Khasis Remembered

North East India is only connected to the rest of the huge landmass via a tiny slither of land known as ‘The Silguri Corridor’ which has an average width of just 30km. The Seven Sister states were carved out of the Bengal province and sandwiched in between Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan and China. It is because of the geographically odd placement of the states, that it is the home to over 220 ethnic groups with an equal amount of languages. The North East is one of the most diverse places on earth, each state is unique in many ways and all totally different to ‘mainland’ India. Ancient tribal practices and traditions still take place today, I was looking forward to learning more about the North East, and discovering how the lives of the people are changing in the 21st century.

The Khasi people are the indigenous folk who form best part of the Eastern part of Meghalaya. The main religion in the state is Christianity, this is largely down to the work of a man named Thomas Jones, a Welsh missionary who set out to convert the state to Christ in the 1840’s. The Khasi language had no written system until Jonesy turned up and mastered the local tongue, whereafter he figured out a way of writing the language in Roman script and contrived the first Khasi dictionary. So Tom Jones has been considered the founding father of Khasi literature long before he was dropping sex bombs on the UK charts! Unlike Welsh, Khasi is pleasing to the ear and doesn’t sound like a language that started as a joke and got seriously out of hand…

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Meghalayan Fruit Sohphie, the bitterest fruit I’ve tasted

Khasis have had their fair share of problems with the British colonists over the years. Tirot Sing was an 18th century Khasi chief, who went to war with general David Scott’s men during an attempted invasion of the Khasi Hills during the early 18th century. Sing’s army resorted in Rambo-style guerrilla warfare, using only swords and bow and arrows against the English’s arsenal. The Anglo-Khasi war lasted for four years until Sing was captured and left to rot in a Dhaka jail. Tirot Sing’s death anniversary is celebrated as a public holiday in Meghalaya and if it’s anything like a British bank holiday, an excuse to get drunk…
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Tirot Sing

On the subject of old school weapons, we were lucky enough to visit the small village of Nongkynrih, which is well known for producing traditional bow and arrows. A project is taking place to teach the local Khasi woman how to make other handicrafts as a way of bringing money and a better quality of life into the smaller rural communities. The chewing of paan is common throughout India, but here in rural Meghalaya it seems to be the local pass time. The betel nut paired with lime acts as a mild stimulant and causes teeth and gums to turn red after prolonged use, most of the woman chew on 50-60 of these per day, so seem to be constantly spitting out a jet of red liquid like vipers shooting their deadly poison…

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One of the most interesting things in Khasi culture is the matrilineal system of inheritance, where the children take the mother’s family name. Also, the youngest daughter of any family always inherits the parent’s estate, in return for providing and looking after them once they retire.

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Three generations of Khasi woman, spot the odd one out?

In the Meghalayan countryside, apart from looking a bit like the opening scene of Emmerdale, you will find spooky looking monoliths gracing the grassy moors. One of these large stone objects was supposedly erected each time a Khasi passed away as a memoir. If you look really carefully around these moors, you may also spot Eric Pollard walking his dogs and practicing his extremely bad acting…

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Having spent only a short time in Meghalaya, I have been thoroughly intrigued by the different aspects of tribal life, it’s mind boggling to think that only a few hours drive away there are more tribes with different practices, cultures, eating habits and languages. I forgot to mention that even though the English won the Anglo-Khasi war and killed their William Wallace, there is no animosity driven towards us, unlike the old and deep seated resentment shown by our Scottish friends North of the border!

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The Dkhars, our Khasi hosts, kind thanks!

Kamai Iaka Hok – Earn your bread by the sweat of your brow (Khasi Proverb).

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Categories: India | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Khasis Remembered

  1. Living and learning. I hadn’t realised this part of India existed. Thanks for the insight Gary. Keep on trucking for the lazy traveller. :0)

  2. michael

    Very interesting Gary but seriously is Khasi anything to do with our slang for “the bog ” I thought it was just summat ide heard from the Carry on films .

  3. Marlene walker

    Great photo of Cheryl with her friends does she get to keep the sari

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