Newar - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Agriculture, commerce, and crafts have been the main sources of livelihood for the Newars. In recent years, there has been an increase in employment in government offices, schools, various companies, and construction work, mainly due to the Development of the valley as a center of politicoadministrative activity, as well as tourism and commerce. Small shops and rice-flour mills are common even in rural areas. The main crop is rice, grown during the monsoon (June-September) in irrigated fields. Wheat, potatoes, and pulse in the dry season, vegetables, and maize are secondary crops. Since the 1960s improved varieties of rice, wheat, and maize have been introduced) and are cultivated with chemical fertilizers. Although some farmers now use hand tractors (cultivators), many still cultivate with a short-handled hoe called ku. Plowing is not popular, perhaps because it is not well suited for sloping fields. Agricultural labor from outside the household is recruited through the systems of bwalā (reciprocal exchange), gwāli (help without any direct repayment) and jyāmi (daily paid work). The last form has become more popular these days.

Industrial Arts. Crafts for which the Newars are famous are image casting in bronze, brass, copper, etc. and the making of ornaments and repoussé. Potting, weaving, wood carving, straw weaving, mask making, etc. are also popular. Potting in Thimi and oil pressing in Khokna are examples of localized caste-oriented work.

Trade. Newars are known to other ethnic groups of Nepal as sāhu or "shopkeepers." Both within and outside the valley, there are many Newar merchants. Kathmandu Valley was an important midpoint in the trade between India and Tibet. Carried out by merchants of high castes, it brought great wealth, which supported the high culture of the Newars. Although trade with Tibet ended in 1959, Kathmandu has been expanding as part of an international market in which Newar merchants are active participants.

Division of Labor. Both men and women work in agriculture and in shopkeeping. In agriculture, men use the hoe and women transplant rice. Child rearing and domestic work are mainly done by women. Both sexes weave. Sewing is a caste-specific job. The eldest male ( thakāli ) in each social group presides over its rituals, with the help of his wife. Newar Society is divided into many occupational castes. There are both Buddhist and Hindu castes, though the distinction is not clear in many cases. The main Buddhist castes are: Gubhāju (in Sanskrit, Vajrācārya), Buddhist priest; Bare Sākya, gold- and silversmith; Udāy (Udās), artisan; and Jyāpu (Maharjan), farmer. Among the Udāy there are, among others, Tulādhar, merchant; Kamsakār, bronze worker; and Tām-rakār, coppersmith, castes. Main Hindu castes are: Bramhu (Brahman), Hindu priest; Syesya (Srestha), merchant, clerk, etc.; and an unclean caste called Jugi (Kusle, Kapāli), tailor, musician. There are Hindu Jyāpus and Buddhist Syesyas also. Some examples of the castes below Jyāpu are: Kumhā (Prajapātī), potter; Nau (Nāpit), barber; Kau (Nakarmi), blacksmith; Sāymi (Mānandhar), oil presser; Pu (Citrakār), painter; Chipá (Rañjitkār), dyer; Nāy (Kasāi), butcher; Kullu, drum maker; Po (Pode, Dyalā), fisherman, sweeper; Cyāme (Cyāmkhala, Kucikār), sweeper; and Hārāhuru, sweeper. Not all the members of a caste engage in their caste-specific occupation. In some castes, caste occupations are not clear-cut. There is much variation among castes in the extent to which caste occupations are followed. Some members of Nepali-speaking Damai (tailor) and Kāmi (blacksmith) castes serve Newars. Division of roles by caste is more complex and actively observed in festivals. Remuneration for caste services is made in kind, in cash, by feasting, or by giving the usufruct of land. In terms of population, the Jyāpus outnumber others and the Syesyas follow. There are a considerable number of Buddhist priests but fewer Brahmans. The populations of lower castes are small in most cases.

Land Tenure. Most of the agricultural land is under the raikār or state-owned tenure, under which farmers can utilize land by paying a tax. Old land-tenure forms, bitta and jāgīr, have been changed to raikār since the 1950s. Some land is still owned as tax-exempt, such as land owned by socioritual organizations ( guthi ) and land owned by temples, much of which is also ultimately controlled by the semigovernmental guthi corporation. The amount of land held by a farming household seldom exceeds one hectare. Tenancy exists only to a limited extent.


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