Meghalaya is a state in the north eastern region of India. It is home of two major ethnic groups, namely the Hynniewtrep (Khasis and Jaintias) and the Achiks (Garos). The Hynniewtrep (which means, The Children of The Seven Huts) community predominates the East Khasi Hills, West Khasi Hills, Ri Bhoi and Jaintia Hills district of East Meghalaya, whereas, the Achik community is spread out in the East and West Garo Hills of West Meghalaya. Christianity is the major religion of Meghalaya. Conversion from indigenous religions to Christianity began in the 19th century under the British.
Khasis and Jaintias
The Khasis, an indigenous tribe, live in the province of Meghalaya and are known by various names according to the tracts they occupy. The Khasis occupying the northern lowlands andfoothills are generally called Bhois. Those who live in southern tracts are termed as Wars. While those inhabiting the tracts adjoining Garo hill are called Lyngngams or Dikos. The Khasi name for the people of plains is Dkhar. The Khasis residing in Jaintia hills are better known as Jaintias or Syntengs or Pnars. Their kingdom was the oldest one and widely spread over the hilly areas of the Jaintia Hills district. Both Khasis and Jaintias are rich in their cultural heritage which is an amalgamation of traditions, music, dances and art and crafts.
The Khasis and Jaintias follow a matrilineal system where lineage and inheritance are traced through women. The youngest daughter (Khun Khatduh) inherits all the property and she isthe caretaker of aged parents and any unmarried siblings. However, the male line, particularly the mother's brother, may indirectly control the ancestral property since he may be involved in important decisions relating to property including its sale and disposal. Among the Khasi-Pnar, household responsibilities are shared between the maternal uncle and the father. The father earns for his own wife and children but in matters affecting the clan or the family, it is the uncle who takes the decisions.
Kwai: A Symbol of Friendship
Kwai means betel nut or paan. It is a part of Khasi-Pnar culture. Kwai has been a bridge between the rich and the poor. It is customarily served to guests and visitors. Offering Kwai to a person is like offering the hand of friendship and honour to the other.
Important Festivals of Khasis and Jaintias:
Nongkrem Dance ― This festival is very close to the hearts of the Khasi tribe. It is a thanksgiving festival celebrated for five days. This festival is celebrated to show gratitude towards the almighty God for good harvest, peace and prosperity ofthe community. The venue for this festival is Smit, the cultural centre of Khasis. It is held in the month of October/November. The inception of the festival is marked by a dance performance by the Syiem (the administrative head of the Khasi region) in front of a wooden pillar called U Rishot Blei. This ritual is followed by sacrifice of goat (Pomblang) and offerings made to the deities and to the ancestors.
Shad Suk Mynsiem ― This festival is known as the Dance of Contentment and is celebrated in April every year. It is another thanks giving festival during which people offer prayers for great harvest. It is a three daylong festival hosted at the Weiking ground, Jaiaw. The festival signifies love, friendship and peace. Dance and music are important attractions of this festival in which both males and females participate.
Seng Kut Snem ― The Khasi people constitute a major tribal community who have their own culture, religion and identity. The Seng Kut Snem of Meghalaya is a famous festival which is celebrated by the Khasi community in the month of November every year. It is celebrated to greet the ancestors of this community and to preserve and protect Khasi culture. It is to influence the people to preserve their religion and culture. The Khasi people actively participate in the Seng Kut Snem of Shillong to enhance the spirit of this festival. Folk songs, dances and other instrumental music are played during the festival.
Ka-Shad-Kynjoh Khaskain ― This is a dance to commemorate the house-warming or when a family moves into a new-built home. The ritual ceremonies are followed by the dance, which is performed in three stages - Ka Shad Kyuntui, Ka Shad Khalai Miaw and Ka Shad Brap. The first dance starts about midday and lasts till sunset. The second, all male performance begins after sunset.
Lahoo Dance Festival ― The Lahoo Dance Festival that feted in the state of Meghalaya is indeed a spectacle to watch as participants representing both the genders engaging themselves in an entertaining form of skillfullychoreographed dance. Lahoo dance, originally known as Chiphiah dance is specially performed on every first Sunday in February.
Behdienkhlam ― This festival of Meghalaya is celebrated annually in July after the sowing period. It is the most important dance festival of the Jaintias. Associated with the socio- economic life of the Jaintias, this festival is greatly anticipated. Young men make a symbolic gesture of driving away of the evil spirit, disease and plague by beating of the roof of every house with bamboo poles. Also poles of great length are held across the stream Wah-Ait-Nar. People jump on the poles and break them while dancing in muddy pools of water.
Khasi religion is both theistic and animistic though at the beginning, it was apparently monotheistic. The tradition maintains that at the beginning the supreme God (U Blei Nongthaw) alone wasworshipped. But, later on it got mixed up with animistic beliefs.
The Khasis perform thanksgiving ceremonies frequently. In such ceremonies, the people appease both the Goddess and other deities (ki phan ki Kyrpad) who are believed to have been authorised to assist the family. The people observe fertility rites associated with dances and songs. In Nartiang, various rites are observed in different months of the year. Knia Khang is observed in the month of March when a pig and a cock are sacrificed to protect the crops from being ruined by evil spirits. Before sowing of seeds, a sacrifice known as Knia lyngdoh is performed in which a cock is offered to the spirit. The Khasis recall that mountain deities defend their people from foreign invasions. The practice of divination for ascertaining something auspicious or otherwise or establishing crime has been in vogue from the ancient time and is still observed. Among the various devices, breaking of eggs has been the most popular and universal. After rubbing theegg with a red soil, a diviner seeks to read the auguries by throwing it on a wooden board examining the shells, concave and convex in their position. Indications such as death, assaults by malevolent spirits, mortification of deities, the need to appeasethe spirits are thought to be reflected through the location of the shells. Glorification of the dead features itself in Khasi religion. Appeasement of the deceased with offerings of food and other material presents was intimately connected with cremationrites and megalithic erections. The cock plays a very important part in the Khasi religion. It plays the part of mediator between God and man.
It is believed that the Khasi religion is a religion given
by God. Khasis believe that God is omnipotent. He is the Supreme Being, the Creator of all things. The Khasis still preserve their indigenous religion, which is the core of their culture. During British rule, Christian missionaries began their work in the hills in 1841. The Roman Catholics started their work half a century later. Many people were converted to Christianity. The impact of Christian missionaries was prominent. This had a shaking effect on many aspects of Khasi traditional culture. However, with changing times there is an intensified revival of culture among the Christian Khasi. There is a realisation that they need to strengthen their own culture, customs and tradition.