Lepcha - Economy

The principal crops raised by the Lepcha include wet rice, dry rice, buckwheat, maize, cardamom (their cash crop), and several varieties of millet. In the subtropical river valley, sugarcane and manioc are also grown. Fresh vegetables such as tomatoes and chili peppers are grown in backyard gardens and near the fields; wild vegetables and fruit are also collected. Hunting, once more common, is now seldom done, because of the time taken from working in the fields. The Lepchas have herds of cattle, which are generally kept for their dairy products and for plowing the fields; cattle are also occasionally slaughtered for meat. Goats are kept but never for their milk, only for their meat and for sacrifice. By far the most popular and numerous of the domesticated animals are pigs, kept for food and sacrifice.

The food of the Lepchas is not nearly as spicy as Indian or Nepali dishes. Rice is the most popular staple of the Lepcha diet; wheat, maize, and buckwheat are also eaten but are not nearly as popular. Millet is grown for fermenting as an alcoholic beverage; this grain is never eaten by people. The Lepcha diet is rounded out with fresh fruits and vegetables; fish is occasionally caught but not often.

The traditional spartan nature of Lepcha life does not lend itself to secular art or painting, which (except for specially trained lamas) are completely alien to them. They are, however, outstanding carpenters, and many do find employment in this trade; they are also noted for their weaving and spinning abilities. The Marwari, an Indian merchant caste, are chiefly responsible for setting up shops and acting as moneylenders to the Lepcha. The principle cash crop of the Lepcha is cardamom, their main export.

There is no rigid division of labor based on sex; women, however, are strictly forbidden to kill any animals. Groups of women and men work side by side in the fields, and although men generally weave the baskets and mats, and women spin yarn, if one of the sexes were to try one or the other activity, no stigma would be attached to it.

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