Karbis Of Assam

Ethnology on the Karbis also Known as Mikirs

Marriage Rules In Karbis

Posted by Administrator on March 19, 2006

There is a close association of the kinship terminology with the Karbi matrilateral cross-cousin marriage consisting for a man to marry his mother’s brother’s daughter (MBD). At every generation a man is encouraged to choose his wife from the same clan, his mother’s clan. Such a prescriptive rule of alliance unites a whole series of distinct clans or lineages on the basis of wife-taking and wife-giving relationship.

The classification of the kin and the marriage system are obviously linked. It can first be seen in the fact that parallel cousins (father’s brother’s children and mother’s sister’s children) are equated with siblings and therefore not marriageable, while cross cousins (father’s sister’s children and mother’s brother’s children) are clearly identified by several distinctive terms (Karbi terminology is remarkable by the profusion of such terms).

Besides, the following equations :

EBW (m. s.) = MBD+


MBS (m.s.) = WB (m. s.)



FZS = ZH (m. s.)

FZH = HF (f. s.)

S = BDH (f. s.)

D = ZSW (m. s.)

DH (m. s.) = ZS (m. s.)


FZH = HF ( f. s.)

FZD (f. sp.) = HZ (f. sp.)

For the abbr. meaning please refer to Karbi kinship Terminology.

are strongly suggestive of marriage preference with the mother’s brother’s daughter. It becomes apparent in the diagram below :


In black, kinship relations as considered from a male point of view. In red, kinship relations as considered from a female point of view. In blue, karbi kinship terms

Diagrammatic representation of preferential marriage arrangements among the Karbis, showing the reflection of the prescriptive rules of alliance in the terminology

In the case of a man marrying his mother‘s brother‘s daughter, his maternal uncle will become his father-in-law. The terminology applies the same term Onghai to denote both relationships. Similarly his mother’s brother’s son will be his brother-in-law, and the two again are equated (Ongsar). A man’s maternal uncle’s wife will become his mother-in-law, both being classified as Ni. The latter term is again used to denote two other linked relations, his maternal uncle’s daughter-in-law who is to become his wife’s brother’s wife. In such a marriage arrangement, a man’s daughter would become his sister’s daughter-in-law, and therefore the terminology classifies them into the same category Sopi. Reciprocally a woman’s son would become her brother’s son-in-law, again both fall into the same category, Sopo. The system being generalized to all clans, a man’s sister should be married to one of his father’s sister’s son, therefore not surprisingly a unique term (Meh) is applied to denote both paternal aunt’s son and brother-in-law.

Prescribed matrilateral cross-cousin marriage (marrying the MBD) is also reflected in the fact that the category Ong includes not only the maternal uncle but also his sons and grandsons, the relative generation being identified only by using appropriate suffixes (-hai, -sar, -so). This indicates a permanent relationship of one’s own lineage with the maternal uncle’s lineage or clan, from which wives are received through generations.

Article written by Mr. Bouchery Pascal.

One Response to “Marriage Rules In Karbis”

  1. mani said

    Excellent job in ethnography!!

    I am a student of social anthropology. I would like to know how you prepared the diagram hsowing the kinship structure and marriage rule (march 2006). Can you tell me what was the source of such diagrams, how did you draw it? I am preparing a similar diagram for a tribal group I am studying. Thanks for letting me know more about this
    God bless

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