The Yakkha, an indigenous nationality group of Nepal, have protected their original identity, language, culture and tradition over the years. The Yakkha are an indigenous people of eastern Nepal. The language, culture, custom, tradition, way of life as well as the land of the Yakkha are ancient and historic. The Yakkha have been considered to backwardness in the social, economic, educational and political sectors. The Yakkha have their own distinct and separate social and cultural identity, their own language, custom and tradition, and their social structure is based on equality. The Yakkha have their own ancestral geographical territory (land) as well as their own original history. How did the Yakkha originate? Where did they come from? How did they become “Yakkhas”? The answers to these questions have been sought here based primarily on historical facts in order to identify as well as to introduce the Yakkhas.
When the Lichhavis arrived in Nepal, the Kirants for political reasons were displaced to the east from Kathmandu. The areas inhabited by these Kiranti peoples- the small states of the “Sixteen Khambuwan” of the hills around the Dudhkosi River and of the “Ten Limbuwan” and the “Sixteen Thum” east of the Dudhkosi River and west of the Tista river–are still today known as the “Kirant Region”. The region is known as Near Kirant, Middle Kirant and Far Kirant. When the Gorkhali King Prithivi Narayan Shah from 1769 to 1775, in the name of a so-called national unification of Nepal, destroyed the traditional-bases of the Kiranti lands, the Far Kirant of the Ten Limbuwan area to the east of the Arun River was divided into “Seventeen Thum”. Among these “Seventeen Thum”, the “Panch Khapan”, “Panch Majhiya” and “Das Majhiya” Tin Thum “Yaksalen” are regarded as the traditional area of the Yakkha. They are regarded as the area where the Yakkha as a people, language and culture are said to have begun. The area, along with being the ancestral homeland of the Yakkha, is also the area densely populated by the Yakkha.
Scholars have different opinions regarding the origin of the word “Yakkha.” The word Yakkha is used in everyday usage as “Yakkhawa” or “Yakkhapa” to denote the male person and “Yakkhama” to denote the female person. According to a story regarding the origin of the word Yakkha, the word Yakkha in Yakkha language means “yaksa” i.e. a thatched hut. Given that the Kiranti peoples of Far Kirant in previous times may have settled in the “Yaksalen” area by making Yaksa or hut, it is said that the people residing in these Yaksa or huts came to be known as the Yakkha. Thus, from the word Yaksa or hut the people residing in those huts acquired the name Yakkha.
According to the Yakkha-Nepali-English Dictionary, the word Yakkha is etymologically related to the word “akma”, which means to stay for the night. The Dictionary states that the Yakkha are the indigenous people of Mongoloid stock who regard the “Yaksalen” and its adjoining areas of the “Tin Thum” as their traditional homeland. The “Tin Thum”, the traditional name for which is the Chainpur “Panch Khapan”, “Panch Majhiya”, and “Das Majhiya” is among the “Seventeen Thum”, “Ten limbuwan” of the Far Kirant to the east of the Arun River. The Yakkha have been conferred the titles of “Dewan”, “Jimindar” and “Majhiya” and are divided into separate clans according to their ancestry. The Yakkha have their own Yakkha language, Yakkha culture and Yakkha customs and traditions.
The origin of the word “Jimindar” is not clear. According to a manuscript it is a synonym of “Rai”, a title of Khambus as well as the Yakkha (IOL MSS Eur E 295/11). But Kumar Pradhan, a historian from Darjeeling, suspects that it was “derived either from ‘Jamindar’ or holder of land or from Jimmadar, ‘functionary with official responsibility’ (Jimma)” (1991:52).
Eden Vansittart considered the Yakkha to be separate from the Limbus. “Majhiya” and “Jimi” were titles of offices similar to Rai and Subba traditional as well as nominated.
Hanpon makes some interesting observations about the word “Dewan”. According to him, ‘Dewan’ is an ethnic label for the Yakkha. In Darjeeling and Sikkim “Dewan” is used as a synonym of Yakkha.
As regards the issue of why, how and when the Yakkha came to adopt the surnames of ” Majhiya”, “Jimindar” and “Dewan”, this can be traced to the conquests of Prithivi Narayan Shah. The traditional relationship to land was transformed following the annexation by Prithivi Narayan Shah of the territories of Far Kirant. New titles were created to be conferred upon the indigenous Yakkha living in the area. The Yakkha were not only given ownership of the moveable and immoveable property of the “Yaksalen” area, but were also given the responsibility of collecting taxes from the lands utilised by Yakkhas as well as non Yakkhas living in the area.