The Lepcha House
The traditional Lepcha houses are generally rectangular buildings raised about four feet off the ground on stone piles which go around three sides of the house. Generally there is an opening in the underground pile of stones on the Eastern side which is used as a space for domestic animals. The building itself is made of wood, plaster, bamboo and thatch. The door generally face the North. Of course now in these modern times, such Lepcha traditional houses are rare and have given way to more modern cement and concrete structures. The traditional Lepcha houses are earthquake proof, nails free and generally of a very strong and durable nature.
Traditional Lepcha Clothing
The traditional clothing for Lepcha women is the ankle-length dumdem, also called dumdyám ("female dress"). It is one large piece of smooth cotton or silk, usually of a solid color. When it is worn, it is folded over one shoulder, pinned at the other shoulder, and held in place by a waistband, or tago, over which excess material drapes. A contrasting long-sleeved blouse may be worn underneath.
The traditional Lepcha clothing for men is the dumprá ("male dress"). It is a multicolored, hand-woven cloth pinned at one shoulder and held in place by a waistband, usually worn over a white shirt and trousers. Men wear a flat round cap called a thyáktuk, with stiff black velvet sides and a multicolored top topped by a knot. Rarely, the traditional cone-shaped bamboo and rattan hats are worn.
The Lepcha Script
Lepchas have their own script and their ancient literary work is called NAMTHARS.
The Lepcha Religion
The Lepchas have their own ancient Religion which is called Boongthingism or Munism. They believe in the supreme God whom they call Rum. This religion chiefly believes in Nature Worship. Their priests are called Boongthings and Muns, the former being mostly Males while the later mostly females. Although most still follow the old religion the Lepchas have taken up Buddhism or Christianity too. It is quite unique that the practicing Buddhists amongst the Lepchas still practice their original religion, side by side. From birth to death, the bongthing and the mun perform all the religious ceremonies and rituals for the Lepchas. They are an integral part of the Lepcha culture. They worship everything from water to butterfly, from trees to stones. In fact they seem to worship nature in general.
The Lepcha trace their descent patrilineally. The marriage is negotiated between the families of the bride and the groom. If the marriage deal is settled, feeboo will check the horoscopes of the boy and girl to schedule a favourable date for the wedding. Then the boy's maternal uncle, along with other relatives, approaches the girl's maternal uncle with a fugorip lyaak, a ceremonial garland a ceremonial scarf, and one rupee, and gains the maternal uncle's formal consent.
The wedding takes place at noon on the auspicious day. The groom and his entire family leave for the girl's house with some offering wedding gifts that are handed over to the bride's maternal uncle. Upon reaching the destination, the traditional Nyomchok ceremony takes place, and the bride's father arranges a feast for relatives and friends. This seals the wedding between the couple.
Like all other ancient tribes, besides being skilled hunters, Lepchas could have been painstaking food gatherers once. Our first knowledge of this ancient people comes across when they were already practicing shifting or jhoom cultivation. Clearing new forest lands every few years the Lepchas cultivated two types of dry-land paddy called ‘Dumbra’ and ‘Ongrey-Zo’. ‘Mongbree’, a kind of millet, and ‘Kunchung’, or maize eaten in different forms, were other main agricultural products. ‘Zo-Mal’ or rice was meant only for important occasions like wedding, house warming and celebrating the ‘Nambun’, Lepcha New Year.
Lepchas are like magicians in bamboo crafts and produce a wide variety of aesthetically beautiful baskets and such other things that come handy in daily chores. Their knowledge of poisonous and non-poisonous plants, snakes and information on other flora and fauna are phenomenal. But, with modernity making steady inroads into the Lepcha way of life such age-old wisdom are increasingly cruising away into the sphere of myths and legends.