New Delhi: Tiny warring Himalayan kingdoms and a centuries-old tradition have combined to forge a unique bond of kinship in Nepal as a way of transcending varying regional, religious and social circumstances.

Popularly known as “Mit” or blood brothers in Nepal, the “miteri’ is a form of fictive kinship widely encountered in the multifarious social settings of the Himalayas, contracted between individuals and sometimes, by extension, between kin groups.

“I am Muslim and a journalist. So news of violence and hatred between Muslims and those of other faiths is never far from my mind. But my Nepalese ‘mit’ [blood brother] is a Hindu. Our friendship is known as a ‘miteri’ friendship — a special friendship decided by our grandmothers over 24 years ago as part of a unique Nepali tradition,” says Nepal-based journalist Gani Ansari, in an account published by the BBC Nepali service last month.

According to social scientists, the ‘miteri’ system serves to consolidate social interaction between levels of caste in a complex hierarchical system that otherwise separates the members of these endogamous groups. In a difficult physical environment, forging such kinship also forces people to interact closely for resource exchange.

The live and visible instances of ‘miteri’ relationship dates back by centuries in Nepal.

Social context

“The social and environmental context in which ‘miteri’ flourishes is multifarious,” anthropologist Dr Gopal Arya tells Gulf News. “The variety of ethnic and caste groups is large and interaction between peoples of varying status, cultural expression, language, religion, economy and place is complex. A predominant impression in Nepal is that many caste and ethnic groups intermix rather freely and with a certain tolerance for differences in language and religious expression, but social interaction in the form of contact is strictly regulated, hence ‘miteri’ helps.”

That’s certainly the case for Ansari.

“My ‘mit’ Ram Narayan and I were both five years old when our ‘miteri’ relationship was solemnised. Our grandmothers thought we looked alike and had agreed that ‘miteri’ relations between us would be a good idea,” he writes in his personal recollection. “There was a ceremony to establish our relationship as blood brothers — although there was no actual mingling of blood. I was made to take a bath and wear new clothes just like Ram. We had to sit together and eat the same sweets from the same plate. It is believed that doing so makes the friendship long-lasting,” explains Ansari in his account.

Once a ‘miteri’ bond is established, its participants no longer call each other by name, but simply as ‘mit’ or ‘mitini.’ A ‘mit’ or ‘mitini’s’ children may also address a parent’s ‘mit’ or ‘mitini’ by the fictitious kin terms as ‘mit-ba’ or ‘mit-ama.’

“I, a Muslim, used to attend Holi, the Hindu festival of colours when I was in the village. Likewise, Ram always came to my home to celebrate the Muslim festival of ‘Eid.’ Despite the religious divide and issues of untouchability, we shared foods from the same plate — an unusual sight in our village,” says Ansari.

Systems of fictive or ritual kinship and ceremonial or bonded friendship have long held a certain fascination for anthropologists. Such systems of relationship are often modelled on real kin ties and tend to link individuals, networks of individuals and larger groups together for both effective and instrumental reasons.