Karbis Of Assam

Ethnology on the Karbis also Known as Mikirs


Posted by Administrator on February 26, 2008




Understanding Karbi Folk religion

Dharamsing Teron

Diphu, Karbi Anglong


Hi:ì and Arnam — roughly translated to mean ‘demon’ and ‘deity’ — enjoy equal status in Karbi folk rituals. The presence of dozens of deities and their ‘negative counterparts’ in Karbi rituals reveal the inherent duality and unity in the folk religion of the tribe. The expression ‘Hi:ì-Arnam’ is a phrase coined by the Karbi ancestors and it is never juxtaposed or uttered in reverse. Hi:ì therefore is not  the parallel of the ‘demon’ of the established religions. The unity and duality of the ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ forces and the ‘balance’ between them are what constitute the philosophical basis of the Karbi folk religion. Ancestors are worshipped and Karbi souls travel through predestined paths back to the ‘village of the ancestors’, which neither is hell nor heaven. Karbi funerary ritual is a celebration of death as much as it is a celebration of life.

Object of the Paper:

This paper is an attempt to give a brief insight into Karbi religious beliefs, which are basically animist in nature, fused with elements of shamanist ‘mysticism’, ancestor worship and a good many sacrifices to the unseen and territorial deities. The basic argument is derived from the varied and fascinating world of Karbi folklore, cosmologic tales and ritual practices that still continue to dominate the Karbi ‘religious’ traditions under the shadows of the mighty world religions.

The Crisis of an animist Karbi

It presents with a real crisis to an animist Karbi when he is required to give a mandatory declaration of his ‘religion’ in an official or legal document, say for example, filling up a census data. Such a situation grips him with the sense of imminent loss of identity as he is forced to submit it to the dominant culture. Reinforcing his fears and reminding him of the stark reality, the ‘2001 Census of India’ has, not surprisingly, recorded a sweeping 84.64% of the Karbis as Hindus. If the figure is taken to be true, the situation for many animist Karbis becomes all the more vulnerable, as the vast majority of them are not ‘Hindus’ for the simple reason that since the days of their forefathers, ‘Peng’, ‘Hemphu-Mukrang’, ‘Hi-i’, the dozens of ‘territorial deities’, and the ‘ancestor spirits’ have continued to play a crucial role in the animist Karbi ‘pantheon’.

The animist Karbi’s fears can be gauged by what Verrier Elwin had observed years ago when he said— “The religion of the Indian aboriginal outside Assam should be regarded as a religion of the Hindu family, with a special relation to the exciting, dangerous, catastrophic Shivaite type, but as having a distinct existence of its own. For purposes of the Census, all aboriginals should be classed as Hindus by religion, but separate returns of their numbers by race should be provided. Much resentment has been caused by official, missionary and even scientific attempts to separate the tribesmen from the Hindus on religious grounds, and some of the hostility to the Census classified tribal religion as ‘animist’, later the expression ‘followers of tribal religion’ was used. The test proposed was to ask a person whether he worshipped Hindu or tribal gods.”[1]

According to Elwin, “This distinction was meaningless. On the one hand, the aboriginal is always willing to worship a few more gods if by doing so he can gain some material or social benefit; on the other, the Hindu has no objection to including tribal gods in a pantheon of thirty-three crores of deities. Among the Gonds Bhera Pen is easily translated into Bara Deo and then to Maha Deo. It is hard to understand why the Census of India continues to record statistics of religion which everyone knows are scientifically valueless and are used or misused only for political purposes.”[2]

Whether such categorization is ‘scientifically valueless’ or not, the data sure seems open to ‘political misuse’— at least for the animist Karbis whose ‘religion’ is not ‘recognized’ by computer programs or most importantly, by the Census of India. Because expressions like ‘animists’ or ‘followers of tribal religion’ earlier used by the Census are replaced with terms, which are ‘politically’ more useful for the suppression of smaller identities like that of the Karbis.

The ‘shy gods’ and ‘demons’ in the Karbi belief system:

Theorizing about the origin of religion, the 19th century British ethnographer Edward B Tylor, termed ‘animism’ as the ‘…ground work of the philosophy of religion at large, from the religion of savagery to that of the civilized life.’[3] This forces an animist Karbi to ask a similar question as Tylor did— “Are there, or have there been human tribes so low in culture as to have no religious conception whatever?”[4] The first part of the answer that Tylor himself gave to this question still echoes among some so-called modern day researchers— “The savage’s poor shy gods hide in holes and corners before the white man’s mightier Deity. Now it is not denied in abstract that prereligious tribes may have existed or still exist; but I am bound to say that, if they exist, they must be found among extinct ancient tribes or imperfectly described modern ones.”[5]

The ‘shy’ animist gods are indeed forced into ‘holes’ and ‘corners’ before the ‘mightier deities’. But in spite of the hectic pace of globalization, the ‘prereligious’ tribes do still exist. What remains to be done is to try to free them from what Tylor said —the ‘imperfect’ descriptions. The problems however are many. Part of the problem is that the animist belief system of the Karbis has not only been ‘imperfectly described’, there are continuous attempts to distort and present it to be only a shadowy Hindu sect. Colonial hangovers apart, a section of indigenous writers in their sketchy contributions to magazines, souvenirs and local publications etc. often try to identify Karbi deities with the mainstream Hindu gods thereby doing more harm than good and obscuring the understanding of the animist belief system of the tribe.

When the American Baptist Missionaries first arrived in the Karbi land, they had a mixed experience with the tribe and its ‘curious customs’. “They have some curious customs. The Mikirs sacrifice chickens, goats and pigs to the demons to gain their favor, and to keep them from harm. They believe in both good and evil spirits, but sacrifice more to the evil spirits, as they think they can cause them sickness, failure of crops, and all sorts of trouble.”[6] The authoress further adds— “The Mikirs, our nearest Hill Tribe, are demon worshippers, and sacrifice chickens, goats, and pigs to the demons, to gain their favor.”[7] But the Missionary Magazine (from the ‘Journal of Mr. Scott’) had also other interesting observations to offer— “…..the manly spirit of the Mikir is not easily persuaded to yield servile homage to either priest or idol. Idols are an abomination to them. They worship only the Unseen.”[8] In another section of the same magazine, the observation went like this—“…….They are not idolators, (i.e., worshippers of gods made with hands, [Ed.] but they worship mountains, the trees, and mountain streams, and make offerings there to debtas, or gods, of which they entertain the greatest fear, as the authors of suffering and disease.”[9] Again, in another edition of the magazine, the Karbis were described as “…….the most interesting tribes in Assam; they have no respect for the Hindu religion, and are a mild, quiet, industrious race. They very much resemble the Karens.”[10]

The description of the Karbi ‘gods’ as given by Lawrence Augustine Waddell, a Medical Officer in the Indian Govt. service, offers a prototype of the colonial mindset when he wrote in his book ‘The Tribes of the Brahmaputra Valley’—“The malignant demons of hills and streams and lakes, who blight the crops and cattle and men, are called Mu-krang (? Inbang in Kachar); and the equally malicious spirit which infests houses is called Peng. The first is believed to withhold the rain, and cause disease, and incite the tigers to kill the cattle and human-beings, or to cause the wild buffaloes to attack and kill the tame ones.  But they work their mischief in the dark—light destroys their power—hence the Mikirs never willingly venture out after dark; and they worship these spirits much more frequently than the good spirit, but without such palatable offerings and rejoicings.”[11]

The use of such terms as ‘malignant demons’, ‘malicious spirits’, ‘dark’ and ‘light’ are arguably straight from the demonology of the organized religions. Mr. Waddell continues with his observations further by quoting another colonial officer, ECS Baker, who had lived among the Karbis: “Peng and Inbang (-arnam) do not appear to be gentlemen of much discernment as regards diet, their quotum of brains being chiefly employed in hatching evil: therefore, though it is very necessary to keep them in good humour by constant sacrifices, yet it is not necessary that these should be of any particular colour or quality; and aged hens who have given up laying and taken to crowing, crippled goats or pigs that won’t fatten, are generally the victims slaughtered. The lesser devils merely require a fowl to be sacrificed to them, and when a person is ill, the medicine-man takes him in hand, and having taken a handful of cowries, he casts them on the ground, telling them by the way they fall, where the Hemoto’s proper dwelling is.”

Now, here is what Major John Butler, the “deep-rooted account of a military and administrative” colonial officer, had to say of the Karbi worship in his ‘Travels in Assam’— “The Meekirs have no particular creed…… Although they have no priest to keep up the form or practice of religion, they do not totally neglect to make offerings to unknown deities. It is reported that they worship the sun and moon, and make sacrifices to both, of hogs, goats, and fowls. In fact, these sacrifices may be considered more in the light of feasts, as the portion allotted to the deity is very scanty, and composed of the refused parts. They also sacrifice to the rivers, large stones, or trees, in their neighbourhood, which are considered the abode of the deities. On the appearance of any epidemical disease amongst them, they have recourse to sacrifices; and if the wrath of the deities cannot be appeased— that is, should the sickness not abate— they leave their houses and property, and retire to the densest forests, closing all communications with their former habitations.”[12]

Anthropological specimens:

What can be seen as an unbroken thread in the observations of the likes of Mr. Waddell, Mr. Baker or Major John Butler (however with the exceptions of J. H Hutton, J.P. Mills or Fürer-Haimendorf) is that they all considered the ‘Karbis’ (and many other tribal groups) only as exotic ‘anthropological specimens’ and their ‘studies’ were therefore never ‘deep-rooted’. Even Prof. Suniti Kumar Chatterji, seemed to have failed to live up to his reputation in his observation on the Karbis. In his book ‘Kirāta-Jana Krti’ (1974 edition), hailed as the ‘road-chart for future workers’, simply commented thus— “The Mikirs, living in the Mikir Hills in the areas in the north and east of Khasi and Jaintia Hill Tracts and in the Sibsagar district, number 154, 893 (1961 Census), and they do not have any special or distinctive culture of their own, except participating in a common Tibeto-Burman way of living.”[13] It therefore should appear as obvious that some later writers follow suit as done by one Sipra Sen who dismissed the Karbi traditional religion simply as a ‘crude form of Hinduism’.[14]

These accounts, in whatever framework, for serious evaluation, are all too short, sketchy and therefore inadequate and at times misleading and as harmful as half-truths. In fact, it would be too much to expect from this class of accounts unless there is a massive indigenous effort. It would therefore be naïve to expect as Verrier Elwin did when he suggested certain codes for ‘every official and social worker in the tribal areas’ that “…..he should extend to tribal religion that attitude of sincere respect which we are trying to give to tribal life and institutions generally. He should never on any account criticize or laugh at any tribal ceremony or belief. Sometimes the work of a well-trained higher officer may be completely undone by the ignorant folly of a clerk or a jawan. Should he be present at any tribal ceremony, he should show the same reverence that he would show in a Christian church or a Hindu temple…..He should be careful how he talks and about the words he uses. Let us banish such expressions as ‘superstition’, ‘heathen’, ‘devil dance’ in relation to religion, just as we are trying to avoid generally such words as ‘backward’, ‘uplift’ and other patronizing expressions. We should not speak of ‘animism’ but of the ‘Wancho religion’ or the ‘Adi religion’, which will suggest that the tribal faith has for its adherents just as much authority and dignity as the faith of the outside world.”[15] Elwin, who had the most passionate understanding of the tribal cultures across India, had rightly asserted that there is nothing to “be defeatist of the tribal religion. It is worthy of preservation…that contains the seeds of growth.”

If one were to look for canonical features or such rigid and elaborate codes conforming to an organized modern religion in the Karbi belief system, one would be seriously disappointed. To consider it as a weakness or being inferior would be even a more serious folly. Here, I would like to quote Verrier Elwin again— “But a careful study of tribal religion, both in NEFA and elsewhere, does not suggest that it is noticeably inferior to its competitors. It has its drawbacks, it is not fully thought out, there are many problems to which it has no answer. But as a working way of life it brings consolation to its adherents and gives them hope and courage.”[16]

What is therefore needed is a proper appreciation of the system, in whatever form may it exist at present, which would give an animist Karbi ‘hope’ and ‘courage’, because Karbi ‘religion’ has much more to offer beyond its religiosity and herein lies the ‘seed of growth’ that Verrier Elwin had probably talked about.

In the following discussion, I shall endeavor to give a brief outline of the Karbi cosmogony, the concepts of ‘demons and deities’, the many forms of ‘souls’, ‘ancestor worship’, and ‘hell and heaven’ so that a preliminary idea of the ‘culture complex’ of the tribe can be had as a guide for further studies.

Karbi cosmogony:

Karbi cosmogony is varied and fascinating. The ‘Mosera’ myth talks of a ‘mythical bird’, ‘voplakpi’ laying hundreds of ‘eggs’ to give birth to the Karbi progenitors and contemporary human groups. The ‘Mosera’ also describes the migration ordeals of the Karbi forefathers.  Here’s a demonstrative stanza of Mosera

Bang ké plakvut-pi ati lepu/La bang plakvut-po ati lepu

Ati lé pum-suri lepu/Ati lé pum-pharo lepu

Epum longchong pati lepu/Epum long:é pati lepu

Epum thepāi pati lepu/Epum thereng pati lepu

Epum kong-longvoivoi phiphlot chomang mandet lepu

Epum kong-longvoivoi phiphlot keché mandet lepu

Epum kong-longvoivoi phiphlot  ahom mandet lepu

Epum kong-longvoivoi  phiphlot  naka  mandet nara mandet lepu

La chinam lalé/La pani ningké……….[17]

(English transliteration: From the thousands of eggs of the Plakvut couple, some laid by the erect rocks, some laid by the precipices, were born the Chomangs [Khasis], the Ahoms, the Nakas [Nagas] and such other human groups…..)

A version of ‘Karbi Keplang’ describes the creation of earth and water, rivers and mountains, flora and fauna, and men and women by divine intervention of ‘Hemphu’ and ‘Mukrang’ whom the animist Karbis hold in high esteem. According to this version of the ‘Karbi Keplang’, the divine duo ‘Hemphu-Mukrang’ created the first Karbi parents ‘Sum’ and ‘Sang’ who in turn gave birth to five brothers who each became the head of the five exogamous principal clans of the tribe.

E urti   thavijāng/Si Karbi avé-lāng

Si songsar a-jutang/Pen so-Karbi nang-plang

E bang e-ru Rang-Mukrang/Bang thip-cheng Sum pen Sang

Si thip-cheng Sum pen Sang….

(English transliteration: When the earth was young [or soft], Karbis were yet to be created, then in accordance with the law of the universe, the grand Rang-Mukrang created the first Karbi parents Sum and Sang…..)

Yet another version speaks of six brothers sailing downstream in ‘six golden boats’ founded the five Karbi clans by the banks of a mighty river. The disappearance of one of the six brothers is explained either as death by drowning or assimilation to other culture. The legend also tells us that the drowned brother transformed into a river dolphin (vo-serli). Yet again, there is another myth, which tells about the origin of the tribe from maggots born out of a ‘bull’ that succumbed to death after his aerial flight with a Jang:re-so (lit. orphan) to escape to the present ‘Chinthong’ province from the oppression of a ‘Chinlong’ king!

The creation myths as narrated in the ‘Mosera’, ‘Golden Boats[18] and ‘Chinlong[19] do not talk of divine creation in the Karbi cosmogony. ‘Mosera’ combines as the ‘legend of creation’ and ‘migration memories’, which demonstrate a continuity and regularity of the theme with regional variations while the ‘Karbi Keplang’ narratives demonstrate remarkable thematic differences as well. In the ‘Mosera’ tradition, creation is attributed to ‘eggs’, with which some so called modern Karbis find themselves uncomfortable and are dismissive of the larger philosophy that lies behind such examples of primitive cosmogony.[20] In one of the ‘Karbi Keplang’ myths, ‘Hemphu’ and ‘Mukrang’ are presented as the divine creators. Such narratives under the ‘Keplang’ or ‘creation’ genre are many wherein one constantly encounters divine interventions. One of them, the ‘Legend of the origin of Singer’, known as ‘Lunsé Keplang’, also has a divine personality named ‘Rangsina Sarpo’ who descends from heaven to ‘teach songs’ to the Karbis on earth who were devoid of such an art.  Here’s what ‘Lunsé Keplang’ talks about—

Si urti kangdukso

Si Sum Karbi aso/Avé lun temo

Si kedo ki pen ko/Si bang ru songsar recho

Si bang epharli tangthu/Bang Sum Karbi aso

Avé lun temo/Si nang Mirjeng musoso

Le sopirthe chelo/Ra parjan jangreso

Ja sun Telehor langso/Bang apunso chokpho

Eru Rangsina Sarpo/Kedo run maro

Si asengkun re:o/Si lalé thandamnon lun temo

Pu ru songsar recho/Si bang nangtoi musoso

Mirjeng musoso/Bang somindar nanglo

Si bang juidun la rongro/Si panaplur ra do

Si ru Rangsina Sarpo/Chitin araplu

Si Rangsina Sarpo/Chepon run maro

Si bang Mirjeng musoso/Lambidi karju

Si Rangsina Sarpo/Nang thekma lun temo

Si Rangsina Sarpo/Ok angthin arlo

Mirjeng musoso/Ke bang ju pinkhatdetlo

Si Rangsina Sarpo/Nangthek lun temo

Si ru Rangsina Sarpo/Si li sum Karbi kurpho

Ta bang than nangmum kanglo…..[21]

(English gist: When the earth was young, the Karbi progenitors of Sum had no knowledge of music, the Mirjeng brothers in the guise of snotty kids descended by the bank of river Telehor where together with the grand Rangsina, they taught the art to the tribe as wished by the lord of the universe….)

But looking at the rich repertoire of folklore that the Karbi forefathers had left behind, it never ceases to amaze one once the unwritten pages begin to unfold to an inquisitive mind. Probably the Karbi ancestors instead invented divinities when they attempted to decipher the deep mysteries of the distant skies in naming the constellations, for instance— ‘Phak a-kecheng’ (lit. ‘Pig’s Jawbone’, similar [?] to the Egyptian ‘Bull’s Thigh’/‘Great Bear’), ‘Phak-leng Melur’ (lit. Boar’s Lamp or Venus), ‘Hanso-Apái’ (lit. Ginger Rhizome), ‘Hingchongpi-Hingchongso’ (equivalent to the constellation Orion and the star Sirius), ‘Vosokpi’ (lit. a big Chrysalis or a bright star), and ‘Chung-phang-ok a-tovar’ (lit. ‘Winter-Summer Way’, or the Milky Way) etc. as did they classify the innumerable species of plants and animals! It is indeed amazing that at the end of every ritual offering to deities, the thek-kere (lit. wise man) priest always chants an incantation invoking upon the stars, constellations and the directions in a very formal submission to demonstrate that all these heavenly bodies are witness to what he had performed!

Hem hem hem hem/Nihang-nijang,



Richo thekdunde/Redunde puna….



Arpanpi-archokpi/Puthak anta —Arpan-sirkep/Archok-sirkep


Hingchongso-hingchongpi/Thekdunde-redunde puna…….


(English gist: Oh household God, East and West and all directions where the sun rays fall, Wednesday-Thursday, Friday-Saturday, the Sun and the Moon, the Great Width and the Great Breadth, from great length Nine to Nine, stars and constellations, oh kings…you are witness, blame us not you were not remembered..)

The legend of ‘Peng’

The legend of the origin of ‘Peng’ gives an excellent example that demonstrates the fact that the Karbi ancestors had a mind of their own. ‘Peng’ is a household ‘deity’ who protects it from all natural and supernatural ill effects and diseases etc. He is the eternal sentry who guards the household against all dangerous intrusions. ‘Peng’ is therefore annually propitiated and his ‘altar’ is placed atop the main door of the house. In the annual ritual devoted to ‘Peng’, the following incantation[23] is recited by the priest who performs it—

Hem hem hem hem……arnam

Ehem…. hem…..hem……….

Non te non kapi/Non te non kapo,

Arju peng-hu arnam/Arju-pengdang arnam,

Kor chekam arnam/Te-chekam arnam,

Do mining thak mining arnam/Ningding arnam/Ningjon arnam

So-kerai arnam/Su-kerai arnam

Rideng kini arnam/Ripak kini arnam

So-kangpen arnam/Su-kangpen arnam

An pini arni/Jo pini ajo……………..

Klem kethan aphan/Kedam kethan aphan,

Pardam kethan aphan/Pardi kethan aphan,

Mekbur kangthur aphan/Mekthan kangthur aphan,

Voku kethan aphan/Voki kethan aphan,

Lasi adan nanglé/Lasi adi nanglé,

Lasi athok nanglé/Lasi ajir nanglé,

Bi-lo adan nanglé/Bi-sar adan nanglé,

Nukme adan nanglé/Lapmé adan nanglé,

Vo-lo adan nanglé/Vo-sar adan nanglé,

Adan chopai longlé/Adi chopai longlé,

Athok chopai longlé/Ajir chopai longlé,

Chodeng nangpachihi/Jundeng nangpachihi,

Chodeng nangpachipu/Jundeng nangpachipu,

Chakri nangtoi longlé/Chakor nangtoi longlé,

Nangbang arpum amat/Nangbang arjé amat,

Nang richo amat/Nang kethe amat,

Devan chenghong pamé/Devat chenghong pamé,

Chodeng nangpachihi/Jundeng nangpachihi,

Avi anlé nangdeng/Angmi anlé nangdeng,

Kunchi anlé nangdeng/Kumdang anlé nangdeng,

Dei non kapi/Sakhi anlé nangdeng,

Huidi anlé nangdeng/Inghoi anlé nangdeng,

Inghu anlé nangdeng/La hor kangthir nangdeng/Han kangthir nangdeng,

La arnam si me/La arni si me,

La chiki anké/La chikhan anké,

La arbung isi/An arphé isi,

Ningkan vak-let ningké/Ningkan chok-let ningké,

So-pangki avé/So-pangket avé,

Hi-i kebor avé/Arnam kebor avé,

Pu nong jumé si me/Thang jumé si me……

(English gist: Oh household god, this offering is to you…god-brother, god-sister…protector of kith and kin….one who guides every actions… stands guard against nocturnal intrusions….reminds of dawns and dusks….Now accept the sacrifices of goat and fowl, accept them ‘physically’ oh king…..oh good god….. protect us from chronic diseases and the evil influences of deities and demons….may your reputation grow…..)

The lengthy incantation describes ‘Peng’ as a ‘brother/sister’, who eats from ‘our hands’, who is the protector of the household. The incantation is of special interest as it is delivered in a rhythmic manner with definite musical pattern. The legend of the origin of ‘Peng[24] itself is even more interesting. According to a version of the legend, ‘Peng’ was a ‘forest entity’ or ‘ingnam api’ or a ‘malevolent spirit’ or ‘chekama’ who was looking for an opportunity to have a direct meeting with a certain Karbi man. The spirit would always devour clean all the fish caught in a bamboo trap put up by the man in a certain forest stream. The man obviously disappointed and angry at only seeing the fish-scales lying scattered around the trap sans the fish thought of a plan to catch the culprit behind the act. But the spirit would always dodge the man. The man was thus forced to keep a round the clock vigil on the spirit, and managed to catch it one day. But not before a big fight. The man managed to defeat the mighty entity and forced a submission on the promise that from that day on, it would guard him and his household against all sorts of diseases and evils. The man agreed and took the ‘malevolent spirit’ to his house and placed him in the main door to act as an eternal sentry.

There are several versions of this legend prevalent among the Karbis, but the basic theme about the encounter between the ‘malevolent spirit’ and the man remains the same. This ‘malevolent spirit’ is ‘Peng’ who is one of the important deities in the Karbi pantheon, described in colonial accounts as ‘malignant demons’ and ‘malicious spirits’ etc. (while Inbang and Hemoto in the accounts of Baker might have been a mix up with some other gods of neighboring tribes). But ‘Peng’ has much more to do with tutelary gods of forests and villages, which are ‘propitiated everywhere in Southeast Asia, South China, Nepal and even in the Hindu context. Their ambivalent nature is underlined by the fact that they are originally wild, potentially harmful deities, which have been ‘tamed’ by humans following some ‘peace agreement’ often following a battle as in this Karbi narration. Such agreement always implies the necessity of regular offering of food. The basic functions of those tutelary entities are always to use their supra-human powers to prevent the intrusion from true untamed spirits, and the narration of the battle with men is here to remind their powers.’[25]

The modern Jewish state traces its name to the old Hebrew legend[26], but ‘Peng’ remains trapped in the old Karbi belief system and is fighting for existence and appreciation. Like ‘Peng’, the ‘malignant demons’ and ‘malicious spirits’ of the Karbi pantheon have not been able to advance beyond their primitive existence. In fact, these Karbi deities now face the prospect of either being assimilated to the 33 crores of Hindu deities[27] or being ‘demonized’ like the ‘Satan’. Some Karbi authors[28] would like us to believe that the ‘Hi-i:’ and “Saitan’ or ‘Satan’ are the same. But there is hardly any possible explanation to draw a parallel between the Karbi ‘Hi-i’ and the ‘Satan’ of the organized religions.

Demonizing the Karbi ‘Hi-i:

Karbi forefathers had always talked of ‘Hi-i-Arnam’ and not ‘Arnam-Hi-i’. In our childhood, elders would warn us to return to the safety of homes and not to venture out at twilight. Because, ‘Hi-i-Arnam’, elders believed, roamed the twilight roads! If Arnam is translated to mean god or deity and ‘Hi-i’ an evil spirit, the expression ‘Hi-i-Arnam’ would have to be explained as ‘evil-deity’. But there are more than what the term literally suggests. Or so it seems if one observes important Karbi family rituals like ‘Cho-jun’, performed once in three years in ‘normal circumstances’ or if ‘demanded’ earlier. ‘Cho-jun’ is performed for family wellbeing during which the ancestors from both the male and female lineages are also propitiated. During ‘Cho-jun’ (literally eat-drink), a number of deities[29] are propitiated in the altars serially arranged, including the highest one devoted to the ‘a-Binong’ (the Real One, honorific title given to ‘Arnam Kethe’, or the ‘Big God’) and an adjacent one for ‘Arnam Kethe a-Hi-i’ or literally the ‘Big God’s Evil Spirit’! Here, the ‘Hi-i’ enjoys almost the same status as that accorded to the ‘a-Binong’. In fact, the ‘Hi-i’ here does not suggest anything evil. He is only assigned to take care of the ‘evils’ that could come from among the ‘living’ and prevent any possible harm to ‘all’ those participating in the ‘Cho-jun’. My informant explained that the ‘Hi-i’ in this sense only meant the ‘evil thoughts or sights’ of man. For, a human being cannot be wholly evil or wholly virtuous, s/he is the mixture of both. In this sense, ‘Arnam-Kethe a-Hi-i’ can be explained as ‘Big God’s Caretaker of Evils’.

To the ‘Hi-i’ in the ‘Cho-jun’ or the ‘merry-making’ ritual in honour of the ancestors, the priest chants the following incantation—

Oi Charkleng/Oi Varkleng

Oi Charklengso/Oi Varklengso

Oi Charkleng-et/Oi Varkleng-et

Oi Utor/Oi Ulor

Oi Utor kangsam/Oi Ulor kangsam… [30]

(English gist: Oh Thou Charkleng and Varkleg, Oh Thou Utor and Ulor….Thou Utor and Ulor the calm ones…. )

The short incantation is devoted to ‘Hi-i’ and nowhere is there any mention of any evil or is there any sense that conveys evilness. But as briefly discussed in the above paragraph, the ‘Hi-i’ of the ‘Cho-jun’ has nothing to do with the ‘demons’ of the established religions, viz.  Christianity and Islam. The ‘Hi-i’ simply seems to be a deity whose job is to absorb the negative influences, either of man or nature or both, on behalf of the ‘a-Binong’. However, one needs to remember that the ‘Hi-i’ has also come to suggest something ‘evil’ or negative by usages influenced by dominant religions. The ‘Hi-i’ in this sense had undergone some changes in notion and presentation in popular ‘ghost stories’ in Karbi folklore. The ‘Hi-i-Arnam’ duality may also be ascribed to the Karbi obsession with pair words. In any case, this diarchy or duality of ‘Hi-i-Arnam’ is of particular interest, as the underlying concept indicates similarities with the ‘Yin and Yang’ philosophy of the great Chinese and in general the concept of ‘unity in duality’ among the Greeks and the ‘Samkhya’ branch of Indian philosophy…..the ‘Yin’ and ‘Yang’ describe two opposing and, at the same time, complementary (completing) aspects of any one phenomenon (object or process) or comparison of any two phenomena….the generalized descriptions of the antitheses or mutual correlations in human perceptions of phenomena in the natural world, combining to create a unity of opposites.”[31] In the most common Karbi divination process, two pieces of banana leaves facing each other are held between the thumb, index and ring fingers and tossed in the air by the sang-kelang-abang priest after incantations. If the two leaves fall to the ground, with one face down and the other up, the divination is regarded to have provided an answer according to which the priest suggests the next step for curing a disease. If the two leaves fall with both facing either down or up, the omen is regarded bad and the process is repeated thrice. Before finally tossing the leaves in the air, at the end of the incantation, the priest would always invariably utter these words—‘Isi parkup, isi pangthai!’ (Lit. ‘One up and one down!) Some diviner uses an egg, which is tossed on the ground after incantations and the positions of the broken egg cells are verified to see if this ‘one up, one down’ pattern has been formed. The obsession with this ‘balance’ in the Karbi belief system may therefore be structurally close to the Chinese concept of ‘yin and yang’.

Ancestor-worship, Souls and Heaven and Hell:

Cho-jun’ is an essential part of the ritual of ‘ancestor propitiation’ in the Karbi religious tradition. This ritual is called ‘Sar An-thok’ (lit. Offering of food to Elders) wherein all the male and female ancestors from the lineages of both the father and the mother are propitiated. But in doing so, ‘all ancestors from the fourth generation beyond his parents’[32] are propitiated as the Koreans do.

E.B. Tylor called ‘ancestor-worship’ as the ‘essential religion of China’. In an article titled ‘Variations in Ancestor Worship Beliefs and Their Relation to Kinship’[33], authored by Terrence Tatje and Francis L. K. Hsu, the observation of Prof. Radcliffe-Brown (1945) is cited, which says that there is specific “social function” of ancestor worship cults as the maintenance of social group solidarity in societies organized on the basis of lineages and clans. The authors’ findings that, “….‘ancestral cults’ are significantly more likely to be found in societies organized on the basis of clans or lineages than in societies not so organized” seem to agree perfectly with the Karbi practice of ‘Sar-Anthok’ or propitiation of ancestral spirits.

The Karbis believe that the spirits of the dead ancestors must be propitiated, ritually invoked and therefore ‘deified’ in order that the living clan members continue to receive their blessings. What is important is that the chronological order of the ancestral spirits propitiated must be strictly maintained. It is believed that the failure to maintain this rigid chronological order leads to untoward events befalling the household. The ritual, which had helped maintain clan-cohesion and preservation of family genealogy among the Karbis for centuries, therefore is considered the cornerstone of the tribe’s traditional belief system.

Another important aspect of Karbi belief system is the absence of the abstract concepts of hell and heaven. But in Karbi concept, the soul or ‘karjong’ is immortal and it has at least three interchangeable forms. A dead man’s ‘karjong’ is guided through predestined paths by female wailers or dirge singers (Charhepi) to the “ancestors’ village”, analogous to some lamaist practice. “Within the fold of the lamaist church the soul has to be conducted to its future abode, a service which is also a characteristic function of the shaman.”[34]

The expression ‘arong kachevoi’ or ‘return to village’ is used when a person dies. The narratives of the ‘charhepi’ remain the same for every dead person— rich or poor, killer or pious, cruel or honest. In the lengthy dirge narrative, there is neither any of mention of hell for punishing the ‘bad’ souls nor heaven as a reward to the pious ones. All the souls are reunited with the dead ancestors, who can also be reborn to the corresponding clans immediately. But the dead souls go on to the ‘chom rongme-chom rongso’ or ‘happy village’ after the elaborate and expensive ‘Chomangkan’ or ‘Karhi’ ritual is performed by the relatives when they can afford it, which may take years. But till such ‘Karhi’ is performed, the souls remain in a  ‘neutral’ zone and lead ‘normal’ after-lives. This explains why there is always a pressure on every Karbi family to be able to perform ‘Karhi’ so that the souls of their near and dear ones can finally go to ‘chom rongme-chom rongso’ to be reunited with the souls of the ancestors.

Another type of Karbi soul is —‘chamburukso’ (or chamburuso according to Bonglong Terang in his seminal work ‘Ronglin’) which can only belong to the ancestors. The relatives of the ‘chamburukso’ offer wine and pieces of dried fish before any important event in the household to avoid a ‘spell’ affecting any of the living relatives present during the occasion. But such ‘chamburukso’ never turns into a ghost or terrifying spirits. This ‘spell’ may result in a person suddenly suffering unexplained profuse sweating, weakening or falling into vertigo. This phenomenon is described as ‘chamburukso kelem’ or the victim being caught under the spell of an ancestral spirit. To avoid such a situation, in the interior of the family dwelling, small pieces of banana leaves as plates are placed on the ground for as many of the ‘chamburukso’ and wine is symbolically sprinkled and pieces of burnt dried fish offered by an older member who chants incantations praying for their blessings.

Another type of soul is called ‘pharlo’ which strays out of the body during sleep. It is believed that the ‘pharlo’ roams around, independent of the body, when one is fast asleep. Dreaming is one such expression of the wandering pharlo. Death may occur if the ‘pharlo’ fails to return to the body. According to some beliefs, one must not leave any uncovered jar or jug of water in the direction where the head is rested during sleep. It is believed that a straying soul may stumble upon these open jars or jugs and drowned, resulting in the death of the person.[35] If a person becomes sickly and emaciated, it is sometimes believed that his soul or ‘karjong’ is trapped somewhere by an evil spirit. In such a situation, a ‘thek-kere’ or a ‘medicine-man’ is called to trace and recall the ‘soul’ back. This practice is called ‘Karjong Kekur’ or ‘calling of the soul’. ‘Karjong Kekur’ is performed when a person, for example, had some accident or had contacted some disease away from his house. Usually a thek-kere (lit. Wiseman) priest visits the site where the accident had occurred or the disease was contacted and performs the ritual to retrieve the soul believed to have been left behind. The thek-kere priest through his incantations retrieves the soul and restores it to the owner. In a somewhat similar practice, ‘Karjong Kephur’ or ‘excavation of the soul’, a male (lodep) or female (lodep-pi) ‘shaman’ is employed. This shaman is a mystic healer who can communicate with the ‘gods’ and the ‘evil spirits’ and answers the queries of the family members, relatives and visitors who employ him or her. The Karbi ‘lodep/lodep-pi’ resembles the Nepali shaman as John T Hitchcock describes one —‘While his soul traveled in the other world, he would enact its adventures, miming dramatically its encounters with good and evil spirits.’[36] Such phenomenon is also observed among the Mongolians as described by CR Bawden in his paper, ‘Calling the Soul: A Mongolian Litany’, where “…..sickness is ascribed amongst many peoples of central and north Asia to the theft or the straying of the soul from the body of the patient. In such a case the efforts of the shaman are devoted to locating and capturing the soul and then reintegrating it within the body to which it belongs. Alternatively, sickness may be ascribed to the intrusion of a magical object into the body or, as appears clearly in several Mongolian texts, from the possession of the patient by evil spirit.”[37] In the Karbi ‘calling of the soul’ of the second type, i.e. ‘kephur’, the ‘karjong’ is believed to have left this earth and trapped in the “ancestors’ village”. This retrieval is done only by the lodep or lodep-pi. ‘The shaman is “possessed” by spirits of gods and goddesses who speak directly to the living, diagnose disease, and call for the sacrifice or propitiation in order to relieve misfortune.’[38] The lodep/pi is also similarly possessed by one or more Karbi deities. The lodep/pi then bargains for the soul and ‘buys’ it back in striking similarity with the Apatani shaman of Arunachal Pradesh who ‘…..locates the soul, he offers ransom for it, and the soul is returned to the patient.’[39] It is an elaborate ritual and draws a huge gathering in a Karbi family.

This ‘transcendental’ healing practice among the Karbis however has almost vanished and what is prevalent now are ‘possessions’ by various gods or goddesses (‘arnam kardon’), which are quickly taking over the vacuum in the recent times in rural Karbi Anglong among poor peasants. And of special interest is such ‘arnam kardon’ phenomenon occurring in women in majority cases. And such phenomena are gradually replacing the basic Karbi traditional belief system of animism, ancestor-worship and shamanist practices.

In the Karbi belief, another type of soul is also talked about belonging to persons who had unnatural deaths. Such souls are classified as ‘thi-phalangno’ (lit. died improperly), which wander in the forests and frighten passersby however without causing any bodily harm.  Such ‘thi-phalangno’ souls may ‘manifest’ in deep forests to strangers as if animals (elephants, tigers or bears which killed/devoured the person) are approaching with ominous noises. In such a situation, one has to only pluck dried leaves and twigs with left hand and throw them on the direction from where the noises are emanating. The ‘thi-phalangno’ souls are then believed to disappear instantly.

Death, rebirth and eroticism : a celebration of life and death

Chomkan’ or ‘Karhi’ is a celebration of death. And ‘Karhi’ is an embodiment of the Karbi cultural edifice. ‘Charhepi’, the dominant female character of the festivities, like the lamaist shamans, guides the soul of the dead to the ‘village of ancestors’. Beyond death, there is life, connected by the immortal soul that has many avatars. ‘Thireng-Vangreng’ who introduced the funerary traditions among the Karbis, traveled forth and back between earth and the ‘village of the ancestors’ —without death, like a Karbi soul. A Karbi soul almost[40] always comes back to earth to take its human form and again returns to its ancestors in endless cycles. But unlike a Buddhist or a Hindu soul, a Karbi soul never goes through the ‘karmic cycles’ in search of ‘nirvana’. The ‘nirvana’ for a Karbi soul is the funerary ritual of ‘Karhi’— which alone can open the door to the “ancestors’ village”.  Like the Hindu Pahari soul of Northern India, for a Karbi soul —“There is no question of going to Heaven or Hell after death.”[41] In Karbi vocabulary, there is no place for such abstract terms as ‘heaven’ or ‘hell’[42].

Death to a Karbi is only a transition to a new identity, both physical and spiritual— through time and space. A mother is reborn to her brother as a daughter, a father to his son as a son—reliving the genetic relation, all over again. Karma plays but a less significant role in the Karbi rebirth. Waddell informs us that—  “The Mikirs are the only people who believe in the immediate departure of the spirit from this world. The Kacharis believe that for thirteen days the soul haunts the earth, wandering about the scene of its release from the body. The Nagas say that for three days it remains with the body, and for this reason keep guard over the grave for two nights after the burial. In like manner the Kukis and Lushais believe for a certain period the soul is forced to dwell within the house it occupied the house. Nor does the Mikir believe in the power of the soul to revisit the earth, as do most other tribes, and with them to be dead is verily to be forgotten.”[43] What Waddell failed to notice is the Karbi soul’s ‘power’ to ‘revisit the earth’ or be reborn. As claimed by Waddell, the ‘dead’ is not ‘verily forgotten’. “When a Mikir man dies, the family keeps his remains in the house and until they can get friends and relatives together, and the necessary food for a feast………..They thus sometimes keep the body for weeks while preparing for the feast. After the feast they cremate the body, the same as the Hindus.”[44] The primitive Karbis only made it sure that the ‘Karhi’ is performed at the earliest, and till then the body is kept in ‘state’ in a separate block with arrangement to drain the fluid from the decomposing corpse through a long pipe of bamboo out in a distance where ‘flies gather to feast’ through a ‘bitu ahór’ (lit. a fly opening). Therefore, the wake obviously lasted weeks, sometimes probably months on end. Family members, relatives, young men and women and the entire villagers, took turn attending the unending vigil for the dead. It can therefore be safely imagined why the dirge songs of the ‘charhepi’ drags on and on, for hours and hours. But the primitive Karbis persisted with the custom to perform ‘Karhi’ with the body, known as ‘arpum karhi’. And this custom probably continued till the early part of the 19th century as indicated by the records of the American Baptist missionaries (1896).

But death among the Karbis is not all the lengthy laments of the charhepi. The return journey of a Karbi soul is described by the charhepi as lonely, dreary and difficult, while at the same time the living relatives are equally concerned and anxious of its early return—through rebirth. What must have lightened up the long and gloomy vigil for the dead body was the ‘recreation’ of explicitly sexual and erotic counter-narratives in the ‘Mi-ring-rang’ songs, as if to balance deaths with rebirths, and regeneration. The late Bonglong Terang, the doyen of Karbi folklorists in his masterpiece ‘Ronglin’, describes the legend of the origin of the explicitly sexual and erotic tradition of ‘Mi-ring-rang[45], sung exclusively during the ‘Karhi’ festivities, ascribed to Birsing-Bilijang and Longsan-Kru. The initiators reasoned the introduction of ‘an obscene tradition’ (ketherak thekthe ajutang) during the death ceremony. ‘Two pieces of split bamboo locked together’, symbolizing male-female cohabitation, is used during the funeral dance (Mi-ring-rang) accompanied by songs of imaginable obscenities, specially indulged on by young males. There is absolutely no barrier on the use of explicitly suggestive erotic songs and utterances during the festival that lasts for about a week. But during the last few decades, this custom has vanished as well in the face of modernity or so-called modern sensibilities. The ‘Mi-ring-rang’ song probably represented the last vestiges of the primitive fertility-rites prevalent among the Karbis. But under the spell of a modern day taboo described by some as ‘the crisis of modernity’, the erotic folklore of the Karbis has vanished almost without a trace. The funeral festival, which provided an excellent occasion for young bachelors to serenade their would be brides, taking advantage of the period of sanctioned (verbal) obscenity, is now taken over by moral depravity and violence. Perhaps, G Legman’s observation merits a second look—“Sex, and its folklore, are far more interesting, more valuable, and more important in every social and historical sense than, for instance, the balladry of murder, cruelty, torture, treachery, baby-killing, and so forth……..”[46] Eroticism is everywhere in the epic and religious literature of the ancient civilizations and everywhere there is censorship.

The taboo over sexual folklore however is not confined to the Karbis alone. ‘Until recently, in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), reports on musical performance related to sexual customs were severely condemned, without scholarly justification, as “nonsense and fantasies invented by some capitalist scholars”……and the existence of such customs was simply denied.’[47] This misconception about erotic folklore is widespread and even European scholars rather woke up late to documenting them as regretted by researchers like G Legman. And with the disappearance of the ‘bawdy’ or ‘unprintable’ erotic folk songs, the ‘celebration of death’ has been reduced to only a ritual necessity devoid of the spontaneous vibrancy and popular appeal.

The ‘Karhi’ performed as a celebration of death is as much a celebration of life in Karbi tradition. But taboos apart, the hard economic realities are threatening to change all that. The rhythmic sounds of Karbi folk drums that once announced the ensuing funeral festival in a village nearby are fading into oblivion. Traditional drummers, once respected and recognized, the Duhuidis are a vanishing tribe. Their drumbeats no longer reverberate in young hearts and entice them to a ‘nimso-kerung’ dance interspersed with the erotic tunes of mi-ring-rang songs, because their art is no longer appreciated. Because, ‘Karhi’ as the celebration of death is gasping for breath. This funerary ritual that embodies the philosophy of death and rebirth, eroticism and fertility, the art of music and dance, and a communal cultural activity — is also the essence of the cultural edifice of the Karbis. But the tragedy now is that —the chomangkan’ or ‘Karhi’ is well becoming only a celebration of death and decay, reflecting the crude realities within the Karbi society which itself is gasping for survival between tradition and modernity. Perhaps every Karbi who is keen to understand his own cultural background must also realize that “the analysis of death rituals can yield a profound understanding of what life means within a given culture.”[48]


Karbi belief system has been variously defined as a ‘worship of demons’ from one extreme to another, which categorizes it as a ‘crude form of Hinduism’. The confused lot among the Karbis has either attempted to identify Karbi ‘gods’ with some Hindu ‘gods and goddesses’ or has turned to revivalist tendencies. What however seems obvious is that— both these sections are desperate to graduate from the ‘folk’ to the ‘official’ tag for a Karbi ‘religion’. In a larger sense, both attempts point toward a new search for identity, which is trying to emerge from the periphery, however without realizing that the Karbi situation must be viewed from both the religious dimension of folk-culture, or the folk-cultural dimension of religion.’

The categorization (or assimilation to be specific), of the Karbis into the ‘official’ religion has wider implication as the same old colonial ideology continues to dominate the thought process of a good number of mainstream intellectuals and the census operation. A mainstream intellectual lament sums up this colonizing attitude—‘In recent years, of course, the trend towards racial and cultural fusion has been impeded by forces which have turned caste and tribe into political commodities. And politics, as you know, is not a very clean game.’[49] And the politics of population (or depopulation) as reflected in the census has only reinforced this colonial attitude. Anderson is right when he singled out ‘the three institutions’ of ‘the census, the map, and the museum’ which ‘together profoundly shaped the way in which the colonial state imagined its dominion—the nature of the human beings it ruled, the geography of its domain, and the legitimacy of its ancestry.’[50]

[1] Elwin, Verrier, ‘The Effect of External Contacts on Tribal Religion’ quoted from the ‘Din-Sevak, Verrier Elwin’s Life of Service in Tribal India’, published for The Christian Institute for the Study of Religion & Society, Bangalore, by I.S.P.C.K., Delhi, 1993. P.254

[2] Ibid.

[3] Taylor, Edward B, ‘The Philosophy of Religion among the Lower Races of Mankind’ quoted from ‘The Journal of the Ethnological Society of London (1869-1870), Vol. 2, No. 4, (1870), pp. 369-381 and published by: Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland’. And also—Taylor was Profoundly affected by Darwin’s new biology as many intellectuals of his time (and at the same time profoundly ethnocentric in his approach), he speculated animism to be the first form of mankind’s religious evolution, a kind of primitive stage which nevertheless could be observed as a “survival” among the so-called “primitive tribes”.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] 20 Years in Assam’ —Edited by Mrs. PH Moore First Published 1901 Reprinted 1982 Published by : Ramesh Kumar Omsons Publications T/7, Rajouri Gardens, New Delhi—110027, p-149

[7] Ibid. P.40

[8] MERICAN BAPTIST MISSIONARY UNION. The Missionary Magazine (1850-1872); Jun 1864; 44, 6; APS Online pg. 0_1

[9] ASSAM MISSION. The Missionary Magazine (1850-1872); Aug 1857; 37, 8; APS Online, pg. 301

[10] American Baptist Board of Foreign Missions. Baptist Missionary; Nov 1845; 25, 11; APS Online. P-6

[11] Waddell, LA — “The Tribes of the Brahmaputra Valley : A Contribution on their Physical Types and Affinities”, Logos Press, New Delhi, First Published 1901, First Indian Reprint 1975, Second Indian Reprint 2000— P.32-33

[12] Butler, Maj. John, ‘Travels in Assam—During a residence of Fourteen Years’ (Reprinted 1988), Manas Publication, 18-D, Kamla Nagar, Delhi-110007 (First Published in 1855 under the title ‘Travels and Adventures in the Province of Assam’). P.136-137

[13] Chatterji, Suniti Kumar, “Kirāta Jana Krti, The Indo-Mongoloids: Their contribution to the History and Culture of India”, The Asiatic Society, 1974 (Reprint), pp.141

[14] Sen, Sipra, “Tribes and Castes of Assam”, (Anthropology and Sociology), Published in 1999 by Gyan Publishing House, New Delhi-110 002, pp.141.

[15] Elwin, Verrier, ‘A Philosophy for NEFA’, published by Director of Research for and on behalf of the Govt. of Arunachal Pradesh, Itanagar-791 111, Fourth Reprint Edition-1999. Printed by MK Pandey, Himalayan Publisher, PB No. 177, Itanagar, New Delhi. P.216

[16] Ibid. P.210

[17] This demonstrative stanza of the ‘Mosera’ is taken from the ‘Karbi Folk-Music Archive’ (Thomas Kaisar of Zürich and DS Teron) and sung by Longsing Bé of Murap (2006)

[18] Kramsa, Suren, ‘Karbi Kristit Ebhumuki’ (January, 2004), Publisher-Bikramsing Kramsa, Bithilangso, and printed at Printwell, Diphu, Karbi Anglong. The version of ‘Karbi Keplang’ as narrated by late Chomang Rongpi of Chomang Rongpi village, Bithilangso, Den-arong, Karbi Anglong, is quoted from this book. But sadly, after the death of Chomang Rongpi, there does not exist a second living person who knows the song.

[19] The story of ‘Chinlong’ was narrated by Joysing Tokbi (45) of Laru, Bi-Tokbi village, Chinthong, in west KA under Chinthong Constituency, in an interview conducted on 27 April 2008 at Umlaper PWD IB.

[20] Interested readers may refer to the author’s essay— ‘Mosera Tradition and the Egg Origin of the Karbis’, P.8, appearing in the ‘Karbi Studies’ (2008), published by Angik Publication, Panbazar, Guwahati-1, for the ‘Karbi Young Writers’ Guild’, Diphu, Karbi Anglong.

[21] Taken from the “Karbi Folk-Music Archive” (Thomas Kaisar of Zürich and DS Teron) and sung by Longsing Bé of Murap (2006).

[22] Chanted by Longsing Bé of Murap for ‘Karbi Folk-Music Archive’ (Thomas Kaisar of Zürich and DS Teron-2006).

[23] The lengthy incantation is sung by Longsing Bé of Murap for “Karbi Folk-Music Archive” (Thomas Kaisar of Zürich and DS Teron, 2006).

[24] As narrated by Ramsing Phangcho (48), headman of village Rongkangtui of Kheroni in an interview held at his residence on 15 April 2008. The Karbis of Guwahati city proper also talk about ‘Jongkrang’ or similar forest entity which is propitiated as a family deity.

[25] Inputs from Pascal, Dr. Bouchery, University of Poiters, France.

[26] Jacob was called Israel (Hebrew Yisra’el or Yiśrā’ēl) following his ‘fight with a mysterious being’ according to Genesis 32.24.

[27] Phangcho, Dr. PC, author of ‘The Karbis of North East India’ (1st Edition March 2003), published by Angik Prakshan, Ghy-3 and printed at NE Printers, Ghy-3, had identified the ‘principal gods’ of Chojun with corresponding Hindu deities. For example, Vophong or Barithé is Indra, Arni is Rudra, Birné is Agni.

[28] Timung, Sar Lunse, ‘Karbi Aron Ajutang’ (A Short Karbi Customary Law Book), 1st Edition-1999, published by the author and printed at Diphu Press, Diphu, Karbi Anglong.

[29] 8 (eight) deities, namely Pampartok, Harata, ‘A-Binong’, ‘Arnam-Kethe a-Hi-i’, Arni, Birné, Kinchor and Sar (or Arnam Kethe a-Sar) during a performance of ‘Cho-jun’. The names of the deities may have regional variations. As told by Burasing Taro, Hori Taro village, in an interview on 14 July 2008, Diphu. However, in various regions, the same Cho-jun may have more deities than the eight worshipped in the informant’s area around Dokmoka.

[30] As told by Burasing Taro (55) of Hori Taro village of Dokmoka, KA, who is a practicing priest and member of the Karbi Cultural Society (KCS), in an interview on 14 July 2008, Diphu.

[31] Quoted from ‘Wikipedia’, the free online encyclopedia.

[32] Kwang Kyu, Lee, Seoul National University, ‘The Concept of Ancestors and Ancestor Worship in Korea’, Asian Folklore, Vol.43, 1984, pp. 199-214.

[33] Source: Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, Vol. 25, No. 2, (Summer, 1969), pp. 153-172 Published by: University of New Mexico.

[34] Bawden, CR, “Calling of the Soul: A Mongolian Litany’, Bulletin of the School of the Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 25, No. 1/3 (1962), pp. 81-103.

[35] Input provided by Mr. Robinson Teron of the Diphu Town Committee in an interview on 21 July 2008.

[36] Hitchkock, John T—‘A Nepalese Shamanism and the Classic Inner Asian Tradition’ in History of Religions, Vol. 7, No. 2. (Nov., 1967), pp. 149-158.

[37] Bawden, C.R., “Calling of the Soul: A Mongolian Litany”, Bulletin of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 25, No.1/3 (1962), pp. 81-103.

[38] L. Jones, Rex, ‘Shamanism in Southern Asia: A Preliminary Survey’ Source: History of Religions, Vol. 7, No. 4, (May, 1968), pp. 330-347 Published by: The University of Chicago Press

[39] Ibid.

[40] There is taboo against the rebirth of a Karbi devoured/killed by wild animals.

[41] L. Jones, Rex, Shamanism in South Asia: A Preliminary Survey’, Source: History of Religions, Vol. 7, No. 4, (May, 1968), pp. 330-347 Published by the University of Chicago Press.

[42]Sining’ in Karbi is a term that only describes sky while there is no corresponding term that gives any nearest meaning to ‘hell’. ‘Norok’ is borrowed from Assamese into Karbi to describe ‘hell’.

[43] Waddell, LA — “The Tribes of the Brahmaputra Valley : A Contribution on their Physical Types and Affinities”, Logos Press, New Delhi, First Published 1901, First Indian Reprint 1975, Second Indian Reprint 2000. Pp 34

[44] ‘20 Years in Assam’ —Edited by Mrs. PH Moore, First Published 1901, and Reprinted 1982. Published by —Ramesh Kumar, Omsons Publications, T/7, Rajouri Gardens, New Delhi—110027. Pp. 149

[45] Terang, Bonglong—‘Ronglin’, first published by the author in 1986, printed at Monjir Press, Diphu, KA. Pp Kha-1.

[46] Legman, G—‘Misconceptions in Erotic Folklore’ —The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 75, No. 297, Symposium on Obscenity in Folklore. (Jul.-Sep., 1962), pp. 200-208.

[47] Mu, Yang,  “Erotic Musical Activity in Multiethnic China”, Ethnomusicology, Vol. 42, No. 2. (Spring-Summer, 1998), pp. 199-264.

[48] From a review article by John O. Stewart of ‘Celebrations of Death: The Anthropology of Mortuary Ritual’ authored by Richard Huntington and Peter Metcalf. Source: American Ethnologist, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Feb., 1981), pp. 192-193.

[49] Goswami, Praphulladatta, ‘Hindu and Tribal Folklore in Assam’, Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 26, No.1 (1967), pp. 19-27.

[50] Anderson, Benedict, ‘Imagined Communities’—Reflection on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism—Revised Edition (2006), First Published by Verso-1983. P-163.


  1. Sarmanran Ronghang said

    Well, i am impressed with this blog 🙂 It has the foremost basic information about the Karbi Tribe. It reflects the order and its line that has been drawn beautifully by the ancestors of this Tribe. I really don’t know about Karbi(my tribe) before so much till now. If the information stated here are abosolutely true and the exact then i don’t have other choice then to give 100 out of 100. Thumps up for the One who gathered this information and wrote it down here. Make more if you have, please.

  2. Thank you Mr. Ronghang. We feel happy when people visit our site and do the analysis. We are trying harder to document as much as we can within our reach. If you have anything in your mind then please do suggest us. we will surely do the documentation for that also..

    With Regards,
    Morningkeey Phangcho

  3. Sanju Tokbi said

    Kardom, aprangsi neli kurvangthu nang pu ik loh athema non neli tum ove kimi atum aphan nang kerap apot. lapen la-an sose neli tum aphan nang pacharli ji aversai nang pi tutha.

  4. Lita Hazarika said

    I was very impressed to read this article.I wanted information on what the karbi’s do when a person is afflicted with mental illness and the types of mental illnesses people suffer from.I would really appreciate that.

    • Dear Ms Lalita,

      The answer to your question is in our Book ” Karbi Studies” Published by Angik Prakashan, Panbazar Guwahati. Please acquire it. or you can write an email to either me or Mr. Teron with your set of question and the purpose for which you want those information. we will be more than happy to provide you those information.

      With Regards, Morningkeey (Administrator)

    • Dear Hazarika….thanks for your appreciation. Regarding the ‘mental illness’ part, there is one write up in this blog itself.

  5. Paban Teron said

    Nelihin pen bangso alamsai porhi pen ning-ingsampik lo. Nanglitum alamsai pen non ove kimi atum aphan tovar keme keja pon thek apot chorolarlo, lasonsi neli non nelipo atum aphrang-phrang pen chorkli-chojo pen non neli-methang ahut-adak pen isi-hini ot dunjai lo, lasi ove kimi atum aphan kachoningri kangtung abang ke, pirthe along kengkam keme kachejordun thekjiaphan choningri ik lo. Lapen kijutsi… laso alamsai nangtum lapu-an sose rat aphan kepachini thuji aphan padikrim lo. Kardom!

    • Nangchorolo Paban….karkli aron ke-otdun pangchenglo pu chinisi ansose ning ingsamlo…athe karbi alun barim karkli barim arlosi karbi ajutang, aphurkimo heihui anke do….laso alamsai along kechok-kechokche nangpaklangdunbom pulote ketok/ketarlip atum aphan akerap dopikji….kurvangthu lapen puthot choro pen…Kardom!!

  6. chikari Tisso said

    I’ve gone through your collections and studied whole the things minutely, very minutely and would like to suggest you to get more deep to the depth to the Karbi culture which is own. Extract the juices and provide it to he whole world.
    with extreme hope!


    Fine, I realy congratulate you and your …….. for this valuable article , Hope world peoples will appriciate you to write more for karbi’s the Colombas of North East India. NEEPU CHARAN DUTTA

  8. tridib dutta said

    Thank you for your valuable article to know the Karbi people. I think it should be include more about the art of the culture, as my knowledge Karbi people has follows lots of iconography and other art form in abstract in their rituals like Jambili Athan.


    tridib dutta

  9. Austin Electrical Contractor…


  10. bolo taro said


  11. Anil Ronghang said

    Really i impressed to ur site and thnx four being history of karbi

  12. Its really wonderful that since long i was eager to find out something which is very important about the karbis but resently gor the opportunity to read or know through this ……. thanks.

    With regards from

    Moniram Ronghang

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  14. Rangsina Engleng said

    it educated me a lot about my own tribe , thing dat i didnt know . i would like to know more about our gods.

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