The Matrilineal Society of the Khasis

Discussion in 'Politics & Society' started by Tenzin, Aug 29, 2013.

  1. Tenzin

    Tenzin Regular Member

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2013
    Messages:
    40
    Likes Received:
    15
    Location:
    Bomdila
    In a time when India is reeling under attacks on Girls, We should learn from the Khasis

    India's northeast is an eclectic medley of tradition, ethnicity and cultural heritage. Popularly known as the Seven Sisters, the states Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, and also the newest entrant in the North East Council (NEC) – Sikkim, are all sibling states that are treasure troves of a heady mix of race and rituals. Each state has its own remarkable and distinguishing features. One such state with a unique attribute is Meghalaya with its legacy of a matrilineal society, a heritage that sets it apart from all the other states of not only the northeast but that of the entire country of India.

    Also known as the Scotland of the East, Meghalaya is rich in culture as well as natural bounty. The Abode of Clouds, as it is popularly known, also houses the two wettest places on the earth—Cherrapunjee which was earlier on the top rung of wettest places and Mawsynram which later dislodged Cherra as the new most wet place on the face of the earth. This is mainly due to its proximity to the towering Meghalaya plateau against which the moisture laden southwest monsoons strike, resulting in heavy rainfall.
    Meghalaya, the 21st state of the Indian Union was declared a full-fledged state on 21st January 1972, comprising the areas of Khasi, Jaintia and Garo hills. Mother Nature has been rather generous to the state of Meghalaya with its hills, valleys, rivers, plateaus, majestic waterfalls and silent lakes; you name it and Meghalaya has it. The real charm of this state is however the two-fold fascinating climate, winter and monsoon, which can be enjoyed for the better part of the year. Shillong is the capital of Meghalaya.

    The Khasis who are one of the oldest inhabitants of the Northeast, belong to the Austro- Asiatic family of the human race. And the matrilineal society of the Khasis is the icing on the cake of Meghalaya's endless list of treasures. When most states of India are busy shunning the girl child by committing female feticide, participating in bride burning, demanding dowry or in short persecuting the weaker sex, Meghalaya is the only state that is holding a flame, a beacon of hope by putting the weaker sex on a strong pedestal of society. This is the state where woman power is at its peak.

    The northeast is known for the enhanced social status of its women folk. Compared to the rest of India, women here are comparatively safer and command respect. Probably the prevalence of "devi puja" (goddess worship) is a key to such a trend. Here a girl child is not considered a burden but is treated with equal status as the male child in both rural and urban societies.

    Speaking of the Khasis, it is difficult to state an exact date of the settlement of this tribe in the Khasi hills but it is believed that they migrated into the present home from the plains either from the Brahmaputra Valley or Kamakhya during the tenth and thirteen century AD. The striking feature of the Khasis is that they are a matrilineal society. In this region the woman enjoys a comparative freedom albeit in different degrees. This trait is characteristic of the Mongoloid races of South-East Asia.

    The woman is considered the mistress of the household and the sole custodian of wealth and not just a proprietress. The father on the other hand is provider, master and guide of the family, with the uncle as the undisputed director of the ancestral property. The Khasis trace their descent through the mother for the property is handed over to the women, especially the youngest daughter (Ka khadduh). If the youngest daughter dies, the property is transmitted to the next youngest in age. Such a legacy has empowered the Khasi woman to enjoy a position of importance and dignity. Though it's a matrilineal society the authority and control are in the hands o the maternal uncles. However, the woman has rights over the house and property sanctioned by customs and religious traditions. She is considered the custodian and preserver of her clan, family and lineage.

    In a Khasi marriage it is usual for the husband to live with his wife in his mother in law's house. He does not take his wife home as is customary in other communities. Whatever the wife earns is meant for her mother's house, which is expected to support the entire family. If a man marries a woman of a particular clan his children take the title of that clan therefore there is no illegitimate child in Khasi society as the children take their mother's title.

    The institution of bride price does not apply in a matrilineal society like that of the Khasi because of its incompatibility with a system in which the woman plays a more important role in the social system than the man. This is often exaggerated and women are believed to "rule the roost" in the family but this is a misconception. For a woman is accorded respect as one through whom the race is propagated, but it does not deny the fact that her commitments as mother and housewife are equally important and constitute a fulltime occupation. Responsibilities relating to regulation of the family are entrusted to men-folk.
    Among the Garos, male blood relations or Mahari exercise control over affairs of the family and even in matters affecting women. In arrangements of marriage, for instance, women are not consulted but male-in-laws often are. In relation to property though, it is inherited in female line. It is always managed by the male Mahari.

    In a typical Khasi household responsibilities are shared between the maternal uncle and the father. The father earns for his own wife and children but in matters affecting the clan or the family, such as the arrangement of marriages, management of ancestral property and performance of religious duties, it is the uncle who makes the decisions though generally in consultations with other members of the family. Thus there is a virtual three fold division of family responsibility- the mother looks after the hearth and home, the father provides all that is necessary for the maintenance of his wife and children and the uncle attends to the business affairs that come before the family. A man does not forego membership in his own clan after marriage. His position in his wife's house is that of 'being in it, but not of it'. The impact of modernization and influence of other cultures has somewhat eroded the maternal uncle's authority but, by and large the tradition is still honored.

    In Meghalaya, women enjoy great freedom and independence. Many look after their own interest and earn their livelihood with great success. Although as a rule they have no direct say in communal matters, in their own families, they exert a good deal of influence. However, from the above one can conclude that women’s emancipation is evident in all its glory in Meghlaya's unique women centric society.
     
    Vishwarupa likes this.
  2.  
  3. parijataka

    parijataka Senior Member Senior Member

    Joined:
    Oct 15, 2011
    Messages:
    4,893
    Likes Received:
    3,688
    Location:
    Bengaluru
    @Tenzin, few communities in Kerala and coastal Karnataka also matriarchal by which property is inherited by daughters and their children. When a girl marries her husband comes and lives with her family.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 10, 2015
  4. Tenzin

    Tenzin Regular Member

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2013
    Messages:
    40
    Likes Received:
    15
    Location:
    Bomdila
    Thanks for the information. So do women in those communities earn the bread for the family too?
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 10, 2015
  5. parijataka

    parijataka Senior Member Senior Member

    Joined:
    Oct 15, 2011
    Messages:
    4,893
    Likes Received:
    3,688
    Location:
    Bengaluru
    No, not traditionally. Usually the husband would manage her property such as farmland and business if any.

    Nowadays this system is seen less because in that region there is almost full literacy and women go to work. In Mangalore region at least they divide the property between male and female children equally these days AFAIK.
     
  6. Tenzin

    Tenzin Regular Member

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2013
    Messages:
    40
    Likes Received:
    15
    Location:
    Bomdila
    Thank You for the information.
     
    parijataka likes this.

Share This Page