THE PEOPLE - GAROS
A'chik is the general title used for the various groups of people after the division of the race. The title is used to denote different groups such as the Ambeng, Atong, Akawe (or Awe), Matchi, Chibok, Chisak Megam or Lyngngam, Ruga, Gara-Ganching who inhabit the greater portion of the present Garo Hills District. But the name applies also to the groups of Garos scattered at the neighbouring places in Assam, Tripura, Nagaland and Mymensing in Bangladesh.
Though the main feature of their traditional political setup, social institutions, marriage systems, inheritance of properties, religion and beliefs are common, it is observed that as these units were isolated from one another, they have developed their own separate patterns. They also speak different dialects. Also their traditional songs, dances, music differ from each other. The song, dances and music are mostly associated with traditional religious functions and ceremonies.
The Family: Garos have a matrilineal society where children adopt their mother clan. The simplest pattern of Garo family consists of the husband, wife and children. The family increases with the marriage of the heiress, generally the youngest daughter. She is called Nokna and her husband Nokrom. The bulk of family property is bequeathed upon the heiress and other sisters receive fragments but are entitled to use plots of land for cultivation and other purposes. The other daughters go away with their husbands after their marriage to form a new and independent family. This aspect of family structure remains the same even in urban areas.
The Garos by ascription recognize an heiress to family property from any of the daughters in which case, she is married to one of her father’s nephews, usually the girl loved most, obedient and well behaved succeeds to that title. There are cases also in which as heiress is married to a man outside her father’s clan.
Household Utensils: The Garo household utensils are simple and limited. They consists mainly of cooking pots, large earthen vessels for brewing liquor, the pestle and the mortal with which paddy is husked. They also use bamboo baskets of different shapes and sizes.
Furniture: They use very limited furniture at home. The bamboo floor is generally enough for all their requirements. They also use a wooden stool hewn by themselves. In some houses, chairs made out of cane or bamboo, are used which are offered to the guest.
Weapons: Garos have their own weapons. One of the principal weapons is two-edges sword called Milam made of one piece of iron form hilt to point. There is a cross-bar between the hilt and the blade where attached a bunch of cow’s tail-hair. Other types of weapons are shields, Spear, Bows and Arrows, Axes, Daggers etc.
Food & Drink: The staple cereal food is rice. They also eat millet, maize, tapioca etc. Garos are very liberal in their food habits. They rear goats, pigs, fowls, ducks etc. and relish their meat. They also eat other wild animal like deer, bison, wild pigs etc. Fish, prawns, crabs, eels and dry fish also are a part of their food. Their jhum fields and the forests provide them with a number of vegetables and root for their curry but bamboo shoots are esteemed as a delicacy. They use a kind of potash in curries, which they obtained by burning dry pieces of plaintain stems or young bamboos locally known as Kalchi or Katchi. After they are burnt, the ashes are collected and are dipped in water and are strained in conical shaped in bamboo strainer. These days most of the town people use soda from the market in place of this ash water. Apart from other drinks country liquor plays an important role in the life of the Garos.
Dress: The people in the past were barely dressed. Due to different climatic conditions the dress pattern varies from place to place like those who are from Assam or Bangladesh prefer light textures while people in the hills need heavy clothing. Garos have cotton ginning, as cotton is the principal cash crop of the district.
The principal garment of the men is a strip of woven cloth about six inches wide and about six feet long. In the past they wove these clothes, some of which were ornamented with rows of white beads made of conch-shells along the end of the flap. They also used vests of black colour with lining at its ends. Garo women use an indigenous skirt known as Dakmanda and a body cloth. The men were a turban on the head but the women use head-bands.
Ornaments: Both men and women enjoy adorning themselves with varieties of ornaments. These ornaments are:
Nadongbi nr sisha – made of a brass ring worn in the lobe of the ear.
Nadirong – brass ring worn in the upper part of the ear
Natapsi – string of beads worn in the upper part of the ear
Jaksan – Bangles of different materials and sizes
Ripok – Necklaces made of long barrel shaped beads of cornelian or red glass while some are made out of brass or silver and are worn in special occasions.
Jaksil – elbow ring worn by rich men on Gana Ceremonies
Penta – small piece of ivory struck into the upper part of the ear projecting upwards parallel to the side of the head
Seng'ki – Waistband consisting of several rows of conch-shells worn by women
Pilne – head ornament worn during the dances only by the women
Marriage ceremonies are diverse from place to place. In Garo customs it is the girls who propose a match to boys. The Garo marriage is regulated by two important laws, viz., Exogamy and A’kim according to the belonging to the same clan. Marriages are not allowed within the same clan. According to the law of A’Kim, a man or a woman who has once contracted marriage will never be free to remarry person of another clan, even after the death of his/ her spouse. They have a custom of supplying another wife/ husband from the same clan, in case their consort is dead. Usually when a wife dies, one of the sisters of the deceased is given in marriage. Similarly, when a husband dies, one of the nephews of the deceased husband is given to her. It is only when no substitute can be arranged that the marriage bond is broken and the man/woman is free to marry any one of their own choices.
In the opinion of many people, the scholars and researchers, the Garos are animists in their religion and its underlying principle is one of belief in fear and dread of the supernatural powers. This is but a hasty generalisation and does not stand the scrutiny of logic.
The traditional religion of the Garos is not animistic but they believed and presided over by the “Supreme God” as locally known as “Dakgipa Rugipa Stugipa Pantugipa or Tatara Rabuga Stura Pantura”, or the Creator. It is in clear observation, the religion of the Garos is monotheistic with polytheistic stage, it lapsed into gross ritualism, in its highest consummate form, it is purely monotheistic in its origin.
The Garos believed in creation of Earth, all living beings on earth and the sea, heavenly bodies, rain and the wind including lesser gods and thereby completed different objects within eight days, as they believed. This is the background of the religion, various festivals and the ceremonies of the Garos.
Almost all the Garos are now Christians. Before that the religion of the Garos was a mixture of Pantheism and Hinduism. Like the Hindus and the Buddhists, the Garos believed in incamation of the Spirit in Man. The form of incarnation depends on Sin. The Garos believed in many Gods and Deities. Besides the Tatara-Rabuga, who created this earth, there are the deities of Choradubi (Protector of Crops), Saljong (God of Fertility), Goera (God of Strength), Susime (Goddess of Riches) etc.
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.
Like the Hindus, the Garos used to show reverence to the ancestors by offering food to the departed souls and by erection of memorial stones.