The Real Beauty of The Garos: Their Culture and Traditions
[Any suggestion(s) to enrich the essay is always welcome! Please feel free to add any information and let me know any irrelevancy!
In 2007, when I was studying at Drexel University, USA, with a scholarship from US Department of State, I had the Golden opportunity to meet hundreds of politicians, statesmen, teachers and students with whom I could exchange my learning and experiences. So I took a chance to tell a very short story about the Garos whenever I got chance! But every time, returning to my International Hall I felt like failing to narrate nicely; hence I feel like writing an article on the Garos! And it was the very one! I can’t claim it’s my sole property as I did take lot of information from several books and internet as well! Hope young people will go through and keep a bit idea about their life, culture and tradition as well. Bola jay na kotha giye lecture deya lagey!
I deem, Dhaka Banani Wangala publication committee published it in 2008 0r 2009! Sometimes, you know, I find very difficult to explain to others even about my own culture and tradition! So I did decide to produce something ready-made for myself & you guys who want to excel in telling stories about the GAROS, their culture, tradition and dream for the WIDER World!]
Introductory: After passing 30+years I stroll down to some sweet memory lanes of my life, look back to my own culture and traditions! Though it’s late, I found something different, precious, unpredictable and un-folded truth! This’ truth’ is the ‘beauty’ of the Garos! Let’s be introduced to them, even ourselves if we are from Garo community!The Garos are one of the indigenous groups of people in Bangladesh and in neighbouring country India who have their own language and distinguished culture. Their ‘simplicity and honesty’ is a beauty in this world where complexity and dishonesty become very common phenomena in every sphere of the life of the mainstream people. They present woman the highest honour and prestige among their territory. All the women are like Presidents and princess who enjoy more rights and responsibility than they expect from society! But the real beauty lies elsewhere! I don’t want to disclose it at the very beginning of my essay! Let’s go through the whole write-up and discover this tremendous Hellenic beauty! What’s that? Cool down…
What must we know:The Garos love and preferred to be called ‘Mandi’ which literal meaning is ‘human being’. They also prefer to call themselves as Achik which meaning is ‘hill people’. They feel insulting if they are called ‘upojati’.There are about 2 lakhs of Garo people in Bangladesh. The Garos are the second largest among indigenous groups in Meghalaya after the Khasi.The Garos mainly live in Bangladesh, India and Bhutan. About 200,000 Garos are found in Mymensingh, Tangail, Jamalpur, Sherpur, Gazipur, Shylhet, Netrakona, Chittagong, Rangpur, Sunamgonj, Moulovibazar and Dhaka districts of Bangladesh.
The Garos in India are mainly distributed over the Kamrup, Goalpara, Assam and Garo Hills in Meghalaya. It is estimated that total Garo population in Bangladesh and India together were about 2 million in 2001. There are some Garos in Tripura state too. They were around 6,000 in 1971.Tripura Garo Union (TGU) recently surveyed and found that there are 15,000 Garos in the four districts of Tripura. The Garos also live in Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling and Dinajpur in West Bengal. There are few Garos in Nagaland too. Like some parts of Bangladesh many of the young generations of Nagaland are unable to speak the Garo mother tongue.
>Religion:The Garo’s traditional religion is known as ‘Sangsarek’. The Sangsarek is generally described as ‘animist’. American Baptist and Catholic missionaries, in the 19th century, opened schools and hospitals both in Bangladesh and Garo Hills…
Most of the Garos are now converted into Christians, with the majority belonging to the Catholics in Bangladesh, smaller numbers of Garo Baptist Convention, and also some Seventh-day Adventists and Anglicans. The picture is just opposite in India as Garo Baptist Convention is majority there!
Language:The Garo language belongs to the Bodo branch of the Bodo-Naga-Kachin family of the Sino-Tibetan group. As the Garo language is not traditionally written down, customs, traditions, and beliefs are handed down orally generation to generation.
It is also believed that the written language along with Achik alphabets was lost in its transit to the present Garo Hills.Garo language has different sub-languages. Of them Abeng, Matabeng, Atong, Megam, Matchi, Dual, Ruga, Chibok, Chisak, Gara, Gara-Gan·ching are noteworthy.
In Bangladesh A·beng is the usual dialect while A·chik is used more in India. The Garo language has some similarities with Boro-Kachari, Rava, Dimasa and Tripura or Kok-Borok languages.However, the modern official language in schools and government offices is Bangla in Bangladesh and English in India.
However, the modern generation is more inclined towards English in both countries.
The Garos first came to Meghalaya from Tibet, China about 400 (BC) years ago under the leadership of Jappa (Jagpa) Jalimfa, crossing the Brahmaputra River and tentatively settling in the river valley. It is said that they were later driven up into the hills by other groups in and around the Brahmaputra River. Various records of the tribe by invading Mughal armies and by British Army.The earliest written records about the Garo dates from around 1800. They “…were looked upon as blood thirsty savages, who inhabited a tract of hills covered with almost impenetrable jungle, the climate of which was considered so deadly as to make it impossible for a white man to live there” (Major Playfair 1909: 76-77). The Garo had the reputation of being headhunters.
In December 1872, the British sent out battalions to Garo Hills to establish their control over the Garo people. The attack was conducted from three sides – south, east and west. The Garo warriors confronted them at Rongrenggiri with their spears, swords and shields. The battle that ensued was unmatched, as the Garos did not have guns or mortars like the British Army.Tongan N Sangma, a Mandi young leader, was in command of the valiant Garo warriors. He fell fighting against the British soldiers with heroism and courage in December 1872.(Note: Pa Tongan Nengminja, a Garo Youth Leader who sacrificed his life to protect the rights of the Garo people….
Pa Togan Sangma also known as Togan Sangma or Pa Togan Nengminja Sangma was a Garo Indigenous leader from Garo hills in North East India.In 1872, during the British occupation of Garo Hills in present Indian state of Meghalaya, the local Garo warriors were led by a young man called Togan N Sangma. His troops met the British troops at Rongrenggiri.
The Garo warriors fell in an unmatched battle since British had access to advance warfare armaments. Pa Togan Sangma is immortalised at the martyr’s column in Shillong, where his name is enshrined along with U Tirot Sing and U Kiang Nongbah, the gallant heroes of the Khasis and Jaintias!
Later, Pa Sonaram R Sangma, a Garo politician, genius patriot and statesman, also fought against British army and tried to unify the contiguous Garo inhabited areas. Pa Sonaram Sangma served under British Government. Later, he resigned from his govt service to protest injustices of British govt. against the Garos and started agitation. He died in 1916.
The real beauty of the Garo people: Their Culture and Tradition
The Garos are one of the few remaining matrilineal societies in the world. Matrilineality is a system in which lineage is traced through the mother and maternal ancestors. Matrilineality also is a societal system in which one belongs to one’s matriline or mother’s lineage, which can involve the inheritance of property and titles. A matriline is a line of descent from a female ancestor to a descendant in which the individuals in all intervening generations are mothers.
In a matrilineal descent system an individual is considered to belong to the same descent group as her or his mother. This matrilineal descent pattern is in contrast to the more common modern pattern of patrilineal descent from which a Family name is usually derived.The individuals take their clan titles from their mothers. Traditionally, the youngest daughter known as ‘Nokmechik’ inherits the property from her mother.
***In the matrilineal society, no individual is the owner of the land or property! Rather, the clan (Machong) is the sole owner of the property. So, the NOKNA or any daughter who owns the property is the just manager or protector of the property. If she can’t manage the property well, any time clan (machong) can take the whole property back and handover the responsibility to another daughter!Sons usually leave the parents’ house at puberty, and are trained in the village bachelor dormitory commonly known as ‘nokpante’. After getting married, the man lives in his wife’s house for a short span. Then they build houses of their own nearby.
Opposite pictures are also seen now a day. Garo women now go to husband’s house a lot in Bangladesh.The Garos belongs to matrilineal society, but not matriarchal. The properties of Garos are owned by the women. The men govern the society and look after the domestic affairs and manage the property simultaneously. This gives a solid security to the Garo women folk.However, the culture of modern Garo community has been greatly influenced by Christianity.
Nokpantes are glory of the past and all children are given equal care, rights and importance by the modern parents.
Both men and women enjoy adorning themselves with varieties of ornaments. These ornaments are:
• Ribbok – Necklaces made of long barrel shaped beads of cornelian or red glass while some are made out of brass or silver and are worn in special occasions.
• Nadongbi – made of a brass ring worn in the lobe of the ear
• Nadirong – brass ring worn in the upper part of the ear
• Natapsi – string of beads worn in the upper part of the ear
• Jaksan – Bangles of different materials and sizes
• Jaksil – elbow ring worn by rich men on Gana Ceremonies
• Penta – small piece of ivory struck into the upper part of the ear projecting upwards parallel to the side of the head
• Seng’ki – Waistband consisting of several rows of conch-shells worn by women
• Piln-e – head ornament worn during the dances only by the women
Garos have their own weapons. One of the principal weapons is a two-edged sword called Millam made of one piece of iron from hilt to point. There is a crossbar between the hilt and the blade where attached a bunch of cow’s tail-hair. Other types of weapons are shields, spear, bows and arrows, axes, daggers etc.
Food and drink:
The staple food of the Garos is rice. The Garos are very liberal in their food habits! They rear goats, pigs, chickens, ducks etc. and enjoy their meat. They also eat other wild animal like deer, wild pigs etc. Fish, prawns, crabs, eels and dry fish also are a part of their food.Their jhum fields and the forests provide them with a number of vegetables and root for their curry. Ta.a, taaja, ampeng, steng, tagichak, tabulchu, samgoldak, adurak, tamatchi, dukhumi, agendrak ame some of them. Bamboo shoots are esteemed as a delicacy. They use a kind of potash in curries, which they obtained by burning dry pieces of plantain stems or young bamboos locally known as Kalchi or Katchi.
After they are burnt, the ashes are collected and are dipped in water and are strained in conical shaped in bamboo strainer. These days most of the town people use soda from the market in place of this ash water. Apart from other drinks country liquor plays an important role in the life of the Garos.
Generally one finds the similar type of arts and architecture in the whole of Garo Hills. They normally use locally available building materials like timbers, bamboo, cane and thatch. Garo architecture can be classified into following categories:
The house where every A’chik household can stay together. This house is built in such a way that inside the house, there are provisions for sleeping, hearth, sanitary arrangements, kitchen, water storage, place for fermenting wine, place for use as cattle-shed or for stall-feeding the cow and the space between earthen floor and raised platform for use as pigsty and in the back of the house, the raised platform serves as hencoop for keeping fowl and for storing firewood, thus every need being fully provisioned for in one house.
The house where unmarried male youth or bachelors live is called Nokpante. The word Nokpante means the house of bachelors. Nokpantes are generally constructed in the front courtyard of the Nokma, the chief. The art of cultivation, various arts and cultures, and different games are also taught in the Nokpante to the young boys by the senior boys and elders.
In certain areas, in the rice field or orchards, small huts are constructed. They are called Jamsireng or Jamdap. Either the season’s fruits or grains are collected and stored in the Jamsireng or it can be used for sleeping.
The small house, a type of miniature house, built in the jhum fields is called Jamatdal or ‘field house’. In certain places, where there is danger from wild animals, a small house with ladder is constructed on the treetop. This is called Borang or ‘house on the treetop’.
The common and regular festivals are those connected with agricultural operations.The greatest among Garo festivals is the Wangala, usually celebrated in October or November. It’s a thanks-giving ceremony after harvest in which Misi Saljong, the god who provides mankind with Nature’s bounties and ensures their prosperity, is thanked and honored.The first Wangala in Bangladesh was celebrated in October 1978 at Biroi Dakuni Catholic Mission, Haluaghat, Mymensigh.
In 1994 Dhaka Metropolitan celebrated its first Wangala. In 2002 Biddyabill, Srimangal, and Moulovibazar celebrated the festival. In 2007 Chittagong Cathedral celebrated it.
Wangala is also celebrated in Pirgacha Parish and Gaira village every year with great pride in Madhupur under Tangail district in Bangladesh. [Gaira is my birth place].
Gal·mak Doa, Agalmaka, Ronchugala, Denbrilsia are some other among important Garo festivals.
Wangala of Asanang:
There used to be a celebration of 100 drums festival in Asanang near Tura in West Garo Hills, Meghalaya, India usually in the month of October or November. Thousands of Garo people, especially the young people, gather at Asanang and celebrate Wangala with great joy. Beautiful Garo girls known as nomil and handsome young men known as pante take part in ‘Wangala’ festivals. The ‘pante’s beat a kind of long drum called dama in groups and play flute known as aduri. The ‘nomil’s with colorful costume dance to the tune of dama’ and folk songs in a circle. Most of the folk songs depict ordinary Garo life, god’s blessings, beauty of nature, day-to-day struggles, romance and human aspirations.
Though Christmas is basically a religious celebration, in Garo areas the month of December is a great season of celebration. The celebration is featured by worship, dance, merry-making, grand feasts and social visits. People from all religions and sections take part in the Christmas celebration.
Tallest Christmas Tree of the World:
In December 2003 the tallest Christmas tree of the world was erected at Dobasipara, Tura by the Baptist boys of Dobasipara. Its height was 119.3 feet and BBC television had come to take coverage and broadcasted. The tree was decorated with 16,319 color electric bulbs and it took about 14 days to complete the decoration. The Christmas tree had attracted several tourists and journalists from outside of Meghalaya, India.The annual winter festival AHAIA:The festival, conceptualised in 2008, is aimed to promote and brand this part of the region as a popular tourist destination vis-a-vis giving an opportunity for the local talents to showcase their skills and expertise. The three-day fest will feature a gala event with carnival, cultural show, food festival, rock concert, wine festival, angling competition, ethnic wear competition, children fancy dress, DJ Nite, exhibitions, housie housie and other games. The entry forms for carnival and other events are available at Tourist Office, Tura.
Music and Dance:
Group songs may include Ku·dare sala, Hoa ring·a, Injoka, Kore doka, Ajya, Doroa, Nanggorere goserong, Dim dim chong dading chong, Serenjing, Boel sala etc. Dance forms are Ajema Roa, Mi Su·a, Chambil Mesa.a, Do·kru Sua, Chame mikkang nia, Kambe Toa, Gaewang Roa, Napsepgrika and many others.
***Note: The article has been shortened!
Collected and re-written by Babul Nokrek
ILEP Felleow-Drexel University
3. The Daily Star
4. Official Homepage of Meghalaya State of India
5. Gan-Chaudhuri, Jagadis. Tripura: The Land and its People. (Delhi: Leeladevi Publications, 1980) p. 10
6. Academic study about personal names in Garo villages
7. Culture section in the official Garo Hills area
8. The Strong Women of Madhupur: Dr Rubbin Burlings, Professor, Michigun State University
9. Rengsangri: Dr Rubbin Burlings, Professor, Michigun State University