Karbis Of Assam

Ethnology on the Karbis also Known as Mikirs

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Social Structure

Posted by Administrator on March 23, 2006

Division of the society – rules of descent

The Karbi society is Patrilineal and segmented. Patrilineal descent is important in determining the social Identity of a person, inheritance, prohibitions and prescriptions pertaining to the choice of marriage Partners. The Society as a whole is divided into clans, subclans, and lineages, whose members reckon their presumed kinship and common ancestry through the paternal line only. Five primary Patrilineal sections or patriclans (Kur) are further subdivided into more than 80 sub-clans or Patrilinages ( Please refer Clans List). Karbi Language does not makes a real distinction between different levels of segmentation: subclans and patrilineages are only called kur-so (“Small Kur”). Individuals of both sexes use their clan name as patronyms in administrative documents, hence their number is very limited.”A gender suffix (-Pi) is added to clan names patronyms when applied to women ” (such as in Phangcho-pi applied to a girl/woman of the Phangcho clan). A very interesting feature prevalent among the Karbis is that daughters retain their clan’s name even after marriage : a married woman continues to bear her father’s patronym. However the agnatic line is not extended further as her children assume the title of their father only.

With the exception of the Ingti (Lijang) clan to which a few symbolic privileges are conceded as traditional holder of priestly offices, all clans are socially of equal order.

Exogamy

The Karbi clans (kur) have been strictly exogamous groups and still seem to be so. They are the effective divisions of the society, the sub clan and kindred being of secondary importance. Sexual or marital union between people belonging to the same clan is considered incestuous as they are considered as siblings, and any violation of this rule may lead to public banishment. Interestingly, a man and a woman will be regarded as brothers and sisters even if their mother’s clan is same, though they might belong to different clans. Hence they cannot marry each other. This rule, however, does not apply to partners whose paternal grandmothers (father’s mothers) are of the same clan.

Rules of inheritance

The basic rule of inheritance is that all immovable property (land and buildings) as well as family artefacts are to be distributed among a man’s sons, whereas all the jewelry is passed down from mother to daughters and shared equally among them. Cash is divided among both sons and daughters. Generally all sons get equal share of the parental property, except for ritual artefacts of the household which are inherited by the eldest son alone.

Article written by Mr. Bouchery Pascal, Lecturer in Anthropology, University of Poiters, France.

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