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Meghalaya - People

Created in 1972 from a section of Assam, Meghalaya, one of the smallest states in India, occupies the plateau and rolling hills between Assam and Bangladesh in north-east India. Its people, predominantly Christian and belonging to three distinct ethnic groups, are strikingly different from those of Assam, as is its landscape. Teaching in Meghalayan schools is usually in English, widely spoken as a result.

The name implies the abode of clouds in Sanskrit. The number of inhabitants in Meghalaya as per 2014 was evaluated to be 3,211,474. Tribal individuals make up the greater part of Meghalaya’s population. The Khasis are the biggest group, trailed by the Garos and then Jaintias. They were among those known to the British as Hill tribes. The Garos inhabit the western area, the central area by the Khasis and the eastern area by the Jaintias.

Meghalaya is the homeland mainly of the Khasis, the Jaintias and the Garos. The Garos inhabit western Meghalaya, the Khasis in central Meghalaya, and the Jaintias in eastern Meghalaya. The Khasi, Jaintia, Bhoi, War, collectively known as the Hynniewtrep people predominantly inhabit the districts East of Meghalaya, also known to be one of the earliest ethnic group of settlers in the Indian sub-continent, belonging to the Proto Austroloid Monkhmer race. The Garo Hills is predominantly inhabited by the Garos, belonging to the Bodo family of the Tibeto-Burman race, said to have migrated from Tibet. The Garos prefer to call themselves as Achiks and the land they inhabit, as the Achik-land.

The Khasis [Kassyas], or ‘Hynniewtrep’ as they call themselves [signifying ‘the seven huts’] constitute about 50 percent population of the state. Khasis are followers of different religious practices. Presbyterian, Anglican, Roman Catholic are also found significantly in Meghalaya. Khasi tribes who adapted to the indigenous practices of the Khasi religion are also in a large number. The Khasi tribe follow the culture, rituals and norms of matrilineal community. However, the father of the house plays a significant role in a Khasi family. The various ways in which the word Khasi has been spelt by different writers, has no doubt puzzled many an European reader, and will be familiar no doubt to some in the form of Cossyah, Khassyah, Kasia, etc

The Jaintias is also called Pnar or Synteng. They belong to Hynniewtrep sect of the Austric race whose kingdom was the oldest and most widely spread around Jaintia Hills. Like the other two, this tribe is matrilineal where the youngest daughter of the family inherits the family property. The girl child of the family is adored and mollycoddled, in terms of education, health and liberty, by every member of the family. Jaintias has expertise in artistic weaving, wood-carving, cane and bamboo work. Also they are interested in carpet weaving, sericulture and making musical instruments, jewellery and pineapple fibre articles.

The Garos [Garrows] are the zesty and zippy inhabitants of Garo Hills. They call themselves Achik-mande, which in the Garo language ‘achik’ means ‘hills’ and ‘mande’ means ‘man’. Hence, Achik-mande means the hill-people. A childbirth in Garos is not only celebrated by family but by the whole clan. The Garos are also one of the few tribes in the world who follow matrilineal societal system.

The Garos call themselves Achiks. 'Garo' is believed to have been derived from the name of one section of the tribe who are found in a compact area in the middle of the districts southern belt. The Garo tradition speaks of their migration from Tibet. In course of time, the Garos society was divided into three major exogamous, 'Kin-groups' or Katchis, namely Marak, Sangma and Momin. These are further sub-divided into such groups as Areng, Shirra and Ebang.

Marriage between members of the same Katchi is totally prohibited by tribal law. Each of these Kin-groups is further sub-divided into a number of lineages called Machong. The Machong with its component households is the basic unit in the Garo social organization. A Garo belong to his particular Machong from his birth. In each village, the dominant Machong selects the headman who is Nok-ma literally means house-mother. Usually Nok-ma would be a man.

Inheritance among the Garos is restricted to the female line. Each family selects an heiress (nok-ma). A couple with no children may adopt the daughter of the wife's sister as heiress. The heiress is usually linked in marriage with the son of the father's sister. The institution of the 'Bachelors Dormitory' (Nok-pante) is found only among the Garos. All unmarried young men and growing boys must live in the dormitory. These young people carry out allotted tasks entrusted to them by the village elders. The Garo tribal groups consists of sub-tribes.

The Khasis, the Jaintias and the Garos have a matrilineal society. Descent is traced through the mother, but the father plays an important role in the material and mental life of the family. While, writing on the Khasi and the Jaintia people, David Roy observed, 'a man is the defender of the woman, but the woman is the keeper of his trust'. No better description of Meghalayan matrilineal society could perhaps be possible.

In speaking of the Khasis and the looseness of their family and domestic relations, which are somewhat easy, the frequent changing of wives was not so common as might be supposed, and in the remoter villages very rare. There was a very strong force which militates against its frequent practice. The men of these tribes selected their wives not for beauty and delicacy, but for their well-developed forms and hard-working qualities — those who can carry heavy loads throughout the day; and the more children she begets the better for the pair: they can cultivate as these grow up a larger area, and live in greater comfort.

In truth, in the 19th century the British found very much to admire in these Hill people, they were in many ways, socially and physically, far above their Bengali neighbours of the plains; intercourse with them was, in consequence, much pleasanter, easier, and has far greater interest; innate honesty and truth in their manners of dealing often crop out, more especially in villages well within the hills, where contact with the people of the plains was of rare occurrence.

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Page last modified: 20-02-2018 18:42:46 ZULU