The Khasis
P. R. T. Gurdon

Part 1 out of 5

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The Khasis


Major P.R.T. Gurdon, I.A.
Deputy Commissioner Eastern Bengal and Assam
Commission, and Superintendent of
Ethnography in Assam.

With an Introduction by
Sir Charles Lyall, K.C.S.I.

(Published under the orders of the Government of
Eastern Bengal and Assam)



This book is an attempt to give a systematic account of the Khasi
people, their manners and customs, their ethnological affinities,
their laws and institutions, their religious beliefs, their folk-lore,
their theories as to their origin, and their language.

This account would perhaps have assumed a more elaborate and ambitious
form were it not that the author has been able to give to it only
the scanty leisure of a busy district officer. He has been somewhat
hampered by the fact that his work forms part of a series of official
publications issued at the expense of the Government of Eastern Bengal
and Assam, and that it had to be completed within a prescribed period
of time.

The author gladly takes this opportunity to record his grateful
thanks to many kind friends who have helped him either with actual
contributions to his material, or with not less valued suggestions
and criticisms. The arrangement of the subjects discussed is due to
Sir Bampfylde Fuller, lately Lieutenant-Governor of the Province,
whose kindly interest in the Khasis will long be remembered by them
with affectionate gratitude. The Introduction is from the accomplished
pen of Sir Charles Lyall, to whom the author is also indebted for much
other help and encouragement. It is now many years since Sir Charles
Lyall served in Assam, but his continued regard for the Khasi people
bears eloquent testimony to the attractiveness of their character, and
to the charm which the homely beauty of their native hills exercises
over the minds of all who have had the good fortune to know them.

To Mr. N. L. Hallward thanks are due for the revision of the proof
sheets, and to the Revd. H. P. Knapton for the large share he took in
the preparation of the index. The section dealing with folk-lore could
hardly have been written but for the generosity of the Revd. Doctor
Roberts, of the Welsh Calvinistic Mission in the Khasi and Jaintia
Hills, in placing at the author's disposal his collection of the
legends current among the people. Many others have helped, but the
following names may be specially mentioned, viz.: Mr. J. B. Shadwell,
Mr. S. E. Rita, the Revd. C. H. Jenkins, Mr. C. Shadwell, Mr. Dohory
Ropmay, U Hormu Roy Diengdoh, U Rai Mohan Diengdoh, U Job Solomon,
U Suttra Singh Bordoloi, U San Mawthoh, U Hajam Kishore Singh,
U Nissor Singh, and U Sabor Roy.

A bibliography of the Khasis, which the author has attempted to make
as complete as possible, has been added. The coloured plates, with
one exception, viz., that taken from a sketch by the late Colonel
Woodthorpe, have been reproduced from the pictures of Miss Eirene
Scott-O'Connor (Mrs. Philip Rogers). The reproductions are the work of
Messrs W. Griggs and Sons, as are also the monochromes from photographs
by Mrs. Muriel, Messrs. Ghosal Brothers, and the author. Lastly, the
author wishes to express his thanks to Srijut Jagat Chandra Goswami,
his painstaking assistant, for his care in arranging the author's
somewhat voluminous records, and for his work generally in connection
with this monograph.

P. R. G.


Agricultural Bulletin No. 5 of 1898.
Allen, B. C.--Assam Census Report, 1901.
Allen, W. J.--Report on the Khasi and Jaintia Hill Territory, 1868.
Aymonier, Monsieur--"Le Cambodge."
Bivar, Colonel H. S.--Administration Report on the Khasi and Jaintia
Hills District of 1876.
Buchanan Hamilton--"Eastern India." Edited by Montgomery Martin
Dalton, Colonel E. T.--Descriptive Ethnology of Bengal.
Gait, E. A.--Human Sacrifices in Assam, vol. i., J.A.S.B. of 1898.
Grierson, Doctor G. A.--"Linguistic Survey of India," vol. ii.
Henniker, F. C.--Monograph on gold and silver wares in Assam.
Hooker, Sir Joseph--Himalayan Journals.
Hunter, Sir William--Statistical Account of Assam.
Jeebon Roy, U.--_Ka Niam Khasi_
Jenkins, The Rev. Mr.--"Life and Work in Khasia."
_Khasi Mynta_--A monthly journal published at Shillong in the Khasi
Kuhn, Professor E.--_Ueber Herkunft und Sprache der
transgangetischen Voelker_. 1883
Kuhn, Professor E.--_Beitraege zur Sprachenkunde
Hinterindiens_. 1889.
Lindsay, Lord--"Lives of the Lindsays."
Logan, J. R A--series of papers on the Ethnology of the Indo-Pacific
Islands which appeared in the "Journal of the Indian Archipelago."
Mackenzie, Sir Alexander.--Account of the North-Eastern Frontier
Mills, A. J. M.--Report on the Khasi and Jaintia Hills, 1853
Nissor Singh, U--Hints on the study of the Khasi language.
Nissor Singh, U--Khasi-English dictionary.
Oldham, Thomas--On the geological structure of a portion of the Khasi
Hills, Bengal.
Oldham, Thomas--Geology of the Khasi Hills.
Peal, S. E.--On some traces of the Kol-Mon-Anam in the Eastern
Naga Hills.
Pryse, Rev. W.--Introduction to the Khasis language, comprising a
grammar, selections for reading, and a vocabulary.
Records of the Eastern Bengal and Assam Secretariat.
Roberts, The Rev. H.--Khasi grammar.
Scott, Sir George--Upper Burma Gazetteer.
Shadwell, J. B.--Notes on the Khasis.
Stack E.--Notes on silk in Assam.
Waddell, Colonel--Account of the Assam tribes.J.A S.B.
Ward, Sir William--Introduction to the Assam Land Revenue Manual.
Weinberg, E.--Report on Excise in Assam.
Yule, Sir Henry--Notes on the Khasi Hills and people.


Introduction xv-xxvii
Section I.--General.

Habitat 1-2
Appearance 2-3
Physical and General Characteristics 3-6
Geographical Distribution 6-10
Origin 10-11
Affinities 11-18
Dress 18-21
Tattooing 21
Jewellery 22-23
Weapons 23-26

Section II.--Domestic Life.

Occupation 26-28
Apiculture 28-30
Houses 30-33
Villages 33-35
Furniture and Household Utensils 36-38
Musical Instruments 38-39
Agriculture 39-43
Crops 43-48
Hunting 48-49
Fishing 49-51
Food 51-52
Drink 52-54
Games 54-57
Manufactures 57-61

Section III.--Laws and Customs.

Tribal Organization 62-66
State Organization 66-75
Marriage 76-79
Divorce 79-81
Inheritance 82-85
Adoption 85-86
Tenure of Land and Laws regarding Land 86-91

Laws regarding other Property 91
Decision of Disputes 91-97
War 97-98
Human Sacrifices 98-104

Section IV.--Religion.

General Character of Popular Beliefs 105-109
Ancestor Worship 109-113
Worship of Natural Forces and of Deities 114-116
Religious Rites and Sacrifices, Divination 116-120
Priesthood 120-124
Ceremonies and Customs attending Birth and Naming of Children
Marriage 127-132
Ceremonies attending Death 132-139
Disposal of the Dead 140-144
Khasi Memorial Stones 144-154
Festivities, Domestic and Tribal 154-157
Genna 158-159

Section V.--Folk-Lore.

Folk-tales 160-187

Section VI.--Miscellaneous.

Teknonomy 188
Khasi Method of Calculating Time 188-190
The Lynngams 190-197

Section VII.--Language 198-215

A--Exogamous Clans in the Cherra State 216-217
B--Exogamous Clans in the Khyrim State 218-220
C--Divination by Egg-Breaking 221-222

Index 223-227


In 1908 Sir Bampfylde Fuller, then Chief Commissioner of Amman,
proposed and the Government of India sanctioned, the preparation
of a series of monographs on the more important tribes and castes
of the Province, of which this volume is the first. They were to be
undertaken by writers who had special and intimate experience of the
races to be described, the accounts of earlier observers being at the
same time studied and incorporated; a uniform scheme of treatment was
laid down which was to be adhered to in each monograph, and certain
limits of size were prescribed.

Major Gurdon, the author of the following pages, who is also, as
Superintendent of Ethnography in Assam, editor of the whole series,
has enjoyed a long and close acquaintance with the Khasi race,
whose institutions he has here undertaken to describe. Thoroughly
familiar with their language, he has for three years been in charge
as Deputy-Commissioner of the district where they dwell, continually
moving among them, and visiting every part of the beautiful region
which is called by their name. The administration of the Khasi and
Jaintia Hills is an exceptionally interesting field of official
responsibility. About half of the district, including the country
around the capital, Shillong, is outside the limits of British India,
consisting of a collection of small states in political relations,
regulated by treaty with the Government of India, which enjoy almost
complete autonomy in the management of their local affairs. In
the remainder, called the Jaintia Hills, which became British in
1835, it has been the wise policy of the Government to maintain
the indigenous system of administration through officers named
_dolois_, who preside over large areas of country with very little
interference. All the British portion of the hills is what is called a
"Scheduled District" under Acts XIV and XV of 1874, and legislation
which may be inappropriate to the conditions of the people can be,
and is, excluded from operation within it. In these circumstances the
administration is carried on in a manner well calculated to win the
confidence and attachment of the people, who have to hear few of the
burdens which press upon the population elsewhere, and, with the peace
and protection guaranteed by British rule, are able to develop their
institutions upon indigenous lines. It is now more than forty years
since any military operations have been necessary within the hills,
and the advance of the district in prosperity and civilization during
the last half-century has been very striking.

The first contact between the British and the inhabitants of the
Khasi Hills followed upon the acquisition by the East India Company,
in consequence of the grant of the _Diwani_ of Bengal in 1765, of the
district of Sylhet. The Khasis were our neighbours on the north of
that district, and to the north-east was the State of Jaintia, [1]
ruled over by a chief of Khasi lineage, whose capital, Jaintiapur, was
situated in the plain between the Surma river and the hills. Along this
frontier, the Khasis, though not averse from trade, and in possession
of the quarries which furnished the chief supply of lime to deltaic
Bengal, were also known as troublesome marauders, whose raids were
a terror to the inhabitants of the plains. Captain R.B. Pemberton,
in his Report on the Eastern Frontier (1835), mentions [2] an attack
on Jaintia by a force under Major Henniker in 1774, supposed to have
been made in retaliation for aggression by the Raja in Sylhet; and
Robert Lindsay, who was Resident and Collector of Sylhet about 1778,
has an interesting account of the hill tribes and the Raja of Jaintia
in the lively narrative embodied in the "Lives of the Lindsays." [3]
Lindsay, who made a large fortune by working the lime quarries and thus
converting into cash the millions of cowries in which the land-revenue
of Sylhet was paid, appears to have imagined that the Khasis, whom
he calls "a tribe of independent Tartars," were in direct relations
with China, and imported thence the silk cloths [4] which they brought
down for sale in the Sylhet markets. A line of forts was established
along the foot of the hills to hold the mountaineers in check, and
a Regulation, No. 1 of 1799, was passed declaring freedom of trade
between them and Sylhet, but prohibiting the supply to them of arms
and ammunition, and forbidding any one to pass the Company's frontier
towards the hills with arms in his hands.

The outbreak of the first Burma War, in 1824, brought us into closer
relations with the Raja of Jaintia, and in April of that year Mr. David
Scott, the Governor-General's Agent on the frontier, marched through
his territory from Sylhet to Assam, emerging at Raha on the Kalang
river, in what is now the Nowgong district. This was the first occasion
on which Europeans had entered the hill territory of the Khasi tribes,
and the account of the march, quoted in Pemberton's Report, [5] is the
earliest authentic information which we possess of the institutions
of the Khasi race. Dr. Buchanan-Hamilton, who spent several years at
the beginning of the 19th Century in collecting information regarding
the people of Eastern India, during which he lived for some time
at Goalpara in the Brahmaputra Valley, confused the Khasis with the
Garos, and his descriptions apply only to the latter people. The name
Garo, however, is still used by the inhabitants of Kamrup in speaking
of their Khasi neighbours to the South, and Hamilton only followed
the local usage. In 1826 Mr. David Scott, after the expulsion of the
Burmese from Assam and the occupation of that province by the Company,
entered the Khasi Hills in order to negotiate for the construction of
a road through the territory of the Khasi Siem or Chief of Nongkhlaw,
which should unite Sylhet with Gauhati. A treaty was concluded with
the chief, and the construction of the road began. At Cherrapunji
Mr. Scott built for himself a house on the plateau which, two years
later, was acquired from the Siem by exchange for land in the plains,
as the site of a sanitarium. [6] Everything seemed to promise well,
when the peace was suddenly broken by an attack made, in April 1829,
by the people of Nongkhlaw on the survey party engaged in laying
out the road, resulting in the massacre of two British officers and
between fifty and sixty natives. This led to a general confederacy of
most or the neighbouring chiefs to resist the British, and a long and
harassing war, which was not brought to a close till 1833. Cherrapunji
then became the headquarters of the Sylhet Light Infantry, whose
commandant was placed in political charge of the district, including
the former dominions in the hills of the Raja of Jaintia, which he
voluntarily relinquished in 1835 on the confiscation of his territory
in the plains.

Cherrapunji, celebrated as the place which has the greatest measured
rainfall on the globe, became a popular station, and the discovery
of coal there, and at several other places in the hills, attracted
to it many visitors, some of whom published accounts of the country
and people. The first detailed description was apparently that of the
Rev. W. Lish, a Baptist missionary, which appeared in a missionary
journal in 1838. In 1840 Capt. Fisher, an officer of the Survey
Department, published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal
[7] an account which showed that the leading characteristics of the
Khasi race had already been apprehended; he mentions the prevalence of
matriarchy or mother-kinship, notes the absence of polyandry, except
in so far as its place was taken by facile divorce, describes the
religion as a worship of gods of valleys and hills, draws attention to
the system of augury used to ascertain the will of the gods, and gives
an account of the remarkable megalithic monuments which everywhere
stud the higher plateaus. He also recognizes the fact that the Khasis
as a race are totally distinct from the neighbouring hill tribes. In
1841 Mr. W. Robinson, Inspector of Schools in Assam, included an
account of the Khasis in a volume on that province which was printed
at Calcutta. In 1844 Lieut. Yule (afterwards Sir Henry Yule) published
in the Journal of the Bengal Asiatic Society [8] a much more detailed
description of the hills and their inhabitants than had been given
by Fisher. This formed the basis of many subsequent descriptions, the
best known of which is the attractive account contained in the second
volume of Sir Joseph Hooker's _Himalayan Journals_ [9] published
in London in 1854. Sir Joseph visited Cherrapunji in June 1850,
and stayed in the hills until the middle of the following November.

Meanwhile the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Mission, originally
located at Sylhet, had extended their operations to Cherrapunji,
and in 1842 established a branch there. They applied themselves to
the study of the Khasi language, for which, after a trial of the
Bengali, they resolved to adopt the Roman character. Their system of
expressing the sounds of Khasi has since that time continued in use,
and after sixty years' prescription it would be difficult to make a
change. Their Welsh nationality led them to use the vowel _y_ for the
obscure sound represented elsewhere in India by a short _a_ (the _u_
in the English _but_), and for the consonantal _y_ to substitute the
vowel _i : w_ is also used as a vowel, but only in diphthongs (_aw,
ew, iw, ow_); in other respects the system agrees fairly well with
the standard adopted elsewhere. Primers for the study of the language
were printed at Calcutta in 1846 and 1852, and in 1855 appeared
the excellent "Introduction to the Khasia language, comprising a
grammar, selections for reading, and a Khasi-English vocabulary," of
the Rev. W. Pryse. There now exists a somewhat extensive literature
in Khasi, both religious and secular. An exhaustive grammar, by the
Rev. H. Roberts, was published in Truebner's series of "Simplified
Grammars" in 1891, and there are dictionaries, English-Khasi (1875}
and Khasi-English (1906), besides many other aids to the study of the
language which need not be mentioned here. It is recognized by the
Calcutta University as sufficiently cultivated to be offered for the
examinations of that body. Two monthly periodicals are published in
it at Shillong, to which place the headquarters of the district were
removed from Cherrapunji in 1864, and which has been the permanent
seat of the Assam Government since the Province was separated from
Bengal in 1874.

The isolation of the Khasi race, in the midst of a great encircling
population all of whom belong to the Tibeto-Burman stock, and the
remarkable features presented by their language and institutions,
soon attracted the attention of comparative philologists and
ethnologists. An account of their researches will be found in
Dr. Grierson's _Linguistic Survey of India_, vol. ii. Here it will
be sufficient to mention the important work of Mr. J. R. Logan, who,
in a series of papers published at Singapore between 1850 and 1857 in
the _Journal of the Indian Archipelago_ (of which he was the editor),
demonstrated the relationship which exists between the Khasis and
certain peoples of Further India, the chief representatives of whom are
the Mons or Talaings of Pegu and Tenasserim, the Khmers of Cambodia,
and the majority of the inhabitants of Annam. He was even able, through
the means of vocabularies furnished to him by the late Bishop Bigandet,
to discover the nearest kinsmen of the Khasis in the Palaungs, a tribe
inhabiting one of the Shan States to the north-east of Mandalay on the
middle Salween. With the progress of research it became apparent that
the Mon-Khmer group of Indo-China thus constituted, to which the Khasis
belong, was in some way connected with the large linguistic family
in the Indian Peninsula once called Kolarian, but now more generally
known as _Munda_, who inhabit the hilly region of Chutia Nagpur
and parts of the Satpura range in the Central Provinces. Of these
tribes the principal are the Santhals, the Mundas, and the Korkus. In
physical characters they differ greatly from the Indo-Chinese Khasis,
but the points of resemblance in their languages and in some of their
institutions cannot be denied; and the exact nature of the relation
between them is as yet one of the unsolved problems of ethnology.

The work of Logan was carried further by Prof. Ernst Kuhn, of Munich,
who in 1888 and 1889 published important contributions to our knowledge
of the languages and peoples of Further India. More recently our
acquaintance with the phonology of Khasi and its relatives has been
still further advanced by the labours of Pater W. Schmidt, of Vienna,
whose latest work, _Die Mon-Khmer Voelker, ein Bindeglied zwischen
Voelkern Zentralasiens und Austronesiens_ (Braunschweig, 1906),
has established the relationship of Khasi not only to the Mon-Khmer
languages, but also to Nicobarese and several dialects spoken by wild
tribes in the Malay Peninsula.

There still remains much to be done before the speech of the Khasi
nation can be considered to have been thoroughly investigated. In
the _Linguistic Survey_ four dialects are dealt with, the standard
literary form, founded on the language of Cherrapunji, the _Pnar_ or
_Synteng_, of Jowai, the _War_, spoken in the valleys on the southern
face of the hills, and the _Lyngngam_, spoken in the tract adjacent to
the Garos on the west. Major Gurdon (p. 203) mentions a fifth, that
of Jirang or Mynnar, spoken in the extreme north, and there may be
others. A great desideratum for linguistic purposes is a more adequate
method of recording sounds, and especially differences of tone, than
that adopted for the standard speech, which though sufficient for
practical purposes, does not accurately represent either the quantity
or the quality of the vowels, and leaves something to be desired
as regards the consonants (especially those only faintly sounded or
suppressed). These things, no doubt, will come in time. The immense
advance which has been made in education by the Khasis during the last
half-century has enabled some among them to appreciate the interesting
field for exploration and study which their own country and people
afford; and there is reason to hope that with European guidance the
work of record will progress by the agency of indigenous students.

It remains to summarize briefly the principal distinctive features of
this vigorous and sturdy race, who have preserved their independence
and their ancestral institutions through many centuries in the face
of the attractions offered by the alien forms of culture around them.

In the first place, their social organization presents one of the
most perfect examples still surviving of matriarchal institutions,
carried out with a logic and thoroughness which, to those accustomed
to regard the status and authority of the father as the foundation
of society, are exceedingly remarkable. Not only is the mother
the head and source, and only bond of union, of the family: in the
most primitive part of the hills, the Synteng country, she is the
only owner of real property, and through her alone is inheritance
transmitted. The father has no kinship with his children, who belong
to their mother's clan; what he earns goes to his own matriarchal
stock, and at his death his bones are deposited in the cromlech of his
mother's kin. In Jowai he neither lives nor eats in his wife's house,
but visits it only after dark (p. 76). In the veneration of ancestors,
which is the foundation of the tribal piety, the primal ancestress
(_Ka Iawbei_) and her brother are the only persons regarded. The
flat memorial stones set up to perpetuate the memory of the dead are
called after the woman who represents the clan (_maw kynthei_ p. 150),
and the standing stones ranged behind them are dedicated to the male
kinsmen on the mother's side.

In harmony with this scheme of ancestor worship, the other spirits
to whom propitiation is offered are mainly female, though here male
personages also figure (pp. 106-109). The powers of sickness and
death are all female, and these are those most frequently worshipped
(p. 107). The two protectors of the household are goddesses (p. 112),
though with them is also revered the first father of the clan,
_U Thawlang_.

Priestesses assist at all sacrifices, and the male officiants are
only their deputies (p. 121); in one important state, Khyrim, the
High Priestess and actual head of the State is a woman, who combines
in her person sacerdotal and regal functions (p. 70).

The Khasi language, so far as known, is the only member of the
Mon-Khmer family which possesses a grammatical gender, distinguishing
all nouns as masculine and feminine; and here also the feminine
nouns immensely preponderate (p. 206). The pronouns of the second
(me, pha) and third person (u, ka) have separate forms for the sexes
in the singular, but in the plural only one is used (phi, ki), and
this is the plural form of the feminine singular.

It may perhaps be ascribed to the pre-eminence accorded by the
Khasis to the female sex that successive censuses have shown that the
women of this race considerably exceed the men in number. According
to the census of 1901, there are 1,118 females to every 1,000 male
Khasis. This excess, however, is surpassed by that of the Lushais,
1,191 to 1,000, and it may possibly be due to the greater risks to life
encountered by the men, who venture far into the plains as traders and
porters, while the women stay at home. Habits of intemperance, which
are confined to the male sex, may also explain a greater mortality
among them.

It would be interesting to investigate the effect on reproduction
of the system of matriarchy which governs Khasi family life. The
increase of the race is very slow. In the census of 1891 there were
enumerated only 117 children under 5 to every hundred married women
between 15 and 40, and in 1901 this number fell to 108. It has been
suggested that the independence of the wife, and the facilities which
exist for divorce, lead to restrictions upon child-bearing, and thus
keep the population stationary. The question might with advantage be
examined at the census of 1911.

The next characteristic of the Khasis which marks them out for special
notice is their method of divination for ascertaining the causes of
misfortune and the remedies to be applied. All forms of animistic
religion make it their chief business to avert the wrath of the
gods, to which calamities of all kinds--sickness, storm, murrain,
loss of harvest--are ascribed, by some kind of propitiation; and in
this the Khasis are not singular. But it is somewhat surprising to
find among them the identical method of _extispicium_ which was in use
among the Romans, as well as an analogous development in the shape of
egg-breaking, fully described by Major Gurdon (p. 221), which seems
to have been known to diviners in ancient Hellas. [10] This method has
(with much else in Khasi practice) been adopted by the former subjects
of the Khasis, the Mikirs; but it does not appear to be prevalent
among any other of the animistic tribes within the boundaries of India.

The third remarkable feature of Khasi usage is the custom, which
prevails to this day, of setting up great memorials of rough stone,
of the same style and character as the _menhirs_ and _cromlechs_ which
are found in Western Europe, Northern Africa, and Western Asia. It
is very surprising to a visitor, unprepared for the sight by previous
information, to find himself on arrival at the plateau in the midst of
great groups of standing and table stones exactly like those he may
have seen in Brittany, the Channel Islands, the south of England,
or the Western Isles. Unfortunately the great earthquake of June
1897 overthrew many of the finest of these megalithic monuments;
but several still remain, and of these Major Gurdon has given an
excellent description (pp. 144 sqq.), with an explanation of the
different forms which they assume and the objects with which they
are erected. Other races in India besides the Khasis set up stone
memorials; but none, perhaps, to the same extent or with the same
systematic purpose and arrangement.

In conclusion, I have only to commend this work to the consideration
of all interested in the accurate and detailed description of primitive
custom. I lived myself for many years among the Khasis, and endeavoured
to find out what I could about them; but much of what Major Gurdon
records is new to me, though the book generally agrees with what I
was able to gather of their institutions and characteristics. It is,
I think, an excellent example of research, and well fitted to stand
at the head of a series which may be expected to make an important
contribution to the data of anthropology.

C. J. Lyall.

_November_, 1906.





The Khasis reside in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills district of
Assam. They number 176,614 souls, which total is made up of:--

Khasis 107,515
Syntengs 47,883
Christian Khasis 17,125
Khasis inhabiting other districts 4,091


The Khasi and Jaintia Hills district is situated between 25 deg. 1' and 26 deg.
5' North Latitude, and between 90 deg. 47' and 92 deg. 52' East Longitude. It
contains an area of 6,157 square miles, with a total population at
the Census of 1901 of 202,250 souls. In addition to the Khasis there
are some members of Bodo tribes inhabiting parts of the district.

The Lynngam tribe appears to have been reckoned in 1901 as Khasi,
there being no separate record at the last Census of these people.

The district is split up into two divisions, the Khasi Hills proper
and the Jaintia Hills. The Khasi Hills form the western portion of
the district and the Jaintia Hills the eastern. The Khasis inhabit
the Khasi Hills proper, and the Syntengs, or Pnars, the Jaintia
Hills. The latter hills take their name from the Rajas of Jaintia, the
former rulers of this part of the country, who had as their capital
Jaintiapur, a place situated at the foot of the Jaintia Hills on the
southern side, which now falls within the boundaries of the Sylhet
district. The Lynngams inhabit the western portion of the Khasi Hills
proper. A line drawn north and south through the village of Nongstoin
may be said to form their eastern boundary, and the Kamrup and Sylhet
districts their northern and southern boundaries, respectively. The
people known as _Bhois_ in these hills, who are many of them really
Mikirs, live in the low hills to the north and north-east of the
district, the term "Bhoi" being a territorial name rather than
tribal. The eastern boundary of the Lynngam country may be said to
form their north-western boundary. The Wars inhabit the precipitous
slopes and deep valleys to the south of the district. Their country
extends along the entire southern boundary of the district to the
Jadukata, or Kenchi-iong, river where the Lynngam territory may be
said to commence towards the south. There are some Hadem colonies
in the extreme eastern portions of the Jaintia Hills. It is these
colonies which are sometimes referred to by other writers as "Kuki
Colonies." They are settlers from the North Cachar Sub-division of the
Cachar district within recent years. It is possible that the title
Hadem may have some connection with _Hidimba_, the ancient name for
the North Cachar Hills.


The colour of the Khasi skin may be described as being usually
brown, varying from dark to a light yellowish brown, according to
locality. The complexion of the people who inhabit the uplands is of
a somewhat lighter shade, and many of the women, especially those who
live at Nongkrem, Laitlyngkot, Mawphlang, and other villages of the
surrounding high plateaux possess that pretty gipsy complexion that
is seen in the South of Europe amongst the peasants. The people of
Cherrapunji village are specially fair. The Syntengs of the Jaintia
Hills are darker than the Khasi uplanders. The Wars who live in the
low valleys are frequently more swarthy than the Khasis. The Bhois
have the flabby-looking yellow skin of the Mikirs, and the Lynngams
are darker than the Khakis. The Lynngams are probably the darkest
complexioned people in the hills, and if one met them in the plains
one would not be able to distinguish them from the ordinary Kachari or
Rabha. The nose in the Khasi is somewhat depressed, the nostrils being
often large and prominent. The forehead is broad and the space between
the eyes is often considerable. The skull may be said to be almost
brachy-cephalic, the average cephalic index of 77 Khasi subjects,
measured by Col. Waddell and Major Hare, I.M.S., being as high as 77.3
and 77.9, respectively. According to these data the Khasis are more
brachy-cephalic than the Aryans, whose measurements appear in Crooke's
tables, more brachy-cephalic than the 100 Mundas whose measurements
appear in Risley's tables, more brachy-cephalic than the Dravidians,
but less brachy-cephalic than the Burmans, whose measurements also
appear in Crooke's tables. It would be interesting to compare some head
measurements of Khasis with Japanese, but unfortunately the necessary
data are not available in the case of the latter people. The Khasi
head may be styled sub-brachy-cephalic. Eyes are of medium size,
in colour black or brown. In the Jaintia Hills hazel eyes are not
uncommon, especially amongst females. Eyelids are somewhat obliquely
set, but not so acutely as in the Chinese and some other Mongols. Jaws
frequently are prognathous, mouth large, with sometimes rather thick
lips. Hair black, straight, and worn long, the hair of people who
adopt the old style being caught up in a knot at the back. Some
males cut the hair short with the exception of a single lock at the
back, which is called _u niuhtrong_ or _u niuh-' iawbei_ (i.e. the
grandmother's lock.) The forepart of the head is often shaven. It
is quite the exception to see a beard, although the moustache is not
infrequently worn. The Lynngams pull out the hairs of the moustache
with the exception of a few hairs an either side of the upper lip.

Physical and General Characteristics

The Khasis are usually short in stature, with bodies well nourished,
and the males are extremely muscular. The trunk is long in proportion
to the rest of the body, and broad at the waist; calves are very
highly developed. The women, when young are comely, of a buxom type,
and, like the men, with highly-developed calves, the latter always
being considered a beauty. The children are frequently remarkably
pretty. Khasis carry very heavy burdens, it being the custom for the
coolie of the country to carry a maund, or 82 lbs. weight, or even
more occasionally, on his back, the load being fixed by means of a
cane band which is worn across the forehead; women carry almost as
heavy loads as the men. The coolies, both male and female, commonly
do the journey between Cherrapunji and Shillong, or between Shillong
and Jowai, in one day, carrying the heavy loads above mentioned. Each
of the above journeys is some thirty miles. They carry their great
loads of rice and salt from Therria to Cherrapunji, an ascent of about
4,000 feet in some three to four miles, in the day. The Khasis are
probably the best porters in the north of India, and have frequently
been requisitioned for transport purposes on military expeditions.

The people are cheerful in disposition, and are light-hearted by
nature, and, unlike the plains people, seem to thoroughly appreciate
a joke. It is pleasant to hear on the road down to Theriaghat from
Cherrapunji, in the early morning the whole hillside resounding with
the scraps of song and peals of laughter of the coolies, as they run
nimbly down the short cuts on their way to market. The women are
specially cheerful, and pass the time of day and bandy jokes with
passers-by with quite an absence of reserve. The Khasis are certainly
more industrious than the Assamese, are generally good-tempered,
but are occasionally prone to sudden outbursts of anger, accompanied
by violence. They are fond of music, and rapidly learn the hymn
tunes which are taught them by the Welsh missionaries. Khasis are
devoted to their offspring, and the women make excellent nurses for
European children, frequently becoming much attached to their little
charges. The people, like the Japanese, are fond of nature. A Khasi
loves a day out in the woods, where he thoroughly enjoys himself. If
he does not go out shooting or fishing, he is content to sit still
and contemplate nature. He has a separate name for each of the
commoner birds and flowers. He also has names for many butterflies
and moths. These are traits which are not found usually in the people
of India. He is not above manual labour, and even the Khasi clerk
in the Government offices is quite ready to take his turn at the
hoe in his potato garden. The men make excellent stonemasons and
carpenters, and are ready to learn fancy carpentry and mechanical
work. They are inveterate chewers of _supari_ and the pan leaf (when
they can get the latter), both men, women, and children; distances in
the interior being often measured by the number of betel-nuts that
are usually chewed on a journey. They are not addicted usually to
the use of opium or other intoxicating drugs. They are, however,
hard drinkers, and consume large quantities of spirit distilled
from rice or millet. Rice beer is also manufactured; this is used
not only as a beverage, but also for ceremonial purposes. Spirit
drinking is confined more to the inhabitants of the high plateaux
and to the people of the War country, the Bhois and Lynngams being
content to partake of rice beer. The Mikirs who inhabit what is
known as the "Bhoi" country, lying to the north of the district,
consume a good deal of opium, but it must be remembered that they
reside in a malarious _terai_ country, and that the use of opium,
or same other prophylactic, is probably beneficial as a preventive
of fever. The Khasis, like other people of Indo-Chinese origin,
are much addicted to gambling. The people, and especially those who
inhabit the War country, are fond of litigation. Col. Bivar remarks,
"As regards truthfulness the people do not excel, for they rarely
speak the truth unless to suit their own interests." Col. Bivar might
have confined this observation to the people who live in the larger
centres of population, or who have been much in contact with the
denizens of the plains. The inhabitants of the far interior are, as
a rule, simple and straightforward people, and are quite as truthful
and honest as peasants one meets in other countries. My impression
is that the Khasis are not less truthful certainly than other Indian
communities. McCosh, writing in 1837, speaks well of the Khasis. The
following is his opinion of them:--"They are a powerful, athletic
race of men, rather below the middle size, with a manliness of gait
and demeanour. They are fond of their mountains, and look down with
contempt upon the degenerate race of the plains, jealous of their
power, brave in action, and have an aversion to falsehood."

Khasis of the interior who have adopted Christianity are generally
cleaner in their persons than the non-Christians, and their women dress
better than the latter and have an air of self-respect about them. The
houses in a Christian village are also far superior, especially where
there are resident European missionaries. Khasis who have become
Christians often take to religion with much earnestness (witness the
recent religious revival in these hills, which is estimated by the
Welsh missionaries to have added between 4,000 and 5,000 converts
to Christianity), and are model Sabbatarians, it being a pleasing
sight to see men, women, and children trooping to church on a Sunday
dressed in their best, and with quite the Sunday expression on their
faces one sees in England. It is a pleasure to hear the sound of the
distant church bell on the hill-side on a Sunday evening, soon to be
succeeded by the beautiful Welsh hymn tunes which, when wafted across
the valleys, carry one's thoughts far away. The Welsh missionaries
have done, and continue to do, an immense amount of good amongst these
people. It would be an evil day for the Khasis if anything should
occur to arrest the progress of the mission work in the Khasi Hills.

Geographical Distribution.

The Khasis inhabit the Khasi and Jaintia Hills, although there are a
few Khasi settlers in the neighbouring plains districts. The Census
Report of 1901 gives the following figures of Khasi residents in
the plains:

Cachar 333
Sylbet 3,083
Goalpara 4
Kamrup 191
Darrong 90
Nowgong 29
Sibnagar 62
Lakhimpur 22
Lushai Hills 77
North Cachar 32
Naga Hills 82
Garo Hills 117
Manipur 69

Total 4,091 [11]

The following information regarding the general aspect of the Khasi
and Jaintia Hills district, with some additions, is derived from Sir
William Hunter's Statistical Account of Assam. The district consists
almost entirely of hills, only a very small portion lying in the
plains. The slope of the hills on the southern side is very steep
until a table-land is met with at an elevation of about 4,000 feet at
Cherrapunji. Higher up there is another plateau at Mawphlang. This is
the highest portion of the hills, some villages being found at as high
an elevation as close on 6,000 feet above see level. Fifteen miles to
the east of Mawphlang, and in the same range, is situated the civil
station of Shillong, at an average elevation of about 4,900 feet. The
elevation of the Shillong Peak, the highest hill in the district, is
6,450 feet above sea level. On the northern side of the hills are two
plateaux, one between 1,000 and 2,000 feet below the level of Shillong,
and another at an elevation of about 2,000 feet above sea level. In
general features all these plateaux are much alike, and consist of a
succession of undulating downs, broken here and there by the valleys
of the larger hill streams. In the higher ranges, where the hills have
been denuded of forest, the country is covered with short grass, which
becomes longer and more rank in the lower elevations. This denudation
of forest has been largely due to the wood being used by the Khasis for
fuel for iron smelting in days gone by. The Government, however, has
taken steps to protect the remaining forests from further spoliation. A
remarkable feature is the presence of numerous sacred groves situated
generally just below the brows of the hills. In these woods are to
be found principally oak and rhododendron trees. The fir-tree (Pinus
Khasia) is first met with on the road from Gauhati to Shillong, at
Umsning, at an elevation of about 2,500 feet. In the neighbourhood
of Shillong the fir grows profusely, but the finest fir-trees are
to be seen in the Jowai sub-division. In the vicinity of Nongpoh is
observed the beautiful _nahor_ or _nageswar_, the iron-wood tree. The
latter is also to be found on the southern slopes of the hills in
the Jowai sub-division. There are some _sal_ forests to the west and
south of Nongpoh, where the _sal_ trees are almost as large as those
to be found in the Garo Hills. Between Shillong and Jowai there are
forests of oak, the country being beautifully wooded. Chestnuts and
birches are also fairly common. The low hills on the northern and
western sides of the district are clad with dense forests of bamboo,
of which there are many varieties. The Pandanus or screw-pine is to be
met with on the southern slopes. Regarding the geological formation
of the hills, I extract a few general remarks from the Physical and
Political Geography of Assam. The Shillong plateau consists of a great
mass of gneiss, bare on the northern border, where it is broken into
hills, for the most part low and very irregular in outline, with
numerous outliers in the Lower Assam Valley, even close up to the
Himalayas. In the central region the gneiss is covered by transition
or sub-metamorphic rocks, consisting of a strong band of quartzites
overlying a mass of earthy schists. In the very centre of the range,
where the table-land attains its highest elevation, great masses of
intrusive diorite and granite occur; and the latter is found in dykes
piercing the gneiss and sub-metamorphic series throughout the southern
half of the boundary of the plains. To the south, in contact with
the gneiss and sub-metamorphics is a great volcanic outburst of trap,
which is stratified, and is brought to the surface with the general
rise of elevation along the face of the hills between Shella and
Theriaghat south of Cherrapunji. This has been described as the "Sylhet
trap." South of the main axis of this metamorphic and volcanic mass are
to be found strata of two well defined series: (1) the cretaceous,
and (2) nummulitic. The cretaceous contains several important
coalfields. The nummulitic series, which overlies the cretaceous,
attains a thickness of 900 feet in the Theria river, consisting of
alternating strata of compact limestones and sandstones. It is at
the exposure of these rocks on their downward dip from the edge of
the plateau that are situated the extensive limestone quarries of
the Khasi Hills. There are numerous limestone caves and underground
water-courses on the southern face of the hills. This series contains
coal-beds, e.g. the Cherrafield and that at Lakadong in the Jaintia
Hills. Some description of the remarkable Kyllang Rock may not be out
of place. Sir Joseph Hooker describes it as a dome of red granite,
5,400 feet above sea level, accessible from the north and east, but
almost perpendicular to the southward where the slope is 80 deg. for 600
feet. The elevation is said by Hooker to be 400 feet above the mean
level of the surrounding ridges and 700 feet above the bottom of
the valleys. The south or steepest side is encumbered with enormous
detached blocks, while the north is clothed with forests containing
red tree-rhododendrons and oaks. Hooker says that on its skirts grows
a "white bushy rhododendron" which he found nowhere else. There is,
however, a specimen of it now in the Shillong Lake garden. Numerous
orchids are to be found in the Kyllang wood, notably a beautiful white
one, called by the Khasis _u'tiw kyllang synrai_, which blooms in the
autumn. The view from the top of the rock is very extensive, especially
towards the north, where a magnificent panorama of the Himalayas is
obtained in the autumn. The most remarkable phenomenon of any kind in
the country is undoubtedly the enormous quantity of rain which falls
at Cherrapunji. [12] Practically the whole of the rainfall occurs in
the rains, i.e. from May to October. The remainder of the district is
less rainy. The climate of the central plateau of the Shillong range
is very salubrious, but the low hills in parts of the district are
malarious. The effect of the different climates can at once be seen
by examining the physique of the inhabitants. The Khasis who live
in the high central plateaux are exceptionally healthy and strong,
but those who live in the unhealthy "Bhoi country" to the north, and
in the Lynngam portion to the west of the district, are often stunted
and sickly. Not so, however, the Wars who live on the southern slopes,
for although their country is very hot at certain times of the year, it
does not appear to be abnormally unhealthy except in certain villages,
such as Shella, Borpunji, Umniuh, and in Narpuh in the Jaintia Hills.


The origin of the Khasis is a very vexed question. Although it is
probable that the Khasis have inhabited their present abode for at
any rate a considerable period, there seems to be a fairly general
belief amongst them that they originally came from elsewhere. The
Rev. H. Roberts, in the introduction to his Khasi Grammar, states that
"tradition, such as it is, connects them politically with the Burmese,
to whose king they were up to a comparatively recent date rendering
homage, by sending him an annual tribute in the shape of an axe,
as an emblem merely of submission." Another tradition points out the
north as the direction from which they migrated, and Sylhet as the
terminus of their wanderings, from which they were ultimately driven
back into their present hill fastnesses by a great flood, after a
more or less peaceful occupation of that district. It was on the
occasion of this great flood, the legend runs, that the Khasi lost
the art of writing, the Khasi losing his book whilst he was swimming
at the time of this flood, whereas the Bengali managed to preserve
his. Owing to the Khasis having possessed no written character before
the advent of the Welsh missionaries there are no histories as is the
case with the Ahoms of the Assam Valley, and therefore no record of
their journeys. Mr. Shadwell, the oldest living authority we have on
the Khasis, and one who has been in close touch with the people for
more than half a century, mentions a tradition amongst them that they
originally came into Assam from Burma via the Patkoi range, having
followed the route of one of the Burmese invasions. Mr. Shadwell has
heard them mention the name Patkoi as a hill they met with on their
journey. All this sort of thing is, however, inexpressibly vague. In
the chapter dealing with "Affinities" have been given some reasons for
supposing that the Khasis and other tribes of the Mon-Anam family,
originally occupied a large portion of the Indian continent. Where
the actual cradle of the Mon-Anam race was, is as impossible to
state, as it is to fix upon the exact tract of country from which
the Aryans sprang. With reference to the Khasi branch of the Mon-Anam
family, it would seem reasonable to suppose that if they are not the
autochthons of a portion of the hills on the southern bank of the
Brahmaputra, and if they migrated to Assam from some other country,
it is not unlikely that they followed the direction of the different
irruptions of foreign peoples into Assam of which we have authentic
data, i.e. from south-east to north-west, as was the case with the
Ahom invaders of Assam who invaded Assam from their settlements in the
Shan States via the Patkoi range, the different Burmese invasions,
the movements of the Khamtis and, again, the Singphos, from the
country to the east of the Hukong Valley. Whether the first cousins
of the Khasis, the Mons, moved to their present abode from China,
whether they are the aborigines of the portion of Burma they at
present occupy, or were one of the races "of Turanian origin" who,
as Forbes thinks, originally occupied the valley of the Ganges before
the Aryan invasion, must be left to others more qualified than myself
to determine. Further, it is difficult to clear up the mystery of
the survival, in an isolated position, of people like the Ho-Mundas,
whose language and certain customs exhibit points of similarity with
those of the Khasis, in close proximity to the Dravidian tribes and
at a great distance from the Khasis, there being no people who exhibit
similar characteristics inhabiting countries situated in between; but
we can, I think, reasonably suppose that the Khasis are an offshoot
of the Mon people of Further India in the light of the historical
fact I have quoted, i.e. that the movements of races into Assam
have usually, although not invariably, taken place from the east,
and not from the west. The tendency for outside people to move into
Assam from the east still continues.


The late Mr. S. E. Peal, F.R.G.S., in an interesting and suggestive
paper published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal
in 1896, drew attention to certain illustrations of "singular
shoulder-headed celts," found only in the Malay Peninsula till
the year 1875, when they were also discovered in Chota Nagpur, and
figured in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal for June of
that year. These "celts" are, as the name implies, ancient stone
implements. Mr. Peal goes on to state the interesting fact that
when he was at Ledo and Tikak, Naga villages, east of Makum, on the
south-east frontier of the Lakhimpur district of Assam, in 1895,
he found iron implements, miniature hoes, used by the Nagas, of a
similar shape to the "shoulder-headed celts" which had been found in
the Malay Peninsula and Chota Nagpur. Now the peculiarly shaped Khasi
hoe or _mo-khiw_, a sketch of which is given, with its far projecting
shoulders, is merely an enlarged edition of the Naga hoe described
by Peal, and may therefore be regarded as a modern representative
in iron, although on an enlarged scale, of the "shoulder-headed
celts." Another interesting point is that, according to Forbes, the
Burmese name for these stone celts is _mo-gyo_. Now the Khasi name
for the hoe is _mo-khiw_. The similarity between the two words seems
very strong. Forbes says the name _mo-gyo_ in Burmese means "cloud
or sky chain," which he interprets "thunderbolt," the popular belief
there, as in other countries, being that these palaeolithic implements
fell from heaven. Although the Khasi name _mo-khiw_ has no connection
whatsoever with aerolites, it is a singular coincidence that the name
for the Khasi hoe of the present day should almost exactly correspond
with the Burmese name for the palaeolithic implement found in Burma and
the Malay Peninsula, and when it is remembered that these stone celts
are of a different shape from that of the stone implements which have
been found in India (with the exception of Chota Nagpur), there would
seem to be some grounds for believing that the Khasis are connected
with people who inhabited the Malay Peninsula and Chota Nagpur at the
time of the Stone Age. [13] That these people were what Logan calls
the Mon-Anam, may possibly be the case. Mr. Peal goes on to state,
"the discovery is interesting for other reasons, it possibly amounts
to a demonstration that Logan (who it is believed was the first to
draw attention to the points of resemblance between the languages of
the Mon-Anam or Mon-Khmer and those of the Mundas and the Khasis), was
correct in assuming that at one time the Mon-Anam races and influence
extended from the Vindyas all over the Ganges Basin, even over Assam,
the northern border of the Ultra Indian Peninsula." Mr. Peal then
remarks that the Eastern Nagas of the Tirap, Namstik, and Sonkap group
"are strikingly like them (i.e. the Mon-Anam races), in many respects,
the women being particularly robust, with pale colour and at times
rosy cheeks." The interesting statement follows that the men wear the
Khasi-Mikir sleeveless coat. Under the heading of dress this will be
found described as a garment which leaves the neck and arms bare, with
a fringe at the bottom and with a row of tassels across the chest, the
coat being fastened by frogs in front. It is a garment of a distinctive
character and cannot be mistaken; it used to be worn largely by the
Khasis, and is still used extensively by the Syntengs and Lynngams
and by the Mikirs, and that it should have been found amongst these
Eastern Nagas is certainly remarkable. It is to be regretted that the
investigations of the Ethnographical Survey, as at present conducted,
have not extended to these Eastern Nagas, who inhabit tracts either
outside British territory or in very remote places on its confines,
so that we are at present unable to state whether any of these
tribes possess other points of affinity, as regards social customs,
with the Khasis, but it will be noticed in the chapter dealing with
memorial stones that some of the Naga tribes are in the habit of
erecting monoliths somewhat similar in character to those of the
Khasis, and that the Mikirs (who wear the Khasi sleeveless coat),
erect memorial stones exactly similar to those of the Khasis. The
evidence seems to suggest a theory that the Mon-Anam race, including
of course the Khasis, occupied at one time a much larger area in the
mountainous country to the south of the Brahmaputra in Assam than it
does at present. Further references will be found to this point in the
section dealing with memorial stones. The fact that the Ho-Mundas of
Chota Nagpur also erect memorial stones and that they possess death
customs very similar to those of the Khasis, has also been noticed
in the same chapter. We have, therefore, the following points of
similarity as regards customs between the Khasis on the one hand,
certain Eastern Naga tribes, the Mikirs, and the ancient inhabitants
of the Malay Peninsula on the other:--

(a) Peculiarly shaped hoe, i.e. the hoe with far projecting shoulders

1. Khasis.
2. Certain Eastern Naga tribes.
3. The ancient inhabitants of the Malay Peninsula.
4. The ancient inhabitants of Chota Nagpur (the Ho-Mundas?).

(b) Sleeveless coat

1. Khasis.
2. Mikirs.
3. Certain Eastern Naga tribes.

(c) Memorial stones

1. Khasis.
2. Mikirs.
3. Certain Eastern Naga tribes.
4. Ho-Mundas of Chota Nagpur.

I wish to draw no definite conclusions from the above facts, but they
are certainly worth considering with reference to Logan's theory
as stated by Peal; the theory being based on Logan's philological
inquiries. Thanks to the labours of Grierson, Logan, and Kuhn in
the linguistic field, we know that the languages of the Mon-Khmer
group in Burma and the Malay Peninsula are intimately connected with
Khasi. I say, intimately, advisedly, for not only are roots of words
seen to be similar, but the order of the words in the sentence is
found to be the same, indicating that both these people think in
the same order when wishing to express themselves by speech. There
are also syntactical agreements. We may take it as finally proved
by Dr. Grierson and Professor Kuhn that the Mon-Khmer, Palaung,
Wa, and Khasi languages are closely connected. In the section of the
Monograph which deals with language some striking similarities between
the languages of these tribes will be pointed out. We have not so far
been able to discover social customs common to the Palaungs and the
Khasis; this is probably due to the conversion of the Palaungs to
Buddhism, the change in the religion of the people having possibly
caused the abandonment of the primitive customs of the tribe. In a
few years' time, if the progressive rate of conversions of Khasis to
Christianity continues, probably the greater number of the Khasi social
customs will have disappeared and others will have taken their place,
so that it cannot be argued that because no manifest social customs
can now be found common to the Khasis and the Palaungs, there is no
connection between these two tribes. The strong linguistic affinity
between these two peoples and the wild _Was_ of Burma points to an
intimate connection between all three in the past. As knowledge of
the habits of the wild _Was_ improves, it is quite possible that
social customs of this tribe may be found to be held in common with
the Khasis. With regard to social affinities it will be interesting
to note the Palaung folk-tale of the origin of their Sawbwa, which is
reproduced in Sir George Scott's Upper Burma Gazetteer. The Sawbwa,
it is related, is descended from the Naga Princess Thusandi who
lived in the _Nat_ tank on the Mongok hills and who laid three eggs,
from one of which was born the ancestor of the Palaung Sawbwa. Here
we see how the Palaung regards the egg, and it is noteworthy that
the Khasis lay great stress on its potency in divination for the
purposes of religious sacrifices, and that at death it is placed on
the stomach of the deceased and is afterwards broken at the funeral
pyre. Amongst some of the tribes of the Malay Archipelago also the
_Gaji-Guru_ or medicine-man "can see from the yolk of an egg, broken
whilst sacramentally counting from one to seven, from what illness
a man is suffering and what has caused it." Here we have an almost
exactly parallel case to the Khasi custom of egg-breaking.

In the Palaung folk-tale above referred to the importance of the egg
in the eyes of Palaung is demonstrated, and we know how the Khasi
regards it. But the folk-tale is also important as suggesting that
the ancient people of Pagan were originally serpent-worshippers,
i.e. Nagas, and it is interesting to note that the Rumai or Palaung
women of the present day "wear a dress which is like the skin of
the Naga (snake)." Is it possible that the Khasi superstition of the
_thlen_, or serpent demon, and its worship, an account of which will
be found under the heading of "Human Sacrifices" in the Monograph,
has anything to do with the ancient snake-worship of the people of
Pagan, and also of the ancient inhabitants of Naga-Dwipa, and that
amongst the wild _Was_ the custom of head-hunting may have taken the
place of the Khasi human sacrifices to the _thlen_?

Notwithstanding that Sir George Scott says the story has very Burman
characteristics, the Palaung folk-tale is further interesting in
that it speaks of the Sawbwa of the Palaungs being descended from a
_princess_. This might be a suggestion of the matriarchate.

It can well be imagined how important a matter it is also, in the light
of Grierson's and Kuhn's linguistic conclusions, to ascertain whether
any of the Mon-Khmer people in Anam and Cambodia and neighbouring
countries possess social customs in common with the Khasis. In case
it may be possible for French and Siamese ethnologists in Further
India to follow up these inquiries at some subsequent date, it may
be stated that information regarding social customs is required with
reference to the people who speak the following languages in Anam and
Cambodia and Cochin China which belong to the Mon-Khmer group--_Suk,
Stieng, Bahnar, Anamese, Khamen-Boran, Xong, Samre, Khmu_, and _Lamet_.

Notwithstanding our failure up till now to find any patent and direct
social customs in common between the Khasis and the Palaungs, I am
in hopes that we may yet discover some such affinities. Mr. Lowis,
the Superintendent of Ethnography in Burma, states that there is no
vestige of the matriarchal system among the Palaungs; but there is the
folk-tale I have quoted above. In matters of succession, inheritance,
&c., the Palaungs, Mr. Lowis, says, profess to follow the Shans,
whose customs in this regard have a Buddhistic basis. The Palaungs are
devout Buddhists, and, like the Burmans and Shans, bury their lay dead,
whereas the Khasis invariably burn. There is nothing in the shape
of memorial stones amongst the Palaungs. _Prima facie_ these appear
to be points of differentiation between the Palaungs and the Khasis;
but they should not, as has already been stated, be regarded as proof
positive that the tribes are not connected, and it is possible that
under the influence of Buddhism the Palaungs may have almost entirely
abandoned their ancient customs, like the Christian Khasis.

Having noticed some similarities as regards birth customs, as
described in Dr. Frazer's "Golden Bough," between the Khasis and
certain inhabitants of the Dutch East Indies, I wrote to the Dutch
authorities in Batavia requesting certain further information. My
application was treated with the greatest courtesy, and I am indebted
to the kindness of the President, his secretary, and Mr. C. M. Pleyte,
Lecturer of Indonesian Ethnology at the Gymnasium of William III.,
at Batavia, for some interesting as well as valuable information. With
reference to possible Malay influence in the countries inhabited by the
people who speak the Mon-Khmer group of languages in Further India, it
was thought desirable to ascertain whether any of the people inhabiting
the Dutch East Indies possessed anything in common with the Khasis, who
also belong to the Mon-Khmer group. There are, according to Mr. Pleyte,
pure matriarchal customs to be found amongst the Minangkabe Malays
inhabiting the Padang uplands and adjacent countries, in Sumatra,
in Agam, the fifty Kotas, and Tanah Datar, more or less mixed with
patriarchal institutions; they are equally followed by the tribes
inhabiting parts of Korinchi and other places. The apparently strong
survival of the matriarchate in parts of the island of Sumatra,
as compared with this corresponding most characteristic feature
of the Khasis, is a point for consideration. Mr. Pleyte goes on
to state "regarding ancestor-worship, it may be said that this
is found everywhere throughout the whole Archipelago; even the
tribes that have already adopted Islam, venerate the spirits of
their departed." The same might be said of some of the Khasis who
have accepted Christianity, and much more of the Japanese. I would
here refer the reader to the chapter on "Ancestor-worship." In the
Southern Moluccas the placenta is mixed with ashes, placed in a pot,
and hung on a tree; a similar custom is observed in Mandeling, on
the west coast of Sumatra. This is a custom universally observed
amongst the Khasis at births. Teknonomy to some extent prevails
amongst some of these Malay tribes as with the Khasis. It will be
seen from the above notes that there are some interesting points
of affinity between the Khasis and some of the Malay tribes, and if
we add that the Khasis are decidedly Malay in appearance, we cannot
but wonder whether the Malays have any connection not only with the
Mon-Khmer family, but also with the Khasis, with the Ho-Mundas, and
with the Naga tribes mentioned by Mr. Peal in his interesting paper
published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, already
referred to. We will study the strong linguistic affinities between
these peoples in the section which deals with language.

M. Aymonier in "Le Cambodge" mentions the matriarchate as having been
prevalent apparently amongst the primitive races of Cambodia, and
notes that the ancient Chinese writers spoke of Queens in Fou-nan
(Cambodia). If the Khmers were the ancient people of Cambodia,
here we have an important landmark in common between them and the
Khasis. M. Aymonier goes on to speak of priestesses, and the Cambodian
taboo, _tam_ or _trenam_, which Mr. Lowis, the Superintendent of
Ethnography in Burma, suggests may be akin to the Khasi _sang_.


Dress may be divided into two divisions, ancient and modern. It will
be convenient to take the former division first. The Khasi males
of the interior wear the sleeveless coat or _jymphong_, which is a
garment leaving the neck and arms bare, with a fringe at the bottom,
and with a row of tassels across the chest; it is fastened by frogs
in front. This coat, however, may be said to be going out of fashion
in the Khasi Hills, its place being taken by coats of European pattern
in the more civilized centres and by all sorts of nondescript garments
in the interior. The sleeveless coat, however, is still worn by many
Syntengs in the interior and by the Bhois and Lynngams. The men in the
Khasi Hills wear a cap with ear-flaps. The elderly men, or other men
when smartness is desired, wear a white turban, which is fairly large
and is well tied on the head. Males in the Siemship of Nongstoin and
in the North-Western corner of the district wear knitted worsted caps
which are often of a red colour. These are sold at Nongstoin market
at about 8 or 9 annas each. They are brought to Nongstoin by traders
from the Synteng country, and from Shillong, where they are knitted
generally by Synteng women. A small cloth is worn round the waist
and between the legs, one end of which hangs down in front like a
small apron. The Syntengs wear a somewhat differently shaped cap,
having no ear-flaps and with a high-peaked crown. Both Khasi and
Synteng caps are generally of black cloth, having, as often as not,
a thick coating of grease. The old-fashioned Khasi female's dress,
which is that worn by people of the cultivator class of the present
day, is the following:--Next to the skin is worn a garment called _ka
jympien_, which is a piece of cloth wound round the body and fastened
at the loins with a kind of cloth belt, and which hangs down from
the waist to the knee or a little above it. Over this is worn a long
piece of cloth, sometimes of muga silk, called _ka jainsem_. This is
not worn like the Assamese _mekhela_ or Bengali _sari_, for it hangs
loosely from the shoulders down to a little above the ankles, and is
not caught in at the waist--in fact, Khasi women have no waist. It
is kept in position by knotting it over both the shoulders. Over
the _jainsem_ another garment called _ka jain kup_ is worn. This is
thrown over the shoulders like a cloak, the two ends being knotted in
front, it hangs loosely down the back and sides to the ankles. It is
frequently of some gay colour, the fashion in Mawkhar and Cherrapunji
being some pretty shade of French gray or maroon. Over the head and
shoulders is worn a wrapper called _ka tap-moh-khlieh_. This, again,
is frequently of some bright colour, but is often white. There is a
fold in the _jainsem_ which serves as a pocket for keeping odds and
ends. Khasi women in cold weather wear gaiters which are often long
stockings without feet, or, in the case of the poor, pieces of cloth
wound round the legs like putties, or cloth gaiters. I have seen women
at Nongstoin wearing gaiters of leaves. It was explained to me that
these were worn to keep off the leeches. The Khasi women might almost
be said to be excessively clothed--they wear the cloak in such a way
as to hide entirely the graceful contours of the figure. The women
are infinitely more decently clothed than Bengali coolie women, for
instance; but their dress cannot be described as becoming or graceful,
although they show taste as regards the blending of colours in their
different garments.

The dress of the Synteng women is a little different. With them the
_jain khrywang_ takes the place of the Khasi _jainsem_, and is worn by
them in the following manner:--One of the two ends is passed under one
armpit and its two corners are knotted on the opposite shoulder. The
other end is then wound round the body and fastened at the waist,
from which it hangs half way down the calf. Over this they wear a
sort of apron, generally of _muga_ silk. They have the cloak and the
head-wrapper just the same as the Khasi women. The Synteng striped
cloth may be observed in the picture of the Synteng girl in the
plate. Khasi women on festive occasions, such as the annual Nongkrem
puja, do not cover the head. The hair is then decked with jewellery
or with flowers; but on all ordinary occasions Khasi women cover the
head. War women, however, often have their heads uncovered.

_Modern dress_.--The up-to-date Khasi male wears knickerbockers
made by a tailor, stockings, and boots; also a tailor-made coat
and waistcoat, a collar without a tie, and a cloth peaked cap. The
young lady of fashion dons a chemise, also often a short coat of
cloth or velvet, stockings, and smart shoes. Of course she wears
the _jainsem_ and cloak, but occasionally she may be seen without
the latter when the weather is warm. It should be mentioned that the
Khasi males are seldom seen without a haversack in which betel-nut,
lime, and other odds and ends are kept; and the female has her purse,
which, however, is not visible, being concealed within the folds of
her lower garment. The haversack of the men is of cloth in the high
plateau and in the Bhoi country, but it is of knitted fibre in the
War country. The Syntengs have a cloth bag, which they call _ka muna_.

The War men dress very much the same as the neighbouring Sylheti
Hindus. The War women, especially the Shella women, wear very
pretty yellow and red checked and striped cloths. The cloak is not
so frequently worn as amongst Khasis, except in cold weather. The
Lynngam dress is very similar to that of the neighbouring Garos. The
males wear the sleeveless coat, or _phong marong_, of cotton striped
red and blue, red and white, or blue and white, fastened in the same
manner as the Khasi coat and with tassels. A small cloth, generally
red or blue, is tied between the legs, one end of it being allowed
to hang down, as with the Khasis, like an apron in front. A round
cap is commonly worn; but the elderly men and people of importance
wear turbans. The females wear short cloths of cotton striped red
and blue, the cloth reaching just above the knee, like the Garos;
married women wear no upper clothing, except in winter, when a red or
blue cotton cloth is thrown loosely across the shoulders. The women
wear a profusion of blue bead necklaces and brass earrings like the
Garos. Unmarried girls wear a cloth tightly tied round the figure,
similar to that worn by the Kacharis. A bag of cloth for odds and
ends is carried by the men slung across the shoulder. It should be
mentioned that even in ancient times great people amongst the Khasis,
like Siems, wore waist-cloths, and people of lees consequence on great
occasions, such as dances. The use of waist-cloths among the Khasis
is on the increase, especially among those who live in Shillong and
the neighbouring villages and in Jowai and Cherrapunji.


None of the Khasis tattoo; the only people in the hills who tattoo
are certain tribes of the Bhoi country which are really Mikir. These
tattoo females on the forehead when they attain the age of puberty,
a straight horizontal line being drawn from the parting of the hair
down the forehead and nose. The line is one-eighth to one-quarter
of an inch broad. The Lynngams occasionally tattoo a ring round the
wrist of females.


The Khasis, as a people, may be said to be fond of jewellery. The
women are specially partial to gold and coral bead necklaces. The
beads are round and large, and are usually unornamented with filigree
or other work. The coral is imported from Calcutta. The gold bead is
not solid, but a hollow sphere filled with lac. These necklaces are
worn by men as well as women, especially on gala occasions. Some of
the necklaces are comparatively valuable, e.g. that in the possession
of the Mylliem Siem family. The gold and coral beads are prepared
locally by Khasi as well as by foreign goldsmiths. The latter derive
considerable profits from the trade. The Assam Census Report of
1901 shows 133 goldsmiths in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills district,
but does not distinguish between Khasis and foreigners. There are
Khasi goldsmiths to be found in Mawkhar, Cherrapunji, Mawlai, and
other villages. Sylheti goldsmiths are, however, more largely employed
than Khasi in Mawsynram and certain other places on the south side of
the hills. In Mr. Henniker's monograph on "gold and silver wares of
Assam" it is stated that the goldsmiths of Karimganj in Sylhet make
specially for Khasis certain articles of jewellery, such as men's and
women's earrings, &c. An article of jewellery which is believed to be
peculiar to the Khasis is the silver or gold crown. This crown is worn
by the young women at dances, such as the annual Nongkrem dance. An
illustration of one will be seen by referring to the plate. These
crowns are circlets of silver or gold ornamented with filigree
work. There is a peak or, strictly speaking, a spike at the back,
called _u'tiew-lasubon_, which stands up some six inches above the
crown. There are long ropes or tassels of silver hanging from the crown
down the back. Earrings are worn both by men and women. The former
affect a pattern peculiar to themselves, viz. large gold pendants of
a circular or oval shape. Women wear different patterns of earrings,
according to locality. An ornament which I believe is also peculiar to
the Khasis is the _rupa-tylli_, or silver collar. This is a broad flat
silver collar which is allowed to hang down over the neck in front,
and which is secured by a fastening behind. Silver chains are worn
by men as well as by women. The men wear them round the waist like
a belt, and the women hang them round their necks, the chains being
allowed to depend as low as the waist. Bracelets are worn by women;
these are either of gold or of silver. The Lynngam males wear bead
necklaces, the beads being sometimes of cornelian gathered from the
beds of the local hill streams, and sometimes of glass obtained from
the plains markets of Damra and Moiskhola. The cornelian necklaces are
much prized by the Lynngams, and are called by them _'pieng blei_,
or gods' necklaces. Like the Garos, the Lynngams wear as many brass
earrings as possible, the lobes of the ears of the females being
frequently greatly distended by their weight. These earrings are made
out of brass wire obtained from the plains markets. The Lynngams wear
silver armlets above the elbow and also on the wrists. It is only a
man who has given a great feast who can wear silver armlets above the
elbows. These armlets are taken off as a sign of mourning, but never
on ordinary occasions. The Lynngams do not wear Khasi jewellery, but
jewellery of a pattern to be seen in the Garo Hills. A distinctive
feature of the Lynngam women is the very large number of blue bead
necklaces they wear. They put on such a large number as to give
them almost the appearance of wearing horse collars. These beads are
obtained from the plains markets, and are of glass. Further detailed
information regarding this subject can be obtained from Mr. Henniker's
monograph, which contains a good plate illustrating the different
articles of jewellery.


The weapons of the Khasis are swords, spears, bows and arrows, and a
circular shield which was used formerly for purposes of defence. The
swords are usually of wrought iron, occasionally of steel, and are
forged in the local smithies. The Khasi sword is of considerable
length, and possesses the peculiarity of not having a handle of
different material from that which is used for the blade. In the Khasi
sword the handle is never made of wood or bone, or of anything except
iron or steel, the result being that the sword is most awkward to hold,
and could never have been of much use as a weapon of offence.

The same spear is used for thrusting and casting. The spear is not
decorated with wool or hair like the spears of the Naga tribes, but it
is nevertheless a serviceable weapon, and would be formidable in the
hand of a resolute man at close quarters. The length of the spear is
about 6 1/2 feet. The shaft is generally of bamboo, although sometimes
of ordinary wood. The spear heads are forged in the local smithies.

The Khasi weapon _par excellence_ is the bow. Although no "Robin
Hoods," the Khasis are very fair archers, and they use the bow largely
for hunting. The Khasi bow (_ka ryntieh_) is of bamboo, and is about 5
feet in height. The longest bow in use is said to be about the height
of a man, the average height amongst the Khasis being about about 5
feet 2 inches to 5 feet 4 inches. The bowstring is of split bamboo,
the bamboos that are used being _u spit, u shken_, and _u siej-lieh_.

The arrows (_ki khnam_) are of two kinds: (_a_) the barbed-headed
(_ki pliang_), and (_b_) the plain-headed (_sop_). Both are made
out of bamboo. The first kind is used for hunting, the latter
for archery matches only. Archery may be styled the Khasi
national game. A description of Khasi archery will be found
under the heading "Games." The feathers of the following birds
are used for arrows:--Vultures, geese, cranes, cormorants, and
hornbills. Arrow-heads are made of iron or steel, and are forged
locally. The distance a Khasi arrow will carry, shot from the ordinary
bow by a man of medium strength, is 150 to 180 yards. The Khasi shield
is circular in shape, of hide, and studded with brass or silver. In
former days shields of rhinoceros hide are said to have been used,
but nowadays buffalo skin is used. The shields would stop an arrow
or turn aside a spear or sword thrust. The present-day shield is used
merely for purposes of display.

Before the advent of the British into the hills the Khasis are said
to have been acquainted with the art of manufacturing gunpowder,
which was prepared in the neighbourhood of Mawsanram, Kynchi, and
Cherra. The gunpowder used to be manufactured of saltpetre, sulphur,
and charcoal, the three ingredients being pounded together in a
mortar. The Jaintia Rajas possessed cannon, two specimens of which
are still to be seen at Jaintiapur. Their dimensions are as follows:--

Length, 9 feet; circumference in the middle, 3 feet 2 inches; diameter
of the bore 3 inches. There are some old cannon also at Lyngkyrdem
and at Kyndiar in the Khyrim State, of the same description as
above. These cannons were captured from the Jaintia Raja by the Siem
of Nongkrem. No specimens of the cannon ball used are unfortunately
available. There are also small mortars, specimens of which are to
be seen in the house of the Siem of Mylliem.

The weapons of the Syntengs are the same as those of the Khasis,
although some of them are called by different names. At Nartiang I saw
an old Khasi gun, which the people say was fired from the shoulder. I
also saw a mortar of the same pattern as the one described amongst
the Khasi weapons.

The War and Lynngam weapons are also the same, but with different
names. The only weapons used by the Bhois (Mikirs) are the spear
and bill-hook for cutting down jungle. Butler, writing of the
Mikirs 1854, says, "Unlike any other hill tribes of whom we have
any knowledge, the Mikirs seem devoid of anything approaching to a
martial spirit. They are a quiet, industrious, race of cultivators,
and the only weapons used by them are the spear and _da_ hand-bill
for cutting down jungle. It is said, after an attempt to revolt from
the Assamese rule, they were made to forswear the use of arms, which
is the cause of the present generation having no predilection for war."


Domestic Life


The greater proportion of the population subsists by
cultivation. Cultivation of rice may be divided under two headings,
high land or dry cultivation and low land or wet cultivation. The
total number of persons who subsist by agriculture generally in the
hills, is given is the last Census Report as 154,907, but the term
agriculture includes the cultivation of the potato, the orange,
betel-nut and _pan_. A full description of the different forms
of agriculture will be given under the heading "Agriculture." A
considerable number of Khasis earn their livelihood as porters,
carrying potatoes to the markets on the Sylhet side of the district,
from whence the crop is conveyed by means of country boats to the
different places of call of river-steamers in the Surma Valley,
the steamers carrying the potatoes to Calcutta. Potatoes are also
largely carried to Shillong by porters, where the tuber is readily
bought by Marwari merchants, who load it in carts to be conveyed by
road to Gauhati, from which station it is again shipped to Calcutta
and Upper Assam. Many persons are also employed in carrying rice
up the hill from Theria to Cherrapunji, Shillong, and on to other
places. Salt is also carried by porters by this route. Many Khasis,
both male and female, live by daily labour in this way, earning as much
as eight annas, and six annas a day, respectively. The Census Report
of 1901 shows some 14,000 "general labourers" in the district, the
greater number of whom are porters and coolies, both male and female,
employed on road work and on building. In Shillong the Government
Offices and the printing press give employment to a certain number
of Khasis. There is also a fair demand for Khasi domestic servants,
both among the Europeans and the Bengali and Assamese clerks who are
employed at the headquarters of the Administration. The manufacture of
country spirit gives employment to a considerable number of persons,
most of whom are females. At a recent census of the country stills
in the district, undertaken by the district officials, the number
of stills has been found to be 1,530. There must be at least one
person employed at each still, so that the number of distillers is
probably not less than 2,000, possibly more. The spirit is distilled
both for home consumption and for purposes of sale, in some villages
almost entirely for sale. In, the Jaintia Hills stock-breeding and
dealing in cattle provides occupation for 1,295 people, according
to the last census. The cattle are reared in the Jaintia Hills and
are driven down to the plains when they reach the age of maturity,
where they find a ready market amongst the Sylhetis. Cattle are also
driven into Shillong for sale from the Jaintia Hills. Another place
for rearing cattle is the Siemship of Nongkhlaw, where there is good
pasturage in the neighbourhood of Mairang. These cattle are either
sold in Shillong or find their way to the Kamrup district by the old
Nongkhlaw road. Cattle-breeding is an industry which is capable of
expansion in these hills. There are a few carpenters to be found in
Shillong and its neighbourhood. The Khasis are said by Col. Waddell
to be unacquainted with the art of weaving; but the fact that a
considerable weaving industry exists amongst the Khyrwang villages
of the Syntengs, and at Mynso and Suhtnga, has been overlooked by
him. The Khyrwangs weave a special pattern of cotton and silk cloth,
striped red and white. In Mynso and Suhtnga similar cloths are woven,
also the sleeveless coat. In former days this industry is said to have
been considerable, but it has been displaced to a large extent of late
years by Manchester piece goods. The number of weavers returned at the
last census in the district was 533. The Khasis and Mikirs of the low
country, or Bhois as they are called, weave cotton cloths which they
dye with the leaves of a plant called _u noli_. This is perhaps the
wild indigo, or _ram_, of the Shan settlers in the Assam Valley. The
weavers are almost always females. An important means of subsistence
is road and building work; a considerable number of coolies, both male
and female, are employed under Government, practically throughout the
year, in this manner, the males earning on an average 8 annas and the
females 6 annas a day. Col Bivar writes that in 1875 the wages for
ordinary male labourers were 4 to 8 annas a day, and for females 21/2
to 4 annas, so that the wages rates have almost doubled in the last
thirty years. Contractors, however, often manage to obtain daily labour
at lower rates than those paid by Government. Stonemasons and skilled
labourers are able to get higher rates. It is easier to obtain coolies
in the Khasi than in the Jaintia Hills, where a large proportion of
the population is employed in cultivation. The Khasis are excellent
labourers, and cheerful and willing, but they at once resent bad
treatment, and are then intractable and hard to manage. Khasis are
averse to working in the plains in the hot-weather months.


I am indebted to Mr. Rita for the following remarks on apiculture in
the Khasi and Jaintia Hills.

There are two kinds of indigenous bees in the Khasi Hills: one
domesticated, called _u ngap_ (_apis Indica_), and the other _u
lywai_, which is never domesticated, and is very pugnacious; its
hives are difficult of access, being always located in very high
cliffs. A few hives of a third class of bee are now-a-days to be
found in and around the station of Shillong, i.e. the Italian. This
bee was imported into the hills by Messrs. Dobbie and Rita, and the
species became propagated in the following manner. The bees had been
just established in a hive, where they had constructed a brood comb,
when the hive was robbed by some Khasis for the sake of the _larvae_
it contained, which they wished to consume as food; but the queen bee
escaped and established other colonies, one of which was afterwards
captured by Mr. Rita, the others establishing themselves at places in
the neighbourhood. The hive used by the Khasis is of a very primitive
description. It is usually a hollow piece of wood, about 2 1/2 to 3
ft. in length and 10 or 12 in. in diameter. A small door is placed at
each end of the log, one for the bees to go in and out, and the other
for the removal of the honey when wanted. The honey-combs are broken
and the honey is extracted by squeezing the comb with the hand. Wax is
obtained by placing the comb in boiling water and allowing it to cool,
when the wax floats to the surface. The Khasis do not systematically
tend their bees, as they do not understand how to prevent swarming,
and as the Khasi bee is a prolific swarmer, hives become weak very soon
and a new hive has to be started from a captured natural swarm. The
villages in which bees are regularly kept to any large extent in the
Khasi and Jaintia Hills are Thied-dieng, Mawphoo, Nongwar, Mawlong,
Pynter, Tyrna, and Kongthong, but most of the War villagers rear bees
and sell the honey at the neighbouring markets. The collection of
the honey of the wild bee, or _u lywai_, is a hazardous occupation,
the services of some six or seven persons being required, as the combs
of this bee are generally built in the crevices of precipitous rocks,
and sometimes weigh more than half a maund each. When such hives are
discovered the bees are driven out by the smoke of a smouldering fire
lit at the foot of the rock below the hive. Two or three men get to the
top of the precipice, leaving two or three of their companions at the
base. One of the men on the top of the rock is then lowered down in
a sling tied to a strong rope, which is made fast by his companions
above to a tree or boulder. The man in the sling is supplied with
material to light a torch which gives out a thick smoke, with the
aid of which the bees are expelled. The man then cuts out the comb,
which he places in a leather bucket or bag, which, when filled, he
lowers down to the persons in waiting at the foot of the rock. The
wild honey may be distinguished from that of the domestic bee by being
of a reddish colour. Honey from the last-mentioned bee is gathered
twice or thrice in the year, once in the autumn and once or twice in
the spring; that gathered in early spring is not so matured as that
collected in autumn. The flora of the Khasi Hills being so numerous,
there is no necessity for providing bees with artificial food. The
bees are generally able to obtain their sustenance from clover,
anemonies, "golden rod," bush honeysuckle, and numerous shrubs such
as andromeda, daphne, &c., which abound about Shillong. There seem
to be facilities for apiculture on a large scale in these hills, and
certainly the honey which is brought round by the Khasis for sale in
Shillong is excellent, the flavour being quite as good as that of
English honey. Under "Miscellaneous Customs connected with Death"
will be found a reference to the statement that the dead bodies of
Siems used to be embalmed in honey. The existence of the custom is
generally denied by Khasis, but its former prevalence is probable,
as several trustworthy authors have quoted it.


The houses of the people are cleaner than might be supposed after
taking into consideration the dirtiness of the clothes and persons
of those who inhabit them. They are as a rule substantial thatched
cottages with plank or stone walls, and raised on a plinth some 2 to
3 ft. from the ground. The only window is a small opening on one side
of the house, which admits but a dim light into the smoke-begrimed
interior. The beams are so low that it is impossible for a person of
ordinary stature to stand erect within. The fire is always burning
on an earthen or stone hearth in the centre. There is no chimney, the
smoke finding its exit as best it can. The firewood is placed to dry
on a swinging frame above the hearth. In the porch are stacked fuel and
odds and ends. The pigs and calves are generally kept in little houses
just outside the main building. The Khasi house is oval-shaped, and is
divided into three rooms, a porch, a centre room, and a retiring-room.

In olden days the Khasis considered nails _sang_, or taboo, and
only used a certain kind of timber for the fender which surrounds
the hearth; but they are not so particular now-a-days. In Mawkhar,
Cherrapunji, and other large villages, the walls of houses are
generally of stone. In Cherrapunji the houses are frequently large,
but the largest house I have seen in the hills is that of the Doloi
of Suhtnga in the Jaintia Hills which measures 74 ft. in length. The
house of the Siem Priestess at Smit in the Khasi Hills is another
large one, being 61 ft. long by 30 ft. broad. In front of the Khasi
house is a little space fenced in on two sides, but open towards the
village street. The Syntengs plaster the space in front of the house
with red earth and cow-dung, this custom being probably a remnant
of Hindu influences. The Khasis have some peculiar customs when they
build a new house. When the house is completed they perform a ceremony,
_kynjoh-hka-skain_, when they tie three pieces of dried fish to the
ridge pole of the house and then jump up and try to pull them down
again. Or they kill a pig, cut a piece of the flesh with the skin
attached, and fix it to the ridge pole, and then endeavour to dislodge
it. The Syntengs at Nartiang worship _U Biskurom_ (Biswakarma) and _Ka
Siem Synshar_ when a house is completed, two fowls being sacrificed,
one to the former, the other to the latter. The feathers of the fowls
are affixed to the centre post of the house, which must be of _u
dieng sning_, a variety of the Khasi oak. The worship of a Hindu god
(Biswakarma), the architect of the Hindu gods, alongside the Khasi
deity _Ka Siem Synshar_, is interesting, and may be explained by
the fact that Nartiang was at one time the summer capital of the
kings of Jaintia, who were Hindus latterly and disseminated Hindu
customs largely amongst the Syntengs. Mr. Rita says that amongst the
Syntengs, a house, the walls of which have been plastered with mud,
is a sign that the householder has an enemy. The plastering no doubt
is executed as a preventive of fire, arson in these hills being a
common form of revenge.

Amongst the Khasis, when a daughter leaves her mother's house and
builds a house in the mother's compound, it is considered _sang_,
or taboo, for the daughter's house to be built on the right-hand side
of the mother's house, it should be built either on the left hand or
at the back of the mother's house.

In Nongstoin it is customary to worship a deity called _u'lei
lap_ (Khasi, _u phan_), by nailing up branches of the Khasi oak,
interspersed with jaw-bones of cattle and the feathers of fowls,
to the principal post, which must be of _u dieng sning_. The Siem
priestess of the Nongkrem State at Smit and the ladies of the Siem
family perform a ceremonial dance before a large post of oak in the
midst of the Siem priestesses' house on the occasion of the annual
goat-killing ceremony. This oak post is furnished according to custom
by the _lyngskor_ or official spokesman of the Siem's Durbar. Another
post of oak in this house is furnished by the people of the State.

The houses of the well-to-do Khasis of the present day in Mawkhar and
Cherrapunji are built after the modern style with iron roofs, chimneys,
glass windows and doors. In Jowai the well-to-do traders have excellent
houses of the European pattern, which are as comfortable as many
of the European subordinates' quarters in Shillong. Some up-to-date
families in Shillong and at Cherra allow themselves muslin curtains
and European furniture.

The houses of the Pnar-Wars are peculiar. The roof, which is thatched
with the leaves of a palm called _u tynriew_, is hog-backed and the
eaves come down almost to the ground. There are three rooms in the
War as in the Khasi house, although called by different names in the
War dialect. The hearth is in the centre room. The houses are built
flush with the ground and are made of bamboos. In the War villages of
Nongjri and Umniuh there are small houses erected in the compounds of
the ordinary dwelling-houses called _ieng ksuid_ (spirit houses). In
these houses offerings to the spirits of departed family ancestors
are placed at intervals, this practice being very similar to the more
ancient form of Shintoism. In some War villages there are also separate
bachelors' quarters. This custom is in accordance with that of the Naga
tribes. There is no such custom amongst the Khasi Uplanders. The War
houses are similar to those of the Pnar Wars, except that a portion of
the house is generally built on a platform, the main house resting on
the hill-side and the portion on the platform projecting therefrom, the
object being to obtain more space, the area for houses in the village
sites being often limited owing to the steepness of the hill-sides.

The Bhoi and Lynngam houses are practically similar, and may be
described together. They are generally built on fairly high platforms
of bamboo, are frequently 30 to 40 ft. in length, and are divided into
various compartments in order to suit the needs of the family. The
hearth, which is of earth, is in the centre room. There is a platform
at the back of the Lynngam house, and in front of the Bhoi house,
used for drying paddy, spreading chillies, &c., and for sitting on
when the day's work is done. In order to ascend to a Bhoi house, yon
have to climb up a notched pole. The Bhois sacrifice a he-goat and
a fowl to _Rek-anglong_ (Khasi, _Ramiew iing_), the household god,
when they build a new house.


Unlike the Nagas and Kukis, the Khasis do not build their villages on
the extreme summits of hills, but a little below the tops, generally in
small depressions; in order to obtain some protection from the strong
winds and storms which prevail in these hills at certain times of the
year. According to the late U Jeebon Roy, it is _sang_, or taboo, to
the Khasis to build a house on the last eminence of a range of hills,
this custom having perhaps arisen owing to the necessity of locating
villages with reference to their defence against an enemy. Khasis
build their houses fairly close together, but not as close as houses
in the Bhoi and Lynngam villages. Khasis seldom change the sites of
their villages, to which they are very much attached, where, as a
rule, the family tombs are standing and the _mawbynna_ or memorial
stones. In many villages stone cromlechs and memorial stones are
to be seen which from their appearance show that the villages have
been there for many generations. During the Jaintia rebellion the
village of Jowai was almost entirely destroyed, but as soon as the
rebellion was over the people returned to the old site and rebuilt
their village. Similarly, after the earthquake, the ancient village
sites were not abandoned in many cases, but the people rebuilt their
houses in their former positions, although in Shillong and Cherrapunji
they rebuilt the walls of the houses of wooden materials instead of
stone. There is no such thing as a specially reserved area in the
village for the Siem and the nobility, all the people, rich or poor,
living together in one village, their houses being scattered about
indiscriminately. To the democratic Khasi the ides of the Siem living
apart from his people would be repugnant. In the vicinity of the Khasi
village, often just below the brow of the hill to the leeward side,
are to be seen dark woods of oak and other trees. These are the sacred
groves. Here the villagers worship _U ryngkew U basa_, the tutelary
deity of the village. These groves are taboo, and it is an offence to
cut trees therein for any purpose other than for performing funeral
obsequies. The groves are generally not more than a few hundred yards
away from the villages. The villages of the Syntengs are similar in
character to those of the Khasis. The War villages nestle on the
hill-sides of the southern border, and are to be seen peeping out
from the green foliage with which the southern slopes are clad. In the
vicinity of, and actually up to the houses, in the War villages, are
to be observed large groves of areca-nut, often twined with the _pan_
creeper, and of plantain trees, which much enhance the beauty of the
scene. Looking at a War village from a distance, a darker shade of
green is seen; this denotes the limits of the extensive groves where
the justly celebrated Khasi orange is grown, which is the source of
so much profit to these people. The houses in the War villages are
generally closer together than those of the Khasis, probably owing to
apace being limited, and to the villages being located on the slopes
of hills. Generally up the narrow village street, and from house
to house, there are rough steep stone steps, the upper portion of
a village being frequently situated at as high an elevation as 200
to 300 ft. above the lower. In a convenient spot in a War village
a clear space is to be seen neatly swept and kept free from weeds,
and surrounded with a stone wall, where the village tribunals sit,
and the elders meet in solemn conclave. Dances also are held here on
festive occasions. At Nongjri village there is a fine rubber tree,
under whose hollow trunk there are certain sacred stones where the
priest performs the village ceremonies.

The Bhoi and Lynngam villages are built in small clearings in
the forest, the houses are close together and are built often in
parallel lines, a fairly broad space being reserved between the
lines of houses to serve as a street. One misses the pretty gardens
of the War villages, for Bhois and Lynngams attempt nothing of the
sort, probably because, unlike the Khasi, a Bhoi or Lynngam village
never remains more than two or three years in one spot; generally the
villages of these people are in the vicinity of the forest clearings,
sometimes actually in the midst of them, more especially when the
latter are situated in places where jungle is dense, and there is fear
of attacks from wild animals. In the Lynngam village is to be seen a
high bamboo platform some 20 to 30 ft. from the ground, built in the
midst of the village, where the elders sit and gossip in the evening.

All the villages, Khasi, War, Lynngam and Bhoi, swarm with pigs,
which run about the villages unchecked. The pigs feed on all kinds
of filth, and in addition are fed upon the wort and spent wash of the
brewings of country spirit, of rice beer, the latter being carefully
collected and poured into wooden troughs. The pigs are of the usual
black description seen in India. They thrive greatly in the Khasi
villages, and frequently attain extreme obesity.

In the Khasi villages of the high plateaux are often nowadays potato
gardens, the latter being carefully protected from the inroads of pigs,
calves, and goats by dry dikes surmounted by hedges.

I noticed an interesting custom at a Bhoi village in Nongpoh of
barricading the path leading to the village from the forest with
bamboo palisading and bamboo _chevaux de frise_ to keep out the demon
of cholera. In the middle of the barricade there was a wooden door
over which was nailed the skull of a monkey which had been sacrificed
to this demon, which is, as amongst the Syntengs, called _khlam_.

Furniture and Household Utensils.

As in the case of houses, so with reference to furniture, the influence
of civilization shows many changes. The Khasi of the present day who
lives in Mawkhar [14] has a comfortable house regularly divided up
into rooms in the European style with even some European articles
of furniture, but owing probably to the influence of the women,
he still possesses several of the articles of furniture which are
to be met with in the houses of those who still observe the old
style of living. Let us take the furniture of the kitchen to begin
with. Above the hearth is slung by ropes of cane a swinging wooden
framework blackened with the smoke of years, upon which are spread
the faggots of resinous fir-wood used for kindling the fire. Above
this again is a wooden framework fixed on to the beams of the house,
upon which all sorts of odds and ends are kept. Around the fire
are to be seen small wooden stools, upon which the members of the
household sit. Up-to-date Khasis have cane chairs, but the women of
the family, true to the conservative instincts of the sex, prefer
the humble stool to sit upon. Well-to-do Khasis nowadays have, in
addition to the ordinary cooking vessels made of iron and earthenware,
a number of brass utensils. The writer has seen in a Khasi house in
Mawkhar brass drinking vessels of the pattern used in Orissa, of the
description used in Manipur, and of the kind which is in vogue in
Sylhet. The ordinary cultivator, however, uses a waterpot made from
a gourd hollowed out for keeping water and liquor in, and drinks
from a bamboo cylinder. Plates, or more properly speaking dishes,
are of several kinds in the houses of the rich, the two larger ones
being styled _ka pliang kynthei_ (female) and _ka pliang shynrang_
(male). Needless to say, the first mentioned is a larger utensil than
the latter. The ordinary waterpots, _u khiew phiang kynthei_ and _u
khiew phiang shynrang_, are made of brass, the former being a size
larger and having a wider mouth than the latter. The pot for cooking
vegetables is made of iron. Another utensil is made of earthenware;
this is the ordinary cooking pot used in the houses of the poor. Brass
spoons of different sizes are used for stirring the contents of the
different cooking utensils, also a wooden spoon.

In the sleeping-rooms of the well-to-do there are wooden beds
with mattresses and sheets and pillows, clothes being hung upon
clothes-racks, which in one house visited were of the same pattern
as the English "towel horse." The ordinary cultivator and his wife
sleep on mats made of plaited bamboo, which are spread on the bare
boards of the house. There are various kinds of mats to be met with
in the Khasi houses made of plaited cane, of a kind of reed, and of
plaited bamboo. The best kind of mat is prepared from cane. In all
Khasi houses are to be seen _ki knup_, or rain shields, of different
sizes and sometimes of somewhat different shapes. The large shield of
Cherrapunji is used as a protection from rain. Those of Maharam and
Mawiang are each of a peculiar pattern. Smaller shields are used as
protections from the sun or merely for show, and there are specially
small sizes for children. Then there are the different kinds of baskets
(_ki khoh_) which are carried on the back, slung across the forehead
by a cane head-strap. These, again, are of different sizes. They
are, however, always of the same conical shape, being round and
broad-mouthed at the top and gradually tapering to a point at the
bottom. A bamboo cover is used to protect the contents of the basket
from rain. There is a special kind of basket made of cane or bamboo
with a cover, which is used for carrying articles on a journey. These
baskets, again, are of different sizes, the largest and best that the
writer has seen being manufactured at Rambrai, in the south-western
portion of the hills. Paddy is husked in a wooden mortar by means of
a heavy wooden pestle. These are to be seen all over the hills. The
work of husking paddy is performed by the women. A bamboo sieve is
sometimes used for sifting the husked rise, a winnowing fan being
applied to separate the husk. The cleaned rice is exposed to the
sun in a bamboo tray. Paddy is stored in a separate store-house in
large circular bamboo receptacles. These hold sometimes as much as
30 maunds [15] of grain. Large baskets are also used for keeping
paddy in. In every Khasi house is to be found the net bag which is
made out of pineapple fibre, or of _u stein_, the Assamese _riha_
(Boehmeria nivea). These bags are of two sizes, the larger one for
keeping cowries id, the cowrie in former days having been used instead
of current coin in these hills, the smaller far the ever necessary
betel-nut. _Pan_ leaves are kept in a bamboo tube, and tobacco leaves
in a smaller one. Lime, for eating with betel-nut, is kept in a metal
box, sometimes of silver, which is made in two separate parts held
together by a chain. The box is called _ka shanam_, and is used all
over the hills. This box is also used for divination purposes, one end
of it being held in the hand, and the other, by means of the chain,
being allowed to swing like a pendulum. An explanation of this method
of divination will be found in the paragraph dealing with divination.

There is also a pair of squeezers used by the old and toothless for
breaking up betel-nut. In the houses of the well-to-do is to be seen
the ordinary hubble-bubble of India. Outside the houses of cultivators
are wooden troughs hollowed out of the trunks of trees, which are used
either as drinking troughs for cattle or for feeding pigs. A special
set of utensils is used for manufacturing liquor. The Synteng and
War articles of furniture and utensils are the same as those of the
Khasis, with different names, a remark which applies also to those of
the Bhois and Lynngams. Both the latter, however, use leaves as plates,
the Bhoi using the wild plantain and the Lynngam a large leaf called
_ka 'la mariong_. The leaves are thrown away after eating, fresh leaves
being gathered for each meal. The Lynngams use a quilt (_ka syllar_)
made out of the bark of a tree of the same name as a bed covering. This
tree is perhaps the same as the Garo _simpak_. In the Bhoi and Lynngam
houses the swinging shelf for keeping firewood is not to be seen, nor
is the latter to be found amongst the submontane Bodo tribes in Assam.

Musical Instruments.

The Khasis have not many musical instruments, and those that they
possess, with one or two exceptions, are of very much the same
description as those of the Assamese. There are several kinds of drums,
viz. _ka nakra_, which is a large kettledrum made of wood having the
head covered with deerskin; _ka ksing_, which is a cylindrically-shaped
drum rather smaller than the Assamese _dhol_ (_ka ksing kynthei_ takes
its name from the fact that this drum is beaten when women, _kynthei_,
dance), _ka padiah_, a small drum with a handle made of wood; _katasa_,
a small circular drum. Khasi drums are nearly always made of wood,
not of metal, like the drums to be seen in the monasteries of Upper
Assam, or of earthenware, as in Lower Assam.

_Ka duitara_ is a guitar with _muga_ silk strings, which is played
with a little wooden key held in the hand. _Ka maryngod_ is an
instrument much the same as the last, but is played with a bow like
a violin. _Ka marynthing_ is a kind of guitar with one string, played
with the finger.

_Ka tangmuri_ is a wooden pipe, which is played like a flageolet. _Ka
kynshaw_, or _shakuriaw_, are cymbals made of bell metal; _ka sharati_,
or _ka shingwiang_, is a kind of flute made of bamboo. This instrument
is played at cremation ceremonies, and when the bones and ashes of a
clan are collected and placed in the family tomb, or _mawbah_. This
flute is not played on ordinary occasions. In the folk-lore portion
of the Monograph will be found a tale regarding it. There are other
kinds of flutes which are played on ordinary occasions. The Wars of
the twenty-five villages in the Khyrim State make a sort of harp out
of reed, which is called _ka 'sing ding phong_. The Khasis also play
a Jews' Harp (_ka mieng_), which is made of bamboo.


The Khasis are industrious cultivators, although they are behindhand
in some of their methods of cultivation, (e.g. their failure to adopt
the use of the plough in the greater portion of the district); they
are thoroughly aware of the uses of manures. Their system of turning
the sods, allowing them to dry, then burning them, and raking the
ashes over the soil, is much in advance of any system of natural
manuring to be seen elsewhere in the Province. The Khasis use the
following agricultural implements:--A large hoe (_mokhiw heh_),
an axe for felling trees (_u sdie_), a large _da_ for felling trees
(_ka wait lynngam_), two kinds of bill-hooks (_ka wait prat_ and _ka
wait khmut_), a sickle (_ka rashi_), a plough in parts of the Jaintia
Hills (_ka lyngkor_), also a harrow (_ka iuh moi_). In dealing with
agriculture, the lands of the Khasi and Jaintia Hills may be divided
into the following classes:--(_a_) Forest land, (_b_) wet paddy land
called _hali_ or _pynthor_, (_c_) high grass land or _ka ri lum_ or
_ka ri phlang_, (d) homestead land (_ka 'dew kyper_). Forest lands
are cleared by the process known as _jhuming_, the trees being felled
early in the winter and allowed to lie till January or February,
when fire is applied, logs of wood being placed at intervals of a
few feet to prevent as far as possible the ashes being blown away by
the wind. The lands are not hoed, nor treated any further, paddy and
millet being sown broadcast, and the seeds of root crops, as well as
of maize and Job's tears, being dibbled into the ground by means of
small hoes. No manure, beyond the wood ashes above mentioned, is used
on this class of land; there is no irrigation, and no other system of
watering is resorted to. The seeds are sown generally when the first
rain falls. This style of cultivation, or _jhum_, is largely resorted
to by the people inhabiting the eastern and southern portions of the
Jaintia Hills, e.g. the Bhois and Lalungs, the Lynngams and Garos
of the western tracts of the district. Wet paddy land (_hali_ or
_pynthor_) is, as the name implies, the land where the kind of paddy
which requires a great deal of water is grown. The bottoms of valleys
are divided up into little compartments by means of fairly high banks
corresponding to the Assamese _alis_, and the water is let in at will
into these compartments by means of skilfully contrived irrigation
channels, sometimes a mile or more in length. The soil is made into
a thick paste in the Jaintia Hills by means of the plough, and in the
Khasi Hills through the agency of the hoe. Droves of cattle also are
driven repeatedly over the paddy-fields until the mud has acquired
the right consistency. The seed is then sown broadcast in the wet
mud. It is not sown first in a seedling bed and then transplanted,
as in Assam and Bengal. When the plants have grown to a height of
about four inches, water is let in again; then comes the weeding,
which has to be done several times. When the crop is ripe, the ears
are cut with a sickle (_ka rashi_) generally, so as to leave almost
the entire stalk, and are left is different parts of the field. A
peculiarity about the Lynngam and the Khasis and Mikirs of the low
hills, or Bhois as they are called, is that they reckon it _sang_,
or taboo, to use the sickle. They reap their grain by pulling the
ear through the hand. The sheaves, after they are dry, are collected


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