Karbis Of Assam

Ethnology on the Karbis also Known as Mikirs

A Brief view on the ethnology of the Karbis

Posted by Administrator on March 10, 2009


Karbis of North East India- Custom, Law and Cultural Variation
(a review of the first impression on the Karbis on the field)
– Morningkeey Phangcho

On my ethnological studies on the Karbis of North East India, field works on different location with Dr. Philippe has given various result so far, which is of course not the final and more rigorous and intense studies has to be done on that.  Looking at the various pattern of result has far surprised Philippe, even more to me. Being a Karbi by practiced and birth myself, I was quite surprise to see various result for perception  and escalation , a Karbi man can have about oneself depending on the surrounding which make me force to think that Karbi could be one of the most adaptable tribe in the world. To the Ri-bhoi district of Meghalaya, the south of Brahmaputra Karbis are sandwiches between the culture of the plain ( Aryanise) and the culture of the blue mountain ( more Khmer) . The evidence is very much visible in their day to day practices and social behaviour. At first glance Christianity has created a layer over the tribal culture as most refuse to talk about the customary practices and claim to be a true christian by rejecting to even have the mention of the ethnic festival and custom ,  forget practicing it.

After keen observation only we could have some glimpse of the customary practices in their day to day life, of course them being unaware about it most of the time. It  has become very difficult to draw a line between a Karbi and a Bhoi Khasis in Ri-bhoi district of Meghalaya. Most of the bhois are having typically Karbi Clan names like Rongchon, Tron, Bey etc.,  follows matrilineal and considers ones to be a Khasis. Where as we have come across a village, the people have typical Khasi Names, Speaks a dialect of Karbi, most follows patrilineality , considers oneself to be a Khasis but trace their originity to some Karbi man and have a common clan with those of the neighboring Karbis having exogamous practices.

Moving down the hills, we enters into the plains of the Kamrup district where we find some more variation in social practices with it having some admixture with the Aryan culture of the general Assamese. Here Karbis are considered as on of the sub-caste of general assumes society. We find the people around these areas to celebrate Domahi during the season of Bihu of the general Assamese, which very much resemble the Domahi festival of the Kacharis and the Bihu of the general Assamese. Unlike the Karbis on the hills, the Karbis of the plains are much influence by their neighbours. Most prominent being the women taking the clans name of the husband after marriage in some location. Here the women can take reincarnation in the lineage of the husband , which is impossible amongs the hill Karbis as the women will forever retain the name of her father even after marriage. The development of  Kathar  into a Brahmin like status within the Karbi tribes is amongs the most prominent. The only qualification being however is to be a priest of the village and to be active and knowledgeable in social customs. So we find Kathars amongs the non-Ingti clansmen also in the plains, which is again impossible in the hills.

The adaptability of the Karbis according to the environment of the place of living can be again proven by the fact that the Karbis in North Cachar Hills considers the leopard as equivalent to that of tigers. Since Tigers seems to plays quite an important part in Karbi Social life, as Tiger is consider as the ultimate judge of the sinner and due to its rarity or unavailability in the jungle of North Cachar Hills, the Karbis there takes Leopard as one their guardian in place of Tiger in those areas.

The hub of Karbi culture, West Karbi Anglong Hamren is also very interesting as the basic of the Karbi Kingship I.e the Lindok Habe system resembles the Lyngdoh system of the Jaintias in many ways. More Cultural variation amongs the Karbis can be ascertain from the fact that the Karbis from Hamren Sub-Division are not very accountable with “Sabin alun”, the Karbi version of Ramayana as those in Diphu Sub-division, which is considered as one of the Karbi epic in those areas. The depleting population of older generation and influences of modern society including Christianity , which has forced them not  to talk about their old age custom, forget practicing it and the ever increasing Hindu movements like Lakhimon, Sankari etc has forced the present generation to be misled in various ways equalizing their pantheon and practices with those of the overpowering stronger faiths.  The result of course could be consider as one of the new development of  new social behaviour of the Karbis in general.

All this observation has given me a new insight into the Karbi Society, bringing more complexity and analysis which till very recent was within me seems to be far away at this present juncture. The ever self anointing behaviour of the present bunch of Karbi intellectual forced us to have different views at different places complicate the ethnology more as we tends to get different information from different informant. At this present juncture the only thing which is common amongs all the Karbis, be it plains or hills is the believe in rebirth, the procedure of naming a child, the language and the consideration of oneself to be a Karbi. As it has been observed with those in Ri-bhoi District of Meghalaya, just having a Karbi names does not prove one to be a Karbi. You must accept to be one besides following some of the orders believe to be typical to Karbis.#

3 Responses to “A Brief view on the ethnology of the Karbis”

  1. well, though a karbi i was ignorant about what our brethens settled outside the ditrict and state practice their customs,traditions and believe.after going through your artcle,i have learnt so much about them.thank you.Pls keep up the good work.

  2. songja engti kathar said

    i have learnt a lot though this article , since from my school days i am very eager to know the culture of our rich Karbi tribe.the i
    nformation that i got from here will be of much help to me .i urge the civil society of Karbi or the lamet amei to make an awareness about the Karbi language to the Karbi youth so that the rich Karbi language may not get extinct due to the extensive use of assamese language in our Karbi society,if the present condition prevails in our society , then the time of extinction of our culture wont be later

  3. Rimjhim Ghosh said

    Could you please let me know more about the Totem Poles of the Karbi , I am interested to know as I am doing a research on totem poles of North East.

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