Stories and Songs from Kagate

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Compiled by Lauren Gawne Edited by Ningmar Tamang Illustrated by Ng Xiao Yan

STORIES & SONGS FROM KAGATE ISBN: 978-1546846475 First printed 2017 This work is licensed under the Creative Commons AttributionNonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, PO Box 1866, Mountain View, CA 94042, USA. All rights reserved. If artwork and text of this publication are reproduced or transmitted please contact the copyright holders to let them know. Any resemblance to actual persons (living or dead), events, institutions, or locales, without satiric intent, is coincidental.

Foreword Kagate is a Tibetan language spoken by around one and a half thousand people in the hilly Ramechhap district of Nepal. The language is not related to Nepali, which is the national language. Kagate people are educated in Nepali, and all Kagate can speak some Nepali. The Kagate language is related to Tibetan, and other languages of Nepal whose speakers have been migrating over the Himalayas for centuries, including Sherpa. It is most closely related to Hyolmo, which is sometimes called Helambu Sherpa. It is so closely related that some Hyolmo people may even be able to read the stories in this book. Kagate people migrated from the Hyolmo area over a century ago. This was probably because of a food shortage and lack of good farming land in the Hyolmo area. They purchased land in the high hills of the Ramechhap area from local Hindus and cleared space for their houses and farming. Kagate people are particularly proud of their potatoes. They also used to make paper from the local trees. This thick Nepali paper is called kagaj, and their name Kagate came from their paper-making. In their own language they refer to themselves as Syuba. Kagate speakers are proud of their Hyolmo heritage as well as being Kagate. The Kagate language in this book is written using Devanagari. This is the same script that is used to write Nepali, although it has been modified for Kagate sounds. The Kagate community have recently been working on developing this writing system. Kagate is a small language, and like all small community languages, its future is threatened. Kagate speakers are very positive about their language and keen to develop literacy materials and introduce Kagate reading and writing classes at local schools.

Some versions of this book will include Kagate and Nepali, and some will include Kagate and English. This is so that different groups can find this book useful. This book contains stories and songs from Kagate speakers. The original recordings were made in 2014 with a number of Kagate people. Some of these stories are traditional folk tales, and you will see that many of them involve animal characters. Some of the stories are personal experience stories. We also have the texts of some songs written by Kagate people. Kagate people want to share their language and their culture with the world. The recordings of songs and stories were made as part of a project by Joan Kelly and Lauren Gawne, funded by Nanyang Technological University for “the development of artistic and participatory means of recording, writing and transmitting the stories and knowledge of Kagate, an endangered language of Nepal”. This project also funded the illustrations by Ng Xiao Yan, transcription work and other production costs. Further work on the volume, including Nepali translations by Rinchen A. Lama, was funded by the project “Documenting and describing Kagate, an endangered Tibeto-Burman language of Nepal” run by Lauren Gawne and funded by the Endangered Languages Documentation Project. The original recordings can be found online at The Endangered Languages Archive at SOAS. Thank you to Ningmar Tamang, who worked on the final text. Thank you also to Emily Gref for editorial and technical assistance and The Firebird Foundation, Awesome Foundation and Stack Exchange for funding an initial period of work with the Kagate community.


Tiger and Jackal eat meat. One day they went to get some meat. They took the meat and ran, ran away. When they got the meat, they divided it and carried it. Tiger got half, and Jackal got half.

Tiger can carry a lot, quickly. But Jackal cannot carry so much. Jackal carried his half, but shrubs in the forest tore the meat. The meat fell off and was dropped. When they stopped running away, Jackal said, “Mine is now much less!” “I have so many relatives and friends to share with,” he said. And then Tiger said to Jackal, “The meat was split in half, this is mine, where is all of yours?” Tiger didn’t have anyone to feed, but Jackal has a big family.

He said, “I give, I give, and then I have only this little bit,� and looked at his small load.


by Pasang Maya Lama

There was a man who met two children and he said, “Where has your father gone?” “He has gone to kill,” the children said. And then when asked, “Where has your mother gone?” They said, “She’s gone to plant seed.”

“Will they or will they not come back?” the man asked. “They can come back, or they cannot come back,” the children said. After they spoke the man went to the King’s palace and said to the King, “I spoke to two children on the way here, but I could not understand what they said.” The King said, “Catch those children and bring them here!”

The two children came. The King asked them, “Where did your father go?” And then they said, “Our father has gone to kill.” “And where did your mother go?” he asked. “Our mother has gone to plant seed,” they said. Then the King asked “Can your mother and father come back or not?” “They can come back, they also cannot come back,” the children said.

After they spoke, the King said, “What do they say? I don’t understand.” The children said, “Our father is killing weeds with an ox. Our mother is planting rice.They can or can’t return, we said this because the paddy field is on the other side of the river and while they were planting rice, the river rose. Now they can return on the path or cannot return, only if the river goes down.”

And the King said, “I also could not understand what these children were saying.” “I could not understand this clever speech,” he said. And the King gave a gift to those children for their clever talking.

We go to Kathmandu There is no work available for us This is how it goes Tibetan people have nothing The river makes the mortar and pestle smooth If you want to eat, there is tasty food

Our village There are no roads If buses come, they don’t come to us We sing this song this way The river makes the mortar and pestle smooth If you want to eat, there is tasty food Buses don’t come, there’s nothing There’s nothing on the road, what to do? Look that way, what do you see? Why us, what to do? How many buses come What do we do? There is nothing in our villages Nobody comes, what to do? For us, now, there is nothing In the woods, we see who, what Over there, now the road has come Near here, the road has come Electricity has also come, but not to our place What to do? For us it is difficult This is how it is for us In the dark we sit and talk What can we do?

The ox ploughed the field What can we do? I do not have two oxen with white blazes I have a black ox It does not go, I hit it with a stick It goes. What to do? It goes down that way, up, it goes down It doesn’t go down. What am I to do? What am I to do? It goes like this Go to the village and speak For us it is hard What am I to do? In this way the shaman comes This is how it goes Comes to the house in the villages Before, a pain came, A shaman came to the house I need to pay five measures of uncooked rice The shaman has gone What am I to do in the Yolmo place? I go, this is how it goes

We talk in the village houses They speak like this I also do this On the other side, what to do? Kill and bring back a deer Eat the meat, what to do? This is how things go I don’t have my own ox Go to the people in the house and beg If I plough with the ox, what to do? I cannot plough by hand

There were two sisters from a big village, who came to a small village. In that village was an old woman’s house. The old woman had nobody, she was all alone. The two sisters were out for a walk. When they arrived at the old woman’s house, they chatted. There was nothing in the old woman’s house, and she only had a very small vegetable field. The sisters asked, “What do you eat, Grandmother?” Because the grandmother had absolutely nothing.

The grandmother said, “Oh dears, there is no one to do the work, so I have nothing to eat. From this little garden, I get a very few peas and I shell them, cook the seeds, place a few in the winnowing tray and place them on the stones outside the house to dry.” The old woman sat there with the two sisters, chatting. “I am so happy that you two came to visit me. There is no one to work in the house, what can I give you to eat?” the old woman said. “Grandmother, we ate lunch before we came here, we don’t need anything to eat.”

Two crows came and sat in a tree near the old woman’s house. The crows saw the peas drying. The two sisters said, “We have to go.” “We are going, but please sit, Grandmother,” they said as they were going. The crows saw the old woman alone. They saw the two sisters go off, as they sat in the tree. While the old woman said farewell to the sisters, the crows went to the winnowing tray. The two crows ate all the peas.

Then the old woman saw them. “Hey! Hey! You two crows! That was my food for later, what will I eat?” She picked up a stone and hit the crows. The crows flew up into the tree, carrying the last of the peas. The old woman said, “You should die, crow! You ate all of my food! My peas! You should die crow! You should eat my shit! I will kill you with this stone, I tell you.” The old woman picked up the stone and hit the crow. The crow flew away.

The old woman sat and wept. After four or five days, the old woman died. The old woman arrived in the afterlife. The old woman went and sat, and was joined by two crows. “Grandmother! Grandmother, you came!” the crows said. “Why are you talking to me? Who are you?” said the old woman. “Grandmother, Grandmother, before you gave us peas.” “I didn’t have anything else, what did I eat? Now what do I eat?” she said. “I had no one to give food to. Before I would give food if I had it, now I have no one,” said the old woman.

Then one crow said, “Now Grandmother, I will give you a little food from our winnowing tray. The peas that I ate, I will give to you, Grandmother.” As he spoke, he gave the peas to her. By the third or fourth day, the old woman was hungry. The two crows came back to her. They said, “Eat, Grandmother!” and flew away. The old woman picked up the peas when they told her to eat. The peas were soft, because they were all made of shit. If you give to the crows, good things will come. The old woman told the crows to “eat shit,” but then she was the one to eat shit. The crows left.

An older brother and a younger brother went to visit a big village. While they were travelling, they met people on the road. “Where are you going?” the people asked. “We are on a journey,” the brothers said. “We are bringing our horse to the big village.” While they were travelling they thought, “Whose house should we go to? We can see the big village is far away and evening is coming. Where shall we stay?”

They met a jackal. The jackal saw them and stopped. The jackal said, “Brothers, in that village nearby are places to stay. You should go, I have lots of work to do, I can’t go now. You should go and stay there.” The brothers took their horse and went to that village. When they arrived to stay the night there was no room in any house. The brothers said, “In that village opposite to us, on that hill, we met a jackal. That jackal said, in this house is my relation, and these relatives would give us a place to stay and give us good food. We came here, but you have not given us a place to stay.” “Really?” the old man said. “Yes, really,” they said. “Well, stay with us,” said the old man. “We have a big house, in fact, we have two houses.” “In the house in the front is an oil press, bring your horse you can tie it up here to the oil press,” said the old man.

So they brought the horse and tied it to the machine and then they stayed for the evening and had good food. In the morning the brothers said, “You gave us a good place to stay, now we will go. We have far to travel and now we are late.” “Yes, yes, go slowly,” said the old man and his wife. The brothers went to get their horse but the old man and woman said, “Hey! That is our horse! It’s not your horse!”

The older brother said, “No, it’s not, old man, this horse is mine. I brought it here yesterday. I tied it to the machine, remember?”

The old man said, “No, it’s mine. The machine gave birth to the horse, so it is mine. Why would I give my horse to you?” “It’s not your horse,” the brothers said. “It is my horse,” the old man said. After that, the brothers went to the jackal to speak with him. “We are the horse owners, we brought the horse. The jackal will know this is true.” The jackal was was sitting in front of a house. They said to the jackal, “We went to those people’s house with our horse and now they won’t give it back. What should we do? You told us to stay at that house, and now they won’t give us the horse!” “Okay, go,” the jackal said. “I will arrive later, and I will help when I get there.” After speaking with the jackal, the brothers went back to the old man, and the jackal came too. He spoke to the old man, but the old man did not listen. The jackal said, “Bring the horse!” But the old man said, “My machine gave birth to the horse, it’s not their horse, it is from my machine.” Then the two brothers needed more help. The jackal said, “Go to the house in ten minutes, pick up a stick, paint your faces black and tie this bandana around your head. Take your walking stick. I will come behind you.” With this, they went back to the old man.

When he saw them in their outfits he asked, “Hey Jackal! What have you been doing?”

“Oh! I am exhausted!” the Jackal said. “Why are you exhausted?” the old man said. “I’ve been in the river, lighting fires and then putting them out. Now I’m exhausted.” The old man asked the jackal, “Where can you light a fire in the river!?” The jackal asked the old man, “Well, where can a machine give birth to a horse!? You can’t light a fire in a river. No. And a machine also can’t give birth to a horse.” After that, the jackal took the horse and went with the brothers. And that is how it was.

When going to Kathmandu on the road You can see the path above, and the path below Mother’s daughter, sisters Bring memories You can see the path above, and the path below The bus comes rolling Mother’s daughter, sisters Bring memories There is pain, my daughter You can see both near and far Bring memories while we walk The tears come rolling

A while ago, I scared away a bear. There were some Sunwar people, and we went with those Sunwar into the forest. One Sunwar man was attacked by the bear, which carried him. I was there too. When the Sunwar was attacked by the bear, I hit it. I hit the bear, and it left the Sunwar alone. We carried the Sunwar and brought him to our house, and gave him medicine for his injuries.

Later, we went to cut grass. When we arrived to cut grass in the forest, we saw something like a person’s foot print. Above in a tree was a bear, it was sitting there.

My younger brother was behind, I was in front. When the bear attacked I climbed a tree. When my brother looked up, the bear grabbed him in its arms and also grabbed the tree he was standing next to. I was in the tree nearby, the opposite tree. I hit the bear with a stick. It stopped and drew back. After, I carried my younger brother to the health clinic. After they gave medicine, my younger brother was better.

Two years later, I went after the bear and killed it with a gun. That is my report.

Opposite in the clearing, the goats graze Mother’s daughter, sisters Mother’s daughter, sisters Two sisters Come close and let us speak Go up high on the ridge Near and far, yes, look Mother’s daughter, sisters Let’s sit on the boulder and chat Let’s sit on the boulder and chat You can see above and below Talk Talk Mother’s daughter, sisters In Betari Tamtam and Pipala Tip On the queen’s necklace is a locket A gold and silver locket Speak well and all is good in your heart