Monpa language


Alternative names:
Menba, Moinba, Monba, Menpa, Mongba
Total population
Regions with significant populations

Arunachal Pradesh, India:

Tibet Autonomous Region, China:
Bhutan:  3,000
East Bodish, Tshangla, Tibetan, Limbu
Mainly Tibetan Buddhist, Bön
Related ethnic groups
Tibetan, Sherdukpen, Sharchops, Memba, Limbu

The Monpa or Mönpa (Tibetan: མོན་པ་Wylie: mon pa; Hindi: मोनपा, Chinese: 门族) are a major people of Arunachal Pradesh in northeastern India.[1] Currently they are also one of the 56 officially recognized ethnic groups in China.

Most Monpas live in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, with a population of 50,000, centered in Tawang and West Kameng districts. Around 25,000 Monpas can be found in Cona County in the Tibet Autonomous Region. They can also be found in "Pelung Township in Nyingchi County, and Medog County. These places have a low altitude, especially Medog County, which has rare tropical scenery in contrast to the landscape elsewhere in Tibet."[2] 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 West Kameng district, where they form about 77% of the district's population. A small number of them may be found in bordering areas of East Kameng district[3] and Bhutan (2,500).

The Monpa share very close affinity with the Sharchops of Bhutan. Their languages have usually been assumed to be a part of the Tibeto-Burman languages separate from the Tibetic cluster. They are written with the Tibetan alphabet.

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

  • Tawang Monpa
  • Dirang Monpa
  • Lish Monpa
  • Bhut Monpa
  • Kalaktang Monpa
  • Panchen Monpa


The Monpa are generally adherents of the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism, which they adopted in the 17th century as a result of the evangelical influence of the Bhutanese-educated Merag Lama. The testimony to this impact was the central role of the Tawang Monastery in the daily lives of the Monpa folk. Nevertheless, both Bon and elements of the pre-Buddhist faith (often also called "Bon") remained strong among the Monpas, particularly in regions nearer to the Assamese plains.[4] In every household, small Buddhist altars are given water offerings in little cups and burning butter lamps.

The Monpa led a hunter-gatherer 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 languages spoken by the Monpa people are often referres to as the "Monpa languages". This is not a geneological term, and several quite different languages are subsumed under it. Five groups may be distinguished: [5]

  • Sherdukpen, Lish and Chug and Sartang shows no obvious relationship to other languages of the region and they comprise a small language isolate cluster. A relationship of these three languages with Bugun has been proposed ("Kho-Bwa languages"), but remains unsubstantiated.
  • The Tawang language is a East Bodish language. The Dakpa language of Bhutan may be a dialect of Tawang.
  • The Tshangla language within Bodish comprises closely related dialects spoken in the villages of Senge, Nyukmadung and Lubrang and the Brokpa language spoken by nomads. Other dialects include Dirang (also known as "Central Monpa"), Murshing and Kalaktang (also known as "Southern Monpa").
  • The languages of the Zemithang, Mago and Thingbu villages have not been reported to be closely related to either Tawang or to Brokeh. They remain undocumented, but a more distant relationship within Bodic is possible.


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. They are known for their wooden bowls and bamboo woven products.[2]

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 Pantomime dances are the principle feature of Ajilamu.

The Buddhist Lamas would read religious scriptures in the Gompas for a few days during Choskar. Thereafter, 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.

The man is the head of the family and he is the one who takes all decisions. In his absence, his wife takes over all responsibilities. When a child is born, they have no strict preference for a boy or a girl. Some, however, prefer a daughter for she stays in the house of her parents once she is married. Her husband is the one who moves to the house of his parents-in-law. The same type of tradition is found among the Khasi tribe of Meghalaya, India. Society.

Lifestyle and dress

A Monpa boy in traditional dress.

The traditional dress of the Monpa is based on the Tibetan Chuba, although woolen coats and trousers may be worn as well. The men wear a skull cap of felt with fringes or tassels. The women tend to wear a warm jacket and a sleeveless chemise that reaches down to the calves, tying the chemise round the waist with a long and narrow piece of cloth. Ornaments 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 of stone and wood with plank floors, often accompanied with beautifully carved doors and window frames.[6] 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.

Tourists may want to try a kind of buckwheat pancake made by the Moinba people. Without using a pot or fire, Moinbas spread buckwheat meal on a thin stone slab and leave it to bake in the sun until it is ready to be eaten.[2]


The Monpa practice shifting and permanent types of cultivation. Cattle, 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 have terraced many slopes. Cash crops such as rice, maize, wheat, barley, chili pepper, pumpkin, beans, tobacco, indigo and cotton are planted.


Earliest records to the area which the Monpas inhabited today indicated the existence of a kingdom known as Lhomon or Monyul which existed from 500 B.C to 600 A.D.[7] Subsequent years saw Monyul coming under increasing Tibetan political and cultural influence, which was apparent during the years when Tsangyang Gyatso, an ethnic Monpa, became the 6th Dalai Lama. At that time, Monyul was divided into thirty two districts, all of which spanned the areas of Eastern Bhutan, Tawang, Kameng and Southern Tibet. However, Monyul, also known as Tawang Tract remained thinly populated throughout its history.[8]

In the 11th century, the Northern Monpas in Tawang came under the influence of Tibetan Buddhism of the Nyingma and Kagyu denominations. It was at this time when the Monpas adopted the Tibetan script for their language. Drukpa missionaries made the presence felt in the 13th century and the Gelugpa in the 17th century, which most Monpas belong to today.[4]

Monyul remained an autonomous entity, of which local monks based in Tawang held great political power within the community, and direct rule over the area from Lhasa was established only in the 17th century. From this time until the early 20th century, Monyul was ruled by the authorities in Lhasa. In 1793 the Manchu-authorities produced a document under the title "Ordinance for the More Efficient Governing of Tibet". It proves that Tibet, included Tawang was considered part of China. However, in the 19th century, the area began to interest the British Raj. One of the first British-Indian travellers into Monyul, Nain Singh Rawat, who visited the area from 1875-6 noted that the Monpas were a conservative people who shunned off contact with the outside world and were making efforts to monopolise trade with Tibet. Owing to its strategic position, subsequently the British sought to make their political influence felt.

In 1914, Britain and its colonial authorities in India drew the McMahon Line, which they claimed to be the border between Chinese Tibet and British India. The line divided the land in which the Monpas inhabited, and became a source of contention in the subsequent years to come owing to ambiguities to the specific location of the McMahon Line.[9]

In subsequent years, China continued to claim the pre-McMahon border as the border between Tibet and India, while British India gradually established effective control over Monyul south of the McMahon line. Following the independence of India and a change of government in China, the dispute became a major issues in the relations between China and India. The McMahon Line was the effective line of control in this period, though the border was somewhat porous. In 1962, a Chinese military patrol which ventured south of the McMahon Line drew a military response from India, which resulted in the Sino-Indian War. During the war, China took effective control of the entire Monyul area south of the McMahon Line as well as some other surrounding areas. However, the war ended with China's voluntary withdrawal north of the McMahon Line. Negotiations on the dispute remain active.

Notable Monpas

See also


  1. ^ Basic Data Sheet, District Tawang (01), Arunachal Pradesh (12)
  2. ^ a b c "Moinba Ethnic Group and its customs". Tibet Travel Guide-Let's Travel Tibet. Retrieved 2013-10-20. 
  3. ^ Winds of Change: Arunachalee in Tradition and Transition by Raju Barthakur
  4. ^ a b Col Ved Prakash. Encyclopaedia of North-east India, Vol# 3. Atlantic Publishers & Distributors. pp. 1206–7. ISBN . 
  5. ^ Blench, Roger (2014). Sorting out Monpa: The relationships of the Monpa languages of Arunachal Pradesh.
  6. ^ Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt. of India (1979). Arunachal Pradesh. University of Michigan. p. 10. 
  7. ^ Andrea Matles Savada (1993). Nepal and Bhutan: Country Studies. Federal Research Division, Library of Congress. p. 21. ISBN . 
  8. ^ China Study Centre (1989). China Report. China Study Centre. pp. 104–5. 
  9. ^ Harish Kapadia, Geeta Kapadia (2005). Into the Untravelled Himalaya: Travels, Treks and Climbs. Indus Publishing. pp. 50–3. ISBN . 

External links

  • The Moinba ethnic minority (from the Chinese government website)
  • The tribal experience- Monpa
  • Bhutan historical setting
  • The Monpa (In Chinese)
  • North East Zone Cultural Centre
  • Ethnologue profile
  • Asia Harvest ethnic profile
  • Origins and Early Settlement of Bhutan, A.D. 600-1600
  • Monpa community in Bhutan
  • The Far East In Words and Pictures
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