The Monpa (Tibetan: མོན་པ།) are an ethnic group in the Indian territory of Arunachal Pradesh, with a population of 50,000, centered in the districts of Tawang and West Kameng. Another 25,000 of them can be found in the district of Cuona in Tibet, where they are known as Menba (). Of the 45,000 Monpas who live in Arunachal Pradesh, about 20,000 of them live in Tawang district, where they constitute about 97% of the district's population, and almost all of the remainder can be found in the West Kameng district, where they form about 77% of the district's population. A small number of them may be found in bordering areas of East Kameng and Bhutan (2,500).
They also share very close affinity with the Sharchops of Bhutan. Their language belongs to the Tibeto-Burman family, but it is significantly different from the Eastern Tibetan dialect. It is written with the Tibetan script.
The Monpa are sub-divided into six sub-groups because of their variations in their language. They are namely:
The belief in transmigration of the soul and reincarnation is widespread, as their life is largely centered on the Tawang monastery in Tawang district, where many of the young Monpa boys would join the monastery and grow up as Buddhist Lamas.
The Bhut Monpa led a hunter-gather lifestyle and believed that the main totem and clan idol is the spirit of the tiger, who will torment any initiate while he sleeps. It is also believed that the spirit of the tiger is the manifestation of the ancestral forest spirit, who took a young shaman into the jungle to be initiated.
Principal Monpa festivals include Choskar harvest, Losar, Ajilamu and Torgya. During Losar, people would generally pray pilgrimage at the Tawang monastery to pray for the coming of the Tibetan New Year. The Pantomine dances are the principle feature of Ajilamu.
The Buddhist Lamas would read religious scriptures in the Gompas for a few days during Choskar. There after, the villagers will walk around the cultivated fields with the sutras on their back. The significance of this festival is to pray for better cultivation and protect the grains from insects and wild animals. The prosperity of the villagers is not excluded as well.
It is a rule that all animals except men and tigers are allowed to be hunted. According to tradition, only one individual is allowed to hunt the tiger on an auspicious day, upon the initiation period of the shamans, which can be likened a trial of passage. Upon hunting the tiger, the jawbone, along with all its teeth, is used as a magic weapon. This is believed that its power will enable the tigers to evoke the power of his guiding spirit of the ancestral tiger, who will accompany and protect the boy along his way.
The man is the head of the family an he is the one who takes all decisions. In his absence his wife takes over all responsibilities. When a child is born they have no strict preference for a boy or a girl. Some however prefer a daughter for she stays in the house of her parents once she is married. Her husband is the one who moves to the house of his parents-in-law.
Due to the cold climate of the Himalayas, the Monpa, like most of the other Buddhist tribes, construct their house with stone and wood with plank floors, often accompanied with beautifully carved doors and window frames. The roof is made with bamboo matting, keeping their house warm during the winter season. Sitting platforms and hearths in the living rooms are also found in their houses.
To prevent soil erosion by planting crops on hilly slopes, the Monpa have terraced many slopes. Cash crops such as rice, maize, wheat, barley, chili pepper, pumpkin, beans, tobacco, indigo and cotton are planted.
In the 11th century, the Northern Monpas in Tawang came under the influence of Tibetan Buddhism of the Nyingma and Kagyu denominations. It was at this time when the Monpas adopted the Tibetan script for their language. Drukpa missionaries made the presence felt in the 13th century and the Gelugpa, in the 17th century, which most Monpas belong to today.
Monyul remained an autonomous entity, of which local monks based in Tawang held great political power within the community, and direct rule over the area from Lhasa was established only in the 17th century. One of the first travellers into Monyul, Nain Singh, who visited the area from 1875-6 noted that the Monpas were a conservative people who shunned off contact with the outside world and were making efforts to monopolise trade with Tibet. Subsequently the British sought to make their political influence felt and the drawing of the McMahon Line in 1913 drew the modern boundaries which divided the land to which the Monpas inhabited, and became a source of contention in the subsequent years to comec owing to ambiguities to the specific location of the McMahon Line.