Social Science Baha
Official

On Three Basic ‘Ritual’ Gestures in Byans, Far Western Nepal

Katsuo Nawa

In this paper I describe and analyze several basic elements of rituals among Rangs in Byans, Far Western Nepal and adjacent regions, focusing on three different named gestures or bodily movements carried out very frequently in their ‘rituals’. Rang traditionally lives in several Himalayan valleys in Darchula District in Nepal and Uttarakhand in India, and is officially recognized as an adivasi janajati in Nepal. Though it has been considerable amount of discursive and practical transformation in various aspects of their rituals within last fifty years from the Panchayat era to the age of samabeshikaran, my focus here is on what Rangs have done in their ‘rituals’ despite, and in relation to, these changes.

As far as I know there is no Byansi word for ‘ritual’ in general. Rather, there are two words, thumo and changchimo, which can be rendered as ‘to worship’ or ‘to celebrate’ and ‘to exorcise’ or ‘to throw away’ respectively. Thumo is for benevolent deities (se), and should be, in principle, performed in the light half of the lunar calender to full moon. Changchimo on the other hand is for malevolent beings (sina) carried out in the dark half of the month after full moon. Unlike the word ritual, these two words are not abstract categories, because both terms also imply a particular gesture. Thus thumo also means to toss up offerings, while changchimo is to throw them away. To worship a deity is to toss up offerings to him or her, usually with the phraze ‘e parmeshre’, and to exorcize a malevolent spirit is to throw away some offerings to them, usually beside a junction of three trails outside their village. These gestures are performative acts. This dualistic, almost structuralist overview of their rituals does not cover the whole range of their basic ritual, however. There is another gesture, yimo, at least equally important but performed only in specific occasions by a strictly restricted range of people, often almost secretly. This gesture, I would argue, is nothing to do with non-human ‘supernatural’ beings, benevolent or malevolent, but to do with communion of close kins, living and dead, including married-in and established females and excluding married-out females, invoking what Benedict Anderson called ‘a simultaneity of past and future in an instantaneous present’ in their distinct way.

Analyzing the basic process of various rituals, offerings and paraphernalia used in them, and villagers’ own explanations of them, I will present an approximate view of how to do things through various ‘rituals’ in Byans.