The Chitwan Tharu of Nepal
The small independent kingdom of Nepal is located along the southern slopes of the Himalayan Mountains between India and China. The Tharu are the largest and most important of the various tribal groups occupying the Tarai zone of southern Nepal. The group is made up of many subgroups, each with its own language and cultural distinctions. Their language has slowly transformed from the original language to a mixture of local dialects, from which most of the subgroups take their name. The nearly 39,000 Chitwan Tharu live in the Chitwan district.
The origin of the Tharu is not clear. Some claim them to be migrants from the Thar desert in Rajasthan, India. Others say that these are the descendants of the children who were born out of the liaisons between the Rajput women and their servants who fled the Muslman invaders. They are, however, clearly Mongoloid in their facial features.
What are their lives like?
The Tharu live on the edge of the forests, farming and raising livestock on the plains. They also use the forests to trap animals, collect fruits, roots, herbs, and to fish the small rivers and streams. Their staple foods are rice (eaten with fish), chicken, pork, rabbit, pigeon, and tortoise, as well as dahl (a mash eaten with rice), and vegetables. Using wheat and barley, the women make alcohol.
Traditional Tharu homes are usually single-storied structures with straw roofs, their sizes depending upon the size of each family. While some measure 30 to 40 feet in length, others are as long as 100 to 125 feet with a width of 20 to 25 feet. They take great pride in keeping their homes clean. The women commonly decorate the walls of their homes with colorful paintings of elephants, horses, parrots, and flowers. Married women also adorn their hands, legs, and breasts with elaborate and artistic tattoos, although this practice is becoming less common.
The Tharu family is an extended structure and remains so for a period of three to four generations. The family unit is headed by the oldest member whose word is law. Within each village, one of the wiser, older men is selected and made the village representative or sort of "chieftain." He is authorized to select a group of elders with whom he can sit and discuss various matters pertaining to the welfare of the village, making beneficial decisions with their help.
Most Tharu marriages occur when the children are quite young. A boy of 8 or 9 will be married off to a girl of 15 to 16. They reason that this age imbalance provides an extra worker (the woman). Generally, there are two types of marriages. One is the magi bawaha, where all the relevant rituals are completed. The other is the chori biwaha, where the female is abducted.
While the women handle the household chores, the outside work is done entirely by the men, except for collecting fodder, which is done by the young girls of the village.
What are their beliefs?
The Tharu are traditionally animistic in their beliefs, worshipping various animals such as monkeys, snakes, and cows. Today these beliefs are overlaid with Hinduism. Every Tharu home contains a household god who is offered blood sacrifices of a chicken and a pigeon, as well as milk and silk cloth. In many Tharu homes they also appease this god with the blood of the male of the household. This takes place in a ceremony where he makes superficial cuts on his forehead, arms, throat, legs, and chest.
The gods are promised many things to get rid of diseases. In any kind of misfortune, disease, or even in bad dreams, the gods are given bhakal (a promise of something, provided the disease is cured). Death is an event of great significance among Tharu societies, and the rituals they perform differ from place to place.
What are their needs?
Most Tharu have a concept of a creator or supreme god, but would not have heard of the name of Jesus. About 90% of the Tharu have no Gospel witness readily available to them, and there are only a handful of known believers.
- Pray against the spirit of Hinduism and other Eastern religions that have kept the Chitwan Tharu bound for many generations.
- Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to Nepal and share Christ with the Chitwan Tharu.
- Pray that the doors of Nepal will soon open to missionaries.
- Ask God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the handful of Chitwan Tharu Christians.
- Pray that God will raise up qualified linguists to translate the Bible into the Chitiwan Tharu language.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Chitwan Tharu 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 raise up a strong local church among the Chitwan Tharu by the year 2000.
Also see the following Tharu groups:
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
- People name: Chitwan Tharu
- Country: Nepal
- Their language: Chitawan tharu
- Largest religion:
- Christians: <1%
- Church members: 8
- Scriptures in their own language: Portions
- Jesus Film in their own language: None
- Christian broadcasts in their own language: None
- Mission agencies working among this people: None
- Persons who have heard the Gospel: 4,300 (11%)
- Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 34,600 (88%)
- Country: Nepal
- Major peoples in size order:
- Major religions:
- Number of denominations: 27
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Bethany World Prayer Center
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