Lhoba people

(Bokaer, Nyishi, Luoba, Lhopa,
Loba, Yidu, Bengru, Idu)
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 China (Tibet) 2,322 (1999)[1]
 India (Arunachal Pradesh) 3,375 (1981)
Bokar, Tibetic languages
Related ethnic groups
Monpa, Adi, Tibetans

Lhoba (simplified Chinese: 珞巴; Lo, Klo, Glo)[3] is any of a diverse amalgamation of Sino-Tibetan-speaking tribespeople living in and around Pemako, a region in southeastern Tibet[4] including Mainling, Medog, Zayü counties of Nyingchi Prefecture and Lhünzê County of Lhoka (Shannan) Prefecture.[5] The term is of obscure, though probably Standard Tibetan, in origin and is largely promulgated by the Chinese government, which officially recognises Lhoba as one of the 56 ethnic groups in China.

Most people designated as "Lhoba" within the modern-day Tibet Autonomous Region ("TAR") actually refer to themselves via a diverse set of endonyms, speak different languages, and do not traditionally self-identify as a single entity.[6][7] The two main tribal groups which fall under the designation "Lhoba" in the TAR are the Mishmi people (simplified Chinese: 义都; pinyin: Yìdōu), who speak the Idu Mishmi language, and the speakers of the Bokar dialect (Hanyu Pinyin: Bogaer) of Adi, who are found in far greater numbers inside Arunachal Pradesh, a state of modern-day India claimed by China.

Other groups identified by Chinese authorities as "Lhoba" include the tagin people, who speak the tagin language.[8]


The area which the modern Lhoba live today was known as Lhoyü (a.k.a. Luoyu, lho-yul, ལྷོ༌ཡུལ་; Lhoyü is a name of an area in Tibet now, lower Lhoyü is occupied by India as a part of Arunachal) in medieval texts. Luoyu came under the control of Tibet from the 7th century onwards and came under frequent subjugation from the Tibetans.[9]

It is not currently known whether modern-day Lhoba peoples in fact inhabited Luoyu at the time of Tibetan conquest, nor whether languages spoken by modern-day Lhoba peoples are indigenous to this region or not. While most Tani tribespeople living in modern-day Arunachal Pradesh point to a traditional homeland in or around this region,[10] there is currently no independent means of verification.


Lhoba tribespeople living in Chinese Tibet speak at least three mutually unintelligible Tibeto-Burman languages: Idu Mishmi of the Digaro family, Bokar (Adi) of the Eastern Tani branch, and Na (tagin) of the Western Tani branch.[11] These languages are far more widely spoken in Arunachal Pradesh.

Customs and dress

Many customs, habits and dress of different clan members may vary. The Lhoba men in Luoyu wear knee-length black jackets without sleeves and buttons made out of sheep's wool. They wear helmet-like hats either made from bearskin or woven from bamboo stripes or rattan laced with bearskin. They also wear ornaments that include earrings, necklaces made of beads, and bamboo plugs inserted into the ear lobe. The Lhoba women wear narrow-sleeved blouses and skirts of sheep's wool. The weight of the ornaments the womenfolk wear is a symbol of their wealth, which includes shells, silver coins, iron chains bells, silver and brass earrings. Both sexes usually go barefooted. Their dress are quite similar to the Tibetan costume. The Idu men wear a sword and waterproof cane helmet, and a chignon on their hair and shields made of buffalo hide. Yidu weaponry includes straight Tibetan sword, dagger, bow and poisoned arrows.

Among the Yidu Lhoba (Idu Mishmi), one of the sub-tribes is the Bebejia Mishmi. Bebejia Mishmi women are expert weavers and make excellent coats and blouses.[12]

The Idu houses are divided into a number of rooms for use of every married person. Unmarried girls and boys sleep in separate rooms. A fireplace occupies the centre of the room, round which the inmates sleep. The Idu are polygamous and each wife has their own rooms in the house. The family is organised in patriarchal principles. The inheritance of a widow is exceptional compared to a mother's.

The wooden pillow of the master of the house is considered taboo to the inmates of the house as it is considered improper to sit upon it. Guests are not allowed to enter the room of the master of the house. The animal skulls preserved in the house are considered to be sacred.

The slash and burn method of cultivation, known as Jhum, is the main stay of the Idus, and clearing of land is carried for every three to five years. The important crops they raised are paddy, arum, tapioca, millet and maize. Rice is the staple food supplemented by millet maize and tapioca. They also take leafy vegetables, beans, gourd, sweet potato etc. Animal flesh is considered taboo to Idu woman. The Yidu also consume "Yu", a locally brewed rice beer, and rice beer prepared by a woman during her period is taboo to a priest.

The Idu calendar was based upon the menstrual period of the women and dating is done by untying one each from a number of knots put on a piece of string. Traditional village panchayat (abbala) settles all internal disputes among the tribe.

Culture and religion

Few Lhoba know the Tibetan language. In the past, when there was no writing, the Lhobas kept track of history through telling their descendants and tying knot codes about their past. Their literature poses a significant influence on their Tibetan counterparts. They are known as "Bokar" in Arunachal Pradesh of northeast India and are found in the Pidi and Monigong circles of Arunachal Pradesh. They trace their origin from a common forefather, Abotani. They follow the genealogy counting from Abotani as Nijum-Jumsi-Siki-Kiyor-Yorkar-Kardung-Duram-Ramdung/Ramgu/Ramgo. All Bokar groups have originated from Ramdung, Ramgo and Ramgu. Their immediate brothers are Galo, Ramo, Libo/Pailibo and Tagin.

They engage in barter trade with the Tibetans, trading goods like animal hides, musk, bear paws, dye and captured game for farm tools, salt, wool, clothing, grain and tea from Tibetan traders. As a result of constant trading, they have been increasingly influenced by the Tibetans in their dress. Many Lhobas have converted to Tibetan Buddhism in the recent years as they traded with the Buddhist monasteries, thus frequently mixing with their indigenous animist beliefs, which had traditionally deep roots in the tiger. Others remain animistic, more commonly among those in Arunachal Pradesh, and their pilgrim centre of the community lies at Atho-Popu in the Dibang valley. The stories about immigration is mentioned along the banks of twelve rivers in the Dibang valley, the clustered area known as Cheithu-Huluni. Among the Yidu, they traditionally believed that "Inni" is their supreme god.

Festivals such as Reh are celebrated to appease the deities, who were traditionally believed to control the peace and prosperity of the people. The celebration with great fanfare and the performance of priest dances marks the ending of the festival.

There are four funeral variants among the Yidu Lhoba (Idu Mishmi), and people of different social status would choose to conduct any of the variants. In all, the Igu priest would recite mourning songs for the dead. Mithuns are being sacrificed in the Yah variant of the funeral, which lasts for three to four days.

Lhoba boys are trained to hunt at an early age. Women had low status in society and had no inheritance rights from their husbands or fathers.

The Lhoba enjoy a subtropical/warm temperate climate.


Lhoba cuisine varies across regions. Staple foods are dumplings made of maize or millet flour, rice or buckwheat. In places near Tibetan communities people have tsampa, potatoes, buttered tea and spicy food. Being heavy drinkers and smokers, at celebrations the Lhobas enjoy wine and singing to observe good harvests and good luck. The buttered tea is their favorite drink. However, due to the lack of salt, they had suffered endemic goiter, caused by poor living conditions. Many were either born deaf or mute. Their population went down in decline until recent years due to this disease. Due to their low population, many of them either intermarried with the Tibetans or with the tribal groups of Arunachal Pradesh, notably the Monpa.


  1. 民族区域自治拾零, China Ethnicity, from Department of Statistics. Retrieved December 21, 2008
  2. Caidan An; Jun Liu; Jinhui Li; Tao Xie (2003). 西藏旅游指南英: Travel Guide. 五洲传播出版社. p. 123. ISBN 7-5085-0374-0.
  3. Stein, R. A. (1972)
  4. Wessels, pg 255
  5. Baker, pg 465
  6. Lamb, pg 320
  7. "Arunachal Pradesh" (PDF). p. 18.
  8. Sun, ch. 1
  9. Xiaoming Zhang (2004). China's Tibet. 五洲传播出版社. p. 23. ISBN 7-5085-0608-1.
  10. Nyori
  11. Sun
  12. Arunachal tribes


External links

Ethnic profile references

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