by Olivia Miller
The Kingdom of Nepal is a landlocked country in southern Asia. It occupies an area of 56,136 square miles and is roughly the size of Tennessee. Located between China and India, Nepal is known for its majestic Himalayas and is the home of Mount Everest and Annapurna. Nepal is also the birthplace of Buddha and is the only official Hindu kingdom in the world. The national capital is Kathmandu.
Nepal has a population of over 23.6 million people. It is one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world, with more than half of its population living below the poverty line. Nepal has 60 ethnic groups, 11 major languages and 70 dialects. Caste and ethnicity are often used inter-changeably. The major ethnic groups include Newars, Indians, Tibetans, Gurungs, Magars, Tamangs, Bhotias, Rais, Limbus, and Sherpas. The Rai make up 64 percent of the population; the Singsawa (Bhotias), 18 percent; the Sherpa, eight percent; the Brahmin and the Chhetri, four percent; and other ethnic/caste groups, six percent. Nepali is the official language, but Rai and Tibetan are also spoken. Ninety percent of the population is Hindu, five percent is Buddhist, three percent is Muslim, and two percent are listed as "other." The country's flag is red with a blue border around the unique shape of two overlapping right triangles; the smaller, upper triangle bears a white stylized moon and the larger, lower triangle bears a white 12-pointed sun. Nepal is governed by a constitutional monarchy, with a judicial system that blends Hindu and Western legal traditions. Nepal was admitted to the United Nations in 1955.
Nepal has been a kingdom for at least 1,500 years and its history has been shaped by Tibetan, Chinese, India, and British influences. In 563 b.c., Siddhartha Gautama, a prince who rejected the world to search for the meaning of existence and became known as the Buddha, or the Enlightened One, was born in Nepal. Since the fourth century, the Nepalese civilization has been based on Buddhism and Hinduism. In the late fifth century, rulers calling themselves Licchavis recorded details concerning the politics, society, and economics of Nepal. The Licchavis ruled from the fourth to the eighth century, and the Malla kings ruled from the twelfth to the eighteenth century. In the sixteenth century, there were dozens of kingdoms throughout the Himalayan region. Gorkha, a small kingdom, conquered and united the entire nation in the late eighteenth century. The armies of Nepal conquered territories far to the west and east and challenged the Chinese in Tibet and the British in India. The Anglo-Nepalese War (1814-1816) was disastrous for Nepal. According to the Treaty of Sagauli, which was signed in 1816, Nepal lost its territories west of the Kali River and most of its lands in the Tarai. By the 1850s, a dynasty of prime ministers known as the Rana created a dictatorship that lasted 100 years, during which Nepal remained a primitive nation with little interest in modern science or technology.
In the mid-nineteenth century, Nepal's prime ministers usurped complete control of the government and reduced the kings to puppets. Following a revolt that overthrew the Ranas in 1950, Nepal struggled to overcome its long legacy of underdevelopment and to incorporate its varied ethnic populations into a single nation. During the rule of the Ranas, only two percent of the adult population was literate, the infant mortality rate was more than 60 percent, and average life expectancy was only 35 years. Less than one percent of the population was engaged in modern industrial occupations, and 85 percent of employment and income came from agriculture. The entire nation had approximately 100 kilometers of railroad tracks and a few kilometers of paved roads. Telephones, electricity, and postal services served only one percent of the population. Government expenditures were focused solely on salaries and benefits for the army, the police, and civil servants. Health and education received less than one percent of the government's expenditures. The nation still contained autonomous principalities (rajya ), based on deals with former local kings, and landlords acted as small dictators on their own lands.
Between November 1951 and February 1959, a succession of short-lived governments ruled under an interim constitution or under the direct command of the king. In 1959, Nepal held the first national elections in its history. Nepal has two legislative houses: an Upper House (Maha Sabha ) of 36 members, half elected by the lower house and half nominated by the king; and a Lower House (Pratinidhi Sabha ) of 109 members, all elected by universal adult suffrage. The leader of the majority party in the Lower House is named prime minister and governs with a cabinet of ministers. The king is allowed to act without consulting the prime minister and has the power to dismiss him. The king also conducts foreign affairs and controls the army. He also has the power to suspend all or part of the constitution and can declare a state of emergency.
In 1960, the Nepalese government established diplomatic relations with the United States, the Soviet Union, China, France, and Pakistan. On December 15, 1960, the king used his emergency powers to dismiss the cabinet and arrest its leaders. This move effectively ended Nepal's experiment with liberal socialism and democracy. Pro-democracy movements in Eastern Europe during the early 1990s led to the formation of the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy in Nepal, and the ban on political parties was lifted. During 1994 and 1995, political turmoil halted democratic reforms. Today, the Nepalese Congress and the United Marxists/Leninists are the two main parties in the government. However, the king reserves the right to name one-fifth of the members of the legislature, and Nepal continues to have a strong monarchy.
THE FIRST NEPALESE IN AMERICA
The first Nepalese to enter the United States were classified as "other Asian." Immigration records show that between 1881 and 1890 1,910 "other Asians" were admitted to the United States. However, it is not likely that many of these were from Nepal. The first time that the Nepalese were classified as a separate group occurred in 1975, when 56 Nepalese immigrated to the United States. The number of immigrants from Nepal remained below 100 per year through 1996.
SIGNIFICANT IMMIGRATION WAVES
Nepalese people make up only a small number of the United States' immigrant population. For example, in 1995 only 55 Nepalese became American citizens and 312 received lawful permanent-resident status. Only 686 Nepalese entered the United States on student visas in 1996. In 1998, 226 Nepalese were winners in the DV-99 diversity lottery. The diversity lottery is conducted under the terms of Section 203(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act and makes available 50,000 permanent resident visas annually to persons from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.
Glenn Collins, Looking for a Sherpa in Nepal? Try New York, (New York Times, April 3, 1998).
"T heir culture and Tibetan Buddhist religion have long attracted intense interest in the United States. 'I think Americans have always been interested in the Tibetan peoples – you know, the land of Shangri-La,' said Dawa Tsering, the United States representatives of the Dalai Lama. 'But the 'Everest' film and the recent books, and movies like 'Kundun' and 'Sevens Year in Tibet,' have created a new wave of interest in the culture and traditions. "'
According to the 1990 U.S. Census, there were 2,616 Americans with Nepalese ancestry. Fewer than 100 Nepalese immigrants become U.S. citizens each year, but the number of Nepalese who become legal residents has grown steadily from 78 in 1987 to 431 in 1996. Significant communities of Nepalese Americans exist in large metropolitan areas such as New York, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Dallas, Portland, Gainesville, and St. Paul. Sizable numbers also live in various cities of California.
Acculturation and Assimilation
Many Nepalese immigrate to the United States in search of educational and employment opportunities. Because of Nepal's inadequate educational system, wealthy Nepalese send their children to the West for schooling. Many Nepalese students apply for work permits and eventually become citizens of the United States. However, acclimation to life in the United States is often a difficult process. This process was illustrated in Ista-Mitra or "Relative-Friends," the first Nepalese feature film produced in the United States. Produced in 1999 by writer and director Hari Siwakoti, the film chronicles Siwakoti's life from his arrival in America through the assimilation process. Siwakoti described the Nepalese immigrant experience as difficult. "The Nepali culture helps each other," he said. "This is a different culture, a different life."
Second-generation Nepalese Americans continue their family's religious heritage. They often embrace and interpret American culture through the filter of family beliefs and traditions. For example, a recent paper by Mr. Rajan Rajbhandari, a second-generation Nepalese American and a consultant software engineer in Chicago, compared Hindu mythology to that in the movie series Star Wars.
TRADITIONS, CUSTOMS, AND BELIEFS
Many Nepalese customs and beliefs are heavily influenced by Buddhist or Hindu values. Many Nepalese American women continue to wear the Tika, a red sandalwood dot pasted on the forehead, as an indication of marriage. Although most Nepalese eat with their right hand, Nepalese American diners have adopted silverware. In Nepal, many people believe that metal spoons ruin the flavor of food and make a person thinner. Food may be served in a thaali, a metal plate divided into separate compartments.
Just as there are many different cultures and tribes within the Nepalese population, there are also various proverbs, including the following: The crow does not care for the cow's wound; You don't get smoke without a fire; A person with money has no wisdom and a person with wisdom has no money; The discontented are always unhappy and the contented are always happy; The person who works does not get credit; The country you hear about is always nice, and the country you live in is unhappy; You may talk about everything, but don't talk about your household; No one sees the cat stealing the milk, but everyone sees the cat get beaten; Even a monkey can dance if he is taught; A barking dog never bites; and A dog can't fight with a group of monkeys.
Like Indian food, Nepalese food is full of spice and flavor. The Nepalese use spices such as cumin, chili, turmeric, fennel, fenugreek, mustard seed, coriander, and the mixed-spice masala. Besaar, a bright orange spice, gives Nepalese curries their characteristic golden tint. Mustard oil is used for cooking, as well as for oil lamps, temple offerings, and massage. Food is fried in mustard oil and liberally seasoned with garlic, onions, and fresh ginger. Authentic Nepalese food is not overwhelmingly spicy, but it does have a definite flavor of koorsani, or chili pepper.
The national dish of Nepal is daal bhaat, which consists of boiled rice (bhaat with a thin lentil sauce (daal ), accompanied by curried vegetables (tarkaari ) and a pungent pickle (achaar ). Daal bhaat is eaten twice a day in the rice-growing regions of Nepal. The first meal is served around 10:30 a.m. and the second shortly after sunset.
Roasted flour, known as sattu or tsampa is a staple food made from local grains: maize, wheat, millet, barley, or buckwheat. Sweet, milky tea, beaten or popped rice, flat bread, or curried potatoes are popular snack foods.
Regional foods within Nepal are distinct. The principal food of most hill families is dhiro, a cooked mush of maize or millet flour. It can be eaten alone, with fried vegetables, or with a thin soup. The staple food among the highland Bhotia people is Tibetan tsampa, which is ground roasted barley flour. In highland mountain regions like the Sherpa homeland of Khumbu, the main dish is boiled potatoes, peeled and eaten with salt and a relish of pounded chilis and garlic. Sherpa women often make rigi kur, delicious crispy potato pancakes served with yak butter.
Chiura is made by pounding soaked, uncooked rice. It is served with yogurt, vegetable curry, and fried meat (chuela ) at Newar ritual feasts. Bhuja, or popped rice, resemble puffed rice crisps, and are popped in a pan. Other favorite snacks include curried potatoes (alu daam ), dried peas in sauce (kerau ), chewy dried meat (sukuti), and deep-fried triangular dumplings (samosa ). Breads vary from fried rings of rice-flour (sel roti), to Gurung corn cakes, to the Indian flat, thin wheat-flour disks (chapaati ) and the smaller, fried puri. Yogurt, called "curd," has a smoky taste from the wood fire it is cooked on. Bhaktapur's thick, creamy juju dahu, or "King of Curd," is known as the best. Chhurpi is a cheese made from the solids of mahi or yogurt, which is dried in the sun and then cut into squares and strung on cords of yak hair. The chhurpi is very hard when it is first made, but slowly softens when boiled in a soup or stew.
Nepalese music combines whimsical and rhythmical sounds of melodies with a characteristic sharp twang. Traditional folk tunes sung in the remote villages of Nepal celebrate religious and agricultural life. A music group popular with Nepalese Americans is Sur Sudha, a trio of three musicians performing Nepalese music on the flute, sitar and tabla. Performances and recordings by Sur Sudha have received rave reviews around the world. Sur Sudha has performed more than 2000 concerts in Europe, India, Japan, and the United States.
Three of the most popular traditional musical instruments in Nepal are the bansuri, the madal, and the sarangi. The sarangi is the most widely played musical instrument in Nepal. The madal is a double-headed drum made from a hollow tree-trunk and animal skin. Both ends of this drum are played, with each end having its own distinct tone. The madal is traditionally played by hanging the drum over the shoulders or around the neck. The madal drum is an ancient folk instrument that is frequently played during festivals and celebrations in the Kathmandu Valley and surrounding areas. The sarangi is a violin-like, four-stringed wooden instrument, the lower part of which is hollow and wrapped with thin leather. It is played vertically. The bansuri is a flute made of bamboo and is played horizontally. All of these instruments are handmade and they are played in both traditional and modern Nepalese music.
The clothing of Nepal varies according to tribes and regions. Nepal is known internationally for its wool garments, which are made from the fur of the pashmina, a mountain goat that scales the snow-capped mountains. Pashmina shawls are usually bright red, green, muted beige, or oatmeal in color. Some pashmina garments are also embellished with embroidery. The intricate stitching on a pashmina can take five years to complete. Wealthy families are expected to include pashiminas in a marriage dowry.
Nepalese women wear saris, which consist of unstitched cloth wrapped in a variety of ways. The saris are made of silk and cotton and can be either simple in design or brilliantly adorned. Buddhist monks wear yak-hair boots and beautiful brocade robes in bright colors with wide sleeves. At the annual Tiji festival, celebrants wear traditional white silk khatas (scarves).
The nomadic Chepang do not have a distinct tribal costume. The men wear loincloths and vest-like clothes called bhotos, while the women wear saris and cholos (full sleeved blouses). Bangles made of glass and plastic, along with various hair ornaments, are worn by women to show their marital status. In modern Nepal, all Nepalese officials are required to wear black caps, called topi, when formally dressed. The traditional Nepalese coat, which is often made from maroon velvet, overlaps at the front and is closed with four ties. The chuba is a long woolen coat worn by Sherpas.
DANCES AND SONGS
Tharu, the indigenous people of Nepal, perform a stick dance known as the phejaiti. The dance has been an important part of Tharu culture and is popular among the Tharu communities in Chitwan, Bardiya, Dang and Nawalparasi. A circle is created by more than a dozen dancers, each with a stick in hand, and in the center is the group leader with a madal. The group leader signals participants to dance, making a circular movement on the ground. As the group leader plays the madal, others dance swinging their sticks in the air, while either standing or sitting. A combination of music and song accompanies the movement of the dancers.
A jhilli dance, a version of the stick dance, is also popular in the Tharu society. The jhilli is a musical instrument made of copper that produces an alarming sound. The jhilli dance originated when the cowboys went to the forest to look after their domestic animals and encountered wild animals. To protect themselves and their cows, the herdsmen used the jhilli to scare predators. Twelve to fifteen people participate in the dance and are accompanied by a group of four singers. During the month of September, mask dancing is popular in Kathmandu. Papier-maché masks are used in festivals to frighten evil spirits. Dances are rituals learned at an early age and performed in exact sequences.
Nepalese Americans celebrate Hindu and Buddhist holidays set by an ancient lunar calendar. The one national holiday celebrated by Nepalese Americans is the December 28 birthday of King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev. In Nepal, calendars are printed each spring at the beginning of the Nepalese year showing dates from all three calendars—the lunar, the Nepalese (a solar calendar) and the Gregorian. Major holidays include Buddha Jayanti, a celebration of Buddha's birth, in May; Janai Purnima (also called Rakchshya Bandhan ), a celebration of the changing of the protective thread worn by all, in August; Gai Jatra (the cow festival), in August; Krishnaastami, a Hindu celebration, in September; Teej, a festival for women, in September; Indra Jatra, a Hindu festival, in September; Ghatasthapana-Bada Dashain, a national harvest-type festival, in September and October; Tihar, a Hindu animal worship festival, in October and November; and Maha Shivaratri, a festival honoring the Hindu god Shiva, in February.
There are no known health or medical problems specific to Nepalese Americans. However, in Nepal, goiter, a disease directly associated with iodine deficiency, was endemic in certain villages in the hills and mountains. In most of the villages surveyed, more than half of the population had goiter. In these same villages, the incidence of deafness and mental retardation was much higher than in other villages. Leprosy also was a serious problem. Foreign assistance, specifically through Christian missions, has led to the creation of leprosy treatment centers in different parts of the country. "Wasting," a condition in which a child has very low weight for his or her height, is also evident in hill and mountain regions of Nepal.
Nepal's ethnic groups can be roughly divided between the Tibeto-Nepalese, who are related to the Chinese and Mongolians to the north and speak Tibet-Burman languages, and the Indo-Nepalese who are related to the Indians of the south and use Indo-Aryan languages. The Newars, who are thought to be the original inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley, speak a Tibeto-Burman language known as Newari.
Since the creation of a national educational program in Nepal during the 1950s, the majority of Nepalese, 58.3 percent, speak Nepali. Nepali has twelve vowel sounds and 36 consonants. The vowels are "a," "aa," "i," "ii," "u," "uu," "e," "ai," "o," "au," "an," and "ah."
Even though Nepali is the national language and is the mother tongue of approximately 58 percent of the population, there are several other languages and dialects in Nepal. Other languages include Maithili, Bhojpuri, Tharu, Tamang, Newari, and Abadhi. Non-Nepali languages and dialects are rarely spoken outside their ethnic enclaves.
GREETINGS AND POPULAR EXPRESSIONS
The word Namaste is a common expression. It is used for greetings such as "hello," "good morning," and "good night." Namaskaar is another form of greeting and is mostly used on formal occasions. The fundamental role of rice in Nepalese culture is evident in the language. Daal bhaat is khaanaa, "food," and a common Nepalese greeting is "Bhaat khaayo ?" meaning literally, "Have you eaten rice?"
Family and Community Dynamics
In Nepal, ethnic identity is distinguished primarily by language and dress, and limits the selection of a spouse, friends, and career. This is evident in social organization, occupation, and religious observances. Nepalese Americans are not limited in this way because caste limitations are abandoned for the most part once a Nepalese immigrant becomes an American citizen.
In most areas of Nepal, the basic social unit in a village is the family, or paribar. According to the 1990 Nepalese census, the paribar consisted of a patrilineally extended household made up of 5.8 persons. This extended family system does not continue once Nepalese immigrate to the United States. Although Nepalese Americans may offer living assistance for a time to newly arrived relatives, they live mostly in single family units.
One integral part of Nepalese society is the Hindu caste system. The fourfold caste divisions are the Brahman (priests and scholars), the Kshatriya or Chhetri (rulers and warriors), the Vaisya (merchants and traders), and the Sudra (farmers, artisans, and laborers). The only way to change caste status was to undergo Sanskritization. Sanskritization is achieved by migrating to a new area and by changing one's caste status and/or marrying across the caste line. This can lead to the upgrading or downgrading of caste, depending on the spouse's caste. However, given the rigidity of the caste system, inter-caste marriage carries a social stigma, especially when it takes place between members of castes from opposite ends of the social spectrum.
Social status in Nepal is measured by economic standing. Land ownership is both a measure of status and a source of income. Women occupy a secondary position, particularly in business and the civil service, although the constitution guarantees equality between men and women. Nepalese tribal and communal customs dictate women's lesser role in society, but their status differs from one ethnic group to another and is usually determined by caste. In 1962, a law was passed making it illegal to discriminate against the untouchable castes.
Today, Brahmins have land, work in the fields, and are involved in government service. Some members of the Baisya and Sudra castes are teachers, high officials, and successful politicians. All castes are not equally treated by the law. Historically, Brahmins were not subject to the death penalty and were given the same revered status as cows in the Hindu religion. However, education is free and open to all castes.
Nepal's literacy rate in 1998 was 27.5 percent. Before the 1950-51 revolution, Nepal had 310 primary and middle schools, eleven high schools, two colleges, one normal school, and one special technical school. In the early 1950s, the average literacy rate was five percent. Literacy among males was ten percent and less than one percent among females. Only one child in 100 attended school. Serious educational system revisions occurred after the revolution in 1951. In 1975, the government took responsibility for providing school facilities, teachers, and educational materials free of charge. Primary schooling was compulsory. It began at age six and lasted for five years. Curriculum was greatly influenced by American models, and it was developed with assistance from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. However, in the early 1980s, approximately 60 percent of the primary school teachers and 35 percent of secondary school teachers were untrained, and there was only one university in Nepal. Foreign educational degrees, especially those obtained from American and West European institutions, carried greater prestige than degrees from Nepal. Higher-caste families sent their children to study abroad.
THE ROLE OF WOMEN
Nepal is a rigidly patriarchal society. In virtually every aspect of life, women were subordinate to men. However, a woman's status varies from one ethnic group to another. The status of women in Tibeto-Nepalese communities was generally better than that of Pahari and Newari women. Women from the low-caste groups also enjoyed relatively more autonomy and freedom than Pahari and Newari women.
The senior female within the family played an important role by controlling resources, making crucial planting and harvesting decisions, and determining the expenses and budget allocations. Nonetheless, women's lives remained centered on their traditional roles of household chores, including childrearing. Statistics from 1985 showed that on average, women had 6.3 children. Moreover, their standing in society depended on their husbands' and parents' social and economic positions.
Women had limited access to markets, reproductive services, education, health care, and local government. In 1981, 35 percent of the male population was literate compared with only 11.5 percent of the female population. Women faced malnutrition and poverty. Female children usually were given less food than male children, especially when the family experienced food shortages. Women generally worked harder and longer than men. By contrast, women from high-class families had maids to take care of most household chores and other menial work and thus worked far less than men or women in lower socioeconomic groups. When women were employed, their wages normally were 25 percent less than those paid to men. In most rural areas, their employment outside the household generally was limited to planting, weeding, and harvesting. In urban areas, they were employed in domestic and traditional jobs, as well as in the government sector, mostly in low-level positions.
Although the Nepalese constitution offers women equal educational opportunities, many social, economic, and cultural factors contribute to lower enrollment and higher dropout rates for girls. Although the female literacy rate improved noticeably by the early 1990s, it was still far short of the level of male literacy. The level of education among female children of wealthy and educated families was much higher than that of female children from poor families. In the early 1990s, a direct correlation existed between the level of education and status. Educated women had access to relatively high-profile positions in the government and private service sectors, and they had a much higher status than their uneducated counterparts. However, within the family, an educated woman did not necessarily hold a higher status than her uneducated counterpart. A woman's status, especially as a daughter-in-law, was more closely tied to her husband's authority and to her parental family's wealth and status than to any other factor.
Saipata is the name given to both the official engagement announcement and the wedding day. Among Nepalese Americans, saipata is performed only for symbolic purposes. In this ceremony, the eldest family member from the groom's family, excluding his father and mother, formally requests the bride's hand in marriage while presenting the bride with food, gifts, and clothing. Traditional gifts include fruits, pastries, fish, and sweets. Other presents include clothing, make-up sets, shoes, and jewelry. Saipata is designed to showcase the groom's family wealth. The bride places the red tika on her forehead and is given a ceremonial blessing. The jaanti is the procession to the bride's home for the swaymber, the main wedding ceremony. Traditionally, a marching band performs. In the United States, however, friends of the bride or groom improvise with a few drums and other instruments. The procession arrives at the bride's house. The groom's family circles the bride's car three times, symbolic in Hinduism, to welcome the bride, who wears red, and her family. The bride is welcomed with garlands, and the bride and groom exchange garlands. The families join hands to accept the couple. The bride and groom take turns feeding each other. They exchange rings and wedding vows, which is a Western adaptation of the traditional ceremony, in witness of the eternal agni, the ceremonial fire of existence. They circle the agni seven times. Then the groom applies a red powder to the bride's head, which is symbolic of marriage. The husband is the first person to apply this powder to the bride. The groom also gives pothey (beads) and toka and churi (bangles), which are accessories worn by a married woman. The couple then receives a blessing from Suyra, the sun god, by standing together in the sun with their arms out in front and their hands cupped to receive the sun.
INTERACTIONS WITH OTHER ETHNIC GROUPS
First-generation Nepalese Americans interacted peaceably with many ethnic groups in Nepal. Nepalese Americans who share Hindu and Buddhist beliefs form a ready bond with other Hindu and Buddhists of other nationalities. There are no major ethnic conflicts traditional to Nepalese that would affect how Nepalese Americans interact with other groups.
Nepal is the only official Hindu country in world. Hindu and Buddhist beliefs intermingle without conflict. About 89.5 percent of the population is Hindu; 5.3 percent is Buddhist; and 2.7 percent embrace other religions, including Christianity. Hinduism generally is regarded as the oldest formal religion in the world. The origins of Hinduism go back to the pastoral Aryan tribes from inner Asia. Unlike other world religions, Hinduism had no single founder and has never been missionary in orientation. It is believed that about 1200 b.c., or even earlier by some accounts, the Vedas, a body of hymns originating in northern India were produced. These texts form the theological and philosophical precepts of Hinduism. Hindus believe that the absolute (the totality of existence, including God, man, and the universe) is too vast to be contained within a single set of beliefs. Hinduism embraces six philosophical doctrines (darshanas ). Individuals select one of these doctrines, or conduct their worship simply on a convenient level of morality and observance. Religious practices differ from group to group. The average Hindu does not need any formal creed in order to practice his or her religion, complying instead with the customs of their family and social groups. Because of this, Hindus can assimilate easily by adding new customs and beliefs according to personal needs.
One basic concept in Hinduism is that of dharma, or natural law, and the social and religious obligations it imposes. Dharma holds that individuals should play their proper and determined role in society. The caste system is an integral part of dharma. Each person is born into a particular caste, whose traditional occupation is graded according to the degree of purity and impurity inherent in it. Other fundamental ideas common to all Hindus concern the nature and destiny of the soul and the basic forces of the universe. Hinduism is polytheistic, incorporating many gods and goddesses with different functions and powers. The religion's three major gods are Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
One part of karma (universal justice) is the belief that the consequence of every good or bad action must be fully realized. Another basic concept is that of samsara, the transmigration of souls. An individual's role throughout life is fixed by his or her good and evil deeds in a previous existence. Veneration for the cow has come to be intimately associated with all orthodox Hindu sects. Because the cow is regarded as the symbol of motherhood and fruitfulness, the killing of a cow, even accidentally, is regarded as one of the most serious of religious transgressions.
Employment and Economic Traditions
According to the 1984 U.S. Census, of the 75 Nepalese immigrants admitted to the United States, 33 had professional specialties, and 42 had no occupation. Five were in farming and forestry. In the 1980s, a significant number of college-educated people living in cities within the Kathmandu valley created new firms to meet the needs of foreign donors looking to hire Nepalese consultants. Throughout Kathmandu, a number of consulting firms and associated services emerged. However, in the early 1990s, the Nepalese economy was still 90 percent rural-agricultural.
About 70 percent of the total Nepalese population is of working age, that is, between the ages of 15 and 59 years. More than 65 percent of this segment of the population was considered economically active in 1981. In terms of employment structure, more than 91 percent of the economically active population is engaged in agriculture and allied activities, and the rest in the industrial and service sectors, including government employment.
Politics and Government
Nepalese Americans who participate in lobbying efforts for Nepal are typically in medical and humanitarian assistance projects. Their political activity generally does not involve foreign policy or attempt to influence U.S. relations with Nepal in other arenas.
Organizations and Associations
America-Nepal Medical Foundation.
Aims to meet current medical needs in Nepal through programs, studies, research and medical education in Nepal.
Contact: Arjun Karki, M.D.
Address: Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care, Roger Williams Medical Center, 825 Chalkstone Ave., Providence, RI 02908-4735.
Telephone: (401) 456-2000.
America-Nepal Society of California, Inc.
Formed in 1973 to promote harmonious relations between the United States and Nepal and to promote educational opportunity for economically and/or disadvantaged persons.
Address: 22814 S. Berendo Ave., Torrance, CA 90502.
E-mail: [email protected]
Association of Nepalese in Midwest.
Promotes Nepalese culture to second-generation Nepalese Americans and provides community for new immigrants.
Contact: Mrs. Bindu Panth.
Address: 2367 Springdale Road, Cincinnati, OH 45231.
Association of Nepalese in Midwest America (ANMA).
Promotes the Nepali culture and language and is concerned about what is being done to keep the Nepali cultural heritage alive in Nepal. Has published a newsletter, Viewpoint, since 1982. On May 25-26, 1991, ANMA organized the First National Convention of Nepalese and Friends of Nepal in North America at the University of Maryland. The convention was co-sponsored by six other Nepalese and Nepal-related associations.
Contact: Mr. Dhruba Shrestha.
Address: 3535 Wheeler Road, Bay City, MI 48706.
Telephone: (517) 684-8314.
Association of Nepalis in the Americas.
An organization of people of Nepali origin in the Americas and international friends of Nepal. ANA was founded on July 1983 in New York and incorporated in Washington, DC, in 1983 as a non-profit, tax-exempt organization.
Address: 11605 Gainsborough Road, Potomac, MD 20854.
Telephone: (301) 299-8045.
Empower Nepal Foundation (ENF).
Non-profit organization of individuals of Nepali ethnicity promoting Nepalese culture and relations with Nepal.
Address: 2000 Como Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55108.
Non-profit organization of individuals of Nepali ethnicity promoting Nepalese culture in the Florida area, and relations with Nepal.
Contact: President: Tirtha Mali.
Address: 6320 NW 33rd Terrace, Gainesville, FL 32606.
Greater Boston Nepali Community.
Non-profit organization of individuals of Nepali ethnicity promoting Nepalese culture in the Boston area.
Contact: Raju Pradhan.
Address: P.O. Box 893, Watertown, MA 02272. .
Telephone: (617) 924-8852.
International Nepali Literary Society.
Address: 2926 Wetherburn Ct. , Woodbridge, VA 22191.
Telephone: (703) 221-2656.
Nepal Association of Northern California.
Non-profit organization of individuals of Nepali ethnicity promoting Nepalese culture in Northern California.
Contact: President: Gopal Khadgi.
Address: P.O. Box 170253, San Francisco, CA 94117.
The Nepal Digest Foundation.
A global non-profit information and resource center committed to promoting issues concerning Nepal, Nepalis, and friends of Nepal.
Address: P.O. Box 8206, White Plains, NY 10601.
Nepal Human Rights Committee—USA .
A non-profit organization lobbying for humane treatment of all ethnic groups in Nepal. Incorporated in Washington DC.
Address: P.O. Box 53253, Washington, DC 20009.
Telephone: (301) 587-0454.
Assists Nepalese citizens living in the United States and maintains diplomatic relations with the United States.
Address: 2131 Leroy Place NW, Washington, DC 20008.
Telephone: (202) 667-4550.
Nepali Youth Organization.
Non-profit group for preserving and transferring Nepalese culture to second- and third-generation Nepalese Americans.
Address: P.O. Box 10422, Arlington, VA 22210. .
Museums and Research Centers
The Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami. A permanent collection of Indian, Nepalese, Tibetan, Chinese, and Japanese sculptures and paintings, "Gods And Goddesses, Myths And Legends In Asian Art," examines the development of myth, legend, and religion in south and east Asia.
Address: P.O. Box 248105, Coral Gables, FL 33124-4020.
Telephone: (305) 284-5500.
Nepal Studies Association
Association of scholars, scientists, development planners, and libraries.
Address: Northern Kentucky University, Department of History & Geography, Nunn Drive, Highland Heights, Kentucky 41099-2205.
Contact: John Metz, President.
Telephone: (606) 572-5461.
Fax: (606) 572-6088.
E-mail: [email protected]
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
The Nepalese galleries showcases collections of opaque watercolors on cloth or palm leaf.
Address: 2800 Grove Avenue, Richmond, VA 23221-2466.
Telephone: (804) 367-0844.
Sources for Additional Study
Koirala, Niranjan. "Nepal in 1989: A Very Difficult Year," Asian Survey, February 1990, pp. 136-43.
Raj, Prakash A. Kathmandu & the Kingdom of Nepal. South Yarra, Australia: Lonely Planet Publications, 1985.
Savada, Andrea Matles. Nepal: A Country Study. Washington, DC: Library of Congress Federal Research Division, 1993.
Weir, Richard. "Neighborhood Project: Woodside; His Film, Real-Life Misadventures," New York Times, February 14, 1999, Sec. 14. page 8.