The Gurungs – A Brief Introduction
Though only about 700,000 in number, the Gurung people have made distinct and immense contributions to history and culture and have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to world peace and progress. At present, the majority of Gurungs live in Nepal, where they form one of the many ethnic groups in the country. In Nepal, Gurungs have and continue to play significant roles in all spheres of country’s development. Outside Nepal, many Gurungs, some in their renowned role as Gurkha soldiers, have lived and been exposed to diverse world cultures in areas as different as Bhutan, Europe, Hong-Kong, India, Japan, Korea, and the United States of America.
In Nepal, Gurungs can be divided into two categories, highlanders and lowlanders (though Gurungs are predominantly highlanders). Highlanders living on the slopes of Himalayas still rely heavily on a pastoral and agricultural way of life. They grow rice, wheat, maize, millet and potatoes, normally on terraced mountain slopes. They also derive subsistence from sheep breeding for meat and wool, using fierce mastiffs of sheepdogs. Highlanders’ way of life resembles that of Tibetans in terms of religious beliefs and cultural practices. In contrast, lowlanders are more influenced by Hindu religious beliefs and practices. It is not surprising to see Gurungs using a Hindu priest for birth and a Buddhist Lama (priest) for last rites at someone’s death.
Many Gurung families, however, have another important source of income – the pensions and salaries of family members who are in the army. Among them are the legendry fighters of British Gurkha Regiment, who were honored with Victoria Crosses for their bravery. Indeed Gurungs are renowned for their role as Gurkha soldiers, making unparalleled contributions in far flung places such as Europe during World Wars I and II, Burma, Malaysia, the Falklands, Africa, and India. Most recently, Gurungs have participated and continue to participate in most United Nations peacekeeping missions throughout the world.
Despite many pushes and pulls of modern day life, Gurungs are increasingly eager to learn, preserve, and celebrate their distinct cultural heritage and practices. This includes not only the various belief systems and cultural practices surrounding festivals, birth, marriage, and death rituals, but also the Gurungs’ own language Tamu Kwei, generally considered a Tibeto-Burman dialect. This effort will continue to provide invaluable insights and inspiration into the struggles and accomplishments of the Gurung people.
In an ever more interdependent world, Gurungs face the challenge of balancing the preservation of their unique cultural heritage with adaptation to the demands of modern life. The majority of Gurungs still struggle for basic opportunities to improve their livelihoods. As in the past, Gurungs need to invest in opportunities that build on their well-known attributes as people who are hard working, trustworthy, adaptable, and quick-learners in meeting the challenges of modern life in or outside of Nepal. At the same time, Gurungs can benefit from support and guidance from outside individuals, institutions, and governments.