Nyinba - Orientation

Identification. The Nyinba are one of many small, largely endogamous groups positioned along the northern border-lands of Nepal that can be identified as ethnically Tibetan by their language, by the Tibetan Buddhist religion, and other features of culture and social structure. The Nyinba live in Humla, a district of the Karnali Zone in far northwestern Nepal. Tibetan speakers in this region call their territory "Nyin Yul Tshan Zhi," literally, "the four villages on a southfacing [sunny] slope." Nepali speakers call the community "Barthapale," thapale referring to its high valley location. Government documents originally identified these people as "Bhotia," meaning Tibetan. Later, to affirm their Nepali nationality, they became classified as "Tamang," the ethnonym of Tibeto-Burman-speaking hill people from central Nepal.

Location. Nyinba villages are located at approximately 30° N and 81°51′ E, in a valley carved out by the Humla Karnali and Dozam rivers. The terrain in this region is rugged and the arable land limited, creating strong competition for land. Nyinba control a narrow band of territory beginning at 2,550 meters and extending to the valley summit, with the villages located between 2,850 and 3,300 meters. This elevation is associated with a temperate climate. Much of the force of the summer monsoon is spent on mountains to the east and south, limiting annual rainfall. A second, western monsoon brings heavy snowfalls in winter.

Demography. In 1983, the Nyinba included 1,332 Individuals, 716 males and 616 females. The high sex ratio, 116 males for every 100 females, can be attributed to a pattern of preferential treatment of male infants. Almost 35 percent of the population is less than age 15, and the intrinsic rate of natural increase appears to be relatively low: between 1 and 1.5 percent per year.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Nyinba speak a dialect of Tibetan similar to the dialects of other ethnic Tibetan groups in west Nepal. These seem most closely related to dialects spoken by western Tibetan agriculturalists. The Tibetan Language is related to Burmese, with these two languages considered a branch of the Sino-Tibetan Language Phylum.

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