Alternative names:
Menba, Moinba, Monba, Menpa, Mongba
Diorama of the Monpa people at the Jawaharlal Nehru Museum, Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 India (Arunachal Pradesh)60,545 (2011 census)[1]
 China (Tibet)25,000
East Bodish • Tshangla • Tawang • Limbu • Lish
Tibetan Buddhism
Related ethnic groups
Tibetan, Sherdukpen, Sharchops, Memba, Limbu

The Monpa or Mönpa (Tibetan: མོན་པ་, Wylie: mon pa; Hindi: मोनपा, Chinese: 门巴族) are a major ethnic group of Arunachal Pradesh in northeastern India. They are also one of the 56 officially recognized ethnic groups in China.

The origin of the Monpa people is unclear. Like other tribes of Northeast India, the Monpa are believed to have migrated to Tawang, in the westernmost part of Arunachal Pradesh. The Monpa are believed to be the only nomadic tribe in Northeast India - they were totally dependent on animals like sheep, cow, yak, goats and horses and had no permanent settlement or attachment to a particular place. This theory claims that the Monpa might have migrated through the Western Himalayas and Sikkim to the Tawang area. This theory also proposes that the Monpa had connections to the Bhutias who currently live in Sikkhim.

Most Monpas live in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, with a population of around 60,000, centered in the districts of Tawang and West Kameng. Around 25,000 Monpas live in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, in Cona County, Pêlung in Bayi District, and Mêdog County. These places have a low altitude, especially Mêdog County, which has a tropical climate unlike the rest of Tibet.[2] Of the 60,000 Monpas who live in Arunachal Pradesh, about 20,000 of them live in Tawang district, where they constitute about 97% of the district's population, and almost all of the remainder can be found in West Kameng district, where they form about 77% of the district's population. A small number live in East Kameng district near the border with Bhutan.[3]

The Monpa share very close affinity with the Sharchops of Bhutan. Their languages have usually been assumed to be a part of the Tibeto-Burman languages separate from the Tibetic cluster. They are written with the Tibetan alphabet.

The Monpa are sub-divided into six sub-groups because of their variations in their language. They are namely:


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 Bon and 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.


The languages spoken by the Monpa people are often referres 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:[4]


The Monpa are known for wood carving, Thangka painting, carpet making and weaving. They manufactured paper from the pulp of the local sukso tree. A printing press can be found in the Tawang monastery, where many religious books are printed on local paper and wooden blocks, usually meant for literate Monpa Lamas, who use it for their personal correspondence and religious rituals. They are also known for their wooden bowls and bamboo weaving.[2]

Principal Monpa festivals include the Choskar harvest festival, Losar, and Torgya. During Losar, people would generally offer prayers at the Tawang Monastery to pray for the coming of the Tibetan New Year. Pantomime dances are the principle feature of the Ajilamu festival.

The Buddhist Lamas would read religious scriptures in the Gompas for a few days during Choskar. Thereafter, the villagers walk around the cultivated fields with the sutras on their back. The significance of this festival is to pray for better cultivation and the prosperity of the villagers, and protect the grains from insects and wild animals.

It is a rule that all animals except men and tigers are allowed to be hunted. According to tradition, only one individual is allowed to hunt the tiger on an auspicious day, upon the initiation period of the shamans, which can be likened a trial of passage. After the tiger is killed, the jawbone, along with all its teeth, is used as a magic weapon. This is believed that its power will enable the tigers to evoke the power of his guiding spirit of the ancestral tiger, who will accompany and protect the boy along his way.


The traditional society of the Monpa was administered by a council which consists of six ministers locally known as Trukdri. The members of this council were known as the Kenpo, literally the Abbot of Tawang. The Lamas also hold a respectable position, which consists of two monks known as Nyetsangs, and two other Dzongpen.

The man is the head of the family and he is the one who takes all decisions. In his absence, his wife takes over all responsibilities. When a child is born, they have no strict preference for a boy or a girl.

Lifestyle and dress

The traditional dress of the Monpa is based on the Tibetan Chuba. Both men and women wear headwear made of yak hair, with long tassels. The women tend to wear a warm jacket and a sleeveless chemise that reaches down to the calves, tying the chemise round the waist with a long and narrow piece of cloth. Ornaments include those made of silver, corals and turquoise. One can see a person wearing a cap with a single peacock feather round their felt hats.

Due to the cold climate of the Himalayas, the Monpa, like most of the other ethnic groups in the region, construct their houses of stone and wood with plank floors, often accompanied with beautifully carved doors and window frames.[5] The roof is made with bamboo matting, keeping their house warm during the winter season. Sitting platforms and hearths in the living rooms are also found in their houses.


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.


Earliest records about the area which the Monpas inhabit today indicate the existence of a kingdom known as Lhomon or Monyul which existed from 500 B.C to 600 A.D.[6] Subsequent years saw Monyul coming under increasing Tibetan political and cultural influence, which was apparent during the years when Tsangyang Gyatso, an ethnic Monpa, became the 6th Dalai Lama. At that time, Monyul was divided into thirty two districts, all of which spanned the areas of Eastern Bhutan, Tawang, Kameng and Southern Tibet. However, Monyul, also known as the Tawang Tract, remained sparsely populated throughout its history.[7]

In the 11th century, the Northern Monpas in Tawang came under the influence of Tibetan Buddhism of the Nyingma and Kagyu denominations. It was at this time when the Monpa adopted the Tibetan alphabet for their language. Drukpa missionaries came to the region in the 13th century, and missionaries of the Gelug school came in the 17th century. The Gelug school is the sect to which most Monpas belong today.[8]

Monyul remained an autonomous entity, with local monks based in Tawang holding great political power within the kingdom, and direct rule over the area from Lhasa was established only in the 17th century. From this time until the early 20th century, Monyul was ruled by the authorities in Lhasa, who were themselves ruled over by the Qing dynasty until their collapse in 1912. However, in the 19th century, the area began to interest the British Raj. One of the first British-Indian travellers into Monyul, Nain Singh Rawat, who visited the area from 1875 to 1876 noted that the Monpas were a conservative people who shunned off contact with the outside world and were making efforts to monopolise trade with Tibet. Owing to its strategic position, subsequently the British sought to make their political influence felt.

In 1914, Britain and its colonial authorities in India drew the McMahon Line, which they claimed to be the border between Chinese Tibet and British India. The line divided the land in which the Monpas inhabited, and became a source of contention in the subsequent years to come owing to ambiguities to the specific location of the McMahon Line.[9]

In subsequent years, China continued to claim the pre-McMahon border as the border between Tibet and India, while British India gradually established effective control over Monyul south of the McMahon line. Following the independence of India and a change of government in China, the dispute became a major issues in the relations between China and India. The McMahon Line was the effective line of control in this period, though the border was somewhat porous. In 1962, skirmishes along the disputed border escalated to the Sino-Indian War. During the war, China took effective control of the entire Monyul area south of the McMahon Line as well as some other surrounding areas. However, the war ended with China's voluntary withdrawal north of the McMahon Line. Negotiations on the dispute remain active.

Notable Monpas

See also


  1. ^ "A-11 Individual Scheduled Tribe Primary Census Abstract Data and its Appendix". Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India. Retrieved 2017-11-03.
  2. ^ a b "Moinba Ethnic Group and its customs". Tibet Travel Guide-Let's Travel Tibet. Archived from the original on 2013-10-23. Retrieved 2013-10-20. ((cite web)): Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (|url-status= suggested) (help)
  3. ^ "Wayback Machine" (PDF). 2007-09-26. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-09-26. Retrieved 2017-11-25. ((cite web)): Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (|url-status= suggested) (help)
  4. ^ Blench, Roger (2014). Sorting out Monpa: The relationships of the Monpa languages of Arunachal Pradesh.
  5. ^ Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt. of India (1979). Arunachal Pradesh. University of Michigan. p. 10.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ Andrea Matles Savada (1993). Nepal and Bhutan: Country Studies. Federal Research Division, Library of Congress. p. 21. ISBN 0-8444-0777-1.
  7. ^ China Study Centre (1989). China Report. China Study Centre. pp. 104–5.
  8. ^ Col Ved Prakash. Encyclopaedia of North-east India, Vol# 3. Atlantic Publishers & Distributors. pp. 1206–7. ISBN 81-269-0705-3.
  9. ^ Harish Kapadia; Geeta Kapadia (2005). Into the Untravelled Himalaya: Travels, Treks and Climbs. Indus Publishing. pp. 50–3. ISBN 81-7387-181-7.