Danuwar Folklore and Folklife:

A Close Observation


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The term Danuwar is not derived from the mother tongue spoken by the people of this folk group: rather it is a derivation  related to Nepali word Duna (leaves plate). Normally speaking, people who settled on the bank of the stream and the rivers and adopted the profession of fishing were called Danuwar. Thus, Dune (in Nepali signifying inner terai) was appropriate place for them. People being  settled in Dune were named as Danuwar. Etemologically, the term Danuwar was derived from the Sanskrit Dronibar (droni signifies the plain land between the confluence of two rivers situated in the laps of two hills) as mentioned above, fishing is their main profession so they settled on the confluence of the two rivers. Similarly, Dukucha in Newar language signifies the domestic animal goat. One day, people heard  Dukukarne (the crying of goat) while they were approaching over there right in present village. Since then, the name of the place began to be known and recognized as Duku deleting the suffix <arne> and the inhabitants were called Danuwar. Historically speaking, in the fourteenth century, the king of Simoroungarh, the ancient kingdom on the mid- southern part of Kathmandu, constructed a grandeur palace in the name of his beautiful daughter and she was married by the crown prince of Lanka (now Srilanka). The queen gave birth to five sons after marriage. Among them one was Danuwar and the rest of the three were Newar, Sunuwar, Kirat and Limbu. The same Danuwar  immigrated and settled to the hilly area from the inner terai. His successors’ surname remained Danuwar. Long time ago, Machhendranath or Matsyendranath (means the king of water) was escorted from Kamarupa, one of the holy Indian pilgrimage, to Kathmandu. The Danuwar had gone to bring Matsyendranath Baba and brought him  enroute to Dukuchhap. It was getting night as they arrived at Dukku. So, they stayed and passed one auspicious night over there and the devotees celebrated arrival of Baba hosting a worship during the whole night. They offered him Prasad on the plate made of leaves and a baby girl was seen on the same plate in the next morning. Machhendranath was astonished to see it and baptized her as Duna because she was born  out of the Duna, the plate made of the leaves. In this way, it is believed that they are the successors of Duna girl. They claim to be God Machhendranath as their parental relative even today. They have now scattered all over in search of better life and opportunities of income generating  business and settled in the different parts of the country. In search of origin of Dhimal folk group, the Danuwar is also mentioned as the three sons: Munaingba, Thoboingba, and Yoboingba of Swayambhu Satrupa in  Prof. Diwasa’s research. There were ten sons of  Munaingba  and the ancestors of Koche, Meche and Dhimal and the youngest Thirukpa was the predecessor of  Danuwar.


The  folk belief, as narrated by Khil Bahadur Danuwar to the researchers, in terms of origin of this folk group is that they were the poorest people  of the poorest  village and  Duku was derived from the Nepali  word Dukhi (the poorest and destitute). These people were Dukhi that signifies the poorest and destitute in terms of economic and social condition.


Similarly, there were a  Brahmin young boy and  a Chhetrini young girl. While the girl got asleep soundly, the boy put his germs in  Duna (the plate made up of  the  leaves) and kept over her womb. It leaked and spilled inside and she became pregnant. Her parent inquired her with whom she had sexual intercourse but she did not have answer. However, the baby was baptized  because he was born from the chromosomes put on the Duna. Her successors were called Danuwar.


Settlement and Population


Presently, there are some Danuwar settled in other districts, namely, Udayapur (4019), Jhapa (1250), Morang (1095), Sindhupalchok (2739), Sarlahi (920), Rautahat (12134)  Kavre (4110),  Dhading  and  Makawanpur  including 41 districts   of Nepal. Dukuchhap is small rural area located just 44 km away from the Kathmandu city and 1312 meters high from the sea level. The total population of the Danuwar is 53229 in the total population of the country and it constitutes 0.14 percentage of the total population. According to the household survey carried out by the researchers, the total population of the folk group is 835 households in this village. They prefer to settle on the bank of the rivers and streams like Majhi, Kumal and Bote folk groups but they resemble with the Tharu folk group of Terai. The houses are not in dispersed structure or pattern. They plant trees and flowers at the front of their house buildings. In the village, they  make wide  streets  that is  meant for courtyard  whereas in plain area they construct the courtyards at the front of their house. The courtyards are used for sun bathing in winter seasons and feeding the groves to cattle.


House Construction and Use


Most of the houses in the settlement of Danuwar are found in semi-patterned. The houses are rectangular and they are found mostly three storied in the village. The first floor is used for cooking food and the cattles are kept just opposite to the corner, they use for storing grains and food. The second floor and the top floor are used to keep the light things like old tattered clothing and hay and scraps of maize and  sometimes, used as the bedrooms too if the number of the family members is more in the house. There are barandas constructed at the front part of the houses. But now the trend of constructing modern buildings is prevailing in the locality.


Danuwar Language


They have their own language called Kaini (language, talk, and thing). There are dominant language groups, namely Tamang in the upper part of the village, Nepali (Khas) in the Middle and Duku Danuwar Kaini in the lower part of the village. 


The language is affiliated to Magadhi subgroup of  indo- Aryan family. There are 25 consonants and 12 vowels. There are two tenses: past and nonpast. The numbers are singular and plural. The basic constituent order is S(ubject) O(bjects) V(erb). It is left branching. It is very rich in terms of kinship terms. The areal languages are Tamang and Newar which are affiliated to the Tibeto-Burman Group of Sino-Tibetan language family.


There are a large number of borrowed words from Nepali. In terms of sociolinguistic study, there are  multilingual speakers  below sixty and the people above sixty are monolinguals. The  language is undocumented, unrecorded and endangered because of language shift to Nepali which is used in educational and official purpose  in the country. There is no any written literature so far found in Danuwar language. In terms of oral folk heritage it is considered to be tremendously rich like other folk group’s cultural heritages. There are dialect variations within the Danuwar living in the different parts of the country. They are not in use in different domains of education, administration and media.


Family and Kinship and Kinship


They practice living in joint and nuclear family structures. In the nuclear family, there are two generations living together whereas in the joint family there are more than two generation sharing  and living together. The family is patriarchal in terms of decision making and male dominated too. As a result, the sons have right to inherit the properties after the death of the parents. The fathers and mothers  expect to  live with the  sons  but not with the daughters who are believed to become unknown after marriage. The daughters can not claim any parental properties. The male  Danuwar practise polygamy for the sake of  prestige, pride and honor of masculinity. They incline to love more to the second wife because she looks more beautiful and younger than the first wife who was already married in early age, and look aged and older than the husband. The Danuwar young girls also expect to be the 'Kanchhi Swasni' (the second wife).


There are mainly three forms of kinship relation in this community: 1) the   kinship by blood, 2) The kinship by marriage and 3) The kinship by  fictive bondage. The degrees of behavior differ from the status of the kin. Some of the kins are more  honorable and respectable than the others while some are in formality only.  The kinship by blood are the example of the relationship of brothers and sisters whereas the kinship between father-in-law and  sister-in-law is relation by marriage. The kinship by miteri (mutual agreement to have relation based on same age and status) is the relationship between the friends. Such are the kinship based on the honor and respect of humanity. The incest in such kinship is considered to be sinful evil and strongly condemned in the society. There should  not be  a  single touch  on any parts or organs of body in miteri Saino (ritual relation) if done so any  person who did it would be fined certain amount of money  to become pure. These kinships are based on long tradition of  social and cultural norms and values which are brought up along with social and cultural development.


Folk Belief


The widely held folk belief  in  Danuwar is about the  raining in the rainy season .They  pray and have strong faith upon  Machhendranath while doing any works. First of all, they remember the name of Machhendranath; pray to in his holy name and worship, and start doing any work. They should not keep sheep as a pet in the house and they should not touch the pigs even. They become purified after taking bath in cool water. Similarly, the pregnant woman   should not touch others' children during the period of pregnancy, if  done, her own newly born baby will suffer from spongy diseases. It is not a good omen or indication or prediction to have the sight of walking three persons together.


Folk Gods/Goddesses and Festivals


The  Danuwar folk group mainly worship nature and  respect natural diety. They mainly pray to Matsyendranath and  Hindu gods and goddesses. They celebrate Hindu festivals. These include Nag panchami (worship of serpent), Gathe Mangal (worship of agricultural deity), Janai Purnima (the day of special thread wearing for the males), Kartik Purnima (worship of Machhendranath), Ched Nikalne (chasing away evil),  Ropai  jatra (rice planting day in the farm), Machhendra Jatra (worship of Machhendranath, Bhairab and Chhetrapal), Maghe Sankranti (the first day of the month of Magh (generally the 15/16 January) Kushe Ausi (the day on which they worship  the soul of dead fathers), Chauthi (day on which the Danuwar are free to steal cucumber, peas, soyabeans, and other vegetables from others’ framings), Mangsir Purnima (kinship feeding day), Ama Khuwaune Ausi ( the mother worshiping  and feeding day),  Dashain and Tihar.


Folk Dresses and Ornaments


They do not have folk dresses of their own origin.  However, the males normally put on shirt, pants, vest, waist coat, daura surwal, coat, jacket, sweaters, and the females wear sarees,  cholo, phariya, petty coat, and roll the clothes on their waist. The traditional clothings are not worn nowadays. The  male  Danuwars wear less ornaments than the females in this folk group. The  female Danuwar generally put on ear ring on the ears, ribbon on the forehead, clip  on the hair, and the girls put on clips, lemontu and so on. The old women like putting on   and tying the hair with the red ribbon on the heads.



Folk Medical Treatment


The Danuwar have faith upon the shaman’s performance and witch doctors. Even today they practice chasing the evil, visiting the witch doctors, exchanging the achheta (made  mixing cereal curd and powder), driving away the evil spirit, and using the herbal medicines in everyday life. They believe in healing the cough, headache, heart disease, post pregnancy diseases, and cursing of nag (serpent or snakes) only after visiting the witch doctors and shaman. They go to hospitals while  suffering from diarrhoea, pneumonia, fracture of bones,  and other  incurable diseases nowadays.


Folk Literature


The Dukaini do not have own script. However, there are  oral folktales, riddles, proverbs, ballads, religious hymns, and narratives of arrival of Machhendranath. The folktales can be classified in Dantekatha (nine oral tales), historical folktales, religious folktales, mythological folktales, tale of origins,  hearsay, and ballads and Gaukhane Katha (riddle, answering the question in the form of story  if defeated, the village as a bet would be lost) and so on. ‘Hira Raja and Hira RaniMajhi Dai, Garib Bahun, Toudahako Nag ra Nagini are the popular folk  oral tales in Danuwar literature. The two historical  folktales are Kalik Kaini, Nariwal Gudaune Jatra (running coconut festival), the arrival of Machhendranath, Toudahako Bisphotan  (explosion of Toudaha big lake in Newar language), and Ramayana, Machhendranath, and Bhimsen are religious folktales. The tales which describe the origin of Danuwar from Duku, Duna, Dune, Bahun-Chhetri etc. are the tales of the origins.


Folk Performing Arts


The Lakhe dance and Ropai Jatra  (paddy plantation festival) are the two popular folk performing dances. Maruni (a boy dances wearing girls’ dresses). Deusi and Bhailo are folk performing songs. Madal, flute  and  mouth harmonium are the folk performing instruments found in this folklife community. Similarly, the folk performing games include pathar goti, pathar dhekpangro (a game with wheels), dori khel (a game with thread), and poudi (swimming).


Folk Musical Instruments


The main folk instruments of the community are murali (flute) and madal (drum). In the past, there used to be madal in each and every house in the community, but  now there  are  only  three and four  madals in  the whole village. Interestingly,  a mouth harmonium was found in the search  even that seemed to be  made in china.



Gender Issues and Decision Making Procedure


The women have important role in the society. The daughters are offered gunyu choli (blouse) after they become worth of right candidate for marriage in the  same  way  the sons  become valid after conducting chhewar ceremony in the society. Above all, the death ceremony can  not be fully observed in  the   absence of the daughters. If  the  daughter  has eloped  she  becomes  pure  to conduct death rituals after her mother beats on the back of  the body once. The girls in Dukuchhap are unmarried owing to the  unavailability of the groom from their  own folk group or they did not get the right candidates as they had expected or chosen or they were manipulated by their sister not to marry. If they remained unmarried they get livelihood from the parents but they do not get the certificate of land ownership. The  fate of girls who remained single or unmarried during the years of the life is very tedious and monotonous because they  are insulted and neglected  mainly  by their own  elder or younger sister-in-laws and  the younger sisters of their own.


Rites of the Passage

Janam ra nawaran (Birth and naming rite)


The birth of the baby generally takes place in the separate room otherwise a  mat is spread in a certain place and the others take care of  the  baby. They invite the shaman and the helper too. They become  happier if the newly born baby is male rather than the female. If the newly born baby is a son then parents distribute the gifts and chocolates to the whole villagers. But they do not do so for the second time. During the time of postnatal period the mother is fed flour of the cereal with the soup of  juwano. She is not allowed to go or should not  go to any other places except the majeri (the adjacent part of the door in  a house) because  of the religious reason of causing the irritation or anger to the God of Clan. The ceremony is celebrated for  nine or eleven days. On the ninth day of birth, the child is baptized and the mother becomes pure  after she gets bathing and gets her baby bathed on the fifteenth day.


Pasni (Feeding Ritual)


The rice feeding day is observed on the ninth month if  newly born baby is a  male otherwise it is observed on the fifth. Only some people perform this ritual nowadays and rest of them  do not  conduct it because  a huge amount of expenditure. The important role in this ceremony depends on the baby’s maternal uncle as he feeds the rice pudding or cooked rice. In the absence of maternal uncle, the grandfathers may participate and play the role of the maternal uncle in the gathering. The participants or invitees bless and hand gifts over the baby on the end of the day. The absentees may attend the function next day and bless the child to be good and great in life.


Chhewar (Adolescent rite)


The first hair cutting ceremony is observed at the age of 3, 5,  7,  9 and 11. The main participants in this ceremony are maternal uncle,  niece, and own relatives who get  together in the house. To mark the hair cutting day, they consult the  astrologers and decide the auspicious day  and go to Gubhaju (Newari priest) with one mana chamal (almost half a kilogram rice)  and  the amount of 25 rupees. They smear the floor with cow dung and the floor is considered to be purified for the purpose. They worship god especially Matsyendranath before they start doing Chhewar. They gather from the village as invited  earlier than  the day of  first hair cutting. The  ceremony lasts for the  five days  on  special occasion. After the completion of ritual the son is allowed to observe mourning rituals after the death of father or mother and also become worth candidate of  marriage in the family.


Vivaha (Marriage rite)


The marriage system in this folk group includes arranged marriage, love marriage, and marriage by capture. In arranged marriage, the bride for the son is fixed by the parents. However there were only two pairs found who were married with panchya  baja. The marriage procession with a dalo of  roti  (a basket of bread), a gagri of chhang (a bucket of local wine) and three  and four pathi (equivalent to three kg) wine starts from the bridegroom’s home. Besides, they carry hens,  mutton, he-goats too. They play the Panchya Baja (five musical instruments i.e. damaha, sanaya,  jhali,  two narsingha)  in the  marriage procession if  the family is  capable of  that. The ceremony lasts for the two days, and then they introduce the mother-in-laws and the father-in-laws including other relatives on the final phase of the marriage day.


The love marriage system is very dominating trend.  Whether they are in daily wages work or farm working or making flour or schooling they know each other and share the feelings. Then, the love affair really begins. They realize and express feeling of each other  and  promise that they can not  live without the absence of one  and finally it  turns into love marriage and settle  conjugal  life in the society. If the lad or boy is very much fond of the lady or girl he  persuades and captures her to hide in a  unknown place and  may  have intercourse  on the same night. Then, they can marry with the consent of the father or  mother. Sometimes, the  lad  and the lady decide earlier themselves and the  parents  might  have already known about it. But the parent of the girl should beat the would be son-in-law with the sticks  at the  first sight or meeting. This tradition has not been prevailing since the last six or seven years.


Tradition of giving Neg (a ritual of feeding  parents)


There  is a traditional ritual  of giving neg  to the maiti (the parental  relatives of the bride) while  doing so, they  should  prepare bread, wine, soybean, mutton, chicken,  and  fetch to the parents’ house and feed them. Thereafter, the parents give dowry to the daughter. The daughters are not allowed to visit the father’s house or maiti unless they have completed  neg  ritual.


Mirtyu (Death rite and purifying rite)


The dead body is laid stretching its head to the north direction. A lamp is burnt on the side of the head of the corpse. The eldest son sits at the side of  the burning lamp and the youngest son sits on the side of the legs. If  the dead has no son the daughter can light dag batti (offering fire to the dead body). The  ritual concludes on the ninth or seventh day  and the family becomes purified after scattering the grains and water put on the leaf plates on the  crossroads. On the very day, the son-in-law or the niece slaughter the hens and smother the head of the cock to the place where they offer the Pinda              (cooked rice meant for the dead person). It is believed or said that the women folk should not see these ritual activities of the men. Whether they are men or women they should mourn for the whole year. During the time, they should not   eat oranges, pidalu (yam), badam (peanut), and the second hand cigarettes and the food prepared by others except the member of the family.


Barakhi (Mourning rite)


They mourn for the whole year renouncing orange, badam (peanut), pidalu (yam), as well as food cooked outside the house. The sons of the dead father or mothers should wear white dresses and white shoes and should not shave beards, moustache during the whole year. The red tika should not be put on the forehead. If the dead is an unmarried girl the eldest brother mourns on her death. The women wear black dress to mourn the death of their husbands.


Economic Life and Livelihood


The main profession is fishing. The women knit the mats   and sell them. Because of water pollution in Bagmati river the fishing is almost ended now. The other works of income generations are driving, daily wages works, working in the industry, government offices, and farming.


Concluding Remarks


The Danuwar people are one of the endangered indigenous folk groups though they are very rich in terms of folk heritage. They have their own traditional beliefs, language, ornaments, clothing, housing, settlements, and folk cultures different from others. After the FOFO research they have become aware on the importance of their folklore and folklife.


Prepared by: Mr. Omkareshwor Shrestha, Mr. Ajit Man Tamang, Mr. Yadav Subedi and Mr. Man Bahadur Shahu


Translated by: Mr. Kedar Nagila.