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Acta genet., Basel 18: 70-77 (1968)
Department of Anthropology, Panjab University, Chandigarh
The Distribution of Middle Phalangeal Hair Among Gorkhas1
P. K. PARMAR
Genetic traits have aroused much interest among anthropologists
in view of their value in population studies. The presence of middle
phalangeal hair, known in the past as hair on the middle segment of
the digits, is one among them. Many investigators (Boyd and Boyd,
1937, 1941; Seicall, 1939; Bernstein and Burks, 1942; Bernstein, 1949;
Boyd, 1950; Gam, 1951; Saldanha and Guinsburg, 1961; Dutta, 1964)
have shown that there exist variations which are quite striking in
character with regard to the middle phalangeal pilosity in various
ethnic groups.
Danforth (1921) was the first to establish that this trait is genetically
determined and the complete absence of middle phalangeal hair is a
recessive trait. Exceptions to this ride were, however, put forward
by Matsunaga (1956) and Beckman and Book (1959). Thus, the mode
of inheritance regarding this trait may be regarded as somewhat
obscure. Bernstein and Burks (1942) and Bernstein (1949) had sug­
gested that the distribution of the middle phalangeal hair is governed
by a set of five alleles, having increasing dominance in phenotypes
A0, Aj, A2, A3 and A4. The subscript correspond to the number of
fingers the alleles cause to be affected. Thus according to them, a
person without middle phalangeal hair would be known as A0 pheno­
type having AnA0 genotype. It is quite evident now that to assess the
ethnic variations among different groups of mankind, more and more
data have to be collected.
Material and Method
1 Gorkhas originally belong to Nepal, but have been contacted for the present
study in the Dhauladhar Range of the Kangra District in North-W estern India
where they have settled for a number of generations.
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A study was conducted on the appearance of middle phalangeal
hair in the male population of the Gorkhas of the Dhauladhar Range.
P arm ar
71
The presence or absence of hair on the middle phalanges of both hands
was observed by means of a hand magnifier. In all 471 adult males
were examined for this trait. The data thus obtained have been cate­
gorized for the purpose of analysis under six sub-groups, namely:
Magars (176); Chhetris (108); Gurungs (86); Thakurs (40); Brahmins
(28) and low caste groups, grouped into a broad category i.e. Artisan
castes (33). The number given in the bracket indicates the number
observed in each case.
The Gorkhas inhabiting the slopes of the Dhauladhar Range are
originally the descendants of emigrants from Nepal. Their ancestors
settled in the present habitat in the beginning of eighteenth century
and have since then formed a part of the Indian population. The
Gorkhas of these ranges are strictly endogamous in the sense that they
marry within their own community. Morris (1942) has recognised the
following caste groups in Nepal in his book entitled ‘Gorkhas’, namely
Thakurs, Chhetris, Magars, Gurungs, Rais, Limbus, and Tamangs
and more recently, the same hierarchy has been put forward by
Haimendorf (1960). These caste groups are also endogamous within
themselves and are further sub-divided into clans and lineages which
are exogamous in character. The mating pattern in Gorkhas thus
consists primarily in regulating endogamy within community and
caste exogamy in clans and lineages. The Gorkhas can thus be said to
be a community composed of inbreeding caste groups.
In Table I, the frequency distribution of middle phalangeal hair
among the different sub-groups of the Gorkha community are shown.
The incidence of unaffected as well as affected individuals on each of
the four digits of both the hands is also given in the same table. By
and large the incidence of the mid-digital hair shows a bilateral sym­
metry in its occurrence on the two hands in all the sub-groups of
Gorkhas. A digit-wise distribution of mid digital hair shows some
noteworthy variations such as:
(1) The highest incidence is found on digit 4 (28.40%).
(2) The incidence shows a gradual decline on both sides of digit 4.
The decline, however, is more conspicuous towards the index finger
where it touches as low a value as (0.06%) on the 2nd digit.
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Observations
P arm ar, The Distribution of Middle
72
Table I. Frequency distribution of middle phalangeal hair
Phalangeal Hair
Sub-groups No. 2
ohs. Left
with without
Right
with without
3
Left
with
176 1
175
0.06% 99.94%
107
Chhetris 108 1
0.09% 99.91%
Gurungs
86
86
100.00%
40
40
Thakurs
100.00%
Brahmins 28
28
100.00%
Artisan
33
33
100.00%
castes
-
1
175
0.06% 99.94%
2
106
1.85% 98.15%
86
100.00%
40
100.00%
28
100.00%
33
100.00%
-
35
141
19.88% 80.12%
72
36
33.33% 66.67%
23
53
26.74% 73.26%
12
28
30.00% 70.00%
22
6
21.42% 78.58%
10
23
30.30% 69.70%
Magars
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
without
Right
with
without
142
34
19.32% 80.68%
72
36
33.33% 66.67%
23
53
26.74% 73.26%
12
28
30.00% 70.00%
6
22
21.42% 78.58%
10
23
30.30% 69.70%
Discussion
The data regarding the middle phalangeal hair relating to the Indian
population is patchy and rather insufficient to assess the distribution
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(3) The incidence of the mid-digital hair on the corresponding fingers
of the two hands is found to be similar almost invariably. Thus, no
significant bimanual differences are noticed.
Table II shows the comparison of frequency of middle phalangeal
hair among different Gorkha sub-groups. The Chi-square test shows
that the variation is statistically insignificant. This finding is in
conformity with historical facts, whereby the origin of the various
Gorkha sub-groups can be traced back to a common parental stock
and, therefore, are not expected to show any significant geneticdifferences amongst them. As such, for the purposes of comparison
with other populations, the data on various sub-groups of Gorkhas
have been pooled together under a single heading, which is a fairly
good representat ion of the population as a whole.
Table III depicts the percentage frequency of individuals ‘without
middle phalangeal hair’ in different populations of India.
Phalangeal Hair Among Gorklias
73
among different sub-groups of Gorkhas
Right
with
without
126
50
50
126
28.40% 71.60% 28.40% 71.60%
41
67
42
66
38.88% 61.12% 37.96% 62.04%
56
57
30
29
33.72% 66.28% 34.88% 65.12%
24
24
16
16
40.00% 60.00% 40.00% 60.00%
21
21
7
7
75.00%
25.00% 75.00% 25.00%
12
12
21
21
36.36% 63.64% 36.36% 63.64%
5
Left
with
without
46
130
26.13% 73.87%
34
76
31.48% 68.52%
67
19
22.09",, 77.91%
13
27
32.50% 67.50%
5
23
17.85% 82.15%
11
22
33.33% 66.67%
Right
with
without
46
130
26.12% 73.87%
34
76
31.48% 68.52%
19
65
22.09% 77.91%
12
28
30.00% 70.00%
5
23
17.85% 82.15%
11
22
33.33% 66.67%
and variability of this trait. From whatever material is available, it
appears that the trait shows a good deal of variation from population
to population. This, however, is not unexpected, firstly because there
are a number of basic elements forming the substratum of the Indian
population (particularly the tribal groups) and, secondly, the presence
of a well developed caste system has existed over a long stretch of
time and consequently resulted in a good deal of genetic diversity.
The variability in the frequency o f‘middle phalangeal hair’ among
different Indian populations, ranges from 22.6% to 100.00% (Table
III). It is also evident from the table that the bulk of the material
comes from the Madhya Pradesh which is a central part of India. The
other major portion is contributed by the states of West Bengal,
Assam, and Tripura in eastern India. The data from Western and
Northern India is represented here only by two studies. The rest of
the samples are from Andaman and Nicobar Islands (India) which are
situated in the mid-waters of the Bay of Bengal.
The Gorkha population falls near one extreme when the thirtyseven Indian populations on which data are available are arranged in
ascending order of the incidence of unaffected individuals with this
trait. They show striking similarities with those populations which
have a distinct Mongoloid strain. Among the four tribal groups of
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Phalangeal Hair
4
Left
without
with
P arm ar, The Distribution of Middle
74
Table I I
Comparison of frequencies of middle phalangeal hair among different
sub-groups of Gorkhas
Sub-group
N
Phalangeal hair
W ith
N
%
W ithout
N
0//o
Magars
Chhetris
Gurungs
Artisan Castes
Thakurs
Brahmins
176
108
86
33
40
28
51
42
29
12
17
7
125
66
57
21
23
21
71.02
61.11
66.28
63.64
57.50
75.00
28.98
38.89
33.72
36.36
42.50
25.00
Assam who have Mongoloid affinities, the frequency of unaffected
individuals varies from 54% to 80%. The Riangs of Tripura state who
are also Mongoloid, however, show an exception in so far as they have
a comparatively low incidence of unaffected individuals (35.9%).
There is yet another group of Mongoloid origin viz. Chowrite and
Terressan of the Nicobar Islands who deviate markedly from the normal
Mongoloid trend with this trait by displaying a much smaller fre­
quency (ranging between 22.6 to 23.5%) in comparison to those of
the Mongoloid groups of Northern India. This in all probability is due
to the fact that the Nicobarese have remained isolated for a long period
and the relatively much smaller incidence of unaffected individuals in
them may be the result of genetic drift.
The variation in other world populations having a Mongoloid strain
with regard to this trait shows a fairly wide range of distribution (be­
tween 44.9 to 98%). The results available are:
Aleutus 44.9% (Garn, 1951); Japanese 58.3% (Matsiinaga, 1956);
American Indian (Penobscot) 64% (Danforth, 1921) and Eskimos
98% (Seivall, 1939).
To sum up, the proportion of individuals without middle phalangeal
hair in the Gorkha population is 66.4% which is within the range of
its distribution in the Mongoloid population on the whole. By the
standards of its variation in the Mongoloid groups, this incidence is
neither very high nor very low. These results also conform to their
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Heterogeneity: yf = 5.667, d.f. = 5, 0.50>P>0.30.
75
Phalangeal Hair Among Gorklias
Table I II
Percentage frequency of individuals without middle phalangeal hair in different
populations of India
1.
2.
3.
4.
Chowritc
Terressan
Teli
Parsi
5.
6.
7.
8.
34.
35.
Chamar
Riang
Aliir
Manjhole
Bhatra
Rarhi Brahmin
Bengali
Bengali
Kol
Bade Bhatra
Mahra
Gandhabanik
Muslim
Muslim
Eastern Muria
Dorla
Indian
Rajput
Duley
Nokte Naga
Brahmin
Dhurvva
Gond
Mohyal
Brahmin
Rajhanshi
Western Muria
San Bhatra
Khasi
Lushai
Northern
Dhurwa
Tcntuliu Bagdi
Gorkhas
36.
37.
Mikir
Onge
9.
10.
11.
12.
13.
14.
15.
16.
17.
18.
19.
20.
21.
22.
23.
24.
25.
26.
27.
28.
29.
30.
31.
32.
33.
Locality
Males
N %
Authors
Nicobars
Nicobars
Madhya Pradesh
Bombay and
Lucknow
Madhva Pradesh
Tripura
Madhva Pradesh
Madhya Pradesh
133
98
27
430
22.6
23.5
29.6
31.2
Ganguli and Pal, 1963
Ganguli and Pal. 1963
Dutta. 1964
Mavalwala, 1957
53
198
26
59
33.9
35.9
38.5
40.7
Dulla. 1964
Kumar and Sastry, 1961
Dulla, 1964
Negi et a l 1963
West Bengal
West Bengal
West Bengal
Madhya Pradesh
Madhva Pradesh
Madhya Pradesh
West Bengal
West Bengal
Madhva Pradesh
Madhva Pradesh
Madhva Pradesh
Assam
Madhva Pradesh
West Bengal
Assam
Madhya Pradesh
Madhya Pradesh
Madhya Pradesh
U ttar Pradesh
191
1538
427
25
106
78
100
203
101
143
123
250
49
143
111
96
167
27
71
41.9
43.2
46.4
48.0
48.1
48.7
49.0
49.3
49.5
51.0
52.8
52.8
53.1
53.8
54.1
54.2
54.5
55.5
56.3
Dhattacharjee, 1956
Biiclii and Dutta. 1955
Biichi, 1954
Dutta, 1964
Negi el al.. 1963
Negi et al.. 1963
Dutta, 1965
Bhattacliarjee. 1956
Dutta, 1964
Negi et al., 1963
Negi et al., 1963
Pakrasi and Das, 1956
Dutta. 1964
Kumar, 1957
Kumar, 1955
Dutta, 1964
Negi el al., 1963
Dutta, 1964
Singh and Dutta, 1955
West Bengal
Madhya Pradesh
Madhya Pradesh
Assam
Assam
Madhya Pradesh
284
148
69
301
125
52
56.7
57.4
57.8
59.5
64.0
65.4
Roy Choudlmry, 1961
Negi et al., 1963
Negi el a l 1963
Mukherjee, 1963
Muklierjee, 1963
Negi et al., 1963
121 66.1
W est Bengal
Dhauladhar Range 471 66.4
(Himachal Pradesh)
150 74.0
Assam
35 100.0
Little Andaman
Kumar, 1957
Present study
Mukherjee, 1963
Biichi and Roy, 1955
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S.No. Population
76
l’arm ar, The Distribution of Middle
close proximity to the Mongoloid group with respect to other mor­
phological and genetical traits.
Summary
471 adult Gorkha male subjects were examined for the presence of
middle phalangeal hair. The data were analysed under six endogamous
sub-groups in order to assess the extent of variation within the Gorkha
population. The statistical tests revealed insignificant differences.
The incidence of middle phalangeal hair in Gorkhas as a whole was
recorded as 33.6%. The frequency of its distribution on various digits
showed the highest incidence on digit 4 (28.4%) and the least on digit 2
(0.06%). No significant bimanual differences were observed regarding
this trait.
A comparative study of middle phalangeal hair distribution in
various populations placed Gorkhas in close proximity to other
Mongoloid populations with regard to this trait.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
My grateful thanks are due to Dr. V. Bhalla,' Lecturer in Physical Anthropology,
Panjab University, Chandigarh, for having read through the manuscript and for
making useful suggestions regarding the analysis of data.
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Author’» address: Mr. P. K. Parm ar, D epartm ent of Anthropology, Punjab University, Chandigarh 14
(India).
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