A Short Introduction of Hyolmo Community 

The word ‘Hyolmo’ is found mentioned in many religious manuscripts of Tibetan Buddhism and is considered as a holy region where many high level Buddhist masters achieved their miraculous power and is famous for innumerable holy sites, which are in hidden form. There are several holy caves and sites revealed by many great Tantric Masters, with many such sites still to be revealed in future.  However, ‘Hyolmo’ is not only relates to the particular religious and sacred region, but is also integral to the identity of a unique and distinct Hyolmo indigenous people residing in the Hyolmo region. Actually, the word ‘Hyolmo’ had earlier been transliterated as Helmu and further incorporated into the Nepali term for the region: Helambu. 

The Hyolmo region is famous for its excellent views and unique traditional interior decoration as well as tidiness. Many visitors have time and again appreciated the unique hosting style of the residents and the friendly treatment of all in their contact. In spite of these distinct human qualities, the Hyolmo people declined to keep their own distinct identity and adopted the identity of other communities, due to a lack of education. This has now created some confusion and constraint for the proper identification and development of all aspects of the Hyolmo indigenous community. 

The Hyolmo region is not far from the Kathmandu valley and the capital city of Nepal.  It takes hardly a day’s walks from Sundarijal and a few hours from the Melamchi River confluence to arrive in the region.  The region encompasses the northwest part of Sindhupalchowk, the upper northeast part of Nuwakot and the southeast part of Rasuwa districts. The region has more than 100 thousand Hyolmo inhabitants, a number which is unfortunately not mentioned in the demographic census conducted by the government of Nepal, even in 2011.  Despite its close proximity to the capital city, the Hyolmo people never had the opportunity to educate themselves in the past, due to a lack of awareness. Education was merely a dream for the Hyolmo people, because of many constraints. Actually, the major reason behind the education program was the adaptation of discriminatory policies of the government in the past.  There were almost no schools in the Hyolmo area and the Hyolmo people were not encouraged and nor allowed to go to schools, even after the establishment of democracy in Nepal in 1947. Ipso facto, the Hyolmo were confined within their traditional farming range in the high lands where only a single crop was possible within a year.  Due to this reality, Hyolmo people, especially men, were forced to go abroad in the quest of good job opportunities and to earn a little to keep their families alive.  The above-mentioned situation had created a condition in which there were no options to the Hyolmo people rather than going to neighboring regions and other countries for seeking jobs.  However, the people who travelled for work, being hardworking and honest, got the opportunity to earn a little and then return to their own villages. This inspired other Hyolmo people to follow the same track. The trend of going abroad in search of a good job attracted the younger generation and distracted them from educating their children in order to make them competent and capable in order to hold high level posts within the country. 

Indeed, prior to 2030 B.S. there were only a few Hyolmo indigenous people residing in the Kathmandu valley and they strived a lot to accommodate themselves in the capital city. During that time there were no industries to earn foreign currency except handicrafts and carpet making. Carpets were the major exportable product, but the production of carpets was low in quantity and markets were limited. Although, Hyolmo people being prudent and hardworking, learned the techniques of weaving Tibetan carpets and thus supported themselves adequately enough to migrate from their fatherland to settle in the dream city Kathmandu, where they received the opportunity to earn their livelihood.  The spawning settlement of a few Hyolmo in the Kathmandu valley created some confidence in other Hyolmo and subsequently they started to migrate from their villages to Kathmandu City. Nowadays, there are more than 3000 families residing in the Kathmandu valley engaging in different occupations. Prior to the conflict between the government and the Maoists, a communist party, most of the Hyolmo people were engaging in carpet industries for their livelihood. However, due to the lack of education and good connections with carpet importers, they were not receiving the benefits that they were entitled to receive.

 (new paragraph)Another important field of occupation for the Hyolmo people was Thanka and mural paintings as well as cement carving. In the Hyolmo community many well-known Hyolmo artists were engaging in the field of Thanka paintings, cement carvings and mural paintings. They participated in many art exhibitions and received prizes as they demonstrated their artistic quality and capability. It is interesting to know that the artists of the Hyolmo indigenous community are receiving opportunities to showcase their talent in Europe, North America, Japan, Taiwan as well as other parts of the world. Even in the present situation, many Hyolmo artists are engaged in cement carving, thanka paintings and mural paintings. 

At present, the volume of Hyolmo migration in to Kathmandu has increased significantly as parents become more conscious of their children’s education.  At the same time, the surge of modernization has created some sort of social disorder and degeneration within the Hyolmo community, especially within the youngsters. They are trying to adopt a western lifestyle, which is indeed not appropriate for an underprivileged community like Hyolmo. However, the time has come to contemplate this issue and try to create an environment for the formulation of an accurate view of the matters of social order and symmetrical development of all aspects of the Hyolmo society.  In order to ensure the calm development of particular aspects of any group or community, it is imperative to understand all aspects of that community. 

Social Aspect 

Hyolmo is a minority as well as one of the underprivileged indigenous among many other indigenous people residing in Nepal.  The hardworking and religious natures of the indigenous community enable them not to live in absolute poverty. In retrospect, after the establishment of Democracy in 1950, Hyolmo people were absolutely ignored by the regime and not given opportunity to take part into the process of nation building. Those who were little enthusiast to do something for their village and country were kept under the threat of different rules and regulations as well as jurisdiction by the cunning and so called superior people. Merely, so called high level caste and privileged people were provided ample opportunity in the political and administrative positions.  In some places, so called high caste people behaved inhumanly with Hyolmo people and treated badly not allowing to participate in social and political activities. In the past Hyolmo were identified as ‘Bhote’ and discriminated not providing them equitable opportunity in the process of developmental activities of their community and region.  Going back into the Hyolmo history, Hyolmo people had no tradition to identify with any distinct indigenous identity except their own name.  Later on, due to the various reasons the identification of the community became essential and the indigenous Hyolmo people being unaware of their own distinct Hyolmo identity, started randomly identifying themselves with fake identification of other communities. Afterwards, Hyolmo people started to identify themselves as Sherpa and some assimilated themselves into Tamang too. The reason behind the misidentification was to emancipate from the nick identification as ‘Bhote’. Now, this fake and misidentification in Hyolmo community has created difficult situation to re-identify them as Hyolmo in their certificate and other.  However, Hyolmo people have now realizing that the social discrimination against them was the main constraint on the route of enhancement of all the aspects of their community. Hyolmo indigenous people are realizing the imperative need to identify themselves as Hyolmo and showing an inspiring concern with their community engaging in various activities lunch by their own indigenous organizations. 

Whatever is the situation, it is open that Hyolmo indigenous community has their own unique and distinct identification. Sometime, it seems little difficult to identity different communities at a glance. In order to identify different indigenous people form each other staying in close proximity within the same region, it’s essential to observe their language, culture, tradition and social structure, which explicitly reveal the facts of their differences. In this juncture, I would like to take an opportunity to elucidate the cultural and traditional realities of Hyolmo community, which is unique and distinct from other communities. 

There are few communities who claim that Hyolmo community lies under their sub-branch. We have had enough discussion and deliberation over this claim. Although, we were in the firm belief that Hyolmo community does not lies within any communities but has their own distinct and unique identity. There are few fundamental facts, which overtly reveals that Hyolmo are not a sub-branch of any community but is a distinct indigenous community residing in Hyolmo region. 

A. Language 

Hyolmo people have their own distinct language called (Hyolmo Tam) Hyolmo language, which lies within Tibeto-Burman language family. Actually, Hyolmo community follow Tibetan Buddhism and therefore use the Tibetan letters in their script and nearly 90 percent of Hyolmo literature may coincide with the Tibetan literature, but the dialect that the Hyolmo community use are quite different with that of Tibetan. At the same time, the structure of the speaking language is also quite different that of the Tibetan. The language that Hyolmo people speak is not understandable by the Sherpa community and vice versa. Similarly, there are only few common words between Tamang and Hyolmo within Tibeto-Burman language family. These linguistic differences clearly indicate that Hyolmo community does not fall within any other community rather than their own distinct Hyolmo identity. 

B. Tradition 

As we all know that the tradition is a social system evolved as a rule and custom in a long period of time and readily followed by the members of the communities to give an identity of their custom, which governs the entire social aspect of all human beings. Among different components of tradition the most important component is kinship and marital system. Different caste and communities has their own belief and tradition. The tradition as such is not an outcome of just 40 or 50 years, it could have followed by the community since long time or time immemorial. Therefore, if someone tries to ignore the traditional custom handed down by our ancestors and tries to establish his or her own way of new tradition on the basis of so called consciousness affected by other’s cultural and traditional attraction, it would not be possible to change or recognize the newly define system as our tradition. In fact, for the recognition of a tradition, the tradition should be well established and should be followed by our forefather or ancestor. The reason behind of explaining all these subjects is to counter to those, who sometime try to correct or alter the tradition pursued by the community with their own so called legitimate version. 

Indeed, the fact is that in Hyolmo community there is a system of cross-cousin marriage (Marriage between the children of paternal aunty and maternal uncle) tradition, but it is not permitted in the Sherpa community, which shows that Hyolmo and Sherpa are two different communities. However, Tamang community follows the same tradition and there are many communities pursuing the tradition in Nepal. 

C. Attire

Sometime it is not possible to differentiate among different nationalities just observing their faces and outlook, and this situation is not merely prevailing in Nepal but also around the world. And at the same time it is possible to identify any community or nationality through their attire in this modern world. Though, the traditional attire helps to guess the identity of any particular community, at the same time traditional dress of any community keeps tremendous value and pride and also shows the uniqueness and transcendence of the community. Usually, the traditional dress gets its value during especial function within the community itself. Therefore, the dress can be taken as another important component of a community to show their uniqueness and separate identity. In this connection, in Nepal, Hyolmo community has their own traditional dress, which differ absolutely with the Tamang community and could be found some commonalities between Hyolmo and Sherpa, but the pattern of dressing differ in many ways. The uniqueness of the Hyolmo dress again presents the testimony that the Hyolmo communities have their own separate entity and identity. However, sometime it is slightly difficult to make understand even our own community about the traditional dress. They try to grab the attire of other communities, which in real term can be said as unawareness of their own true traditional dress history. Going back into the evolution and history of the community just behind two century, you would be able to identify the actual dress of the community

E. Culture

Culture is another important constituent of a community. Each and every community follows their own culture, without which it would not be possible to identify oneself of the belongingness of any particular community. Sometime, the culture also helps to understand the cultural richness of a community observing their cultural performance. The cultural performance of the community also tells us more or less about the past history and the evolution of the particular community. Therefore, the culture is the last but not the least part of any community or nationality to differ and identify with other similar looking communities. 

There is no doubt that Hyolmo community is adequately rich in their predominant cultural heritage. Truly speaking, in this fast changing world the firm adherence of the cultural activities alone enable Hyolmo community to save their language, religion and tradition despite the lack of modern education and economic opportunities. Being the follower of Tibetan Buddhism the rituals and other religious activities goes on according to the Buddhist religion and directed by Lama. Basically, without religious activities there wouldn’t be any cultural activities in Hyolmo community. The very fact, Hyolmo people have made the culture and religion as part and parcel, which kept them intact with their religion despite huge proselytizing effort of different religious group. 

Economic Aspect

Economic condition of a community is another significant component, which determines the social standard and the capability of preservation of their identity, language, culture and tradition.  Contemplating over this component, due to the adverse weather condition and lack of developmental activities in their homeland the Hyolmo community remain under poverty.  However, as mentioned earlier they go to foreign countries in search of job and return with the little that they earned and try to maintain their family requirements. This situation clearly indicates that the financial situation of Hyolmo community is in vulnerable condition. Though they have became successful in preserving their language, custom and tradition apart from their distinct identity due to the lack of education and identity awareness. 

Right after the restoration of democracy, the improvement of financial situation together with education brought a surge of inspiration within Hyolmo community to bond their hands together with in order to uplift their community.  And many social associations have been emerged in order to mobilize the Hyolmo people for the promotional activities of their own community.  These associations are supported by the donation and contribution made by Hyolmo people, which also indicate the creation of awareness and improvement of financial situation in the community.  In spite of encouraging participation and effort of Hyolmo community, they are not being able to move forward for the enhancement of their community due to the lack of coordination within the community and lack of governmental support in their activities.  Indeed, for the preservation and promotion of the rich and unique language, culture, tradition and identity of minority community like Hyolmo should be given a top priority and should provide adequate financial and technical support. Unfortunately, on the contrary the government seems reluctant to provide state support. The government has formulated a policy, which does not include the minority community within their category. In fact, the government should focus more attention on those minority communities, whose identity is in the verge of extinction.  Therefore, the government should formulate integrated package program to enable these communities to preserve their social heritage and identity. 

Political aspect

Politics is a means of power for the formulation of the essential plans and policies for the development and enhancement of any targeted group or community. Similarly the political power only can ensure the preservation and promotion of the language, culture, tradition and religion of a particular backward and minority community from the brink of extinction. Unfortunately, Hyolmo people residing in close proximity of the capital city having the opportunity of understanding the state polities have shown no interest to involve themselves in state affairs. This has repelled them in achieving the power of the state. Since the establishment of democracy in B.S.2007 only few Hyolmo participated in local politics and remained confined within their own periphery. As far the knowledge I have, after the popular movement in B.S. 2036 few Hyolmo shown their interest in central politics and participated in the Rastriya Panchyat election during the Panchyat regime and parliamentary election after the restoration of democracy, but failed to achieve the post for policy making. However, after the dawn fall of the monarchical regime, in the first period of Constitutional Assembly a Hyolmo personality became first Member of Constitution Assembly and Hyolmo lady had an opportunity to become a Member of Constitution Assembly representing first Hyolmo Woman in the Second Constitution Assembly. Even in local election few energetic Hyolmo youths became successful to lead the Village Municipality. The involvement of Hyolmo peoples in politics shows an explicit indication of the creation of awareness within the community, which should be considered as a positive sign for the community. 

It is also noteworthy that the involvement in politics by Hyolmo people merely doesn’t bring any change unless and until they could reach out the targeted goal, which seems still far away from Hyolmo people because of the lack of political knowhow and not being able to deal people as politician.  Indeed, advancement of particular community in all the aspects entirely depends on the consolidating of power and efforts of all the people and social worker of the same community. For the purpose, very farsighted and liberal approached community leaders are needed. Nevertheless, there is no need to worry and keep pessimistic view over the present leaders of our community because, now they are becoming more experienced in politics and community leadership. Let us hope that they will lead our community towards right direction, in spite of their party politics. 

In conclusion, for the proper enhancement and prosperity of the community and preservation as well as promotion of the language, religion, culture and tradition the support and positive attitude of the government and pure and altruistic feeling of the community itself are the key factors. Indeed we have to be conscious ourselves to tackle all the constraints on our way and should try to lunch social activities rather than criticizing others. I am confident that now Hyolmo community is becoming capable of accessing the right and wrong doing by the social worker and organization in the society.  Therefore, in my opinion, now there is enough ground to be optimistic for the development and enhancement of Hyolmo community due to the emerging number of educated and enthusiastic youths in the community. 

By:- Binod Lama Hyolmo

Chairperson – Hyolmo Foundation