Monpa Ethnic Minority

The Monpa people are spread across Arunachal Pradesh in India, Bhutan and Tibet. Considerably fewer Monpa still live in Tibet and are featured among the 56 ethnic groups recognized by the Chinese Government. There are around 25,000 Monpa living in Tibet(Cona County, Pelung in Bayi District, and Medog County). These places have a low altitude, especially Medog County, which has a tropical climate unlike the rest of Tibet. 


The languages spoken by the Monpa people are often referes to as the “Monpa languages”. This is not a genealogical term, and several quite different languages are subsumed under it. Five groups may be distinguished:

  • The Sherdukpen, Lish, and Sartang languages shows no obvious relationship to other languages of the region and they comprise a small language isolate cluster. A relationship of these three languages with Bugun has been proposed (“Kho-Bwa languages”), but remains unsubstantiated.
  • The Tawang language is an East Bodish language. The Dakpa language of Bhutan may be a dialect of Tawang.
  • The Tshangla language within Bodish comprises closely related dialects spoken in the villages of Senge, Nyukmadung and Lubrang and the Brokpa language spoken by nomads. Other languages include Dirang (also known as “Central Monpa”), Murshing and Kalaktang (also known as “Southern Monpa”).
  • The languages of the Zemithang, Mago and Thingbu villages have not been reported to be closely related to either Tawang or to Brokeh. They remain undocumented, but a more distant relationship within Bodic is possible.


Almost all Monpa follow Tibetan Buddhism, which they adopted in the 17th century as a result of the Bhutanese-educated Merag Lama. Because of this, the Tawang Monastery plays a central role in the daily lives of the Monpa. Nevertheless, both Bonand elements of their pre-Buddhist faith (often also called “Bon”) remain strong among the Monpas, particularly in regions nearer to the Assamese plains. In every household, small Buddhist altars are given water offerings in little cups and burning butter lamps.


Apart from skillful wood carvers, the Monpa are also known for their artistry in Thangka painting and weaving carpets and clothes. They dress colorfully with thick blankets and jackets. Most of their clothing is made from coarse, red material made from yaks’ hair. Living at such an altitude, the Monpa culture, food and clothing are in many ways dependent on yaks. Women and men flaunt headgear made of yaks hair and tails. Monpa people are also known for their beautiful tunes, dynamic dances and dramas. The famous Monpa drama mostly originated from their folk dance, which is based on legends. The performers wear masks and leather or feathers while dancing accompanied with drum and cymbal beats. The libretto is usually in forms of folk songs in a loose style. The melody changes according to the content and plot. ‘Zhuowa Sangmu’ – known as one of the eight Tibetan operas, is said to have been adapted into Tibetan script by a Moinba Lama.


The Monpa practice shifting and permanent types of cultivation. Cattle, yaks, cows, pigs, sheep and fowl are kept as domestic animals. To prevent soil erosion by planting crops on hilly slopes, the Monpa have terraced many slopes. Cash crops such as paddy, maize, wheat, barley, millet, buckwheat, peppers, pumpkin and beans are planted.


The diets of Monpa people differ greatly depending on where they live. Corn, rice and grains are staples for some, while others prefer buckwheat, wheat and highland barley. Pepper is a popular seasoning. A buckwheat cake is a most popular regional cuisine in Menyu area. To make a buckwheat cake, Moinba people usually put a flat round iron block in the tripod and then spread the buckwheat paste on the block for baking. Creams are spread on the flat cake. The Moinba will roll the cakes with cream and eat when hot. Homemade highland barley wine, rice wine or grain wine will always be offered by Monpa to treat guests. Accepting the drink and getting drunk will be regarded as paying great respect to the hosts.


Using the Tibetan calendar, the Monpa people share many Tibet festivals with the Tibetans including the Tibetan New Year at the begining of the year and Wangguo Festival in the 7th month. Meanwhile, they also have their own festivals such as Moinba New Year. Therefore, the Monpa group celebrate New Year twice. Da’nian – Big New Year is celebrated on the first and the 15th day in the first month of the Tibetan Lunar Year, while Xiaonian – Small New Year differs from place to place. Before the New Year Festival arrives, Moinba will prepare heaps of food. On New Year’s Eve, they daub signs of ‘badge of luck’ on walls with wheat paste or highland barley paste as a prayer for wealth and luck. Before the cock crows on the first day, the housewives rush to the water well with buckets. It is said one who carries water back first will be the luckiest in the coming year.