Brokpa: The Last of the Aryans



I travel to learn and discover and not just to relax and unwind. In this sense, Kashmir has a wide ethnic diversity. In India there are very ancient nomadic and semi nomadic tribes who are always very tied to their traditions. However, many are very open to Western habits.

At the exit of Khaltsi or Kalatsé according to the maps, we leave the road of Srinagar to continue descending the gorges of the Indus, narrow and steep from there. All around, the summits exceed 5000 mt, but there is neither snow nor glacier nor vegetation. The Indus is still only a large torrent, breaking a tortuous passage through deep gorges of rocks and friable earth. The banks of the river are rocks and scree with no vegetation even on the water's edge.

The winding narrow road was traced by the army at the bottom of the gorges, a little above the river. It does not cross any village, but no village is very far. As attracted by an irresistible force, the villages that no terrain separates from the road, such as Biama or Sunnit, get close to each other, each new house being built closer to the road.

Dah valley is in shadow for a long time when the daily bus stops in the middle of the road to Leh. In the beginning, the path leading to the village rises in the unstable mound where the road has been cut. Then it winds pleasantly between the fields of tomatoes and millet bordered by apricots to the village. To the left of the path, slightly below, are the vegetable gardens covered with as many flowers as vegetables.

To the north of India, at about 3500 mt altitude, the Brokpa, also known as Drokpa or Dards are known to be the true Aryan people of the Himalayas, who once had a series of loving practices that were unique in the world. They are considered as the purest descendants of the proto-Indo-Europeans. Its origin remains its main mystery today.

Ethnologists, archaeologists and linguists combine their efforts to identify the truth about the origin of the Aryas. Arya is the proper name of this population and Aryan is the derived adjective which is now used as the name in place of Arya. Researches sets them as proto-Dardic groups with proto Rigvedic similarities and suggests them as the descendants of proto rigvedic culture, referring to certain phenomena in dardic dialects and the specific properties of the Vedic language.

It has not been possible to elucidate the archaeological culture that produced this civilization. It may be related to the Northern Black Polished Ware culture, the Swat River culture or the Bactria–Margiana culture.

The last previous estimate is that at the beginning of the third millennium BC, a wave of invading Indo-European tribes moved from the steppes located between the Dniester River and the Urals, covering central Europe. They were the source of Greek and Indo-Iranian languages. The people who spoke or who still speak the Indo-Iranian languages are called Aryans.

The Aryans are nomadic pastoralists who begin to migrate by crossing the Caucasus and Iran, Asia Minor and Mesopotamia and the north of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. They moved in trolleys with 4 wheels pulled by oxen. These Aryans settled in northern India around 1500 BC, along with the indigenous Munda and Dravidians. Through this exchange was born the classic Sanskrit that replace all the Dravidian languages of northern India.

Dardic people, representing a fraction of the Aryan group, who got stranded in remote valleys of the Indian subcontinent have maintained their originality through their isolation. They are the Kalash in Chitral valley, bordering Afghanistan, who have their own religion, the Shimshals, Ismailis, near the Chinese Xinjiang, the Drokpas or others of the Suru valley and Dras.

These Dard Brokpas were separated from the great caravan routes spreading on both sides of the Silk Road, which was a kind of spinal cord of the exchange networks. The easiest link between Yarkand on the Silk Road and Kashmir crossed the Karakoram pass, then followed the course of the Nubra, Shyok and the Indus. This route joined the Indus downstream from the current Brokpas habitat. Another caravan route joined Leh by crossing a second pass in the chain of Ladakh, then borrowed what has become today the trek of Sham.

This Tibetan word is made up of brog and pa, whereby brog means solitude or wilderness, meaning uncultivated land in the agricultural sense, but especially summer pasture for cattle in the mountains. A brog pa is accordingly a man of solitude or wilderness.

They live in areas which are not usable in agriculture and this means on pure pastures of the highland and mountain steppes. Brog Sa, accordingly meant, on the one hand, a hedgehog, and on the other, people who live in it, the so-called Brog Mi are nomadic inhabitants of the steppe.

Initially they were considered as a group of soldiers of Alexander the Great who went astray on their way back to Greece after defeating the Indian King Porus in 326 BC. However, given the lack of testable evidence, the theory that they are descendants of the Dards, an Aryan tribe that settled in India across the mountains of Hindukush, is becoming increasingly credible.

For centuries, the brokpas, nestled in an unpronounced village in the valley through which the Indus River flows, in the Bas-Ladakh region in Aruskit, a fort built as a Swarm of bees, composed of rooms without windows with a huge flat roof. Later they left the fort and were divided into 5 small villages. This spatial expansion brought with it important mutations in its social system, changes that have had an impact on the love relationships, such as polyandry and polygyny.



The Brokpa have fair complexion and clear eyes and is thought to have been formed after the invasion of Alexander the Great. This peculiar tribe, with no excessive references, is composed of about 2,500 people living in three small villages located in the valley of Dha and Hanu, about 163 km north-west of Leh in Ladakh, but they are also in other parts of Ladakh. It is the only fertile valley of Ladakh, an Indian region belonging to the state of Jammu and Kashmir bounded to the north by the Kunlun Mountains and to the south by the chain of the Himalayas.

Dahanu is the contraction of Dah and Hanu. The Buddhist brokpas occupy 4 enclaves in these gorges of the Indus. One group settled in the valley of Hanu where it occupies 3 villages. Another group has settled around Dah where it occupies 5 villages. Thus Dah is the center of a community of five villages Dah, Baldes, Lastaings, Beema and Sunnit. The third group occupies 5 villages near Garkhum.

A last group of which nothing is known is located in the Ganoaks valley. A group lives on the Deosai Plateau in Baltistan. Like the people from Gilgit, they speak an archaic form of the Shina, which is not related to other Shina dialects. It is said that they originally came from Chilas and this tradition is supported by local genealogical records and independent registers. The populations currently living in Chilas speak a related shina language. In many of the small villages, out of Ashret and Biori valleys where the language is still a mother tongue for almost all the people, the Phalura ceased to be spoken and its speakers, in large part, are switching to most spoken language in the area, which is the Khowar, the Indo-Gijari, the Sino Tibetan Balti and the isolated language Burushaski.

The group of Brokpa stands out clearly from the Tibetan inhabitants of the rest of Ladakh. Officially, the Brokpa are Buddhists, but there are still animistic elements and rituals of the Bön religion among them. One of its singularities is that they are completely different from the rest of the inhabitants of the valley, both physically and culturally, socially and linguistically. Both males and females are taller and thinner with large, clearer eyes than the neighboring ethnicities, thick lips and very characteristic nose and eyebrows.

Because of this obvious physical difference, they consider themselves superior to the rest of neighboring people or ethnic groups, which is why they never marry members of other communities. The geographical isolation of the area where they live has contributed significantly to the preservation of their characteristic ethnicity.

They are a nomadic tribe and especially like music and dance, flowers, jewelry, barley and wine. Among its traditions is the celebration of festivals, the most important of which is Bonona, at the end of summer, where they show their characteristics and showy clothes and both men and women dance for three nights. After seeing the tipis and the perae, we think we have made the tour of the originalities and extravagances in matters of headgear! Well no. We remains to discover the Hho of the Brokpas.

The one of the women is a felt glove simply laid flat across her head. Several rows of yellow and red aligned beads are sewn on. A large pendant of silver chains is fixed on the left side; A small bouquet of flowers is slipped inside the glove on the right side, And the largest are stuck in the glove in the middle of the head. Every morning at dawn, the women descend into the gardens to change the wilted flowers of their headdress, into a contest of daily coquetry.

That of the men is a round and flat cap with a large ledge that makes it easier to hold flowers. For men also have their heads covered with flowers. But we must quickly go and see the last vestiges of this tradition. Only the oldest continue to wear the floral headdress of the long mat thickened with colored woolen threads and the large red dress. Not a single man under the age of 40 wear the traditional dress, not even on Bonona day!

Men wear woolen trousers and over a tunic, while women wear woolen dresses and are adorned with shells, beads and some silver jewelry. Both are covered with layers of goatskin and use very sophisticated hats decorated with flowers, shells and coins, as you can see in the photos.

Another very distinguishing characteristic of this tribe is that they traditionally practice the exchange of wives with total and absolute disinhibition. In the same way, the practice of kissing has always been considered necessary for the union of the tribe. As a result, one of its peculiar rituals is to kiss freely with other members of the tribe without any consideration or problem on the part of the married couple.

In Dah they practice an exclusive endogamous marriage. They even tend to despise the Brokpas of the Hanu valley because they have abandoned the brokpa language in favor of the ladakhi language, and put fewer flowers on their headdress and no longer celebrate Bonanah. During the two days before the party, there is an unusual activity in the village.

The date of the festival is not fixed by a day of the Western Solar calendar, nor by a day of the Tibetan lunar calendar like all the religious festivals of Ladakh, but after a consultation between the monk of Dah, those of the monastery of Skurbuchan and the chiefs of the villages, taking into account the bad days and favorable days, and the advancement of the millet or of a problem peculiar to a village.

For example, in case of death in a village, the party will be postponed after the funeral ceremony, but it will always take place before the millet is harvested. Also, the date is known only a few days in advance. The inhabitants of the surrounding villages arrive in small groups. Everything begins in a great apparent disorder, where during two hours, one has the impression that men and women, each on their side, repeat the songs and the dances. Then, after a break, the two groups meet, dance and sing together, accompanied by a small orchestra of three musicians. It is a feast for the eyes to see so many beautiful costumes and floral headdresses.

Their main source of income comes from their orchards, where they produce apples, grapes, apricots and even nuts. The traditional food of Brokpa is based on locally grown produce such as barley and wheat often called tsampa. Other important foods include potatoes and radish, as well as Gurgur Cha, a ​​black tea prepared with butter and salt.

For religious reasons, cattle and poultry are excluded as food. The consumption of meat depends essentially on the economic situation of the people. Meat, mostly mutton, is only available for larger celebrations, generally. The cows and chickens are taboo for Brokpas. They have neither cow nor beef, bull, yak, dri (female yak), nor dzo (cross of yak and cow), nor dzomo (female of dzo).

A brokpa village in summer is a real wonder! The houses with flat roofs are tight against the rock on sites unsuitable for cultivation. In front are millet fields, tomato fields and gardens covered with as many flowers as vegetables. You can barely see cabbage, onions, turnips and potatoes in the middle of the flowers. Besides all the vegetables already mentioned, there are apples, apricots, peaches and even grapes.

In the pastoral sector relevant to the nomads, the cattle are kept over the year or part of the year on pastures. The owner of the cattle and his family accompany the herd from one pasture pasture to the next, which is why they often live in the large black-brown tents woven from Yak Hair.

Their way of life is linked in many ways to different factors, which animals they use and which products they make from or with them, how they gain, how property and the pastures are distributed, hats and other work as well as the seasonal walks are organized. Also the temperature conditions are very different. As a result, the nomads have different livestock to varying degrees like sheep, yaks and goats. These animals are all accustomed to the high altitude and adapted to the cold.

Yak, sheep and goats are used in many ways. They are milked and the milk is processed into yogurt, butter and partly also to cheese. In the cold season the milk yield is significantly lower, so meat has to balance the resulting deficits in the diet. Slaughter usually takes place at the beginning of the winter, as the animals reach their maximum weight at the end of the autumn. Over the winter they lose too much weight.

In the summer, it is difficult to keep meat because it can easily spoil, while in winter the large pieces can freeze and be stored so well. In the summer, therefore, hardly any meat is consumed, especially since the meat from the autumnal slaughterings is usually consumed until then. Slaughtering is often done by a special person for religious reasons. These are usually poorer nomads, who are rewarded for this. With this extra income, they keep themselves above water.

In the firewood-poor areas of the highland steppes also the dung of the animals plays an important role. It is used to fire. The hairs of the yaks are processed into the thick, dark brown material, which consists of the nomads, the "Ba". Sacks and cords are also made from interlaced yak hair. The nomads also sew their long, long coats, which are worn with the fur inside.

They themselves say they are Aryans, and tell the story of their people from Gilgit, a story they recite and sing for five days on the occasion of the harvest festival in early October. This is the story of three brothers living with their families in the Gilgit region.

During a hunting party, they discovered this uninhabited area. There was a lot of game and they came hunting.
They found one day that grains of wheat or barley they had to fall inadvertently had grown very well. They decided to settle on the new lands and brought their families.

One of the brothers, named Gilsing, settled above the present village of Dah. Another settled in Ganoks, and the third in Garkhum or Hanu. According to the accounts, villages were situated 4 km respectively downstream and 15 km upstream of Dah. They sank quietly in the centuries free from any influence. This legend is sung every three years during the 5 days of the festival of Bona-Nah or Bononah in early October. Specifically, the festival takes place one year in Dah, next in Garkhum and third in Ganoks.

Under a bright blue sky, with colorful gentians, sometimes even white-lined green meadows, they seem to live in paradise.