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Tamang Clans and Lineage Structure

Written by Pradeep Rai
September 09, 2020

There is always a prerequisite to calling a community, a tribe. It’s the clan structure, a custom which a tribe must ascertain to tracing descent and to follow a lineage. The Tamang community is usually classified as Baara Tamangs (Twelve Tribes) and the Atharah Jaat (Eighteen Sub-Tribes). This was the Tamang rhetoric when asked about the sub-tribes of the Tamang tribe. It should be noted that the word “Jaat” is colloquial and comes from the Nepali word which literally means Caste. The Tamang word for “Clan” is Rui.

Every tribe had its own custom for tracing descent. There may be tribes who trace it through their male members while some do it through matrilineal clan structure. The Tamang clan system serves as a foundation for social control and religious protocol for honor and respect. This system is a patrilineal affiliation where clan membership is passed by the father to the children.

The Tamang people who do not fall into the Hindu system of caste should not have been using the term “Jaat” to denote a clan or a sub-tribe, but over the many centuries of being in close proximity to the Hindu cultures, Tamangs freely use the terms Bara Tamang and Atharah Jaat to describe their clan structure. It should be noted here that the 12 Tamang Tribes usually consider themselves pure and above the rest. Eden Vansittart in his book, The Gurkhas (published in 1906) names the twelve Tamang sub-tribes as:

1. Baju
2. Bal
3. Dumjan
4. Ghishing
5. Giaba
6. Goley
7. Mikchan
8. Moktan
9. Pakrin
10. Syangdhen
11. Theeng
12. Yonjan

According to NJ Allen, in his study titled, Fourfold classifications of society in the Himalayas, he says that the Tamangs originated from the four families living in Wuijhang, Tibet and they were Bal, Yonjon, Moktan, and Ghising. This notion, according to Allen, comes from the origin story of the Tamangs themselves. The Tamangs, like the Gurungs, are usually described as consisting of a superior and an inferior stratum having numerical names.

Traditionally Tamangs have been known to associate different clans with specific areas, settlements, and villages as their Bapsa, (the land of belonging). The different Rui or clans, each has their own association with the Bapsa distributed across the region and which have been their original settlement. The various kinds of connections, associations, and relationships between different clans connect these lands and titles and layout common and shared territory. The larger territory is further joined by linkages between the territorial divinities which protect the Bapsa. Many names of these sub-tribes or clans within the Tamang homogenous tribe seem to have come from the Bapsa.

It can be determined that in the ancient Tamang Tribal set up every facet was built around a certain amount of respect to clan roles. These would set precedents and these roles defined the conduct of individuals. The Tamang tribe in totality was an endogamous unit while the sub-tribes among themselves remained exogamous. Many scholars believe that those who married away from the tribe would often be considered an outcast, thereby creating variants of the 12 main sub-tribes. This gave rise to the mixed Atharah Jaat Tamangs. These “mixed-breed” Tamangs, however, were provided the same amount of social standing in comparison to the original 12.

While the original term deems the numeric value to be 18 Tamangs, the numbers are far more than that.

1. Bal 2. Bomzon 3. Blone 4. Bamten
5. Blendene 6. Bajyu 7. Chhyumi 8. Choten
9. Chhekpal 10. Chauthen 11. Zimba 12. Moktan
13. Theeng 14. Gyabak 15. Pakhrin 16. Singden
17. Titung 18. Thokar 19. Khyungba 20. Lungba
21. Glan 22. Waiba 23. Prabhuba 24. Mokchan
25. Lo 26. Manangthen 27. Ghale 28. Syangbo
29. Yonzon 30. Jyumi 31. Ghongba 32. Tongsang
33. Taisang 34. Jongan 35. Samten 36. Mulung
37. Negi 38. Mamba 39. Kamden 40. Marpa
41. Moden 42. Sumba 43. Rimten 44. Jogna
45. Sarpakhor 46. Sugtal 47. Hen 48. Tupa
49. Kalden 50. Senten 51. Myapa 52. Thongten
53. Lockten 54. Lhaminkhor 55. Kagate 56. Damrang
57. Domten 58. Tunpa 59. Tungden 60. Gropchan
61. Gondan 62. Nasur 63. Malachoki 64. Mahindong
65. Manden 66. Fyuwa 67. Syangden 68. Balam
69. Toiba 70. Jaba 71. Syamjan 72. Gemsing
73. Lopchan 74. Golay 75. Mitak 76. Gangtang
77. Ngarden 78. Brosinger 79. Lamaganju 80. Plengden
81. Gomchyo 82. Shahangri 83. Chimkan 84. Gotthar
85. Dong 86. Dartang 87. Dumjan 88. Gyamden
89. Ghising 90. Rumba 91. Hangjo 92. Nikten

Pradeep Rai

Pradeep Rai is a writer and researcher studying the ethnic culture and history of the Himalayan Tribes.

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