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Sacred Forests of Khasi Hills



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Khasi Society follows the matrilineal system, they are one of a few known people who have an entirely different system of kinship which is the opposite to that followed by other people in the world. A Khasi takes his clan name from the mother who conceived, beget, and nurtured him.

This kinship is known as 'Kur' consisting of those descended from the ancentral mother, and 'Kha' consisting of those members of other 'Kur'. Marrying within the same 'Kur' is regarded as incest, termed 'shong sang', a taboo inevitably followed by misfortune or calamity. Khasi Society is very strict in kinship or clanship relations and subject to the prevailing restrictions. A Khasi  can only marry from other 'Kurs' (Clans). This concept is a very strong foundation of a Khasi Society.

It is in this essence that the Khasi philosophy is also known as 'Ka Niam tipkur tipkha -, roughly meaning  a philosophy of acknowledgement of ones' own clan and of the father's clan.

(1) A Cultural life :-

His food habits

A Khasi consumes different kinds of food, but rice forms the staple diet. He eats millet,

maize, potatoes, yam and tapioca. Among the fruits, jackfruits, pine-apples, pears, fig, oranges and many other local fruits. He also eats cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, turnips, mustard leaves and a variety of wild vegetables, Beef, pork,  and chicken is regularly enjoyed. Khasis are fond of fishing and hunting. They bake varieties of kpu (rice cakes) and consume rice beer and distilled liquor (kiad um, kiad hiar kiad shet). In all religious ceremonies, they use rice beer and this is an important item for rituals and in the offering of libitions. Eating of kwai (betelnut along with betel leaf and small portion of lime) is an age old traditional habit.

(2) Of Sports and Games :- Archery, fishing, tied malaishito (a game of hitting a piece of stick) wrestling are some of the traditional games that are played.

(3) Attire  :- A Khasi man wears a sleeveless coat (jymphong) and sometimes dons a (dull) pointed cap and a cloth worn around the waist that reaches up to the thigh (shympiar), a turban (jainspong), a dhoti (jainboh) and when he goes out of the house he throw across his houlder a shawl (jainryndia tlem). Normally a woman wears a garment close to the body (jympein or jainpein) tied around the waist and hanging below the knee. Other clothing worn consists of large square of matterial knotted on one shoulder to keep in position (jainsem). This cloth is worn in and around the house. Another garment worn over the head is the tapmoh khlieh and to top it, the other garment which is worn across the shoulder with the two ends tied infront. This is a 'Jainkup'.

Well-to-do women wear on top of the head a type of oval shaped leafy umbrella (knup sohra). The Khasis, especially the women, are very fond of gold and silver ornaments which they wear on festive ocassions. The dancing costumes worn by men and women, especially those consisting of dhara (silk) muka (Assam silk) are worn together with massive gold and silver ornaments. The British when they came remarked that a Khasi woman's dress is the most modest dress in the world.

Khasi Polity

   Khasi democracy has been in existence from time immemorial and the system is still followed. A group of small localities are called 'Shnong' where there is a Rangbah Shnong (village elder) - The groups of Shnongs, constitute a 'Hima' or 'raij' headed either by a Lyngdoh or Syiem (chiefs of Hima). The Syiem or Lyngdoh are titular heads and they have no authority to exercise powers at their levels but only through the Dorbar (General council) and this Dorbar is the supreme authority. The Hima deals with land ownership, land revenue, markets and settlement of disputes etc.

In the Hima Mawphlang, the Chief is the Lyngdoh who is elected/ nominated from the Lyngdoh clan. There are four myntries (Ministers) nominated from each of the following clans. (1) Iangblah clan, (2) Kharshiing clan (3) Sohliya clan (4) Kharhunai clan. The Executive Dorbar consists of the Lyngdoh, the four myntris and the village elders. The Lyngdoh may summon the Dorbar when he thinks it fit and necessary to settle issues by the Dorbar Shnong, or Executive Dorbar. The Dorbar has the power to remove the Lyngdoh or Myntri if such incumbents do not conform to its will, traditional customs and usages of the Dorbar. In absence of the Lyngdoh due to death, removal or absence from the Hima, the usual procedure is to allow the Myntri from the Iangblah clan to perform his duties as Acting Chief.

The Shnong (village) elects their own Rangbah Shnong (village elder) from amongst the prominent men of their choice and his name is sent to the Lyngdoh for approval and a sanad issued. He is responsible for maintenance of law and order, settlement of petty cases, sees to the matters of sanitation, civil and other allied matters. The Rangbah Shnong has a council of other members of the shnong where from time to time a Dorbar shnong is summoned to settle major issues. The Dorbar by its inherent power may remove any Rangbah Shnong if the Dorbar finds that such a Rangbah Shnong has not confirmed to this duties as such, and has violated traditional rule of law.

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