Saturday, May 28, 2011

The people and culture of Meghalaya

I have lived in Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya for 4 years. And it was a beautiful city to live in . Its a hill station and a traveller's paradise, especially for one who wants to have a special tryst with mother nature.

Shillong Pictures

Shillong Photos

The population of Meghalaya mainly comprises of three tribes - Khasi, Jaintia and garo and belong to Proto Austroloid Monkhmer race.

A large percentage of the population of Shillong belongs to the Khasi tribe. They mainly inhabit the eastern part of Meghalaya in the khasi and jaintia hills. 


The traditional female dress, better known as "jainsem" is a two pieces of material pinned at the shoulder and a "tapmohkhlieh" or shawl, giving the body a cylindrical shape. On ceremonial occasions, a crown of silver or gold is worn on the head. A spike or peak is fixed to the back of the crown, corresponding to the feathers worn by menfolk.

The khasi traditional male dress, known as "Jymphong" is a longish sleeveless coat without collar , fastened by throngs in front. But they have turned to the western attire in a big way - trousers and blazer/shirt. Jymphong is worn with dhoti only on ceremonial occasions, usually along with an ornamental waist band.

Social Structure:

The main difference of Khasis which sets them apart from other tribes is that in Khasis the descendents are recognised from Mother and not from Father (Matrilineal Society). This is the unique feature of Khasi Tribe. The children inherit the mother's title and property. According to Khasi Laws the Marriage is purely a Civil Contract. Arrangd marriages do occur but not in a preferred form. Young men and women are given freedom to choose their mates. According to Law, a woman cannot be forced into marriage; she owns the children and properties. A woman may end the marriage at her will with no objection from her husband. The youngest daughter is the custodian of the family property.


Khasis follow a matrilineal system of inheritance. In the Khasi society, it is only the youngest daughter or 'Ka Khadduh'; who is eligible to inherit the ancestral property.

If 'Ka Khadduh' dies without any daughter surviving her, her next elder sister inherits the ancestral property, and after her, the youngest daughter of that sister. Failing all daughters and their female issues, the property goes back to the mother';s sister, mother';s sister';s daughter and so on.

The Ka Khadduh';s property is actually the ancestral property and so if she wants to dispose it off, she must obtain consent and approval of the uncles and brothers.

Among the War-Khasis, however property passes to the children, male or female, in equal shares but among the War-Jaintias, only the female children get the inheritance.


The Khasis are now mostly Christians. But before that, they believed in a Supreme Being, The Creator - U Blei Nongthaw and under Him, there were several deities of water and of mountains and also of other natural objects. The Khasi believe in a creator god (U Blei Nong-thaw) who is considered feminine in gender (Ka lei Synshar). She is invoked when sacrifices are offered and during times of trouble. The propitiation of good and evil spirits is also part of this system, as is the worship of ancestors. The following major spirits are worshiped: Ulei Muluk (god of the state); Ulei Umtang (god of drinking water and cooking water); Ulei Longspah (god of wealth); and O Ryngkew or U Basa Shnong (tutelary deity of the village).


Khasi usually take two meals a day, one in the early morning and the other in the evening. They are nonvegetarians, eating pork, beef, and chicken, as well as the flesh of many wild animals. They are said to enjoy a curry made from a particular kind of green frog. Dried fish with rice is a staple of the Khasi diet. When rice is not available, millet or Job's tears (the seeds of the grass Coix lacryma-jobi) is used instead. The inner bark of the wild sago palm is dried and made into a sweet, reddish flour and mixed with rice or eaten in the form of cakes. Milk and milk products are not used, a trait common among peoples of Mongoloid descent. This no doubt reflects the high incidence of lactose malabsorption (the inability of the body to use milk) that is found among peoples of this ethnic background. Beer made from rice or millet is widely consumed by the Khasi, as well as being used for ritual purposes. Some clans among the Khasi have specific food taboos originating, most likely, from totemic considerations.


Upon death, the body is kept for three days so that the loved ones can come and pay homage to the dead, after which it is buried ceremoniously.


  1. Hey..Great insight about the place and its culture..Indeed India is great and beautiful :)

  2. wow never been to NE . after reading ur post will plan for travel soon