Meghalaya Tribes


Meghalaya tribes can mainly be classified into three groups - Garos, Khasis and Pnars or Jaintias. Garos are believed to be the descendants of Tibeto-Burmar race who came down all the way from Tibet to the north eastern states while the Khasis and Pnars or Jaintias are the descendants of Proto Austroloid Monkhmer race.

While Garos can be located in the Garo hills of Meghalaya, the Khasis are scattered all across the state and are known by different names. Mainly the pure Khasis can be sited at the Khasi hills, the Pnars or Jaintias can be located on Jaintia hills. Apart from these, there are many other tribes in Meghalaya. They are Bhois in the north of Meghalaya, Khynriams in the central and Wars in the southern region. They are all a sub tribes of Khasis and live a lifestyle similar to that of the Khasis.

The most noteworthy feature of tribes of Meghalaya is their parental lineage. The tribes at Meghalaya follow matrilineal lineage whereby a property's inheritance is traced through the women. In some cases, the children keep the surname of their mother. Though the women section of the tribes at Meghalaya take the responsibility of the household work, men are responsible for the mental and material life of his family. The property gets transferred to the women in the house.

Moreover, women of the different tribes at Meghalaya are free to earn their livelihood. There is only one restriction i.e., one cannot marry in the same clan and the marriage should get the approval of the family members.

The Meghalaya tribes mainly follow Christianity. Their main occupation is cultivation as the state has a vast land for cultivation. Water resources are more than enough as the state receives large amount of rainfall every year.

Garos

Garos of Meghalaya can mainly be traced in the Garo hills. The tribe has derived its name from the residents of the southern hills who were also known as Garos. Some people of Garo tribes are also residing in the plains of Assam and Bangladesh. The people of this tribe call themselves Achik-mande which means 'people of the hills'. Garos originally belong to the Bodo family of the Tibeto-Burmar race which is believed to have come from Tibet. Till date they reflect the original tradition of Tibet through their lifestyle.

The main food of Garos is rice with capsicum, onion and salt. They take this food three times a day. They also enjoy the non vegetarian food which comprises of animal meat. Garos in Meghalaya love drinking and hence they drink everyday. They do not drink distilled alcohol rather their liquor is made by imbuing food grains.

Clothes play an important role in reflecting the culture and tradition of a tribe. Among the Garos, men who live in the village wear a turban along with their clothes. While the women wear a cloth around their waist and a blouse. But during festivals, both men and women wear bangles, jewellery and head-dresses which are designed with beads stuck on feathers of hornbill. The educated Garos at Meghalaya in the urban areas wear modern clothes.

Garos in Meghalaya follow matrilineal lineage which means that a baby till death would be part of the mother's family even after marriage. And marriage needs a prior sanction of the parents. Moreover, the Garos have a strong unity and hence the death of a person is mourned by the whole community.

Garos of Meghalaya have set up an institution of Bachelor's Dormitories wherein young people are kept together till they get married. During their stay at this place, they learn how to construct roads, sports, how to prevent crops, how to organize festivals, etc.

Khasis

Khasis in Meghalaya is one of the largest tribes in the north eastern region. Khasis at Meghalaya can be traced in various regions with various names. Khasis at Jaintia hills are known as Jaintias, those living in the northern plains and foot of the hills are called Bhois, the ones in the southern hills are called Wars. All of them together are grouped under a common title named Hynniewtrep. Khasis are believed to be the descendants of Proto Autroloid Monkhmer race.

The main food of Khasis of Meghalaya is rice. They enjoy fish and meat along with it. Khasis love drinking and they prepare it by fermenting rice. The drink is called rice beer. Rice beer is compulsory during any festival or religious occasion.

Among Khasis, men wear Jymphong which is a sleeveless coat without collar tightened by thongs in the front side. During ceremonies, they wear dhotis and a waist band with it. The Khasi women wear many pieces of cloth giving it a cylindrical shape. During ceremonies, they wear crown made up of silver or gold with spike, corresponding to that on the men's head, fixed on to its back.

Khasis of Meghalaya follow matrilineal style of lineage where the follower is traced through the mother and not through the father. In Khasis, women take care of the household work and men takes up the responsibility of the material and mental life of the family. In Khasis, the youngest daughter gets the whole property. If she does not have any daughter, the property goes back to her sister after her death from whom it is transferred to her daughter.

Another feature of Khasis is that one cannot marry within the same clan. To mark the union of the two souls, rings or betel nut bags are exchanged between the bride and the bridegroom. Khasis mainly follow Christianity.

Jaintia

Jaintia in Meghalaya can be traced in the Jaintia hills. Basically it is a sub tribe of Khasis and since they have been residing in Jaintia hills, they have been named so. Jaintia, like Khasis, belong to the Proto Autroloid Monkhmer race. Jaintia along with Khasis, Wars, Pnars are known as Hynniewtrep. Jaintia are known by different names such as Syntengs, Jayantias and Pnars given to them by different anthropological authorities.

In general, Jaintia tribes along with Khasis include the following groups :
  • Bhoi in the northern Meghalaya
  • Khynriam in the central Meghalaya
  • Pnar of the Jaintia hills
  • War in the southern Meghalaya

Apart form the above listed, there are Lalung, Vaiphe, Viate and Hmass in the Jaintia hills. Like Khasis, Jaintia of Meghalaya also have rice as their main food. At times they also have fish and meat. They drink rice beer on every religious function. From this they prepare the beer on their own by fermenting the rice.

Jaintia at Meghalaya wear the same dress as Khasis. The men wear Jymphong and dhoti while the women wrap several pieces of clothes so as to give a cylindrical shape. During functions they wear crowns of silver and gold with peak attached at the back of it.

Jaintia follow the lineage of mother's family. Children of Jaintia tribe take up their mother's surname. The daughters of Jaintia tribes take away the property from their ancestors. Jaintia cannot marry within the same tribe. Since most of them follow Christianity, after death the Jaintia in Meghalaya are buried.

Last Updated on : February 18, 2014