Cultural Overview

Earliest records describe a land of separate ruling principalities that were united under large kingdoms west of Gorkha, and smaller kingdoms east of Gorkha. King Prithvi Narayan Shah of Gorkha unified the country east of Gorkha in the 18th century, and what is known today as Nepal cites its origins to that time, even though incorporation of the western kingdoms occurred later. The national language of Nepal is Nepali, from the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European language family, and numerous variations of standardized Nepali are spoken. Nepali uses Devanagiri script, derived from Sanskrit. Numerous languages from the Tibeto-Burman branch of the Sino-Tibetan languages are spoken by ethnic minorities throughout the country.

Nepal has a primarily agricultural economy, and the majority of people are subsistence farmers. It is considered one of the 10 poorest countries in the world, with an average annual income of approximately $250 (U.S. dollars). People meet their basic subsistence needs through farming and forms of exchange labor described below. Tourism is one of Nepal's most important industries. International development has been underway in Nepal for the past half century, and development dollars comprise a large percentage of the national budget. The majority of Nepali people claim Hinduism as their main religion, followed by Buddhism. Hinduism is also a way of life that organizes society and people into ranked groups called castes, which have religious and economic features. Nepal is famous for its religious syncretism and non-violent sectarianism.

Most Nepalis live in small farming villages, and those with land plant main crops of rice and wheat, supplemented by corn, millet, vegetables, legumes, fruit trees, and tobacco. Nepali villages generally do not have running water or electricity inside the homes. Water taps and wells are shared by the community for drinking water, for bathing, and for washing clothes. The number of families with outdoor latrines is increasing in Nepali villages, though the majority of people use river and creek beds as their toilets.

Nepali houses are built from local raw materials and are generally of stone and mud-dung construction, with supporting wooden beams. Roofs are thatch or slate. The number of stories depends on the family's wealth, but most do not exceed three, and the poor usually have only one storey. Animals live in barns attached to the house on the ground floor. Rooms are multifunctional, serving as sleeping and storage spaces. The hearth and dining areas are on the top floor.

Integrated into the agricultural economy is a traditional patronage system called the jajmani system, which binds low-caste families to high-caste families through economic need and Hindu religious ideology. In exchange for low-caste artisan products, such as agricultural tools, pottery, baskets, clothing, and house construction, high-caste landowner patrons regularly provide harvest shares called khalo to artisan families, and are expected to meet many other subsistence needs of these untouchable landless dependents (Cameron, 1998). Now, lower castes seek independence from the patron-client system by becoming small landowners in an increasingly closed market.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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