Karbis Of Assam

Ethnology on the Karbis also Known as Mikirs

Archive for March, 2009

A Tribute to Semsonsing Ingti : Father of Karbi Nationalism

Posted by Administrator on March 13, 2009

Father of Karbi Nationalism

Father of Karbi Nationalism

Dharamsing Teron


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 for 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.)

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A Brief view on the ethnology of the Karbis

Posted by Administrator on March 10, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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