Garo is a hilly tribe of North-eastern India with a tradition of ‘shifting hill cultivation’. The Garo form one of the important matrilineal tribe inhabiting north-eastern region of India, mainly found in Meghalaya state.
They are also found in Kamrup, Goalpara and Khasi hill regions of Assam, Mymensingh district of Bangladesh and in Jalpaiguri, Cooch-Behar districts of West Bengal.
The Garo are divided into two sections: The Hill Garo and the Rain Garo. According Mayfair, their original home was in Tibet from where they migrated to India Under the leadership of ‘Garu’. Their group name had been probably derived from the name it their leader cum guide. They represent Mongoloid racial stock. They speak a language belonging to Tibeto-Chinese family of languages.
Economic and Material Material Culture
The Garo are, at present, mainly concerned with agriculture. They practice both permanent and ‘shifting hill cultivation’ which is known in the local term jhum. The Plain Garo, however, practice permanent wet cultivation in the same field, owned by them, every year. Artificial irrigation and manuring are known to them. They mainly cultivate paddy (summer variety). Maize, potato, tobacco are their cash-crops every year. They also grow various types of vegetables which also give them to earn ready cash.
The Hill-Garo still practice their traditional calling of ‘shifting hill cultivation’ by primitive ‘slash-and-burn’ method. In dry summer months, they cut down small trees, bushes and leave them for few days to thy. Then, they set fire to the dried woody collection. The residual ash serves them as manure to their ‘Jhum’ fields. Before the start of monsoon, they loosen their fields by means of a hoe or digging stick. When monsoon starts, they sprinkle the seeds of different kharif crops including bajra, jowar, and also pulse seeds; tobacco and potato seeds are also planted by them. They harvest their crops in winter season.
They also participate in occasional hunting and fishing activities, especially in agricultural off-season. They also gather different forest products which are either sold or kept for home consumption. Honey and fuel are gathered regularly from the forest by which they are able to earn money. Occasional hunting is carried on by various traps of which pit-fall and transfixing traps are common. Bow and arrows are also used in hunting. Fishing by poisoning, by implements, and also by traps is carried on by the Garo. The activity of fishing is restricted to rainy season when agricultural fields, streams and pools are filled in with water.
Domestication of animals
The domestic animals of the Garo includes goat, pig, sheep, and rarely cattle. They also rear poultry birds. Dogs and cats are common tamed animals to be found in almost every household of the Garo.
Rice is their staple food. Sometimes, it is being replaced by bajra, maize, barley etc. The boiled grains along with gruel and boiled vegetables with salt and chilies form the principal diet of the Garo. They take the meat of all animals and birds. The meat of dog, cat and tiger is consumed by them with much relish. They rarely use any fatty substance as cooking medium. Rice or other boiled grains are takes a thrice a day. The Garo have apathy towards animal milk which they compare with urine. They prepare country-liquor by fermenting rice and other millets.
The settlement pattern and huts
The Hill Garo construct their village on the hill slopes near to any water source. The dwellings are made of bamboo-split walls, plastered with mud. Four-sloped roofs with the thatching of straw or leaves are common. These huts are huddled together on either or both sides of the village lanes and bye-lanes. Young bachelors sleep and stay here. It serves as training cum guard house of the village. At the centre of a Garo village, there lays a circular open space, kept for dancing and other religious performances.
The Plain Garo has same type of habitation like the non-tribal groups living in the neighborhood. They construct mud-walled houses with thatched, sloped roofs with single door and windows.
Dress and Ornaments
The Garo habitually dress themselves with traditional long attires, in winter season; an additional coloured, stripped cotton-jacket is worn on the top of them. A typical of head gear is also used by males in different seasons. In summer, the male dress consists of a type of sleeve-less shirt. Garo women wear skirts and blouses of bright colors.
Sophisticated modern dresses are gradually gaining popularity among the Garo. They are very much fond of ornaments. Both men and women wear ornaments of brass, bronze, iron, wood, and rarely of silver.
Social Life of Garo People
The Garos are hilly people. The tribe is an endogamous unit. Marriage with a non-Garo is not socially approved.
The Garo are divided into twelve regional groups, most of which maintain endogamous principle.
Each of the sub-tribe section is divided into a number of exogamous, matrilineal, totemic clans. Daughters of the family retain their mother’s clan permanently while sons possess it till their marriages. At marriage, they assume the clan-names of their wives. Marriage is not permissible within the clan. Non-human objects, animals, birds, plants, and even inanimate things are found to be the totems of different Garo-clans. It has been reported that some of the major clans of the Garo are further divided into sub-clan organization.
Family forms the basic, fundamental unit of the Garo society. Husband, wife and unmarried children generally constitute an average family. Married daughters with their husbands may live in mother’s family. Most of the families are matrilocal i.e. bridegroom comes to reside in the house of brides’ mother after marriage.
Though mother is the person in supreme command in a Garo family, yet father is responsible for the subsistence of the family members. A sharp division of labor is found to exist in a Garo family. For procuring the source of subsistence, males are held responsible while the females stand for all domestic duties including cooking, rearing of children, fetching of drinking water, preparation of country liquor, collection of fuel etc.
The Garo kinship terminology is basically of classificatory type. By a common term, father, father’s brothers, mother’s sister’s husband, father’s sister’s husband are called. Similarly, the term applied to address mother being used to call all the female relatives in the status of mother. Cousins of Same sex have a common term.
Matrilocal family-orientation and clan exogamy rule are found to dominate Garo marriage system. Monogamy is commonly practiced. Though rare, polygyny is practiced with wife’s younger sisters, of course, not more than three. The consent of the first wife is required in such polygamous assignments.
Property and Inheritances
The Garo recognize two types of property – (a) Private, and (b) Communal. The agricultural land, pasture field, ‘jhum’ land are included in the second category while homestead, dwelling huts, personal dress & ornaments, cooking utensils, furniture, weapons & implements are considered as of the first category. According to Garo rules of inheritance, all private properties belong to the mother and those can only be inherited by the daughters, but communal properties cannot be inherited. The youngest daughter enjoys the lion’s share of her mother’s property. In the absence of daughter, the property right flows to mother’s sister’s daughters.
The village council of the Garo is known as Laskar. A few elderly persons of the village become the members of the Laskar. The special meetings are summoned to settle civil and criminal disputes of the villagers. These meeting are known as Mella. The village-council meeting is generally held in the house of the accused.
Animalism is the core of Garo religion. The doctrine of animism rests side by side in which ‘souls’ are conceived as the ‘elixir of life’. They are considered as the unsubstantial human images which are indestructible. After death, they become the spirits of both benevolent and malevolent nature. On the other hand, a number of natural object and phenomena are considered to be animated by supernatural spirits.
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