Poem / Reflections

Looking for the Lepchas

A poet of the Indigenous Lepcha community of the Eastern Himalayas is looking to find herself as she grapples with the legacy of writings and material that speak “about” her community.
From behind, a photograph features a group of children wearing patterned hats and clothing—some with black backpacks—standing in a village square. All but a few children in the back of the group have both hands on their heads.

Personal archive of Charisma K. Lepcha

“Looking for the Lepchas” is part of the collection Indigenizing What It Means to Be Human. Read the introduction to the collection here.

Looking for the Lepchas - Listen

Someone, a poet, is looking for me
I’m looking for me too

I look for myself in the library
Tiptoeing about the dusty shelves
Looking for books that tell me how to be
The Lepchas are docile, shy …
They don’t speak, they whisper …

Did these words become my flesh?
I find that I agree
And then, I don’t
Because I can’t
Still these ghosts that speak to me of mine
Haunt me

I look for myself in the hallowed archives
Where knowledge is bundled up in boxes only a few can touch
Looking for what I must know about myself
The Lepchas know the flora and fauna of their land so well …
I could easily be dead
After eating a mushroom I should have known not to

I look for myself in the museum
Pieces, artifacts, stones, displays
I feel preserved, taken care of, special even
I could as well crawl in there and pose
And then, I grow cold, like the objects staring back at me
I feel endangered

I look for myself in history
I learn of the mighty warrior Pano Gaeboo Achyok
Of how he was killed by a wily enemy
As he and his people ate and drank
I look for glory
I find it fading

A watercolor drawing depicts a faceless person holding up a red book with framed pictures on a white wall in the background. Among the pictures are the person’s cut-out face, a person with braided hair and a blue feather in their brown fedora, a stringed instrument, and a brown thatched-roofed hut on stilts.

Rongnyoo Lepcha

And then I realize
I’m looking in the wrong place
Perhaps, I’m looking in all the wrong places

I am still looking for myself
In a snatch of conversation
In an expert’s comments
In an official document
In my people

I am still looking for myself
In a story, in a song, in a poem.

Abrona Lee Pandi Aden teaches in the English department at Sikkim University, India. She is interested in the politics of representation surrounding gender and Indigeneity in literature. She belongs to the Lepcha community Indigenous to Sikkim and the Darjeeling Hills. Some of her short stories and poems have appeared in Muse India, Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry and Literature, and Mekong Review.


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