Imagine a society in India where women rule. A society where the groom comes and stays in the bride’s house and not vice-a-versa. Meghalaya is a small state in north-eastern India in which the Garo tribe lives. They are the second largest tribe of Meghalaya. It is a belief of this tribe that it was founded by a woman. They believe in a matrilineal society. The Nairs and Ezhavas of Kerala and the Khasi Tribe of Meghalaya are also matrilineal in nature. In this structure of society, daughters have the sole right on the ancestral property.
Who are the Garos?
The Garos are known to have come to Meghalaya around 400 years back from Tibet. They are the inhabitants of the three hill districts of Meghalaya. Another name given to them is the hills people or ‘ A.chik-mande’. The language spoken by the tribal people is known as Garo. For instance, “Namengma” means “How are you?” and “Cat” means Menngo. They are fond of dance and music. The men wear a coloured turban known as kotip while the women wear a blouse and a cloth around their waist. Both men and women wear bangles along with fancy headgears that have beads stuck on hornbill feathers during festivals.
The most significant Garo festival is Wangala. It is a thanksgiving festival celebrated after a good harvest. Celebrations for the festival begin in the months of October-November. Huge quantities of rice-beer and food are made. Men and women wear colourful traditional attire and dance to the rhythmic beats of the drums and gongs. The sound from 100 drums beating at the same time is the major highlight of this festival.
Garo Matrilineal Society
In a matrilineal society, the woman inherits the ancestral property. The Garo tribal community considers girls as assets. According to Garo customs, the youngest daughter of the family is chosen as the heiress. The girls have the right to choose their husband except for the youngest one where the parents select the husband. Once the youngest daughter is married her husband comes to live with her family. Marriages within a clan are strictly not allowed. He is thus known as Nokrom and his wife is known as Nokna dona. No social stigma is attached when marriages fail. The women of this tribe are economically independent.
The importance given to women in the Garo tribe is rare as compared to that of women in Indian society. Envision a society where the birth of a girl child is celebrated and where women inherit ancestral property. Envision a society where women can choose their own grooms and where failed marriages are not a social stigma. The fact remains that the culturally rich Garo tribe is one of the last few communities in the world to follow the matrilineal pattern of society.
I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved.