Karbis Of Assam

Ethnology on the Karbis also Known as Mikirs

Social Structure

Social Structure

23rd March 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.


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.

3 Responses to “Social Structure”

  1. ron nokso said

    its been nice to read…..and i m sure this article will help built the awareness among the modern karbis,as most of us have forgotten and some yet to be taught about the rules and regulations `bout marriage, festivals, culture and many more… i wish we should write more artilces like this……..and help retained our the identity of the karbis. thanks

  2. to know more about the marriage rules amongs the karbis please read it by clicking at the following rules..


  3. Bogdan Janicki said

    Hello, Momingkeey Phangcho. Please receive my best greetings from Poland, a nation of 39 millions in Central Europe. Congratulations on the quality of your website. It provides lots of very interesting information on your Karbi people. I am a student of computer engineering but my hobby is ethnology. Basing on your website I am going to prepare a lecture and (probably) a small exhibition on “Mikir of Assam” for my fellow students at the Warsaw Technical University. With best regards.

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