On August 9th, we observe the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples. This annual day celebrates the protection of indigenous rights and the promotion of indigenous knowledge.
dZi’s partner communities are a diverse mix of ethnic groups. From village to village, different languages are spoken, festivals celebrated, and religions practiced – all unique qualities that inform residents’ sense of place and identity. And while dZi works to provide equitable access to resources and opportunity for all community members regardless of caste or ethnicity, our model begins by celebrating the local traditions and indigenous connections that communities have shaped over generations. Through community discussions, residents uplift the elements that make their village special and resilient before discussing what changes would increase their quality of life. In this way, residents’ knowledge and indigenous wisdom drive the community’s future and dZi simply provides the resources and training needed to fulfill its vision.
In the Himalayan ‘middle hills’ where dZi works, the majority of residents are Rai - one of 63 indigenous groups in Nepal. They belong to the Kirat family and have 28 distinct languages, rich cultural and religious traditions, and a storied history. Spending time with the Kirati people in dZi’s partner communities opens your eyes to a different way of life. In this community, a collection of spiritual teachings known as ‘Mundum’ have been passed down by Kirati ancestors from one generation to the next through song, verse, stories, and chants. Mundum is the storehouse of cultural knowledge and identity for the Kirati people. It includes rituals and recitations for every life event from birth to marriage to death. These prayers are recited before killing an animal to be eaten, when a woman becomes pregnant, and for worshipping local deities and one’s ancestors. These recitations hold the rationales and concepts behind the creation, evolution, and extinction of life, the origin of humanity, the cadence of civilizations, as well as our place in the world.
Mundum features a unique myth about the creation of living beings that highlights the significance of harmonious coexistence between humans and all other living creatures. Mundum places humans at the apex of evolution. But soon after the creation of humans, their suffering started. Greed, envy, rage, and brutality engulfed them. Nonetheless, Mundum has a remedy for this tragic fate. It says humanity can strive for freedom from the agonizing cycle of birth and death through the accumulation of good ‘karma’ (deeds). This fundamental belief is embedded into the Kirati culture and encourages beneficial actions by community members when interacting with their environment. As with other Himalayan indigenous groups, great importance is placed on limiting all actions harmful to living beings.
The biggest Kirati festivals, ‘Udhauli’ and ‘Ubhauli’, are celebrated to express gratitude towards mother nature. During their festivals, community members perform ‘Sakela’, a traditional dance during which the dancers enact plowing, sowing, and harvesting. Women in the communities weave a traditional fabric from 'allo' – the Himalayan Giant Nettle. The fabric is then dyed using traditional pigments collected from the forest. Apart from its important use in Kirati life, the fabric has gained popularity recently in the Nepali fashion industry for its aesthetic, versatility, and durability.
Mundum recognizes that we share the planet with other living things and that respect for their needs is as important as our own. As communities look toward a future starkly different from their past, residents are careful to protect and celebrate the indigenous wisdom traditions that have sustained them for generations. Whether it’s respect for the environment or rites of passage for a new mother, our Kirati community partners are carrying their cultural heritage forward. And through our works, dZi strives to support them and these important traditions.