Karbis Of Assam

Ethnology on the Karbis also Known as Mikirs

Archive for October, 2007

A Tribute to Semsonsing Ingti : The Father of Karbi Nationalism

Posted by Administrator on October 26, 2007

 

Dharamsing Teron

Introduction:

Semsonsing Ingti is undoubtedly the most towering and iconic figure of Karbi nationalism whose intense commitment towards his own people helped shape its destiny at a turbulent time when everything only seemed a distant dream—a dream that was shaped by a fierce imagination of a people who were only faint outlines in the periphery of the emerging India. But the man, to the majority of lesser mortals, has continued to remain an enigma whose life and contributions have never been evaluated in the truest sense. The general amnesia of the Karbi intelligentsia, both of the past and the present, has almost rendered him into a shadowy figure, coming ‘alive’ only during ritual official commemorations. The mass amnesia has manifested through the confusing and often contradictory information about even this man’s birth and death. To confound the confusion further, a tombstone at his grave at the Nowgaon Baptist Church cemetery ‘recorded’ his date of birth as 8 February 1904! This ‘record’ has contradicted and in a way invalidated all the existing literature, though rather sparse, on the man. There even exists the controversy around the date of his death and as regards the place where he was born. Did he breathe his last on 29 February, 1948? Was he born at Tika or Golaghat? These and many more such confusing questions on the life and works of the man have only helped to build an increasingly dense aura of myths around him. Sadly, this reflects upon our own criminal indifference to our history.

Imagining a Political Community:

Semson has been hailed variously as the ‘Architect’, ‘Founder’ and ‘Father’ of Karbi Anglong. There is no denying that all these epithets fittingly describe the one man who dared all odds imagining a political community out of the Karbis who remained ‘scattered over a wide area, from Golaghat to Kamrup and the Khasi Hills beyond Guwahati, and from the Cachar plains near Silchar to the forests north of Bishanath in Darang’…..speaking a language that is ‘practically one and the same throughout’ (Walker/1925). The Karbis were undoubtedly ‘one of the most numerous and homogeneous of the many Tibeto-Burman races inhabiting the Province of Assam’ (Stack and Lyall/1909). From Sibsagar to Sylhet in the present Bangladesh, the Karbis inhabited this long track (Stack and Lyall/1909). Beside this cultural homogeneity, when Semson traveled through this wide, wild and weird country of the Karbis who were ‘among the more numerous of the Assam frontier races’ (Walker), there possibly existed no imagination of a community within the community itself. It was the fierce sense of imagination that Semson had that guided him to realize that it was possible to unite the Karbis into a single political community. Because Semson, born at the turn of the 20th Century and who very briefly lived through the series of rapid and rather tumultuous upheavals that also gave birth to ‘modern democracies’ across the globe. Our own India, one of the biggest ‘democracies’ today, was just an emerging idea. Semson dared to merge his little idea of a Karbi homeland with the big idea of an India that was itself struggling to free from colonial subjugation. And it was a pledge that Semson, the first modern, educated and fiercely nationalist of the Karbis, along with a handful of his fellow nationalists such as Sarsing Teron Habai (Habe) of Hongkram, Harsing Ingti of Longre, Biren Teron-Mouzadar of Duar-amla, Borgaon and Langtukso Ingti Borgaonbura of Silimkhowa, Moniram Langne of Deithor, Barelong Terang of Diphu, Rev. Hondrovel Milik of Putsari, Dhoniram Rongpi (ex-Assam Minister) of Hongkram, Joysing Doloi (ex-CEM/KAAC of Diphu and Khorsing Terang-ex-MLA, John Kathar of Borthol, Khoiyasing Ronghang-Mouzadar of Borneuria, Bonglong Terang of Dillai, Thengklong Rongpi-Mouzadar of Deithor and Song Be of Golaghat (Song Be/Monjir-1980), committed to himself. From within the narrow confines of a colonial service under the watchful and at times possibly wrathful eyes of the colonial masters, Semson carefully and painstakingly continued in his mission disregarding his own career, future and even health. ‘Karbi Adorbar’ came into being as a weapon to draw the first political, cultural and geographical map of a Karbi homeland at the threshold of the birth of a new independent India. He diplomatically overcame the stiffest and at times the most communal opposition from the then Assamese leaders, prominent or rather most infamous among them —one Motiram Bora who tried everything under his command as the Revenue Minister of the British Provincial government of Assam. Semson never lived to see the fruition of his idea of a Karbi homeland but he saw to it during his brief but intense lifetime that the worst of adversaries cannot prevent a community of people staking its rightful claim.

The Price of Sacrifice:

The most tragic disappointment for all the present and future Karbis is not only the premature death of Semson at the most crucial juncture of the tribe’s history, but also is the fact that the rich legacy of sacrifice and selflessness that the architect, father and founder of Karbi identity did not live to preside over the political destiny of the community. Towards the untimely end of his life when Semson chose to contest the lone assembly seat against Khorsing Terang, he was hailed by the most furious communal hate campaign simply because he was a Christian. And this tragic communal divide did not desert us during the creation of Meghalaya when Karbi Anglong and NC Hills were given the option either to continue remaining with Assam, have an Autonomous State of their own or merge with the new state. This divide continues to haunt and imperil us at the present juncture when the Karbis as a people are facing the most dangerous situation—politically, economically, geographically and demographically. The one man who stood so fiercely for Karbi pride, Karbi unity and Karbi nationalism, his legacy is today condemned to a ritualistic vanity. In fact, Semson’s legacy is more endangered now than ever before if we look around at the prevalent mess in the Karbi political and cultural atmosphere that only embodies decay and defeat. The message therefore should be clear before each one of us that the legacy of Karbi nationalism inherited from Semson must be imbibed in its truest spirit so that his idea of a Karbi homeland does not remain trapped in our imaginations alone. ‘Thurnon…Thurnon’, the theme song of the Karbi awakening that fired the imagination of every Karbi heart when Semson led the identity struggle, is even more relevant today than ever.

(Author’s Note: This small write-up was read out in the Seminar held on 26 Feb 09 at Diphu Club, organized by a People’s Initiative to Commemorate the 61st Death Anniversary of Late Semsonsing Ingti. Mrs. Rani Ingtipi, the eldest daughter of the late leader, inaugurated the Seminar where she clarified many important issues such as the date of birth and death of her late father. The information furnished by her was later corroborated by her brother, Mr Pabansingh Ingti, a retired IAS officer, now based in Kolkata, who also attended as the Chief Guest in the 3-Day Commemoration from 26 Feb to 28 Feb 09 at Diphu. The date of birth of the late Semsonsing Ingti as confirmed by the family members is now 8 February 1910 and the date of his demise is 28 Feb 1948.)

 

 

The Unsung Heroes—
Remembering Sārdôkā!

• Dharamsing Teron

SP Kay.

Does it mean anything to new generation Karbis? Or does it mean at all to the generations of Karbis? We Karbis, either of the old or the new generations, who seldom care about history, are obviously oblivious of both the man and his work. Not that Karbis are traditionally history-shy people with all the ritual paraphernalia to keep the past alive through some age-old practices such as ‘ancestor worshipping’ that requires every Karbi family to keep track of its family genealogy. But the malaise that is affecting us is a kind of mass amnesia that has rapidly corroded our common memories to recall even the few illustrious ancestors of the like of Sārdôka!

Yes, we are talking about Sārdôkā Perrin Kay— a Karbi from an obscure corner of Karbi Anglong whom we barely remember as the co-author of the ‘English-Mikir Dictionary’ , published in 1904. Sir Charles Lyall, in the introductory note to his ‘The Mikir’ spoke of a ‘bright young Mikir…..a convert of the American Baptist Mission at Nowgong’. SP Kay is none other than Sārdôkā Ingti ‘to which he was accustomed to add the names of his sponsor at baptism, Perrin Kay’. From a humble beginning, under the guidance and care of the missionaries, Sārdôkā toiled to have this remarkable work published. Both ‘Stack and Sārdôka worked togther at the language, correcting and largely supplementing the material contained in their text-book’. The two based their book on the work — the first ever ‘dictionary’ of the Mikir language— done by Rev. RE Neighbor with the title ‘Vocabulary of English and Mikir, with Illustrative Sentences’ that was published in 1878. Apart from this invaluable contribution to the Karbis, Sārdôka and Mr Stack ‘went on to folk-tales, which were written down, with a careful attention to systematic orthography.’ While Stack certainly led the fruitful venture as the senior and more knowledgeable partner, Sārdôka remained ever the fateful collaborator. Both Sir Charles Lyall and Edward Stack, the twin authors of ‘The Mikir’, had also reasons to be thankful to Sārdôkā, who collaborated tirelessly as the sole English speaking native providing original inputs in the compilation of the path-breaking ethnographic work on the Karbis till date. ‘The Mikir’, that has reappeared in the market under a new title, ‘The Karbis’, still remains the only reference book (in English) on the tribe.

But neither Sārdôka nor his compendium (The English-Mikir Dictionary) has been as fortunate. Copies may still be intact in some Karbi hamlets and in the hands of a few researchers, but the man behind this stupendous work is well nigh a forgotten figure. Sārdôka, one among the most few fortunate Karbis to have grown up in missionary care and equipped with English education, ‘helped the preparation of the specimens of Mikir’ section for the pioneering works of the ‘Linguistic Survey of India’ (1902-1909) by George Abraham Grierson. Sir Lyall too, “had hoped to have the assistance of Sārdôka himself in revising the translations”… of ‘The Mikir’, as ‘other help was not forthcoming’. Sārdôka served in the Assam Secretariat for many years after Stack’s death on 12th January 1887. Probably, in recognition of the faithful services Sārdôka rendered to the British and the American Baptist preachers, he was transferred from the Secretariat in 1904 to serve as a Revenue Collector, popularly called the Mauzadar of the territorial division of Duar Bagori, a powerful posting among the tribesmen during the British administration. But this pioneering Karbi ‘most unhappily died of cholera’ on 8th March, 1905. Sārdôka died unsung and virtually unknown, precariously remaining only in the official ritual-homage of the ‘Karbi Lammet Amei’ .
The culture of keeping alive the family genealogy, may it be in the form of a ritual, is fast vanishing. The fate of Sārdôka and his book, if anything, is a telling commentary of the mass amnesia that is corroding the Karbi psyche. The man who laboriously collaborated in the production of the pioneering dictionary of the tribe is now lost as neither his predecessors nor his cemetery are nowhere in our memories. History has no records of when and where this great man was born, but thanks to the Baptist Missionaries and the British ethnographers, at least we have the date of his demise. To begin with, won’t it be apt to pay homage to this great son of the Karbis on his death centenary, albeit its 2 years delayed?

[1] Sār:ānthok—a Karbi ritual wherein dead ancestors of a family are recalled and propitiated for their blessings.
[2] Sārdôka’s word-book is the first ‘dictionary’ in the history of Karbi language by a native.
[3] The Mikir (1908)—by Sir Charles Lyall and Edward Stack.
[4] Rev Neighbor was born in Wisbeach, England, in 1842. He moved to the US with his father in 1854, ordained at St. Charles, Illinoise, in 1867 and in 1870, accepted a service with the American Baptist Mission and was assigned to Assam. He returned to the US eight years later due to failing health. (From the website of the ‘Indiana Baptist History’ 1798-1908.)
[5] Ibid
[6] ‘Karbi Lammet Amei’, established in 1966, 27th March, is the only literary organization among the Karbis, engaged in the development of the language and literature of the tribe.

Posted in Unsung Heroes | 13 Comments »

Mikir: Tracing the genesis of the term

Posted by Administrator on October 7, 2007

Mikir:Tracing the genesis of the term.

Morningkeey Phangcho

 

Dharamsing Teron 

The raging debates over the renaming of ASSAM into ASOM seem to have subsided ‑ at least for the time being. This ‘needless blundering’ was foreseen as early as 1889 by Samuel E Peal in his ‘Note on the Origin and Orthography of River Names in Further India’. His observation is worth reading when he comments that the ‘…….names that were first spelt correctly, have been thoughtlessly altered, and unless taken in hand at once will become unmeaning, and at times misleading, fixtures.

The word ‘Asam’, derived from the word Ahom, and which later is spelt ASAM by the Assamese themselves, is a case in point; formerly in all private and public correspondence and published works there was one ‘s’ only; but in an evil hour the spirit of innovation moved someone to alter the correct mode and gave us the unmeaning ss.’[1]  This ‘unmeaning’ phenomenon has continued in the naming of the various tribes of erstwhile Assam.

The term ‘Naga’ was coined in similar ‘evil hour’ that meant nothing to the ‘Nagas’ themselves. Mr Peal said, ‘The word “Naga” again, as applied to the hill tribes south of Upper Assam, is a more important instance of needless blundering, inasmuch as it bids fair to become a perpetual fertile source of gross mistakes in relation to these races.’ But the ‘perpetual fertile source of gross mistakes’ had been committed in relation to the Karbis when the tribe was named MIKIR that not only meant nothing to the tribe itself but was also derogatory at best.

Assamese ‘historians’ like Gunabhiram Baruah chose to create a ‘Mikir’ out of the Sanskritic ‘Markat’ (meaning ‘eater of raw flesh’) just as the ‘Naga’ tribes were almost identified to be the snake-worshipping ‘Nagas’ of ‘Upper India’ between whom there was neither cultural nor historical relations or similarities.

The recent ‘Assam-Asom’ controversy would have been avoided for the better if the likes of Gunabhiram Baruahs of the present times were a little more careful. Let’s consider Mr Peal’s observation again when he said, ‘The Germans, more careful in this matter, retained the correct form, and Kiepert even goes so far as to indicate the derivation from ‘Ahom’, the name of the Shan settlers, who came in AD 1228 and conquered the province’. But this sort of shallow hypothesizing has been going on for as long as we can remember but nothing has been as far from truth as the coining of the term ‘Mikir’ as the following publicized theories suggest. While these are vague, incoherent and highly illogical on the one hand, they are also tinged with racial slurs. A dissection of these hypotheses is presented below:  

Hypothesis 1: “Thireng-Vangreng, a Karbi king’s daughter named Mekri was married to a Naga prince. The Nagas, being not able to pronounce Mekri properly, could pronounce it as Mekiri only.” [2]  

Thireng-Vang:reng (literally dead-alive, come-alive, thi=die, reng=live and vang=come) occupies a very important place in Karbi customs. Whether Thireng-Vang:reng is a historical person or simply a myth is quite a separate matter but he is credited with divine access to both the worlds of the living and the dead with equal ease. He is credited to have introduced the elaborate funeral rituals among the Karbis as he ‘knows’ both the worlds. In Karbi folklore, there is no mention that Thireng-Vang:reng ever had any children in ‘this’ world. Existing folklore mentions about Thireng’s wife ‘living’ in the ‘other world’ that explains his frequent visits to and fro. The theory of Thireng’s daughter, by the name Mekri, marrying a Naga prince is therefore highly ridiculous though inter-marriage among various tribes is a possibility. Furthermore, Thireng is neither described as a ‘king’ nor is there any mention of his worldly death in the Karbi oral tradition. 

 Hypothesis 2:When the Karbis first entered into Assam, they had a cat with them. Unfortunately the cat was lost. Another group of people happened to meet them and when asked about their identity, the question (language) being unintelligible, they (Karbis) replied that they were searching for the lost cat, that is Mengkiri. The people misunderstood the meaning of the term Mengkiri and thought that the newcomers introduced themselves as Mengkiri. This in course of time became Mikir.”[3]  

This has been the most enduring hypothesis about the origin of the word Mikir. But strangely enough, there is no mention or reference to any such term in any of the surviving oral traditions of the tribe. The invention of a ‘lost-cat-seeking’ tribe must have been quiet an endeavor but this sort of ‘unmeaning’ had only created more social and political distortions in the later years that did more harm to the tribe than good.  

Hypothesis 3: “Gunabhiram Baruah—“They (Mikirs) looked for love and affection from the others. It can, therefore, be assumed that the term Mikir might have been originated from ‘Sakhamriga’ or ‘Markat’. He further opined that our people called them Mikir but they called themselves Karbi. The term Karbi might have origin in the Sanskrit word ‘Kroibya’ (flesh) or ‘Kroibad’ (flesh eater).” [4] 

The description of ‘Meekir’ given in the “Aham Buranji”-1875, as found in Chapter-II, Page 13, is worth reproducing here verbatim to have an idea of the contempt and shallow understanding that the leading light of Assamese historian of the period did have on the Karbis — ‘Mikeer Jati—bortoman nogaon, nagahills jilar aru khasiya porbot jilar majhor parboityo thait ei hanto prokritir jati bah kore. Homobhumitu onek Mikeer ase. Ihote amar manuhe hoite borkoi milibo pare. Mikeer bilakok amar manuhe ‘dalor mikeer’ bule. Hihoteo sneh ba onugrohor ahate heirup baikyo nije bule. Iyar dwara ene upolobdhi hobo pare je hakhamrig ba morkot hobdorei Mikeer hobdo opobhrongho matro. Ei jati adibahi luk, ihote kosari rojar odhin asil.’  

This third hypothesis is simply outrageous, degrading and racist. A literal transliteration of the above Assamese text would be in place to drive our point home—‘The Mikirs, these peace loving people, live in the hilly regions between the Nogaon, Naga Hills and Khasi Hills districts. Many Mikirs live in the plains too. These people can mix with our people very much. Mikirs are called ‘Mikirs living in the tree branches’ by our people. They in the hope of getting love and gratuity call themselves so. It may thus give such an understanding that Mikir is only a derivative from ‘Sakhamriga’ or ‘Markat. These people are aboriginals, they were under the Kachari king.)[5] 

The ridiculous absurdity of the historian’s ‘analysis’ can be gauged by the fact that while he asserts that it was the Mikirs who called themselves so in the hope of getting love and gratuity from the Assamese, he also asserts that the name was given to the tribe by the Assamese. But in the same observation he had also vouched to the fact that the Mikirs indeed called themselves Karbis. The self-contradictory oversight in this case is all too clear to require any further explanations. The explicit racist tones are also all too glaring to miss when he calls the Mikirs as those ‘living in the branches’ (dalor Mikir) thus barely avoiding the direct application of the term ‘monkeys’ for the tribe. How a Sanskrit word ‘Sakhamriga’ or ‘Markat’ is so outrageously applied to give any semblance to ‘Mikir’ is anyone’s guess that could only be invented by a ‘pandit’ like him. 

These fabulous hypotheses had indeed created a force of acceptance to be treated as ‘history’ so far as other views had either been ignored, suppressed or not forthcoming. But how had the word Mikir received such a force of acceptance has therefore been an issue of intense debates in the Karbi society. What could be the etymological root of the term ? For, it would be naïve and simplistic to dismiss the term as the handiwork of some fertile brains. 

 Our search for the meaning of Mikir or the nearest to it has led us to delve into the Karbi village traditions. A traditional Karbi village or ‘Rong’ is organized around the institution of a village headman who is known as a ‘sar:the’ (among the Hills Karbis) and ‘bang:the/rong:the’ (among the plains dwelling Karbis).    Members of every household of a village are known as ‘Mekars’.

The senior-most of all the Mekars is known as the ‘Mekar Asar’ (Hills Karbis) who holds a particular position in the village court presided over by the ‘sar:the/bang:the’. The office of the ‘sar:the/bang:the’ has also other office-bearers with hierarchical positions who serve different purposes in the village administrative set-up to run the affairs of the village through democratic consultations. It could therefore be possible that a Karbi introduced himself to an outsider only as a ‘mekar’ or an ordinary member of a Karbi village. In a sense, every Karbi is a ‘mekar’ and in those days of communication barrier erected by linguistic differences, the outsider simply took the tribe to be only a ‘mekar’ which in course of time got corrupted to give the word ‘mikir’. The plains dwelling Karbis has an interesting story to tell.[6]

Once when the Karbis were shifting from the Dimasa kingdom to escape its oppressive rule, a certain ‘Kleng Mekar’ (kleng=elder or senior) was at the head of the group. ‘Kleng Mekar’ was credited to have been endowed with divine powers. According to the legend, a flame would emanate from the forehead of ‘Kleng Mekar’ that would illuminate the dark nights in the tribe’s flight through the thick inaccessible rain forests and hills and vales. Other account of the same story describes the ‘Kleng Mekar’ simply as a heroic and able leader who led his people against all odds to reach to the domains of the Ahom kingdom. He negotiated with the Ahom officials for the settlement of the migrating Karbis. Since ‘Kleng Mekar’ was only known by this name, it is highly probable that the Ahom officials took the tribe to be the subjects of the elder ‘mekar’ and thus popularized it in a new but corrupted name of the ‘mikir’. 

Historically speaking, various neighboring tribes had called the Karbis by various names with whom the tribe had continued periods of interactions in its migration and settlements in various locations across the North East. The Karbis, for a time had settled in the present North Cachar Hills district of Assam where they came into contact with the Dimasa people. A large group of the Karbis also migrated to the present districts of Jaintia hills and Ri-Bhoi under the state of Meghalaya. This led the Dimasas to consider the Karbis as not a separate tribe but ‘Pnar-sa’[7] or the ‘Sons of the Pnars (the Jaintias)’. How the Dimasas failed to see the Karbis as a tribe in spite of the two tribes living together in such close economic, political and cultural proximity for a long time in the same jurisdiction is quite another matter. But the Jaintias themselves used the term ‘Bhoi’ to denote the Karbis after which the present ‘Ri-Bhoi’ district is named. Still, the group of Karbis that came into contact with the Ahoms was named as the ‘Mikir’.

Going by this pattern, there could well have been various other names given to the Karbis as they migrated across the lands of the Kuki-Chin tribes, Meiteis or Nagas and thereby cultivating a long history of interactions before finally settling down in the present Karbi Anglong district.  The ‘MIKIR’ therefore is a direct derivation of the term ‘MEKAR’, far unlike the outlandish hypotheses that would make us believe. The rulers simply imposed the term ‘Mikir’ on the Karbis by inventing explanations which suited them.

 The plains dwelling Karbis had suffered such impositions since long as a Rong:hang was corrupted to  Rahang, a Rongchehon became Rongchon or Rongson and Killing became Klien etc.  It is a pity that the rulers’ tongue has continued to refuse to make a difference between a Teron and a Terang; in the rulers’ tongue the Karbi surnames fuse together to create quite another non-existant Karbi clan called ‘Terong’.    


[1] ‘Note on the Origin and Orthography of River Names in Further India’ by Samuel E. Peal, quoted from ‘Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography, New Monthly Series, Vol. 11, No. 2 (Feb., 1889), pp. 90-95’
[2] Bordoloi, BN’s article ‘Karbis-their origin and migration’ appearing in the ‘Bulletin of the Tribal Research Institute’ Vol I, No III-1985 for Welfare of Plains Tribes and Backward Classes, Govt.Assam.[3]  Ibid[4] Aham Buranji (1857) Reprint, by Gunabhiram Baruah.[5] “Migration Memories in Karbi Oral Tradition” by Mr. Dharamsing Teron and presented in the ‘National Seminar on Tribes of India:  Identity, Culture and Lore’, 5-7 September 2007, jointly organized by the Delhi University and Karbi Anglong Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan Samity. [6] Informants Mr Owen Terang of Marme (Ri-Bhoi district, Meghalaya) and Dhireswar (Mina) Ronghang of Dokhinbam Karbi village (Tetelia, Sonapur in Kamrup).[7]  Informant Dr Motilal Nunisa, Director of Health Services (FW), Hengrabari, Govt. of Assam. 

 

Posted in Meaning of Mikir | 18 Comments »

The Dumrali Karbis

Posted by Administrator on October 4, 2007

The Dumrali Karbis 

-Morningkeey Phangcho

Those Karbis residing in the plains of Kamrup and Morigaon district of Assam, and the Ri-Bhoi districts of Meghalaya identify themselves as the Dumrali or plains Karbis. With their social head at Dimoria, culturally and customarily they have different sets of social behavior and functions to their counterpart at Karbi Anglong. Linguistically they are a sub group of Mikir groups of the greater Tibeto-Burman family and class as Amri (the other being Karbi) in the latest grouping of the T-B family. The field work was undertaken at Mermain (aka. Marmé) (26º E and 90° N); a village at the border of Meghalaya and Assam. The village is divided between these two states as half the village is in the other side of the political boundary.

40 % of the population in Ri-Bhoi district of Meghalaya consists of Karbis, amongst whom about 60 % profess their religion to be Christianity, and the rest are of traditional religion. You will come across some unfamiliar clans among the populaces like Klien, which is claimed to be the  another version of Killing, a sub clan of Tungjang (Timung), and  Rongson or Rongchon, which is not different from Ronchehon , a sub clan of Ejang  (Ronghang) as claimed by the local population besides Longthulu, Tron and Tumung.

The priest is usually the head of the house; he is assigned the name Penpo which is similar to Pinpo of the Hills Karbis.  Amongst The Plains Karbis there are basically three main social festivals:

 1)      DOMAHI

It is celebrated in the months of March-April. It is a festival of thanks giving to the almighty Hemphu, the traditional god head of the Karbi Household. Each member of the social setup of the village is known as MEKAR, which might be the origin of the word MIKIR as the tribes were known till very recently and in fact still do in some of the official documents. However this is just a hypothesis I would like to go more deeply into. During the festival all the ancestors of the village are remembered and worshipped, which is indeed very similar to the practice of their hills cousin. This practice is known as SAR-KACHERDUNG. “lit. ANCESTOR REMEMBER” the same as SAR ANTHOK among the Hill Karbis.

 2)      MONO KE-EN

Literally Mono means Paddy or Rice and Ke-en means to take. It is generally an affair of 2 days, once in five years. All unmarried males and females of the village are to take part in the occasions. In the house of Riso Bangthe (an authority concern with the affairs of the youth of the village) the traditional folklore about the origin of rice and the route of migration taken by the Karbis from the place of their origin are retold. It is very much the same story which is told amongst the Hills Karbis (Mosera-Kihir) but with the name ‘Karbi Kevang’ “ lit. Karbi Coming” with some addition like the reason for the Karbis to start moving out from their ancestral village somewhere near Inglong Kelok “ lit. Mountain White” , which is unmistakably the Himalaya mountain range. There is a mentioned of Lhasa also on the way. The mentioning of KLENG MEKAR, on whose head a flame of fire always glow to lead the Karbis  during darkness is intriguingly interesting and to be noted. He is not mention anywhere in Mosera-Kihir, the hill version. Terang were supposed to be the porter who carried all the essential items needed for the whole village. The reason mentioned for the Karbis to move out of the ancestral village is also very interesting. It is said that the Karbis being very poetic and romantic once tried to touch the moon and play with it, seeing it stationed beautifully on the top of the INGLONG KELOK. But when they climbed up to the top of the mountain and found the moon to be still afar and unreachable, then only did they realized their mistake. Since they felt ashamed to return to their ancestral village they decided to move forward towards the east and settled down somewhere else, which is not found in MOSERA-KIHIR.  The mention of the river TERON LONGSO, where the TERON with divine power helped the others to cross a river with huge width by stretching himself like a bridge is also very interesting, which has again no mention in Mosera-Kihir with the exception of the river TERON LONGSO, where the paddy was supposed to be discovered by the Karbis which coincide very much with the version of the hills Karbis.

 3)      RONG KEHUM

Literally Rong Kehum means Village Curfew. It is generally a three days affair once in five years. Just like the name suggested a kind of curfew is imposed in the village with all the roads leading to the village being blocked with thorn and bushes. No outsider is welcome to the village during these three days affair. However they can come and witness the ritual by taking non traditional route. This festival is generally celebrated during the winter. It is very much similar to the Rongker of the hills Karbis. This is all male affairs and no female is allowed during the rituals. The fences are broken and lots of hue and cry is created during the rituals as a symbol to chase away evils from the village during the night using a long stick. If any person comes out of the house during the ritual then he might be killed assuming to be an evil spirits and no blame is to be confer upon the evil spirits chasers.

 ADNISTRATIVE SET-UP

Administratively the Plain Karbis are divided into 9 political areas. With its social head at Dimoria it is divided into 5 Richo (kingships) and 4 Bangthe (a kind of President ship). The Five Richo are Borkuchi, Tentala, Tikra, Bura and Nortap where as the 4 Bangthe are Marme or Mermain,  Somra or Silimor, Honai-Raika and Killing ( Killing Nongkret is the area where the legendry Tiger men existed) .

 TRADITIONAL ADMINISTRATION For the smooth administration of the village, There is a traditional set-up of various official known as AKLENG APHANG “lit. branches of elders” 

RONGCHON

Rongchon: He is the supreme head of the administrative, acting something like a president who has a say but cannot take any decision all alone by himself. But he is the authority to implement what ever decision is taken by the others member. Without his consent no customary law is applicable. This post is basically held by the Rongchon clan i.e Ronghang. It is hereditary in nature. i.e only a son of Rongchon can become a new rongchon

Huria: He is an assistant Judge. Enghi Clans is associated with this post.

Karkun: A Clan of Ramde, a sub clan of Ejang again is entrusted with this job. Karkun is a fine collector and a butcher for the social event where animal sacrifice is to be made.

Rhah-hre: He is in charge of the welfare of the warriors of the village. Ingty Clans is entrusted with this job

Bisar: He is the supreme Judge for any kind of conflicts and issues. Ingty Clans is entrusted with this job.

Klengsar : He is the decision maker among them all. It is he who is to convey the decision taken to Rongchon. He acts something like the prime minister.

Riso-Bangthe : He is to look into the welfare of the youth of the village, and the affairs related to the education of traditional knowledge to the young. He is from the Rongchon Clans.

Kathar: He is the Head priest of the village. All kind of sanctification and purification is to be undertaken under his keen eyes. He is in-charge of the religious affair of the village. Ingty clans are entrusted with this job.

Barika : He is the main Messenger and announcer in the village. He is from Enghi Clans.

  

Special thanks to Mr. Philipe Ramirez for organizing the field trips and guidance. Also to Mr. Dharam Sing Teron, Ex MLA, KAAC ( Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council) for his ample guidance and support . A gratitude to Mr. Owen Terang, President, AMKA ( All Meghalaya Karbi Association) for hosting us and providing us with all the information and for organizing a meeting with the elders of the village during our visit to Merme.

  

For More Information Please write to me at mphangcho@yahoo.com

   

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