Introduction / History Nepal is a small, mountainous nation located in the Himalayan Mountains, and sandwiched between Tibet and India. It is quite diverse culturally, providing a home to a large number of ethnic groups that speak various languages and have numerous religious beliefs.
The Yakha are a tribal group living in nearly 600 villages throughout the mountains of eastern Nepal. They are found throughout the Kosi Zone but are primarily just south of the city of Chainpur. Of Mongolian descent, they speak Yakha, a part of the Tibeto-Burman language family.
Nepal is predominantly an agricultural nation, with the majority of the population dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. Despite this agricultural focus, Nepal is poor and undeveloped. The Yakha subsist primarily as mountain farmers, but the men do have a tradition of migrating to the cities for work.
What are their lives like? The Yakha economy is weak due to their poor agricultural system. The abundance of available land has made cultivation of new lands possible, but inadequate technology limits the productivity of Yakha farms. Most people are able to own their own land and raise a few animals. They grow rice, maize, and potatoes and trade some of their crops for goods that cannot be grown or made in the region.
Families work hard together in their farming efforts. Men plow the fields, women plant the seeds, and at harvest time both sexes complete the job. During harvest, families will often help one another with the work, especially during busy times. They typically live in two-storied houses made of timber, mud, and stone and covered with thatched roofs. Their dress is similar to many of the Rai groups, with the men wearing daura-sarwals (long wrap-around tops, with vests and tight pants). The women typically wear lungis (wrap-around skirts) with cholos (blouses) and vests.
Many Yakha intermarry with members of the Limbu and Rai tribes because their cultures are all very similar. In most marriages, the boy chooses the girl he wishes to marry. If her parents agree to it, the wedding can take place regardless of what the girl says. As a result of intermixing with other Nepalese groups, many Yakha men and women have adapted somewhat to Nepalese culture, and many are now bilingual, speaking basic Nepali as their second language.
What are their beliefs? As a tribe, the Yakha were traditionally animists, worshiping the deities and spirits of nature. Today, however, most identify themselves as Buddhists. A few have embraced Hindu customs and beliefs because of their exposure to Nepalese and Indian culture. They also celebrate and observe all of the important Hindu festivals such as Durga puja and Diwali, and also engage in ancestor worship (praying to deceased relatives for guidance, blessings, and protection). Their pujhari, or priests, play an important role in the communities. They perform marriage and death rites, as well as the puja, or worship ceremonies, at festival times.
What are their needs? Nepal has long been hidden away and forgotten by most of the world. The government of Nepal is opposed to any form of proselytizing; and so government restrictions apply, but most of the time Christians can follow their religion. There are more problems from family members than from the government.
Among the Yakha, Christianity is considered a low-caste or foreign religion. As a result, many Yakha are very anti-Christian and would excommunicate from their communities any who become Christian. This kind of threatened separation from the tribe is a formidable barrier to most in the Yakha culture, who naturally have a depressed self-image and a fear of rejection by society. The Yakha also have a strong desire to hold on to cultural and religious traditions. One key to reaching the Yakha with the Gospel, however, may be their desire and deep respect for traits such as honesty and kindness. Believers who have opportunities to live Christ-filled lives before the Yakha may be able to gain their respect and point them to the Author of Life.
Prayer Points Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers to work among the Yakha.
Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will break up the soil through worship and intercession.
Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Yakha towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
Pray that God will open the hearts of Nepal's governmental leaders to the Gospel.
Ask the Lord to bring forth a vigorous Yakha church for the glory of His name!
They live in nearly 600 villages throughout the mountains of eastern Nepal. They are found throughout the Koshi Zone but are primarily just south of the city of Chainpur. A migrant community of Yakha has moved to north-east India in the Darjeeling District of West Bengal, and in Sikkim. (Source: Peoples of the Buddhist World, 2004)