Noteworthy:The article has been edited. Strike out text represents my opinions.
( Presented to the Fourth Round Table International Conference on Ethnogenesis of South and Central Asia, Harvard University, Cambridge MA, USA.May 11 – 13, 2002 )
- The Himalayan kingdom of Nepal is extremely rich and complex in cultural as well as linguistic diversity. Kusunda is one of the ethnic groups of Nepal whose language and culture is believed to be precious to the students of ethnology.
- Kusundas are also known as one of the indigenous peoples of Nepal. They feel embarrassed being introduced as the Kusundas. Therefore, they seem to have shifted to other languages and cultures apparently leaving an impression of their extinction. Their tribal name is myahq -‘king of forests’. Now though, times have changed and Kusundas take pride in being Kusundas. I met with 17 Kusundas in February 2007 in Dang and they were not embarrassed at all.
- British Resident Representative to Nepal, Brian H. Hodgson said about Kusundas that “they were generally supposed to be autochthones, or primitive inhabitants of the country, were near to what is usually called the state of nature as anything in human shape can well be, deemed very precious by all the real students of ethnology.Their origin, condition and character are, in truth, ethnic facts of high value, as proving how tribes may be dislocated and deteriorated during the great transitional eras of society” (Hodgson 1857). This information is brief and sketchy and demands more research regarding the Kusunda origins.
Kusunda Ethnicity and Population
- Kusundas are also called Banarajas – Kings of the forests, because they used to live in the forests, called themselves *myahak had a kind of taxation system over Rautes. Kusundas were Kings and Rautes were their subjects. Generally Rautes run away if they happen to see a Kusunda from a distance.
- 7 Kusundas, in the central and mid-western hills of Nepal, are believed to be ethnically pure by origin. There are few other Kusundas of mixed origin; including them the Kusunda population in Nepal will not exceed fifty in total.
- Both ‘Banaraja’ and ‘Kusunda’ are names given to the ‘myahq peoples’ (Kusundas) by other communities. Kusundas are also said to be the offspring of ‘Kusha’– Rama’s second son born from ‘kusha grass’ in Valmiki’s Cottage. This story is well depicted in The Ramayana. Chepangs also believe they are the offspring of Sita’s first son Lohari or Lava who is also very famous in the Ramayana. Lohari and Kushari were two sons of Sita. Later Lohari and Kushari became rivals. Then the Kusundas and Chepangs began to liveseparately. Some of the Chepang cognates have some similarity with that of Kusunda’s. Both Kusunda and Chepangs are found in the hills of Nepal.
- Kusunda language has been cited as a dead language. But it is not completely dead yet there are still a few survivors who can communicate in Kusunda language. Professor David Watters has already constructed Kusunda grammar.
- Kusunda culture is nonexistent now. But, there is their language which, originated in the Sino-Tibetan area;or it could be an earlier language in this area. There are some who believe present Kusunda cognates might be Tibeto-Burman borrowings. If it is to be believed, then Kusunda will be a ‘barren’ language without its own cognates for objects such as: *ing (sun), *ngsa (fish), *uyu (blood),*gepan (language), *un (trail), *langhai (village), *suta (thread), *mucha (banana), *kakchi (crab), *tu (snake), etc. So, it is a matter of thorough research.
- Robert Shafer (1954) was the first scholar to notice Kusunda as a language isolate. Professor H. Fleming as well as most other linguists also believe that this is a language isolate. Yet, it may also be argued that Indo-European, Tibeto-Burman as well as other languages also shared with Kusunda.
- It is a matter of serious study as to what is the genesis of Kusunda language in the Himalayas.
- John Reinhard and Sueyoshi Toba also worked on Kusunda some 32 years ago. Their data are the primary data recorded by Reinhard from the field, which were later analyzed by Toba in Kathmandu. But, the latter had not been able to see and speak with the Kusundas in person.Both of them were non-native researchers. I have found a number redundant data in Reinhard-Toba lists, nevertheless, it is a scientifically accomplished work. Reinhard has honestly admitted “this (Kusunda analysis) unfortunately was based on very little data, is incomplete and contains several errors; significant variants obtained from different informants have been listed. Several of these terms could not be checked and therefore the list should not be considered definitive” Reinhard (1976). Therefore, there are also some inevitable redundancies.
Similarities with Other Languages
- Having found some sorts of similarities with a few indigenous languages of the Tibeto-Burman family, Kusundas probably originated in the Sino-Tibetan area. Kusunda *mahi (water buffalo) and *mai(mother) are similar to Central Magar mahi and mai, with the same meanings; cf. also Sanskrit mahisha. Kusunda mai is quite close to Sanskrit *maataa meaning ‘mother’. Some other Tibeto-Burman linguistic communities also have ‘mai’ for mother. In the same manner Kusunda and Magar say suta for ‘thread’ and its Prakrit is sutta and in Sanskritit is suutra.
- Some linguists differ with my view on the origin of Kusunda. They believe that Kusunda is a language isolate – not sharing recent common origin with any languages. But my recent findings confirm that Kusunda has noticeable affinities with a number of indigenous languages spoken across northern belt of Nepal. Therefore, it is possible that this language originated in the Sino-Tibetan area and other major language families also shared with it.
(Full article can be obtained from the link above.)