Ban Rajas are peoples who have been living in Nepal since time immemorial. Today, only a very few Ban Rajas survive who mostly live in central Nepal and unfortunately very little is left of their culture. In addition, shamefully little is known about their origins. The Ban Rajas themselves believe that they are the descendants of Kusa (thus the name Kusunda), son of Rama and Sita of the Ramayana and are kings (rajas in Nepali) of the forest (ban in Nepali) where as the descendants of Kusa’s brother Lava, the Thakuris are the rulers of cultivated lands .
Many anthropological, linguistic, and morphological studies have suggested numerous and often biased hypothesis about the origins of the Ban Rajas of Nepal. While one group of anthropologists and linguists propose that Ban Rajas are Tibeto-Burman people, another set their colleagues argue that the Ban Rajas of Nepal are probably the remnants of the original population that came to the Himalayas from Africa and traveled south and populated Australia, New Zealand, and the Indo Pacific Islands. This controversy has lingered for over a century and will continue without progress unless the origins of the Ban Rajas is determined based on their DNA. Genetic studies can be used to compare Ban Rajas to nearby non-Ban Raja ethnicities. Additional human populations such as Africans, Central Asians, Australian Aborigines, and Indo Pacific Indigenous peoples can be included. If Ban Rajas are related to any of them their DNA would tell the story.
As mentioned earlier, linguists offer contrasting explanations on Ban Rajas’ ancestry. “On the basis of vocabulary, the Kusunda language does not appear to be related with any of the major language families of South Asia. However, it does share a feature common to other Tibeto-Burman languages of the Himalayas,” according to Johan Reinhard . Based on the pronominalization, Reinhard proposed Kusunda probably belongs to Munda language family. Other two possible options he proposed were either Kusunda “borrowed pronominalization from Munda family at a later date” indicating “no relationship with the major language families” or Kusunda belongs to an archaic language group such as Burushaski and languages of the Caucasus from which Munda language might have borrowed pronominalization . Munda language is currently spoken in North East India and is a branch of Austro-Asiatic language family. There have been a few other later attempts made to determine the origins of Kusundas. In contrast to Reinhard’s hypothesis, in a recent paper, Paul Whitehouse and team showed that the Kusunda language has many similarities to those that are in the Indo-Pacific family which remain in New Guinea and the islands that are around this area .
Linguistic controversy is ignited by the fact that Ban Rajas are morphologically distinct from their surrounding peoples as well. Ban Rajas have been described as, “…semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers, living in jungles and forests, with a language that shows no similarities to surrounding languages” . They somewhat resemble the Indo-Pacific people for they “have the same small, dark physical appearance.” These linguistic and morphological evidences suggest that the Ban Rajas are probably leftovers of the early humans who started their journey from Africa all the way to New Guinea and Australia .
Language is fluid entity and can travel form one place to another without the transfer of genes. For example, English is spoken in most parts of the world but the British did not settle all parts of the world where English is spoken today. Language, therefore, cannot be the absolute evidence to determine the origins of peoples. For the last few decades, DNA has been used to determine the origins of a particular group of people all around the world. All humans inherit the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from their mother and Y chromosome DNA from their father. Based on the similarities and differences between these two DNAs, geneticists can very effectively determine the maternal (mtDNA) and paternal (Y chromosomes) lineage of any present population. The linguistic and morphological evidence available as of now are only suggestive evidence that Ban Rajas are remnants of “the first out-of-Africa migration that led to the initial peopling of Southeast Asia, New Guinea, and Australia” (Santa Fe Institute). Genetic studies can provide the conclusive evidence. If Ban Rajas are really the remnants of the original peoples who settled in Australia, it will revolutionize what we currently understand about human evolution. It will make the few remaining Ban Rajas a national treasure and the topic of discussion worldwide.
Although the anthropologic, linguistic, and morphological studies have incredibly enhanced our knowledge of Ban Rajas of Nepal, they have important limitations. The data presented by Reinhard and Toba is controversial as per evidences presented by B.K. Rana. Rana has found out that some of the words reported by Reinhard and Toba as Kusunda terms are not actually correct . Also, Whitehouse agrees that the linguistic evidence is not conclusive enough and urges for genetic studies to be conducted. These limitations and depleting numbers of Ban Rajas suggest that there is a strong urgency to confirm the various hypotheses about their origins using high quality genetic methods of analysis such that the Ban Rajas who have been neglected for centuries have the potential to be recognized as the one of the most treasured peoples of the entire world. Moreover, such findings may revolutionize our understandings of human migration.
The Ban Rajas reside in Gorkha, Kaski, Rolpa, Dang, Pyuthan and Tanahu districts of Nepal. Various reports and stories have reported that Ban Rajas are currently living in these areas. According to the National Federation of Indigenous Nationalities, the Ban Rajas reside in jungles of Dhading, Gorkha, Tanahu, Kaski and Makwanpur to the districts of the Midwestern Region. According to the Nepal Population Reports 2002 the total number of Ban Rajas (Kusundas) existing are 164.
More on Genetic study of Kusundas can be found in my new article here: http://wp.me/p1jtD-dT
1. A PRELIMINARY LINGUISTIC ANALYSIS AND VOCABULARY OF THE KUSUNDA LANGUAGE (1970) by Johan Reinhard (University of Vienna) and Tim Toba (Summer Institute of Linguistics,Tribhuvan University, Nepal)
2. Languages of the Himalayas, Volume One (2001) by George van Driem, ISBN 9004103902, (Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands)
3. Whitehouse, Paul, Timothy Usher, Merrit Ruhlen, and William S. Y. Yang. “Kusunda: An Indo-Pacific language in Nepal.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the
United States of America. 2004. 30 Apr. 2006 <http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/full/101/15/5692>.
4. Santa Fe Institute. Evolution of Human Languages. Database Construction for World Language Families. 30 Apr. 2006 < http://ehl.santafe.edu/ruhlen.htm>.
5. McWhorter, John. “Can Relationships Between Languages be Determined Alter 80,000 Years?” Language Log. 10 Jun. 2004. 30 Apr. 2006 <http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/001037.html>.
6. Thangaraj, Kumarasamy, Lalji Singh, Alla G. Reddy, V. Raghavendra Rao, Subhash C. Sehgal, Peter A. Underhill, Melanie Pierson, Ian G. Frame, and Erika Hagelberg. Genetic Affinities of the Andaman Islanders, a Vanishing Human Population. 26 Nov. 2002. Cell Press. 5 May. 2006 < http://hpgl.stanford.edu/publications/CB_2002_p1-18.pdf>.
7. B. K. Rana. New Materials on Kusunda Language (Presented to the Fourth Round Table International Conference on Ethnogenesis of South and Central Asia, Harvard University,
Cambridge MA, USA. May 11 – 13, 2002 ). http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~witzel/kusunda.htm