Thakali - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities . In common with the rest of the Nepalese Himalayan region, Thakhola has a summer monsoon season that usually begins in July and ends in September. But as Thakhola is located on the northern side of the main Himalayan ridges, there is less summer precipitation and some snowfall in winter months. Therefore, rain-based farming is practiced only in summer, and the cultivation of winter crops in the upland fields is dependent on irrigation. Buckwheat is the summer crop, and barley and wheat are the winter crops; maize was introduced to Thakhola before World War II. The cultivation of garden vegetables is rather rare in Nepal outside the Kathmandu Valley, but the Thakalis are very fond of gardening, even growing both vegetables and flowers.

At present Thakalis are not so dependent on pastoralism (unlike Tibetan-speaking Bhotes in the northern high plateau) , but it is still an indispensable part of their economy. On the steep slopes of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri ranges, some of the Thakalis raise yaks, sheep, and goats from which they obtain meat, milk, butter, wool, fur, pelts, and hides. They also breed dzo (a hybrid of yak and cow), mules, horses, and donkeys for use as pack animals in their trading operations. It would appear that the Thakalis have certain cultural traits usually associated with the rearing of domesticated animals for trading caravans.

Industrial Arts. The Thakalis are not very active in producing native artifacts for sale or trade, although they have developed a quite refined artistic sense. Some well-to-do Thakalis have started to operate a carpet factory on the outskirts of Kathmandu in recent times.

Trade. The Thakalis are one of the most famous trading communities in Nepal, having engaged in Himalayan trade between Tibet, Nepal, and India for many years. Although they were attracted by the foreign and native merchandise from the south and were interested in the potential market for trade goods, in the past they avoided trading operations in southern Nepal because of their dislike of the heat and humidity there during the summer monsoon season and their fear of the virulent forms of malaria and other tropical diseases prevalent there. Following the pioneer efforts of the group, through trial and error, they started traveling to the south in increasing numbers, where they came into contact with the Hindu inhabitants.

The trading center of the Thakalis was Tukuche, which is the largest "town" in the territory. Until the revolt in Tibet in 1959, the Thakali merchants had imported sheep, goats, yaks, dzo, hides, fur, pelts, butter, and cheese, as well as rock salt from the northern high plateau and Tibet, in exchange for Nepalese and Indian commodities such as rice, wheat, barley, maize, dhal (pulses), buckwheat, oil, tea, chilies, spices, Nepali paper, cotton, cotton cloth, metal utensils, guns, gunpowder, and some other commodities.

Frequently Thakali merchants organized caravans themselves, but they also functioned as intermediaries. Many Tibetan-speaking traders came to Tukuche from Dolpo, Lo, and Tibet, and Hindu lowlanders from southern Nepal. Cash was sometimes used in trading transactions but barter was more common until the end of 1950s. The barter was, in many cases, based on Tibetan rock salt and rice from the southern lowlands.

Since the 1950-1951 "democratic" revolution, Nepal has opened her doors to the outside world and thus more Foreign goods, mainly Indian-made, have flowed into the Kingdom. Among them the cheap salt from India dealt a blow to the Thakali economy. The price of salt declined by approximately 25 percent in Himalayan areas during a comparatively short period.

Another big blow hit the Thakali merchants in 1962 when the People's Republic of China closed the Himalayan border, owing to political unrest generated by Tibetan guerrillas sponsored by foreign countries. Many of the Thakali merchants had to leave Thakhola as the traditional trade of the Himalayan region was almost terminated by bad relations Between China and Tibet.

Except for some rich Subba families, most of the middle-class and poor Thakalis migrated to the south and moved to smaller towns where they opened small shops and wayside inns. They were unable to survive well in a big city like Kathmandu. Thanks to their business acumen and industriousness, however, some of them have started their own profitable businesses and are forming a new class.

As for the trading activities of the Thakalis, a sort of financial cooperative called dhikur (Tibetan dri-kor, or "rice rotation") was a very meaningful system for many Thakali merchants in Thakhola. But the system also seems to be changing in the urban settings by involving other castes and ethnic groups.

Division of Labor. Not only the adults but also the children work hard. The Thakalis in Tukuche have not developed a division of labor, except for work such as the caravan trade for males and housekeeping for females. However, the Thakalis living in the Hindu lowlands of Nepal have in recent times emulated the behavior of Hindu high castes and have secluded women from outside labor.


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