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Culture & Identity of Nepal

Introduction

Nepalese Culture - Boats on Phewa Lake
Boats on Phewa Lake

Thoughts of Nepal tend to conjure up images of Mt. Everest, the Himalayas, Buddhist prayer flags, and Sherpas. However, these Sherpas, who are often related to the Tibetans, are a very small minority in the country and only 10% of the population is actually Buddhist. About 80% of the people are Hindi and many of these people are more closely related to the nearby people in India than they are to the Tibetans.

More than this, the people of Nepal are quite diverse as there are dozens of ethnic groups in the country. This diversity leads to a great number of cultures and ways of life, but the mountainous landscape contributes greatly to the many similarities in the country.

Over 80% of the people of Nepal are rural and for most of these people (three quarters of the total population) agriculture is how they make a living. Although the high Himalayas have a vastly different farming system than the lower valleys have, the way of life shares many similarities. All these people are reliant on the sun, weather, seasons, and crops that can be grown in their particular region. Among these crops are rice, corn, wheat, beans, peas, lentils, and others.

Rural life in Nepal means there is a heavy dependence on the community for survival as people know each other in villages and when things get rough the town or village tends to help out. Sadly, the economic state in Nepal is poor at best and today nearly half the people who want to work are unemployed. This economic state magnifies the close reliance on community and family as families are turning to each other for support as they financially support each other, help raise children, and in many homes multiple generations live under the same roof.

For the small urban population life tends to be a bit more predictable for those with jobs. Life seems to revolve around working hours, not mother nature. Many people work regular hours, which tend to run from about 10:00 am to about 5:00 pm. The weekend in Nepal falls on Friday-Saturday though with a workweek from Sunday to Thursday. Even in the cities though life revolves around family and community as this is the heart of the culture.

Identity

The people of Nepal identify in numerous ways, most commonly by ethnicity, religion, or as citizens of Nepal. While on an international level most people may identify as Nepalese, among themselves, most people identify by their ethnicity, which is often times closely tied to a religion. The majority of the people are ethnically Pahari, but even among these people they tend to identify on a more local level or with a more specific ethnic group, such as Chhettri. Most of these people remain tied to their local ethnicity, but are still united in many ways as most of these people identify on a secondary level with their religion (Hinduism) and perhaps even as citizens of Nepal. Other ethnic groups also identify primarily with their ethnicity, but again language, culture, and religion also play a role in these identities as there is a substantial Buddhist population in Nepal. It is not uncommon for the same person to identify by their region, their ethnicity, and their religion based upon who they are communicating with.

This page was last updated: November, 2013