General Information about the Karbis:
Total Karbi population in Karbi Anglong District : 353, 513 ( 2001 Census). However the actual population figure of the tribe for the whole of NE of India is more than 800, 000.
Sex Ratio : 180, 136 males to 173, 377 females i.e., 96 females for every 100 males. ( 2001 Census)
Population Distribution ( Age wise) :
20 % ( aged between 18 to 30)
32 % ( aged from 31and beyond)
48 % ( aged between 0 to 17)
Religion wise Break-up
Indigenous Religion = 70%
Hindu = 14.64 %
Christian = 15 %
Others = 0.36 %
( Source: 2001 Census Report, Goverment of India)
Racially the Karbis belong to the Mongoloid group and linguistically they belong to the Tibeto-Burman group. The original home of the various people speaking Tibeto-Burman languages was in western China near the Yang-Tee-Kiang and the Howang-ho rivers and from these places they went down the courses of the Brahmaputra, the Chindwin and the Irrawaddy and entered India and Burma. The Kabis, alongwith others entered Assam from Central Asia in one of the waves of migration.
The folk-lores of the Karbis, however, indicate that during the long past, once they used to live on the banks of the rivers the Kalang and the Kapili and the entire Kajiranga area, the famous National Park situated in Assam, was within their habitation. During the reigns of the Kachari kings, they were driven to the hills and some of them entered into Jaintia hills, the erstwhile Jaintia kingdom and lived under the Jaintia suzerainty.
While a section of the Karbis remained in the Jaintia kingdom, others moved towards north-east by crossing the river Barapani, a tributory of the Kapili and entered into the Rongkhang Ranges. There they established their capital at a place called SOCHENG. The Karbis who migrated to the Ahom kingdom had to face the Burmese invasion.
The Burmese who invaded Assam perpetrated inhumane oppression on the people. The Karbis took refuge in the deep jungles and high hills leaving their hearth and home in the submountane regions. In order to save themselves from the greedy eyes of the Burmese invaders, the young Karbi girls started to use a black line from the forehead to the chin which is known a “DUK” with a view to making them ugly looking. While some of the Karbis migrated to lower Assam, some had crossed the Brahmaputra and settled in the north bank.
The Karbis have 5(five) clans called “KUR”. These are Terang, Teron, Enghee. Ingti and Timung. Each of the five clans has a number of Sub-clans. While Enghee and Timung have 30(thirty) sub-clans each, Terang have 15(fifteen) sub clans, Teron have 9(Nine) sub-clans , and the remaining clan Ingti has only 6(Six) sub-clans. These clans are completely exagamous and marriage between a boy and a girl belonging to the same clan can never take place since the children of the same clan are considered as brothers and sisters. Violation of this customary law obviously leads to ex-communication of the couple involved. Even in the cremation ground called Tipit or Thiri, area is kept demarcated for each clan. Although all the five clans are socially on an equality, Ingti being a priestly clan was supposed to have a higher status in former times.
Although, monogamy is the prevailing practice, there is no bar to polygamy and the cases of polygamy are very rare. Cross-cousin marriage is a preferential one. Like other tribal societies, the Karbis do not have the system of bride price. After marriage, the wife continues to use the surname of her father. But the children assume the title of their father. Thus, the Karbis follow the patriarchel system of family structure.
The settlement pattern of the Karbis is in the form of a village. Each village has a headman called Gaonbura or Sarthe who is appointed by the authority of Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council. But each revenue village has a number of hamlets situated kilometers apart. Each of the such hamlets has also a Gaonbura. Each Karbi village is named after the Gaonbura. The Karbis, like the other hill tribes, have a tendency to live on the hill tops. The Karbis who practice jhuming or shifting cultivation very often shift their villages to new jhum sites which might be 10 to 20 kms away from the present site.
Among the festivals observed by the Karbis, mention may be made of the “Chojun Puja” or “Swarak Puja” ;”Rongker”; “Sok-keroi”; “Hacha-Kekan”, “Chomangkan” , etc.
While the former four festivals are socio-religious in nasture and the letter is a social one.
The spot for “Chojun Puja” or “Swarak Puja” is generally selected near the house of the family which wishes to perform the puja. The deities in this festival are Barithe, Shar Arnam, Arni and the Devil Hii-i and other smaller Gods. Hemphu, the greatest God of the Karbis is also propriated.The puja is peformed for the welfare of the family.
The Karbis have their traditional dresses which are artistically designed. These dresses are woven at their family looms.There are separate dresses for men and women.
The aged men use an artistically designed shirt called Choy-nangpo and the shirt used by the young men is called Choy-hongthor. The men use a loin cloth called Rikong.
The Karbi women and girls generally use Pinicamflak, a piece of cloth tied around the waist like a Mekhela. A piece of artistic cloth is used by them to cover the upper part of their body and it is called Pe-kok. A very highly artistic waist band called Wankok is also used by every woman and girl. The ladies use coloured and striped Endi scarf called Khongjari during winter
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The Dumrali Karbis
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:
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.
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”