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Jayanta Kumar Sarma
Date of Publish: 2016-06-28

Brokpas- the Yak rearers


Brokpa Furpa Saiya of Mandlaphudum, 38-km off Dirang in West Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh, at an altitude around 3000 mtrs from the mean sea level (msl), already started his summer migration.  This season they will migrate to Saiya a place near Arunachal Pradesh-Bhutan border in Tawang part and will stay in three transit points along the migration route. He has already moved his goods and rations to first transit point which is about two-days walking from Mandlaphudum. He had planned to start his final track with his Yak and Sheep on May 4.  He has about 45 Yaks and 80 sheep. Furpa is 63 years and his wife is about 54 years now. Furpa lost his father in his childhood, he unable to recall his father’s face, he brought up by his mother, and they were from Tawang part. His life’s journey as Brokpa began at the age of 10 years and he married at the age of 17. The couple continued the journey together. They don’t have any children and adopted two Sons, who also accompany them during the journey.

Yak rearing practice is common among the Monpa people living in Twang and West Kameng districts in Arunachal Pradesh. Usually Yak is reared by the pastoral herder among the Monpas, who is called as ‘Brokpa’. There are two major occupational groups among the Monpa, ‘Unpa’ – the field cultivator living in comparatively low altitude and ‘Brokpa’ – the pastorilist at high altitude. Unique characteristic of livelihood practices of Brokpa is seasonal migration around the grazing land, approximately from 2000 meters to 4500 meters.  In the winter from October to March, Brokpa people use to stay in their permanent settlement area at the altitude around 2000 to 3000 meters, during summer particularly from April-May, when snow starts to melt,  they move to high altitude up to around 4000 to 4500 meters in search of meadows to feed their Yak herds. Depending on the number of Yaks and other animals (mostly sheep) with them, number of people in a group for such movements varies. For such movement which requires several months, they have fixed routes from their place of permanent settlements to reach the highest altitudinal point of meadow. So at certain distances they have location where they stay for few days or months for grazing and then move again; so places of short stay and grazing on the route are transit point and other one where stay for long period are grazing point.

“The serenity of the mountain and the animal herds give us immense happiness. We never felt any difficulties. Whatever problem we face is part of our life. We never blame anyone for this. The changing colour of cloud and its pattern, wind flow pattern, bright Sunlight always guide us in our journey.  We prepare ourselves accordingly for our daily life,” says Brokpa Furpa.  

Along all the locations of the transit route they have fixed grazing places based on an agreement or contract with the community or individual who owns them. If the specific land belongs to a community then agreements will be with the community.  If the land belongs to an individual then the agreement will be with the individual. As per the agreement or contract, Borkpas have to pay taxes which are locally called as Kheri. Usually tax is fixed based on the size of the herd. In case of community ownership, the tax is paid to the community or to the village monastery based on the decision of the community and to individual family when it belongs to an individual. The pasture tax, i.e. tax paid for grazing space is called Tesrin and route tax, i.e. the tax paid for transit space is called as Lamrin. Mainly animal products are paid as tax.

Brokpa Furpa has to pay tax for grazing at Mandalaphudum in winter and at Saiya in summer in addition to route taxes at three different points. Brokpa Furpa and his wife observed some changes along their route. The availability of grasses at certain places along the routes has declined and the most favourite winter fodder for Yak, the Paisang leaves (Quercus griffithii, a species of Oak) has also declined. Sirin, the village head of a Brokpa village in Lumbung said that with increase of human population, increase biotic pressure on nature had adverse affect resulting in shortage fodder grasses which has posed a challenge to Yak rearing. Sirin, who owns a herd of 32 Yak, planned his summer trip towards high altitude before May 10 from Lumbung.

“Brokpas use Yak milk, butter, Churpi, fur, meat as the liquid assets, whenever they face crisis either they sale this product or barter these products with required material. From Yak fur they produce wool and this wool is used for carpet and blanket making. At the transit points the Brokpas erect tents which are made of blankets made from Yak-wool that has insulating capacity to maintain inside temperature of the tent and protect from rain and snow.” Brokpa Furpa.

“Yaks are the source of our life; we live with them and take care of them. We move around with season only to keep our yaks happy, which provides happiness to us,” Brokpa Furpa Saiya tod this writer on a meadow of Manadalaphadum at an altitude around 3000 mtrs from the mean sea level.   

Namge Dorma of Dirang Basti says that the Yak meat is a Monpa delicacy. The toe part of Yak is burned first and then it is cut into pieces and boiled in water with ginger and black peepers to prepare a soup which provides lot of energy to them.  He also said that, “Having tea with Yak butter and salt is a common practice of the Monpas; it helps in maintaining body temperature”.   Yak is the asset for the highlanders like the Brokpas and they get a range of product like meat, milk, wool and leather.

As per the 19th Livestock census of India, 2012, there were 76,662 Yaks in India. Arunachal Pradesh accounts for 18.3% of this population, i.e. 14,061.

This heritage animal of the highlanders, however, is facing some serious problems.  Tsering Khandu – a resident of Dirang associated with ICAR-National Research Centre on Yak, Dirang, as a community worker and technical assistant says, There are problems of inbreeding, weight loss during winter due to less availability of fodder, loss of potential female Yak and disuse infection. Their centre taking up different action to address such issues, he mainly involved with developing awareness among the Brokpa about modern aspects of health management of Yak and vaccination programme”.

Dr S. Deuri, Scientist associated with Yak research centre said that there was a need for creation of feed and fodder bank for the Yaks and promotion fodder management. He informed that their centre had also been making some efforts. He also said that improvement in basic necessities of the Brokpa families is also equally important, particularly their shelter, energy requirements, drinking water and health support services. It was observed that when Brokpas were migrating with families in their grazing trips many young children of below 14 years are also with them. The children are thus deprived from education which is again violation of Right to Education (RTE) Act.

In such circumstances there is a need to introduce mobile school for them in the line of mobile school introduce by Government of Jammu and Kashmir for the nomadic herding communities of the state.

This Yak rearing practice is not only a means of livelihood but also a heritage practice of Himalayan highlanders.  So there is need to formulate strategies to protect and improvise this practice and to keep alive the ethos, ethics and knowledge associated with this practices, which may enlighten us about wonderful Himalayan cultural practices and provide us some means of sustainable lifestyle.

Jayanta Kumar Sarma

( Jayanta Kumar Sarma is a freelance consultant in the area of Environment and Development and  he has been working with NGO, Educational Institutions, private entrepreneurial farm and government agencies of North-east region. He did his Post graduation in Geography from Gauhati University and Post Master in Natural Resource Management from IIFM. He can be reached at jksbeltola@gmail.com )






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