(Last Updated on : 02/12/2010)
The Khasi tribes live in Khasi and Jaintia hill districts of Meghalaya
and its northern slope up to Brahmaputra valley and the southern slope rolling to the Surma valley. The Khasi is a broad term which includes the Jaintia, the Pnar in the east and the Lyngam in the west, the Bhoi and the Khynriam. The Khasi call themselves Rilum. The term Khasi is applied to the Mon Khamer-Nicobar group of the Austro-Asiatic language speaking people who migrated from South-East Asia into the hills of North-East India. According to some historians Khasi is a generic term used for various tribes and sub tribes who inhabit the Khasi and Jaintia hills. The Khasis have old and rich oral tradition which reveals a hidden truth of their past. English is their second language. Generally, they are descendants of Mon-Khmer speakers who migrated from Yunnan to Meghalaya, and thus they are of East Asian origin.
Society of Khasi tribes
The Khasi are an endogamous tribe who are divided into exogamous clans which are again subdivided into exogamous matrilocal families. The exogamous clans are Lyngoh, Kharkongor, Diengdoh, Sohkhler, Marbaniang and syiemlich who trace their descent from respective female ancestress. Inter marriage between them is allowed.
Inheritance of property takes place only through the female line. The Khasi clans provide a good example of social organisation which is based on clans.
Hypergamy is not practiced. There are no child marriages. Marriage has both a religious and a social aspect among the Khasi tribes. Monogamy is the common form of marriage. Polygamy and polyandry are not known among them. As their society is matriarchal all the earning of males and females are owned jointly and administered by the head woman. Property is inherited from mother to daughter. Khasi family life is woven into religious rituals and ceremonies. In some cases it has seen that women act as religious and secular chiefs.
It is interesting to note a typical Khasi house. It is a shell-shaped building with three rooms: the shynghup is a porch for storage; the nengpei is the center room for cooking and sitting; and the rumpei is the inner room for sleeping. The homes of wealthy Khasi, on the other hand, follow the modern trends and have iron roofs, chimneys, glass windows, and doors. Some have European-style homes and furniture.
Economic life of Khasi tribes
The economic life of the Khasi is characterized by division of labour based on gender. It is a market oriented one in which women has an important role to play. They are the producers and sellers. Rearing of live stock is still in practice. Child labour also exists in the community. The Khasis also engage in other subsistence activities such as fishing, bird snaring, hunting, and the raising of goats, cattle, pigs, dogs, hens, chickens and ducks, and bees. Cottage industries and industrial arts include cane and bamboo work, blacksmithing, tailoring, handloom weaving and spinning, cocoon rearing, lac production, stonecutting, brick making, jewelry making, pottery making, iron smelting, and beekeeping.
Religion of Khasi tribes
As far as religion is considered the Khasis are monotheistic. They do, however, invoke God by various names according to the need of the moment, as God has all the attributes of goodness and all the power to do well. So they call him "`lei long spah". Besides adapting to the indigenous practices of the Khasi religion, these people are Presbyterians. Majority of the Khasi have adopted Christianity
though they are rooted in their traditional religion too. Besides Hinduism
are also practiced respectively. A small number of them are Buddhists and Sikhs also.
Festivals of Khasi tribes
Khasis celebrate many festivals with the help of ritualistic dance performances. Dance and music form an integral part of Khasi Life - every festival and ceremony
The women use golden crown in the shape of a wide decorative band that rests on their head. Floral plumes are used to further ornament them. The `phawar` is one of the basic forms of Khasi music.
Khasi are trying to preserve their tribal identity. A solidarity movement has gained popularity among the Khasis, irrespective of their religious affiliation, which re-establishes their tribal identity. Educationally Khasis have become very cautious. With their unique cultural heritage, the Khasi tribe remains an integral part of Indian demography even today.