Why using the word ‘Newari’ is problematic

Newari is a terminology introduced by the hegemonic state that wanted to erase our identity. In other words, to establish the state’s language ‘Gorkha Bhasa’ as ‘Nepali’, for Nepal was a stolen name, the term ‘Newari’ was institutionalized.

While we Newā people refer ourselves as ‘Newa people’, the dominant media commonly puts the term ‘Newari’ to refer us. Nevertheless, Newa people themselves have internalized the use of term ‘Newari’, as affirming to the mainstream. 

History of the terminology

It hasn’t been much, the terminology ‘Newari’ was introduced. It dates back to Rana period. 

The term ‘Newā’ what we call ourselves dates back to the origin of the term ‘Nepāla’. The territory of Nepal has a recorded history since the Neolithic age. Neolithic tools found in the Kathmandu Valley indicate that people have been living in the Himalayan region for at least eleven thousand years. Nepal is the learned Sanskrit form and Newar is the colloquial Prakrit form. A Sanskrit inscription dated 512 CE found in Tistung, a valley to the west of Kathmandu, contains the phrase “greetings to the Nepals” indicating that the term “Nepal” was used to refer to both the country and the people.

It is evident that the term ‘Nepal’ was used to refer to the historical Newa Kingdoms. Historical accounts have used the term ‘Nepal Valley’ to refer to the central valley of Nepal, what is now called Kathmandu Valley. However, the territory of Newa Kingdoms, i.e. what was referred as Nepal, spread beyond the valley to Chitlang, Tistung, Dhulikhel, Dwalkha, and Trishuli. 
(You can refer to the following article to get more information on this: Nepal is a stolen word : How Gorkhalis co-opted the term and redefined it)

Book: My old Baudha. Pic source: Facebook status of Sumana Shrestha

A Linguistic Process of Sound Change

The processes of change in pronunciation or sound system structures that consist of the replacement of one speech sound by another, the complete loss of the affected sound, or even the introduction of a new sound, has been a part of linguistic process in languages around the world. In case of Nepal, the process looks this way:

The interchange of ‘na’, ‘ra’ and ‘la’  (न, र, ल)
Nepāla > Nepāra > Nepāna

These linguistic sounds meant the same in the native tongue not even long ago and such other examples are:
Lumāra > Numāra > Rumāra (Handkerchief)
Lāni > Rāni > Nāni                   (Queen)

However, certain sounds were lost sooner, for instance, three of the varieties for handkerchief are still existent as interchangeable, while for the term queen ‘Nāni’ is something that has changed its meaning and not changeably used for the same meaning. 

The change of ‘pa’ and ‘wa'(प, व)
Nepāla > Newāla
Nepāra > Newāra
Nepāna > Newāna

The change of ‘pa’ and ‘wa’ is more historic, since such examples cannot be drawn in linguistic process of modern languages. Other similar changes can be drawn such as:
Tatāju        > Tarāju        > Ta:ju       > Trāju  (Elder brother’s wife)
Kata:peen > Kara:peen > Karpeen              (People who are not yours own)
Patāsi        > Parasi        > Parsi    >   Prāsi  (a traditional Newa woman dress)

These are the examples of consonant sound changes that are interchangeably used in the contemporary language too.

The change of soft sounds into long sounds
Nepāla > Nepā:
Newāla > Newā:

Such examples can be drawn:
Lakha        > La:           (Water)
Palakhāla > Pa:Khā:    (Wall)
Safuti         > Safoo       (Book)
Gwāca       > Gwāy       (Mustache)

Establishing hegemony with terminology

Until the invasion of Gurkhas in Nepal, and systematic suppression by the Shah, Rana and Panchayat, the Newa people had maintained their terminology ‘Nepal’. The use of the term ‘Nepal’ was not deterred until the Gorkhalis made their new capital in Nepal, after occupying it and the day Gorkhalis decided to co-opt the term ‘Nepal’.

The Gorkhalis decided that they would use the name ‘Nepal’ to rename their expanded territory. Then, what was known as ‘Gorkha Bhasa'(the language of Gorkhas) was termed as ‘Nepali Bhasa’. The prominence of term ‘Nepal Bhasa, Nepal Sambat, Nepal Lipi’ was deterred and it was attempted to be erased and replaced with the term ‘Newari’ by the rulers then. An indic suffix ‘i’ was added to the term ‘Newar’, and the term ‘Newari’ formed.

The term ‘Newari’ has to do with colonial legacy and establishment of hegemony of Gorkha Bhasa to erase the languages of indigenous nations amongst which was ‘Nepal Bhasa’. Since then, the terms ‘Nepal’ and ‘Newa’ became noninterchangeable.

Grammatical incorectness

Adding suffix “-i” is the grammatical rule itself only in Indic languages which is the Gorkha language. In English it isn’t required to add “i” behind a noun to make it adjective.

Limbu, Limbus, Limbu village, Limbu myths
Bahun, Bahuns, Bahun traditions, Bahun families
Gurung, Gurungs, Gurung cultures, Gurung language
Newa, Newas, Newa culture, Newa language

The word Newa already suffices for any adjective use. There is no extra term coined for any other ethnicity/community in Nepal. Despite this, the use of “Newari” by people has reached such an extent that “Newari” is becoming a noun form eg. “Are you Newari?”, “A Newari person”…. which is incorrect politically, grammatically and linguistically. If we are going to write “Newari” as an adjective when writing in English, we should be prepared to write “Japani, Belayati” as well. But we don’t, as this is not an acceptable way that syntax works.

With the hegemony

While we call ourselves as Newa people; not accepting this terminology is itself an example of imposition and hegemony. Moreover, favoring Gorkha Bhasa rule while writing English is a part of hegemony that mainstreams Gorkha Bhasa as the epitome of being a Nepalese. A common instance is use of the term ‘Nepali’ in English language; while ‘Nepami’, ‘Nepalla’, and terms from any other languages of Nepal are not favored in English uses.


Newa activists have fought against the imposition of foreign terminology since the introduction. Nepal Bhasa protests sparked and rejected the use of such terminology and demanded to restore its name as Nepal Bhasa. 

The Council of Ministers also heard the voice. However, the hegemony that was put up in the mainstream is yet to go away.

Newspaper clipping about Nepal Bhasa fromThe Rising Nepal.
News clipping from The Rising Nepal dated 14 Nov 1998 about government directive to use the name Nepal Bhasa.

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