Rana Tharu


When my boss told me that I was to going visit the Rana-Tharu people, I decided as always to research this Nepalese society. Normally I research on the Internet or in different journals to get to know the customs and cultures of my destinations, and so this is what I did...

 

In my research, I found the following legend: During a war, all the men of Rana-Tharu had died in combat and the women fled to the forests in the south of Nepal. There they married the slaves that had accompanied them, thus creating a matriarchal society that has survived for four hundred years.

 

I started my journey to Terai, the southern area of Nepal, with the impression that I would find a romantic and matriarchal society. Between airports, buses, and taxis, I spent many hours observing and learning. I was amazed when I saw a boy of not more than five pick up a chocolate wrapper that his father had just thrown on the ground, and put it in a trash bin, thus providing an example to his thoughtless father on how to do things correctly. I also observed a young girl listening happily and attentively to an old man telling a story. Later on, I smiled when I saw a man in a suit and tie sitting next to a beggar, sharing his lunch with him. This was not time lost, but time well spent...

 

Dhani Ram Tharu, a smiling young man who spoke English, picked me up at the airport. He was guide who could connect foreigners, such as myself, with the Rana-Tharu people. I thought that, given the matriarchal society, a woman would be picking me up, but this was not the case. On the journey to the village, my companion explained the ways of the Rana; they are self-sufficient and survive by fishing and farming. We passed fields and fields of rice, and saw women carrying their fishing net, which were shaped like wings, making them look like butterflies.

 

Then the face of Danhi Ram became sad and with a weak voice, he said:

 

"Here the young people do not have opportunities for further education. Studying is expensive, one year in college costs €2000, but the annual incomes of families here are not more than €600. I want to study medicine because we have no doctor in the town, but I have no idea how to raise the money"

I did not know what to say, but Dhani Ram saw the sadness in my eyes and held my hand to acknowledge that he understood my silence. You don't always need words to communicate; sometimes you can speak with your heart, and not your tongue.

I arrived at the village with a sore back from the journey in the jeep and a soul anxious to get to know this tribe that had awakened something in me that was more than just curiosity. I was met by Rajendra Thapa, one of the men of the community, who welcomed me through Dhani Ram's translations, and who was with me during my entire stay. Rajendra Thapa said that I would stay with the family of Bhakta Bahadur Mijar and his wife, Nemni Sada, who lived in the center of the village with their two children, Deshru y Shanta.

 

Bhakta and Nemni's house was a simple structure, mainly made with straw and with no floor. Everything was in the same room - the kitchen, the dining room, the beds. Once I had settled in, I joined Nemni to help prepare typical dishes such as dhal bhat tarkari a lentil soup with rice and curried vegetables, gurr, a potato casserole, chapatti, a type of bread, and a delicious drink made from buffalo milk.

 

While we were cooking, Nemni told me the true history of this village: When the Rana men left for war, they told their wives that if they did not return, the women should sacrifice themselves. After many hard battles, almost all the warriors died; only twelve remained alive. For their part, the women sacrificed themselves when they saw that their husbands did not return. One day as the surviving twelve warriors were walking in Nepal, they saw a young woman with whom one of them had fallen in love. She was the daughter of a priest who was engaged to the son of another priest. The daughter and young Rana fled together, and were pursued by the priests. When the priests caught up with the couple, they allowed the woman to decide whom she wanted to marry. She chose the young Rana. Upon seeing that she was clearly in love, her father accepted her choice and celebrated the wedding, with the only condition being that once she was married, she would never eat outside of the house.

This is a tradition that continues to this day among the women of the Rana-Tharu.

 

I felt surprised, but above all I realized that I had arrived at an unknown place with the preconceived idea that I knew all about it without even stepping foot in the country or speaking to its people. In fact, Rana-Tharu is not a matriarchal society, but one in which the men dominate.

 

Upon returning home, I reflected on my journey and what I had learned. My traveler's spirit felt fuller, wiser, and happier. The words of Nemni resonated in my head when she told me just before I left, "Do not think you know everything because this way you will lose many things. You have to be willing to learn, give others the opportunity to show you who they are before judging them. One must be just..."