By Caroline Anderson
KATHMANDU, Nepal–One, one, one, two, two, one.
Nepalese across the nation recognize the beat. It’s part of the fabric and soul of Nepal and captures the rhythm of the Limbu people group.
Limbu believers proudly explain that this rhythm from their tall, cylindrical drum echoes and carries across the Himalayas.
Their drum is called a Ke and it’s used in festivals, house dedications and weddings. The drum rhythm is always accompanied by a special dance, called the Ke Lang dance that Limbu men perform while drumming.
Deepak Nepali* says when he hears the Limbu drums he knows he’s in Nepal. Deepak is involved in music ministry in Nepal and was one of the facilitators of a music workshop that the Limbu recently attended.
The workshop encouraged the Limbu and other people groups to use their traditional instruments and their native languages to write worship songs to use in their churches and for outreach.
Believers were told to pray and sing in their heart languages. Many had never done this before and had only prayed in Nepali.
Bikram Yekten remembers the first evening of the workshop when many of the believers present prayed and sang to God in their native language for the first time.
“Tears were falling,” Yekten recalls. “God gave us a language, God said every tongue and nation should worship and praise Him.”
Yekten is a pastor from the Limbu people group. Many years ago, there were 10 Limbu kings in eastern Nepal. One of Yekten’s ancestors was a king.
“Since I am Limbu, I should praise God in my own dialect, in my own melody. There is a difference in praising in our own language and other languages,” Yekten says.
The Limbu who attended the music workshop incorporated the Ke and the Ke Lang dance into worship songs they wrote and recorded — something that has never been done before.
“We must see the drummer,” Limbu singers told one of the workshop’s facilitators during a recording session.
The drummer struggled a little, wanting to dance while playing, but he needed to stay still for recording purposes.
When Yekten put earphones on and heard the Limbu language being sung, he couldn’t keep his tears from escaping.
“Now, we have the liberty and chance to praise God now in our own language,” Yekten said.
Keeping traditions alive
Two younger Limbu men were a part of the Limbu team at the workshop. Though they are modern and cosmopolitan – sporting carefully moussed hair, blue jeans and button-down shirts, they know their people group’s traditional dance.
Deepak says younger believers like these men will help keep the Limbu traditions alive.
Music is an integral part of Limbu society. Music plays a role in romance, relaxation, religious festivities, weddings, house dedication and harvesting crops.
Ram Prasad Kadel, author of “Musical Instruments of Nepal,” writes that Limbu men are known for their musicality. He writes that it is how males express emotions and feelings.
Limbu men tease women with a mini iron flute, called a Penje. Men court women with an instrument made out of a leaf, known as a Tetlaa Phekwaa. Men take breaks from work and play a bamboo reed, known as a Kom Mikala.
The workshop emphasized the importance of keeping these instruments in use.
In addition to keeping traditions and instruments alive, a goal for the music workshop was for people groups to use the newly written songs as a ministry tool.
“I hope God puts in your heart a prayer that every language, every tribe will be able to sing and preach the praise of God,” Deepak told believers during the closing session.
“If we have the responsibility to tell people about Jesus in their heart languages, don’t we also have the responsibility to share worship music in their language?” Deepak asked.
The Limbu believers at the workshop took seriously the responsibility to share their worship music.
In the months following the workshop, Yekten reported that six Limbu became believers after listening to the worship songs.
Now, their famous drums and dance are being used to reach the Limbu with the Gospel.
*In Nepal, individuals’ last names are often the name of their people group.
Caroline Anderson writes for the IMB from Asia.
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