Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Biriya – the delicious dry greens from Nepal’s southern plains

Have you heard about “biriya”? In southern plains of Nepal, this dry green vegetable, eaten during the rainy season, is quite popular. During the winter, women gather the green vegetables, wither them a bit, wrap them in black gram paste and let them dry. The dried biriya is stored in a dry place and used as an alternative vegetable during the rainy season when the green vegetables are scarce.

In the West they say "make hay when there is sunshine" and here in the southern plains of Nepal, the locals say "wrap and dry vegetables when they are found in abundance". They collect mustard leaves, broad leaf mustard and grass peas, let them wither a bit and wrap them with black gram flour paste. Drying them on sun makes "biriya", as they call locally, that is stored to be cooked during the rainy season when the green vegetables are scarce. The black gram paste gives a tangy taste to biriya and also works as a preservative. Plus it's a source of high protein. If you ask me personally, I like the mustard leaves biriya the most! Want a "biriya" recipe? DM me for details. ------- #biriya #wrappedgreens #grasspeas #broadleafmustard #mustard #terai #Nepal #Tharus #storing #savingforfuture #resilience #travelgram #traveldiary #instalike #instapic #picoftheday #photooftheday #instatravel #localtaste #curry #traditionalknowledge
A post shared by Sanjib Chaudhary (@sankuchy) on

Looking at how it got the name ‘biriya’, I came across an interesting response from my friend Shubhashish Panigrahi from Odisha. Responding to my above Instagram post, he said, “Black gram is Biri in Odia. I know we are related.” 

And yes, when I see the Eastern Tharu and Odia languages, there are lot many similarities between the both. At least I have found many words with same roots. There’s some relationship between natives of Odisha and the Tharus of Nepal. Watch this space for more posts on the similarities!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Compiling typical and original Tharu words before they disappear

Tharu Welfare Society of Deukhuri, Dang is in the final stages of publishing a dictionary of western Tharu language.

Sanjib Chaudhary from the Voice of Tharus spoke with the team about the dictionary, its importance and how the team is working to complete the tedious task of collecting the peculiar Tharu words which are on the verge of vanishing.

Here are the excerpts of interviews with Uday Raj Aaley, the editor and resource person; Goma Kalathoki, the phonetic editor and Bal Govind Chaudhary, the coordinator of this task of compiling the dictionary.

Uday Raj Aaley

Voice of Tharus (VOT): Tell our readers about the Tharu dictionary and how you are collecting and compiling the Tharu words.

Uday Raj Aaley (URA): Language is the key symbol of identity and to preserve and develop a language, a dictionary is a must.

First of all, I would like to thank Tharu Welfare Society of Deukhuri, Dang and its board members for giving me the responsibility of an editor and resource person to compile this dictionary.

I am working in a team – Tharu scholars Sher Bahadur Chaudhari, Rajendra Prasad Chaudhari and Lilagambhir Tharu have been employed to collect Tharu words. Some words have been compiled from secondary sources such as books, epics, folk tales, magazines, newspapers, etc.

We have decided to include Tharu words of different genres in the dictionary. It comprises Deukhuriya and Dangoriya Tharu words which are spoken in different districts of western Nepal. The Tharus are rich in culture and they have many typical words for cultural and ritual activities.

It’s a great challenge because many typical and original Tharu words are disappearing day by day. The dictionary has archaic as well as new words which are popular and used in day to day life.

VOT: What is the scope of the dictionary? How many people do you want to reach with the publication of the dictionary?

URA: The trilingual dictionary – Tharu- English-Nepali – will help Tharu, Nepali and English speaking readers. There are dialects and some variations in the Tharu language spoken in different parts of Terai region in Nepal.

I think the dictionary will be helpful and valuable for Tharu people, scholars, researchers, teachers, students, trainers, textbook writers, journalists, language activists, social workers and those who want to study about Tharus and Tharu language.

At the same time, the dictionary will contribute to preserve Tharu language. The Tharu Welfare Society has networks with Tharu people and concerned departments. It will manage the distribution of the dictionary.

VOT: How do you think it will help the target audience that you have in mind?

URA: I have been doing research on Tharus of western Nepal. The loss of language harms the linguistic and cultural diversity of the country and the world as well.

Many of the languages spoken in Nepal are confined to their oral traditions. There is need to develop a policy to impart basic education in mother tongue. It is through his/her mother tongue that every human being first learns to formulate and express his/her ideas about himself/herself and the world.

The ‘one nation- one language’ policy was adopted during Rana and Panchayat periods in Nepal. After the reestablishment of democracy, ethnic organisations have been playing an active role in creating awareness about promoting and preserving their mother tongues including their cultural identities. There should be special provisions to indigenous peoples to retain their languages and cultures.

Different languages enhance different ways of expressing experiences, thoughts, feelings, and aesthetics. To impart knowledge through the medium of his/her own language first, where the dictionary is available, his/her own mother tongue can then be used creatively.

I think the state and the ethnic groups have obligation and are equally responsible to enable and retain their languages and cultures.

Goma Kalathoki

VOT: What are the difficulties did you face while transcribing the Tharu words into International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)?

Goma Kalathoki (GK): The Tharu dictionary which is going to be published is a great work for the Tharu community as well as other readers. I was employed as a phonetic editor by Uday Raj Aaley, the editor and resource person for the dictionary and Tharu Welfare Society to transcribe the compiled Tharu words. I am very much happy because I have tried to complete the task sincerely.

There are many difficulties and challenges in any work you do and I have faced difficulties doing this. I am a student of English and this opportunity has taught me the importance of language and its micro elements.

Tharu language does not have its own script. Devnagari script has been used throughout as written script for Tharu words. It should also be noted that Tharu language does not have all the sounds of the Nepali language. Therefore, some vowels and consonants of the Nepali language are omitted. This is followed by the phonetic transcription, transcribed Tharu word as it is pronounced. However, writing through the Devnagari script, we found that Devnagari lacks graphemes.

VOT: Did you find any peculiarity in the Tharu words? Can the Tharu words be compared with words from other languages?

GK: Tharu language is spoken by the Tharu people of Terai region in Nepal. The Tharus have their native words to speak. There are some variations in the Tharu language, but the root words are similar.

In Dang district, Deukhuriya and Dangoriya dialects are spoken. Tharu language of mid-western region, especially Deukhuri where I was born, has a different dialect which is influenced by Awadhi and Nepali because a few words are borrowed from them. A couple of years ago Tharu people used to speak their mother tongue naturally. Of course every language has some peculiarities and exceptions from the normal patterns. For instance, Deukhuriya Tharu say ‘neimaza’ and Dangoriya Tharu say ‘nimaza’ for ‘not good’.

New generations are using Nepali and English words in their conversation. Typical Tharu words are disappearing gradually. I think their native words should be preserved for future. The dictionary will preserve these words, but at the same we have to encourage new generation to speak their language in their daily life.

Bal Govind Chaudhary
VOT: Why and how did the idea of preparing a Tharu language dictionary come up?

Bal Govind Chaudhary (BGC):  Thank you for your question and giving an opportunity to share our work. First of all, I'm a responsible member of Tharu society and now secretary of Tharu Kalayankarini Sabha (Tharu Welfare Society) Deukhuri, Dang. As a secretary I would like to talk about some activities of Tharu Welfare Society. The Tharu Welfare Society has been working to promote language and culture. It has been publishing a quarterly journal named ‘Hamar Sanghariya’ (Our friend). To preserve and promote Tharu culture, it has been organising cultural programmes such as seminars and interaction programmes related to Tharu culture. It has also been organising cultural handicraft training to preserve age-old tradition.

From east to west, Tharus are divided into many groups according to their spoken language. eastern Tharu language is influenced by Maithaili, western Tharu language is influenced by Bhojpuri and Awadhi, and mid-western and far-western Tharu language is believed to be the original Tharu language but there are variations.

Nowadays, most of the Tharu words are disappearing. Because they use other language for communication to be civilised in the community (this is what they think!) so they are forgetting their own language. Terai is like a ‘melting pot’ and heterogeneous owing to the settlement of people migrating from hills and southern parts. Different kinds of people belonging to different caste and ethnic groups live in the Teari. Due to the diversity in settlement, Tharu language is at risk. Thus, it is necessary to preserve and promote it. And we ourselves are responsible for this.

At the same time, people want to know Tharu language for trade, politics, social works, communication and so on. They want to study about Tharu culture, their rites and rituals. Without a Tharu dictionary it seems to be difficult. There are not sufficient linguistic documents and supporting materials to study about Tharu culture. Because of lack of study materials, many languages are disappearing from the world. Tharu language is also at risk. So the idea of publishing a Tharu language dictionary came up.

VOT: Who are your target audience?

BGC: In my opinion, our target audiences are researchers, politicians, businessmen, teachers, social workers, personnel and students.

VOT: What is your next step after publishing the dictionary?

Team: After publishing the dictionary we have planned programmes to publish Tharu grammar, cultural documentary, newspaper, and research publications.

VOT: How do you plan to disseminate and share the learning of preparing the dictionary?

Team: We have planned to disseminate this dictionary through our networks, book sellers, and team members. And we have planned a ‘door to door dictionary campaign’.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

‘Tharu’ identity is part of a political agenda which does not necessarily correspond to the local reality – Gisele Krauskopff

Gisele Krauskopff. Image from her Facebook page.

Gisele Krauskopff, one of the first few researchers to conduct fieldwork in the Tharu dominant Dang Valley, is not a new name among the researchers working in the Himalayan region.

Though most of her works have been published in French, ‘A Marshland Culture : Fishing and Trapping among a Farming People of the Tarai’ gives an overview of different fishing techniques used by the Tharus in the Dang Valley.

Sanjib Chaudhary from Voice of Tharus spoke with Gisele about her research work and publications. Here’s an excerpt of the interview.

Voice of Tharus (VOT): Welcome to Voice of Tharus. Your pioneering research on Tharus has helped the Tharus to be recognised internationally. Can you tell our readers about your research and the publications you have published till date?

Gisele Krauskopff (GK): I am surprised to discover that my researches ‘helped the Tharu to be recognised internationally’. I think they managed themselves to be recognised. I doubt that books published in French could have such an influence.

Moreover, I should like to emphasise the following point (see also next question): I did not work on ‘The Tharu’ but did a study in a predominantly inhabited Tharu village in Dang valley in Western Nepal. At that time, the 1980s, (except for very few educated one) they had no contact with other groups called ‘Tharu’. The outsiders called them ‘Dangaurya Tharu’. The farmers in my residential village did not travel much outside of the valley and even to the neighbouring Deokhuri Valley. They did not like to go to the bazaar.

However, at the beginning of the 1960, after the land reform, whole villages had migrated to ‘Buran’, that is the Far Western district of Terai, mainly in Bardiya district. My most recent publication (to appear in English very soon) is about the so called migratory practices of the Tharu farmers that I trace in historical documents (Nepalese archives but also British colonial archives of the 19th century during the border conflicts between Nepal and British India from 1802 onward) and with the help of my ethnographic work. I considered this the most valuable part of my work (with my PhD).

My PhD research had a different perspective. My field work was done in 1981-1985, and according to the dominant ethnological approach at this period, was based on a monograph of a village of Western Dang where I spent two years and revisited often: a monograph of the rituals as I observed then, in this village, in the company of my best friend and informant, a gurwa, who was called in many houses or villages to treat illnesses and other disorders.

I taped all the events (I plan to deposit these tapes in protected archives or hopefully an open database) and was helped for their translation by Ashok Chaudhary, from Hekuli village. I used these documents to deepen my knowledge of the rituals and of the language with my gurwa friend. I also worked a lot with the women. Being myself a woman, it was easier and the deep and affectionate relationship I built with women was very very important for my day to day life and the progress in the local language and understanding of the culture.

But already then I was much interested by history and the processes by which the Tharu social organisation in Dang was moulded through an agrarian system in which the political and agrarian authority was delegated by a ‘Hindu’ king (living in the hills) to Tharu local headmen who had a pivotal and very important role in the centralisation of the system at the local level.  Hence, I framed my ‘village’ study taking into account the larger territorial organisation of the Dang Valley, which was divided into several ‘rajya’ or parganna.

The main goal of my thesis and first book (Maitres et Possédés that I plan to translate and publish in English) was to demonstrate how the division between priestly clans and ‘client’ clans was rooted in this historical development and the history of subjection of the Tharu to hill kingdoms. This bipolar structure, extremely important in Dang, was not found in other area of Terai among other Tharu groups. It shows how the social and religious order that bounded the Dangaurya Tharu society at this time was locally rooted and inscribed in the agrarian and political history of the area. This local order is of course now part of history: the change brought by the transformation of Nepal in the last 25 years has changed the situation and local is no more local.

VOT: What is opinion about the Tharus? Did you find any clues on the origin of Tharus during your research?

GK: I have opinion on the human beings I met during my fieldwork, and very different ones, but none on ‘The Tharu’.

Even in the ‘Tharu’ village where I did my field researches, I met different kinds of ‘Tharu’, I mean: landless farmers, rich jimindar, educated fellows, illiterate people, women, men, kids and some villagers from other ethnic background.

In all my researches I have tried to deconstruct this category ‘the Tharu’ used as an ethnic, caste oriented, or racial category: many groups called Tharu have different social organisation, and some other groups differently called have very similar culture (as far as the lowlands of Assam). And inside any local communities, there are class distinctions (landless labourers, wealthy jimindar).

In the present political context of Nepal, ethnic groups have redefined themselves and ‘Tharu’ identity is part of a political agenda which does not necessarily correspond to the local reality I encountered in the past.

Concerning the ‘origin’ of the Tharu I suggest to read some of my English papers where I discussed this question which is political rhetoric. Since I do not know my own origin (I am French, have a German name, and was born in North Africa) but only the context (economic and social) in which I was educated, I do not know how I could propose a theory on the Tharu origin!

More seriously, considering my historical approach, origin has no meaning and looking for it postulates that a group could have existed from time immemorial without transformation. Each classificatory order, class or term is historically rooted and takes meaning in the context of its use. This is why when I wrote on this topic, I consider it as an historical narration to support a political agenda, in the past as in the present.

VOT: Can you cite any anecdote during your stay with the Tharus in Dang?

GK: I remember the beginning of my fieldwork in Dang during the rainy season. From January to June, I had travelled all over Western Tarai to find the right place to study. But finally I choose Dang Valley and started to settle there at the beginning of the rainy season.

Two images remain in my memory. Once I was crossing the Patu Khola River but could not fight against the current. Boulders were hurting my Western too soft feet and I could not walk in the water. Happily, a Tharu villager wearing his loin cloth and bare feet rushed to me, took my hand, and forced me to run to reach the bank of the river. You can easily imagine how even trained local people could die drowning in the rivers. 

The other image is of myself trying to reach the village: The paths were so muddy that I sank to the thighs in the mud. It was the only rainy season I spent in the Terai but it was worthwhile since most of the very interesting village rituals were done during this season. And in September, suddenly the sky opened and I discovered the beauty of this magnificent and rich valley covered with green rice fields. A fascinating and meaningful contrast!

VOT: You were again back in Dang for your research on Tharu masks? Can you tell our readers about it?

GK: I have never done researches on Tharu masks since I never saw any masks in Dang. But it seems that jokers intervening in some dances like the cokra dance could wear masks made by Tharu or sometimes by Magar people who settled in Dang.

VOT: During your research, you worked with many international and Nepali researchers. Can you share your experiences with us?

GK: Most of my research colleagues do not work on the Tharu but other topics in the Himalaya (see for instance the CEH web site, ‘Centre for Himalayan studies’ on my own laboratory in Paris Nanterre University, LESC.

VOT: Can you share with us link to your writings and publications?

GK: I have not yet posted my publications on Academia or other websites. More important for me is to translate my publications into English. Nevertheless, you can find some of the French ones published in journals on the internet (for instance Persee or, for French journals). You can also trace them through my name. For those published in collective books.  I plan to post them on Academia in close future.

VOT: What are your personal views about the Tharu? Do you have any advice for the young generation?

GK: I already answered this question: I have no personal view on ‘The Tharus’. Concerning the ‘young generation’ in Nepal in the global context, I am afraid by the consumering trend and think that emigration, particularly to the Gulf countries, will bring a big change.

Some Tharu do PhD some others are working in the Gulf countries, some remain farmers in the villages with less and less land to till, so their conditions and aspirations are different.

VOT: Are you continuing with your research and writing? Can you share with us your future plans?

GK: I am interested by other topics. Concerning my research on the Tharu, I am planning to publish my first book in English, and to translate some of my French papers (not all). It is possible also that I write a more personal account of my experience in a non-academic format.