(Last Updated on : 01/12/2010)
Karbi Tribes are mainly dominated in the Karbi Anglong district
. Some are also found in North Cochar Hills, Nagaon, Golaghat, Kamrup, Jorhat, Sonipur and Lakhimpur districts of Assam
and in bordering states of Nagaland and Meghalaya
. Karbi tribes possess a rich cultural frame and a distinctive life style. They have a tradition, culture, language, identity and ecological position of their own. They lead a very rudimentary life. They sometimes call themselves Arleng which literally means a man in Karbi language.
Origin of Karbi Tribes
The Karbis belong to greater Mongoloid racial stock. Linguistically they belong to the Tibeto-Burman group. The Karbis belonged to western China and entered Assam from Central Asia through migration. According to some the original home of the Karbis was the eastern part of the Khasi and Jaintia Hills bordering on the river Kopili. The migration took place at the beginning of the seventeenth century A.D.
Social system of Karbi Tribes
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. The Karbi tribes basically live on hill tops and they generally do not live in compact areas.The Karbi is divided into three major divisions - Ronghong, Chintong and Amri. The Karbis have five clans called 'Kur'. These are Terang, Teron, Enghee, Ingti and Timung. Each of these five clans has several sub-clans. While Enghee and Timung have 30 sub-clans each, Terang and Teron have six sub-clans each and the remaining clan Ingti has only four sub-clans. These clans are completely exogamous 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. Although all the five clans have equal social status, Ingti being a priestly clan was supposed to have a higher status in the past. In the Karbi tribal community although, monogamy is the prevailing practice, there is no bar to polygamy. However, the cases of polygamy are very rare. Cross-cousin marriage is a preferential one.
Their entire economic life revolves round the forest. Shifting cultivation, food gathering are their main occupation while service, casual labour are the additional source of income. They have started agriculture as their primary occupation. The traditional village council of the Karbis is called "Me" and this council is composed of all the elderly male members of the village. The village council plays an important role in regulating the social, economic and religious life of the village. The poor economic condition of the Karbi has created problems for maintaining socio-religious ceremonies. Festivals have become burden to them. Low income has also become a factor for the change of religion. They get basic facilities and help from the Christian Missionaries for their needs.
Religious Life of Karbi Tribe
The Karbis believes in animism which consists of such a belief in the role of spiritual beings in human life. These spiritual beings have to be propitiated. Animism is a form of religion in which magic is the predominant element. It considers man as passing through a life surrounded by the ghostly company of powers and elements. It is a belief in benevolent as well as malevolent spirits which are supposed to influence the destiny of man. They believe in the immortality of the soul. Ancestor worship is also common. They worship deities locally known as Arnam-atum. Their religion can be considered as polytheism as they believe in many Gods.
Festivals of Karbi Tribes
A number of festivals are observed by the people belonging to Karbi tribal group. Like for instance, they celebrate 'Chojun Puja' or 'Swarak Puja', 'Rongker', 'Chokk-eroi', 'Hacha-Kekan', 'Chomangkan'. Dance and music play an important role in the life of the Karbi Society. Various types of dances are performed by the youths during the performances of Chomangkan, the death ceremony and other socio-religious festivals. The Karbis have very limited number of musical instruments. A big drum called Cheng is their main musical instrument. It is generally played by a master drummer called Duihudi. In some of their dances they use war shield made from the skin of rhinoceros called Chong and prototype war sword called Nok.
Since last few decades their life cycle has been changing. They move from one place to another for their agricultural practice. Their socio-religious life has been influenced by the people whom they come in contact with. Education has also changed their life pattern. Christianity made its presence felt in Karbi society and become a vehicle of change.