East Garo Hills
The almost complete absence of written records prior to the coming of the British leaves the past history of the Garo very far from certain. For the past, we have to depend entirely on their legend and oral traditions, their folklore and folksongs, and other circumstantial evidence which are, however, most uncertain and reliable sources of information.
The Garos’ own traditions relate that they came originally from Tibet to what is now Cooch Behar, whence they moved on to Dhubri whose king received them warmly. However, later on, being afraid of them, he did not allow them to settle permanently. From there they moved to their neighourhood of Jogighopa where they remained for about 400 years but they were again forced to leave the place, driven towards the south by the ruler of that country, crossed the Brahmaputra on rafts and advanced towards Gauhati, where they settled at Ka’magre or present Kamakhya Hills and along the Brahmaputra valley. As the place was infested with tigers, the Garo relinquished the place and then spread into Habraghat Pargana in Goalpara. Tradition also tell us while in the neighbourhood of Habraghat Pargana, the Garo appear to have become rich and prosperous and the first Garo Kingdom was established, of which the first reigning price was Abrasen who has his palace and capital at Sambol A’ding, an isolated hill near the Dakaitdol Village not far from Goalpara town
With the passage of time in the medieval period, while the Garos in the hills were still divided into a number of petty Nokmaships, the plain tracts along the fringes at the foot of the hills came to be included in the many Zamindari Estates, which eventually developed into fewer but larger complexes. During the mediaeval era and the Mughal period, the more important estates bordering the Garo Hills were Karaibari, Kalimalupara, Mechpara and Habraghat in Rongpur district, Susang and Sherput in Mymensing district of Bengal and Bijini in the Eastern Duars. Early records describe the Garos as being in a state of intermittent conflict with Zamindars of these large estates.
The contact between the British and the Garos started towards the close of the 18th Century after the British East India Company had secured the Diwani of Bengal from the Mughal Emperor. Consequently, all the estates bordering upon Garo Hills, which for all practical purposes had been semi-independent were brought under the control of the British.
Though political control had passed from the Mughals to the British, the latter, like Mughals, had no desire to control the Estates or their tributaries directly. The Zamindars were not disturbed in the internal management of their estates. In fact, they were entrusted, as they had been by the Mughals, with the responsibility of keeping the hill Garos in check with help of their retainers. Thus in the beginning, the intermittent conflict between the Zamindars and the Garos went on unabated until the situation deteriorated to the extent that the British were forced to take notice. This development led ultimately to the annexation of the Garo Hills in 1873. Captain Williamson was the first Deputy Commissioner of the unified district. The district was bifurcated into two districts viz. East Garo Hills and West Garo Hills districts in October 1979.
The Garos constitute the majority in the East Garo Hills district as is evident from the name of the district. The district also is home for a sizeable population of Rabhas, Hajongs, Koches, Dalus, Banais and Boros.
The Garos are the second largest tribe after the Khasis in Meghalaya. The Garos refer to themselves as A’chik or Mande and their language belongs to the Bodo branch of the Bodo-Naga-Kachin family of Sino Tibetan phylum. The Garos are distributed over the three Garo Hills districts of Meghalaya, the Mymensingh district of Bangladesh and the Kamrup, Goalpara and Karbi-Anglong districts of Assam. They are also scatterred in a few numbers in Tripura and Nagaland.
Since the Garos are scattered far and wide, and since these scattered units were in isolation from each other over time, they have developed their own separate identities and dialects. Still, features like their traditional political setup, social institutions, marriage systems, inheritance of properties, religion and beliefs are common between these groups. Moreover, these groups are endogamous generally. The various dialect groups that comprises the Garos are the Ambeng, Atong, Akawe (or Awe), Duals, Matchi, Matabengs, Chibok, Chisak Megam or Lyngngam, Ruga, Gara-Ganching. The most significant difference is that between the groups who live closer to the plains and the hill dwellers who constitute the remaining groups. The Garos of the hills practice slash-and-burn agriculture or jhum-cultivation while the Garo of the plains practice wet-rice agriculture and live in a cultural and ecological environment entirely different from that of the Garo of the hills
The Garo Society
The Garo society is entirely a casteless society. It is matrilineal and inheritance is through the mother. All children, as soon as they are born, belong to their mother’s Ma’Chong, whence Dalton’s Term “motherhood”. Inheritance of property among the Garos is generally linked with matrimonial relations, and although men may have no property to pass on, they have an important say in deciding to whom it should pass. The hieress is generally, the youngest daughter or the Nokna. If the nokna is unmarried, as she often is, since selection generally takes place before she get married, the father will try to get a young man from his own lineage, commonly the son of his own sister, as the husband of the heiress. The nokna’s husband is called the Nokrom.
The Garos live in semi-permanent villages varying in size from 10 to 60 houses. Village populations rarely exceed 300. There are five named, exogamous, matrilineal phratries called chatchi. Only two of these, Sangma and Marak, are found throughout. The other three viz. Momin, Shira & Arengh are not widely distributed. The phratries are divided into many named, matrilineal sibs, each of which is restricted to a specific locality. The sibs are divided into unnamed lineages referred to as mahari. Each village is built around one or two of these lineages, and most of the lineage women, with their husbands, live in the village, as do some of the men with their wives. One household is usually considered to be the most senior, and the other houses are thought to have branched out from it. This household holds all the village land, and the husband of the heiress is considered to be the headman of the village or the Nokma.
Historically, the Garos did not own land – whatever land they hold in possession, they do so without any ownership documents and the land belonged to the tribe as a collective property, cultivated under a cooperative system. Theoretically, land is owned by the Nokma, and new sections are distributed among the households each year. Among the hill Garos, all subsistence is based on jhum cultivation. Dry rice is the primary crop, and millet is also important. In addition, bananas, papaya, maize, manioc, taro, squash, large-pod beans, sorrel, gourds, and many other vegetables are grown to supplement the diet. Important cash crops are cotton, chili peppers, and ginger. Wet rice has been grown more recently in some of the low areas, and this has changed the land tenure system to one of individual ownership, a situation which has had profound implications for the social structure.
The Garos traditionally follow their own religion known as Songsarek, which has roots in agriculture. They also have a belief system with an underlying principle of fear and dread of the supernatural powers, which led many scholars and researchers to wrongly think that the Garos are animists. The Songsarek belief is presided over by the Godhead known as “Dakgipa Rugipa Stugipa Pantugipa or Tatara Rabuga Stura Pantura”, or the Creator. Saljong is another deity which is more intimately concerned with human affairs. He is basically a sun god, the source of all gifts to mankind. Saljong is honoured with the Wangala celebrations. Another benign deity is Chorabudi, the protector of crops. The first fruits of the fields are offered to him. He is also honoured with a pig sacrifice whenever sacrifices are offered to Tatara-Rabuga.
Living so close to nature, the early Garo people the world around them with a multitude of spirits called mite, some of them good and some of them capable of harming human beings for any lapses they might commit. Appropriate sacrifices are offered to them as occasions demand.
In all religious ceremonies, sacrifices were essential for the propitiation of the spirits. They had to be invoked for births, marriages, deaths, illness, besides for the good crops and welfare of the community and for protection from destructions and dangers. The Garos also show reverence to their ancestors by offering food to the departed souls and by erection of memorial stones.
Like other religions, the Songsarek religion ascribes to every human being the possession of a spirit that remains with him throughout his lifetime and leaves the body at death. There appears to be a belief in reincarnation, people being reborn into a lower or higher form of life according to their conduct in their lifetime. The greatest blessing a Garo looks forward to is to be reborn as a human being in his or her original ma’chong or family unit.
The Garo normally do use many ornaments. The common ones are string of beads and earring worn both by men and women. The latter ornaments are considered to be very essentials as they serve as guarantees of the safe journey of the soul to the other world, being offered to the spirit Nawang should he try prevent the soul from going to the land of the dead.
The Garo prefer simple food. They gradually avoid spiced food, and usually with rice they take boiled meat and vegetables. They boil this curry quite plainly, adding a kind of alkaline Kalchi vegetable “salt ” to it just as it comes to the boil. It has been suggested that this practice account for the comparatively low incidence of gastric ailments in these hills
Amusement & Festivities
There are no organized games a such among the Garos, though this does not imply that they have nothing to amuse themselves with. Games are generally played occasionally. Jumping contests and other competitions are indulged in more as tests of strength. The young males, members of the Nokpantes or Bachelor’s Dormitories, may organize themselves into groups and engage in such contests as the wa’pong sika, the Garo version of the tug-of-war, in which a stout bamboo pole replaces the rope and the contesting teams try to push each other beyond a marked line instead of pulling. Again, the villages may turn out in strength to take part in communal fishing.
The common and regular festivities are, of course, those connected with agricultural operations. Greatest among Garo festivals is the Wangala which is more a celebration of thanksgiving after harvest in which Saljong, the God who provides mankind with Nature’s bounties and ensures their prosperity, is honoured. There is no fixed date for the celebration, this varying from village to village, but usually, the Wangala is celebrated in October. Preparations take place well before the date; items of food are among the first to be collected.
The Nokma of the village takes the responsibility to see that all arrangements are in order. Rituals in his house and in the individual fields precede the feasting at which guests are literally force-fed by the hosts. A large quantity of food and rice-beer must be prepared well ahead. The climax of the celebrations is the colourful Wangala dance in which men and women take part in their best clothes. Lines are formed by males and females separately and to the rhythmic beat of drums and gongs and blowing of horns by the males, both group shuffle forward in parallel lines.
Variety is added by the performance of a skilled dancer who ties a large fruit to the end of a string about half a metre in length and by a skilful manipulation of his body sets it swinging round and round behind him. This part of the dance usually wins enthusiastic applause.
|Civil Sub-Divisions||1 (One) Civil Sub-Division
Resubelpara Civil Sub-Division
|C&RD Blocks||3 (Three) C&RD Blocks
Dambo-Rongjeng C&RD Block
Samanda C&RD Block
Songsak C&RD Block
|Revenue Villages||891 (Eight Hundred & Ninety-One|
|Parliamentary Constituencies||1 (One)
Entire district falls under 2-Tura (ST) Parliamentary Constituency
|Assembly Constituencies||7 (Seven) Assembly Constituecies
38-Rongrenggiri (ST) Assembly Constituency
39-Rongjeng (ST) Assembly Constituency
40-Kharkutta (ST) Assembly Constituency
41-Mendipathar(ST) Assembly Constituency
42-Resubelpara (ST) Assembly Constituency
43-Songsak (ST) Assembly Constituency
44-Bajengdoba (ST) Assembly Constituency
|Autonomous District Council Constituencies||7 (Seven) ADC Constituencies|
|Urban Level Bodies||2 (Two) Urban Level Bodies
Agriculture is the mainstay of about 90 percent of the population and rice is the most important of the food crops grown in the districts, both in the pains areas where it is grown in wet paddy fields and in the hill areas where it is chiefly grown on jhum fields. Even here, the deteriorating condition of jhum lands and, on the other hand, the awareness of the comparative advantage of wet rice cultivation particularly After the introduction of high-yield varieties has induced a number of farmers in the hill areas to turn away from jhumming.
The major crops raised in the Garo hills are paddy, maize, jute, mesta, cotton, ginger and mustard. Wheat is grown but because of the low demand, much of the yield goes to markets outside the districts.
Subsidiary crops are millet, pulses, potatoes, sesamum, chillis, turmeric, arhar, tobacco, tapioca, sweet potato and soya bean.
Vegetables grown included pumpkin, gourd, cucumber, brinjal, onion, peas, carrot, melon, radish, squash, turnip, garlic, beans, cabbage, cauliflower, knol-khol, tomato, etc.
Fruits included papaya, pineapple, orange, pomelo, jack-fruit, litchi, mango, pears, sapota, cashewnuts, bananas, etc. coconut and areca nut are also grown widely.
The increased demand for jute, mesta, mustard, ginger, cotton, rubber and other cash crops has also encouraged farmers to increase the area of cultivation for these crops. Improved road communication and marketing facilities as well as improved methods of cultivation and crop protection have also contributed to the increase in the production of food and cash crops, though these advantages have been offset in certain cases by scarcity of good cultivatable land and fluctuations in the market prices of some items.
The department of Agriculture has come forward with several schemes designed to increased food production, chiefly those involving distribution oh high yield varieties and improved varieties of seed, better soil and water management and plant protection measure
Due to widespread practice of shifting cultivation and deforestation, the Agriculture Department has taken up Horticulture in the district as the topmost priority.
The important fruit crops of the district are oranges, pineapple, litchi, banana, jackfruit and other citrus fruits. Important plantation crops are arecanut, cashewnut, coconut, tea, black pepper, bayleaf, betel leaf and rubber.
The East Garo Hills District with its undulating topography and high intensity of rainfall, suffers acute erosion problem and ecosystem degradation. The problem is further compounded by unscientific agricultural practices such as jhumming/shifting cultivation on steep slopes, rampant deforestation, burning etc., which has resulted in degradation of land and water resources. With a view to reduce the process, the Government of Meghalaya, through the Soil Conservation Directorate, has taken and is taking up variety of measures that would conserve and protect and which would also make the people aware of the fact that their age-old practices are responsible for the abrupt changes in the ecosystem in this pocket of our globe.
To combat the harmful effects of jhumming, the Soil Conservation Directorate has taken up a major Scheme called the “Jhummia Rehabilitation Scheme”, which is designed to offer an alternative method of food production, which would also improve the socio-economic condition of the people of this District.
Apart from the aforesaid major Scheme, the Directorate of Soil Conservation has other Schemes as the former is effectively implemented in the worst jhum affected areas and are briefed as follows.
- Watershed Management Scheme – in different catchments areas.
- Cash/Horticulture Crops Development.
- General Schemes.
The component of works under each scheme are identical; Land Development Programme – terracing, contour bunding, stream bank erosion control, land reclamation, water harvesting, conservation & distribution, irrigation & check dams, gully plugging, afforestation etc., and are being implemented by the Territorial Division.
And in regard of Cash/Horticultural Crops Development Schemes, a separate Division called the “Cash Crop Division” under the same Directorate is carrying out the implementation of works
There are several places in Garo Hills that can be developed for tourism. Some of them are of historical importance; others are important because of their association with the cultural traditions of the Garo people and many of them again have deservedly earned fame for their scenic beauty. Much of the area still remain untouched, retaining almost intact the original flora and fauna which should have more of the attention of the scientists, or even the ordinary lover of Nature. Tourism. If properly developed, could be a potentially rich source of revenue to the district as well as to the State.
Formed by River Damring during the Great Earthquake of 1897, this lake was believed to be the habitat of a huge water serpent called Sangkini by the locals. Located near Songsak block, just off the Darugiri-Songsak road, this beautiful, natural inland lake is a popular picnic spot and camping site. The lake has an immense potential for pisciculture.
Locally known as Rong’bang dare, this waterfall is situated 25 miles away from Tura on the Tura- Williamnagar Road, a little beyong Rombagre village. It is a tributary of the Simsang River which can be seen from this road but the real beauty and magnitude of it can be experienced when one goes down to the place at the bottom of the waterfalls.
This Sprightly fall, though perennial, is at its best during the monsoon months. It presents motorists driving from Asanangre towards Williamnagar, a romantic visual of lasting satisfaction. Although the fall is located about crow-flight kilometres away from the highway, the width and depth of the falls are enough to make it clearly visible and a sheer delight. Clustered on either side by vast evergreen hills of bamboo’s which sway, leaving the viewer with memories of ecstatic joy.
Located just off the Williamnagar-Songsak road, near Dadengpara, this pleasant looking waterfalls is small and is only of moderate size during monsoon. Although it’s not far off the road, it is nestled deep in the thick jungle and steep hillside and is not easily reached for a vantage view.
Located at Mejolgre village, this beautiful waterfalls falls from a great height and makes a deafening sound.
A few of the more important places are described in the following paragraphs:
This thriving village is situated on the banks of the Manda river, a few kilometers from the Trunk Road leading to Goalpara town some 60 kms to the west. It has a Post Office, a Dispensary, a Veterinary Hospital and a Police Station. The weekly market is held on every Thursday at Damra which is 1 km away.
The village is situated in northern Garo Hills on the banks of the Damring or Krishnai River. It is situated some six kilometers away from the Community Development Block headquarters at Resubelpara. It has a post office, a dispensary, a veterinary hospital, a police station, a telephone exchange and an inspection bungalow. A thriving market is held here every Saturday.
This important place is situated near the confluence of the Nongal and the Simsang Rivers in East Garo Hills District.
There are rich deposits of coal in and around this place. The place is electrified. Both mining and electrical undertakings are being undertaken by the Government and progress has, as a result, been fast. A Hospital and a Post Office are located here.
Naphak or Napak
It is situated about 6 km away from Songsak, the headquarters of the Songsak Development Block. The local Inspection Bungalow stands close to a beautiful lake called Ta sek Wari, on the most beautiful natural lakes found in the Garo Hills. The lake which is located in the middle of the village is very wide and deep. It was formed by the damming up of part of the upper reaches of the Krishnai during the great earthquake of 1897. Through the very clear water, stumps of trees long submerged can be seen. There are many varieties of fish in this lake which people have begun to catch for their own consumption having thrown away all their former superstitious dread that whoever caught fish from the lake would be afflicted with sickness and die. Local people say that the lake is a habitat of a large water serpent which is called Sangkni. The lake has long been a popular resort for the many tourists who regularly visit it to enjoy its beauty.
This large village is situated on the Khasi Hills border in the eastern part of East Garo Hills District. It is 6 kilometers away from Rongjeng, the headquarters of the Dambo-Rongjeng Development Block. With the establishment of the Meghalaya Bamboo Chips factory here, the village has started growing steadily. Since bamboos grow abundantly in the whole of Garo Hills, the chipping unit is expected to maintain a regular flow of its produce for the foreseeable future.
Located in the north-eastern corner of the district, Rajasimla is one of the earliest villages to be visited by the American Missionaries in the early years of the last century.
The name Rajasimla was given to this place to commemorate the treaty between the Rajah or Zamindar of Bijni and the villagers which recognized this particular spot as the boundary between the territory of the Rajah and the independent Garo villages.
The place is of particular interest to Garo Christians because it was here that the American Baptist Missionaries laid the foundation of a church on 14th April, 1867. Prior to this the Missionaries had gained two converts, uncle and nephew, named Omed and Ramke who were baptized by dr. Miles Gronson on 8th February, 1863, at Sukhleswar Ghat in Gauhati. These two persons worked actively to spread the Christian message and also opened a school in Damra. The School at Rajasimal was opened later.
At present, Rajasimla has one High School, a Hospital and a Veterinary Hospital. It serves as a base for socio-cultural contacts among all the surrounding villages and here such plays as Kalsin-Sonatchi, Serejing Wal’jan and other dramas are regularly staged. Local theatres are still in a formative stage and need time to develop, but the local people deserve credits for their talents in this art form.
This important village is located in the northern part of the district. It is the headquarters of the Resubelpara Development Block. It has a Post Office, a Hospital and Veterinary Hospital as well as a number of Government Offices. It also has a Government Aided School and a Government Aided Girls’ High School as well as a Basic Training Centre for Lower Primary School Teachers.
It is the district headquarters of East Garo Hills. Williamnagar is situated on the upper reaches of the Simsang River, and for this reason it was originally called Simsanggre, the name being changed in 1976 to Williamnagar, after the name of the first Chief Minister of Meghalaya, Captain Williamson Sangma.
The presence of an a ‘sim or salt-lick nearby still attracts many kinds of wild animals. Surrounding thick jungles provide an ideal haunt for wild animals like elephants and tigers.
This place is becoming an important center for cultural, educational and socio-economical activities. The rural people of surrounding areas are also provided with agricultural training facilities.
The township has one Civil Hospital, a Veterinary Hospital, a Post Office, a Telephone Exchange and a Police Station.
As Williamnagar is the district headquarters, major offices are being established here together with accommodation for the government staff serving here. The government Circuit House and the District Council Inspection Bungalow overlook the beautiful Simsang River.
Bus services ply daily between the township and other places within the Garo Hills and outside. One such service connects Williamnagar to Shillong. The service may use the alternative route via Nongstoin in West Khasi Hills in the event of floods in the plains.
As a planned town, it has the advantage that older towns in Meghalaya do not have, which give a better look and a better layout to it.
The land is very fertile and suitable for horticultural products of various kinds.
Located on the left bank of the River Simsang close to Williamnagar, the district headquarters of East Garo Hills, Rongrengiri and its environs are covered with tall, elegant and mature Sal trees which constitute the Rongrengiri Reserve Forest covering an are of over thirty six square kilometers. During the British Expedition to annex Garo Hills to British India, they faced the last major Garo resistance to their intrusion at Rongrengiri. After days of seize, they succeeded on 12th December 1837 to fell the Garo Warrior Pa Togan Nengminja Sangma who led the Garos, at Chisobibra near Rongrengiri. This broke the Garo resistance and the British annexed Garo Hills with ease. A simple Memorial to Pa Togan has been erected at Chisobibra within Rongrengiri Reserve Forest. A function to commemorate the fallen martyr Pa Togan, is held annually at the site of the Memorial, on the anniversary of his martyrdom.
Rongrengiri is ten kilometres off Williamnagar on the Tura- Asanangre-williamnagar state Highway. At Rongrengiri, the River Simsang provides an excellent spot for anglers to try their hand for big as well as small catch.
Wildlife lovers will find flocks of Imperial-Pigeons grazing for calcinates, on the sandy banks of the Simsang River, at Chisobibra.
Alongside the Dudhnoi- Damra-Darugiri-Baghmara road, at Darugiri, one comes across a vast expanse of Reserve Forest, covering an area of approximately ten-and-a-half square kilometres. This is the Darugiri Reserve Forest set up towards the close of nineteenth century. The Reserve forest located between Songsak and Rongjeng consist of mature Sal plantations which stand elegant and tall, spreading an eternal canopy of emerald green over vast areas with very little undergrowth except their smooth, tall trunks which look like pillars set to uphold and bear the weighty canopy of Sal foliage, above.
On the periphery of the Reserve Forest, at Darugiri, is the century old Darugiri forest Rest House, still maintained in its original state of simple rustic opulence, yet enough to meet the requirement of officials and visitors who frequent the place in search of all things natural that a mature Reserve Forest can offer.
The Darugiri Reserve Forest-a naturalists’ paradise, to be sure
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