The Chepang are an indigenous Tibeto-Burman people group numbering around fifty-two thousand mainly inhabiting the rugged ridges of the Mahabharat mountain range of central Nepal.
Over the past two or three generations the Chepang have begun to slowly shift from a semi-nomadic (slash-and-burn) lifestyle to a more settled way of life, relying increasingly upon the produce of permanent fields of maize, millet and bananas. The severe topography, however, has made permanent farming difficult (and usually insufficient) and the forest has remained an important (although decreasingly so) source of food for the Chepang. Historically, the collection of wild yams and tubers, fish caught from nearby rivers, bats and wild birds, and periodically wild deer hunted from nearby forests, have supplemented their need for carbohydrates and protein. With increasing population, lack of arable land and few irrigation options, despite forest supplements, malnutrition has been an historic problem for the Chepang who have often been characterized as the poorest of Nepal’s poor. Forced teenage pregnancies are common. Chepang men and women are basically egalitarian and no social ranking exists as it does in caste Nepalese society. Many Chepang cannot read and write due and deprived of school beyond elementary, despite that the nation has been making great gains in reducing illiteracy. According to the 2001 Nepal Census, there are 52,237 Chepang in the country, of which 67.63% were Hindu, 23.38% were Buddhists, 7.49% were Christians, and 1.25% others. They are mostly located in Dhading District, Chitwan District, Gorkha District, Makwanpur District, and Tanahu District.
The Chepangs themselves follow Animism, although they are strongly influenced by both Hinduism and Buddhism, which came from the Tamangs just north of them. They observe all the Hindu festivals of Dashain, Tihar and Sakrantis besides their own tribal festival Nwagi or Chhonam, which is performed on a Tuesday during third week of Bhadra (some day in August and September). Chhonam is the auspicious day for eating a new crop. Before the celebration of this festival, there is prohibition for eating certain agricultural products.
In in 5th National Gathering of Chepang, 2004, it was stated they practiced Prakriti (Nature), with ancestor worship as most important. They worship many deities including Bhumi, Aita Bare, Gaidu, Namrung etc. (earth deity) etc. They also observe other different festivals like, Maghe Sakranti, Saune Sakranti, Dashain, Tihar.
The language is also known as Chepang but is called Chyo-bang by the people themselves. Some Bahun Chettri castes call these people the "Praja" meaning "political subjects". The people speak 3 different dialects of this Tibeto-Burman language that is closely related to Raute and Raji, two undocumented languages spoken in western Nepal.
Chepang language is one of the few languages which uses a duodecimal (base 12) counting system rather than the decimal (base 10).
2015 earthquake and political crisis
Chepang are among the most vulnerable due to the combination of April 2015 Nepal earthquake and 2015 Nepal blockade, more than 50 per cent of the people killed were from marginalised communities ranked low in the Human Development Index (HDI). Chepang communities were already suffering from severe malnutrition before the blockade, along with the Tamang. Due to historic discrimination and neglect and remote communities, Chepang have suffered discrimination even at the hands of the Nepali Food Corporation in charge of emergency food distribution. Social activist KP Kiran Sharma said Chepangs compulsorily eat rice during Dashain, where meat is often eaten by more wealthy groups, but they are unlikely to afford even rice this year (2015). Hence they are among the most vulnerable ethnic groups facing potential population bottleneck in the winter of 2015/16 despite their already small numbers. The Nepal Red Cross has stepped in providing them with relief when left to rot by the government, in turn, opportunistically converting them to Christianity.
- ↑ 2011 Census, Nepal Government.
- 1 2 Beine, Caughley and Shrestha. 2012. Chepang Then and Now: Life and Change Among the Chepang of Nepal. Blurb Books.
- ↑ http://kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/news/2015-12-20/children-in-chitwan-deprived-of-education-past-primary-level.html
- ↑ Archived February 24, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
- 1 2 3 http://nnem.org/?p=336
- 1 2 http://nepalitimes.com/article/nation/April-25-earthquake-Tamang-epicentre,2407
- 1 2 http://kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/news/2015-10-11/food-crisis-grips-chepang-villages.html
- ↑ http://kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/news/2016-01-02/the-chepang-people-of-chitwan-and-their-conversion-to-christianity.html