Essay on the Matriarchal Tradition in North-East India

The matriarchal system is also found among the Garo and Khasi tribes of north-east India. Garos are found in Meghalaya state. Most of the members of this tribal community are concentrated- in the Garo hill ranges though a small part of them has migrated to the plains. To­wards east of Meghalaya there are Khasis who are concentrated in the Khasi hills.

These two tribal groups have matriarchal kinship systems. During the British regime they came under the influence of Christian­ity. Goswami and Majumdar (1972) and Parmil Chandra Kar (1982) have studied the Garo tribe in some detail. These studies throw light on the kinship organization of the tribe.

Besides, the study published by the Law Research Institute of Guwahati, entitled Customary Laws and Practices of the Garo of Meghalaya is also important as it gives some details about the Garo kinship system.

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The Garo economy is based on shifting cultivation, locally known as zoom. The cultivation is characteristic of the agricultural practices found in hilly regions. The head of the family is the owner of the family property. The whole tribe is divided into two exogamous moities.

In Garo language moiety is called chatchi. The first chatchi is known as sangama and the second one marak. The Garo kinship sys­tem revolves round the matriarchy of mother.

The matriarchal descent is represented by the families of the daughters. Property is in­herited by the daughters and the family offspring’s trace their origin from mother and other female ancestors. The Garo family is called nok.


The nok consists of parents and their children. With the exten­sion of family the mother’s unmarried brothers and sisters and widowed mother also form the family.

The unmarried brother after his marriage goes to his wife’s house and the unmarried sister after her marriage resides with the mother. The widowed mother resides with her daughter all through her life.

In a Garo village, according to tradition, the boys are required to reside at a place known as Nokpante. They come to this place after the attainment of the age of five or six.

They work in the field throughout the day, take their evening meals with the mother and return to Nok­pante for rest. They spend their night here. Women are not allowed to enter the premises of Nokpante.


After marriage the sons break rela­tions with the mother. Now they come directly under the influence of their mama or mother’s brother. According to the Garo rules of mar­riage, a person cannot marry within his moiety.

The rules of marriage indicate that a person can marry his mother’s brother’s and ego’s sis­ter’s children. But he cannot marry the sister of his wife.

The kinship terminology of the Garo tribe show that there is dif­ference between the matriarchal descent group and the opposite descent group from where marriage alliance is made.

The terminology indicates that all the female members of the matriarchal descent group are treated as mother’s sisters, and of males from her side are consid­ered as mother’s brothers or equivalent.

Thus, there are two kinship terminologies-one for the matriarchal descent group and another for the opposite group from which marital relations are established.

The Khasi tribe is found in the Jayantia hills of Assam. The lan­guage of Khasis belongs to Austro-Asiatic language family. The Mundas of Madhya Pradesh also speak a language belonging to this family.

The Khasi economy is based on shifting cultivation. We get details about the economy of the tribe from the work of Gurdon (1914). The tribe has a perfect matriarchal system.

The tribe practises exogamy but not village exogamy because in a single village several clans reside and this has made possible the village endogamy. The whole tribe is organized under the matriarchal system.

The clan among the Khasi is called kur of which there are large numbers. De­spite the Khasi having several clans, there is cooperation and unity among them. The individual does not have much importance.

He is identified by his kur. Religious activities revolve around the matriar­chal descent and the village occupies a unit in production and consumption of commodities.

If we analyze the kinship system found among the Khasis, it could be said that in the tribe the relationship between mother and daughter is very important. Next is that of sister and mother.

In this kinship system, the relationship between husband and wife goes into the back­ground. The property is handed over from the mother to daughter. The clan is important as far as marriage is concerned. One cannot marry within his own clan. Thus, for all consideration, clan is exogamous.

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