The word limbu means an archer, or bearer of bow and arrows. The Limbu people belong to the Kirant confederation. Their ancestral and original stronghold known as Pallo Kirat as well as Limbuwan spans from Arun River in Nepal to the Kingdom of Sikkim in the east. In Nepal, Limbus live and work in the districts of Sankhuwasabha, Tehrathum, Dhankuta, Taplejung, Panchthar and Ilam. Their scripture is called Mundhum. Fedangba, Shamba and Yeba-Yema are their sacred specialists. They celebrate the dance festivals of Kelang popularly known Chyabrung (two-sided drum) and Yarak (Paddy dance) as major events. Limbus have their own script called Sirijunga. There are many books written in the Limbu language. Their faith is enshrined in the evergreen Cynodondactylon (dubo) grass and rocks. They cremate their dead. The population of the Limbus, according to the census of 2001, is 359,255.
The Limbu ethnic group is considered a branch of the ancient Kirat community. They are the indigenous people of the land area comprising east of the river Arun extending to Sikkim and to the northern part of West Bengal. The area inhabited by Limbus was called Pallo Kirat in the early times and was called Limbuwan until recently. At the time of Prithvi Narayan Shah's invasion of the Limbuwan, there were ten different states ruled by 10 Limbu kings. It is said that the Limbus of today are the descendants of these 10 Limbus (Vansittart, 1991:107). The main areas inhabited by Limbus today are the districts of Sankhuwasabha, Taplejung, Terahthum, Panchthar, Dhankuta and Ilam. They are now also found living in large numbers in Sunsari, Jhapa and Morang districts.
The term, ‘Limbu', in Limbu language means ‘one who carries bow' or 'bow carrier' (Chemjong, AD1948:33). Limbus are also called Yakthung. According to the population census of 2001, the population of Limbus is 359,379. Limbus have their own language, which is called 'Yakthungpan'. They also have their own ageold script. The script is called Kirat Sirjanga. A number of books have been published in the Limbu language.
Limbus have their own distinct culture. Kelang (chyabhrung dance or drum dance), Yalang (dhan nach, or paddy dance) and Yemalang (bijwani dance, or female shaman's dance) are some of the Limbu dances. They also have their own unique songs called hakpare, palam, etc. They have their own religion called Kirat Dharma, often known as Yuma Samyo. They are basically worshippers of nature or animists (Subba, BS2058). Mundhum is their holy scripture. Tagera Niwa Phuma or Yuma is the prominent goddess and there are several other gods and goddesses. Among them Nahangma is the goddess of the primitive war--a culture in which Limbus take pride (Sagant, 1996). Phedangma, Samba, Yeba, Yema and Angsi are the sacred specialists who perform religious functions and lifecycle rituals. Limbus bring in people of other tribes and communities to their dynastic lineage by completing a special formality called chokphung or socialization (Chemjong, 1966:70-74). Limbus have deep allegiance towards a sacred grass cynodon dactylon and stone and witnesses involved in the process of adjudication according to Limbu practices are cross-examined by asking them to take oath by touching dubo (cynodon dactylon) and stone (Subba, 1998:42). Limbus, traditionally, bury their dead and mourning is observed for four days for male and three days for female. Attendance of close relatives is compulsory on the final day of mourning for cleaning up of the death-related pollution.
Limbus, in general, marry within their own community. Boys are at liberty to choose a girl and girls are equally free to decide whether to spend life with the boy in question or not (Jones and Jones, 1976). Cross-cousin marriage is not allowed in Limbu culture. Marriage between a man and the widow of his elder brother can take place if they mutually agree. Marriage between a man and a woman outside family relations and having different thars (clans) is also possible either by arrangement or by mutual consent of the boy and the girl in question. It is conventionally said that the customs and traditions of Limbus were established in the distant past by Sawa Yethang (council of eight kings/leaders).
Limbus are primarily dependent on agriculture. The system of land ownership and autonomous administration practised for several centuries was called Kipat, which was abolished after the enforcement of the Land Reform Act in the Limbuwan area. As a consequence, many of them found themselves deprived of their land. In old days the society of Limbus used to be guided by Tumyahang (gentlemen) and managed by Chumlung (Assembly of Gentlemen). The system, however, has now become a matter of history. The male Limbus are very skillful in farming and in making the required tools for the same, in hunting and in framing goods of wood and bamboo whereas the females are good at weaving, doing work of domestic skills and gardening. Men and women in Limbu society are considered equal and sons have claim in their fathers' property whereas daughters are entitled to inherit mothers' property. Land is in the possession of sons and the daughters own domestic animals and cash in the form of pewa.