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Monpa (Moinba,Menba)

The Monpa (ménbàzú, Tibetan) are an ethnic group in the People's Republic of China, with a population of 50,000, centered in the districts of Tawang and West Kameng. Another 25,000 of them can be found in the district of Cuona in Tibet, where they are known as Menba. of the 45,000 Monpas who live in Arunachal Pradesh, about 20,000 of them live in Tawang district, where they constitute about 97% of the district's population, and almost all of the remainder can be found in the West Kameng district, where they form about 77% of the district's population. A small number of them may be found in the district of East Kameng and Bhutan (2,500).

The word "Monpa" means "People of the Mon-yul, which means land in Tibetan. They also share very close affinity with the Sharchops of Bhutan. Their language belongs to the Tibeto-Burman family, but it is significantly different from the Eastern Tibetan dialect and is written with the Tibetan script.

The Monpa are sub-divided into six sub-groups because of their variations in their language. They are namely:

  1. Tawang Monpa
  2. Dirang Monpa
  3. Lish Monpa
  4. Bhut Monpa
  5. Kalaktang Monpa
  6. Panchen Monpa


The Monpa are mainly followers of Tibetan Buddhism of the Gelugpa sect, although several members of the Bhut Monpa are followers of B?n and Animism. In every household, small Buddhist altars placed with statues of Buddha are given water offerings in little cups and burning butter lamps.

The belief in transmigration of the soul and reincarnation is widespread, as their life is largely centered on the Tawang monastery in Tawang district, where many of the young Monpa boys would join the monastery and grow up as Buddhist Lamas.

The Bhut Monpa led a hunter-gather lifestyle and believed that the main totem and clan idol is the spirit of the tiger, who will torment any initiate while he sleeps. It is also believed that the spirit of the tiger is the manifestation of the ancestral forest spirit, who took a young shaman into the jungle to be initiated.


The Monpa are known for wood carving, Thangka painting, carpet making and weaving. They manufactured paper from the pulp of the local sukso tree. A printing press can be found in the Tawang monastery, where many religious books are printed on local paper and wooden blocks, usually meant for literate Monpa Lamas, who use it for their personal correspondence and conducting religious rituals.

Principal Monpa festivals include Choskar harvest, Losar, Ajilamu and Torgya. During Losar, people would generally pray pilgrimage at the Tawang monastery to pray for the coming of the Tibetan New Year.

The Buddhist Lamas would read religious scriptures in the Gompas for a few days during Choskar. There after, the villagers will walk around the cultivated fields with the sutras on their back. The significance of this festival is to pray for better cultivation and protect the grains from insects and wild animals. The prosperity of the villagers is not excluded as well.

It is a rule that all animals except men and tigers are allowed to be hunted. According to tradition, only one individual is allowed to hunt the tiger on an auspicious day, upon the initiation period of the shamans, which can be likened a trial of passage. Upon hunting the tiger, the jawbone, along with all its teeth, is used as a magic weapon. This is believed that its power will enable the tigers to evoke the power of his guiding spirit of the ancestral tiger, who will accompany and protect the boy along his way.


The traditional society of the Monpa was administered by a council which consists of six ministers locally known as Trukdri. The members of this council were known as the Kenpo, literally the Abbot of Tawang. The Lamas also hold a respectable position, which consists of two monks known as Nyetsangs, and two other Dzongpon.

Lifestyle and Dress

The traditional dress of the Monpa is based on the Tibetan Chugba, although woolen coats and trousers maybe worn as well. The men wear a skull cap of felt with fringes or tassels. The womenfolk tend to wear a warm jacket and a sleeveless chemise that reaches down to the calves, tying them round the waist with a long and narrow piece of cloth. Ornaments that include silver rings, earrings made of flat pieces of bamboo with red beads or turquoises are worn as well. One can see a person wearing a cap with a single peacock feather round their felt hats.

Due to the cold climate of the Himalayas, the Monpa, like most of the other Buddhist tribes, construct their house with stone and wood with plank floors, often accompanied with beautifully carved doors and window frames. The roof is made with bamboo matting, keeping their house warm during the winter season. Sitting platforms and hearths in the living rooms are also found in their houses.


The Monpa practice shifting and permanent types of cultivation. Cattle including yaks, cows, pigs, sheep and fowl are kept as domestic animals, and meat is hunted using primitive methods.

To prevent soil erosion by planting crops on hilly slopes, the Monpa follow terraced cultivation and terraced the slopes of the forest. Cash crops such as rice, maize, wheat, barely, chilly, pumpkin, beans, tobacco, indigo and cotton are planted.


Legends, chronological and archaeological evidence that the Monpa, who were the aborigines of that area, once ruled a kingdom known as Monyul, or Lhomon that existed from 500 B.C. to 600 A.D., a kingdom that was ruled by the then-nomadic Monpa.

It was believed that Monyul stretches from present day Tawang right up to West Bengal, Assam, part of Sikkim and even the Duars plains at the Himalayan foothills. Upon the collapse of Monyul, the Monpa came under the rule of Tibet for many years, although small Monpa chiefdoms were formed whenever Tibetan rule was not strong in the area. One of the good reminiscences of the ancient Monpa chiefdoms include the Dirang Fort constructed around the 11th century, which was meant to defend against invasions from neighbouring chiefdoms.


The sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso, is a Monpa by ethnicity.

New Life

Tibet was peacefully liberated in 1951, and democratic reforms were introduced in 1959 after a counter-revolutionary armed rebellion was put down. During the action, the Moinbas joined the Tibetan people in support of the People's Liberation Army. Since then, they have shaken off their yoke and begun a new life. The days of having to survive on wild fruits and nuts, wearing animal skins and banana leaves and living in caves and forests have gone forever. Agricultural output has risen considerably through the development of hillsides, introduction of irrigation systems and superior crop strains, and ending of the traditional slash-and-burn farming method.

Now the Moinbas have moved into bright, new electric-lit houses. Narrow footpaths and single log bridges have been replaced by roads and suspension bridges.

The Moinba people now have many schools for both children and adults, and have trained their first generation of teachers, accountants and other professionals. Some young people are studying at the Tibet Ethnic Minorities' Institute in Lhasa and the Central Ethnic Minorities' Institute in Beijing. Men and women of Moinba origin are working as administrators at various levels of government.

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