A Garo couple in traditional dress
|Regions with significant populations|
|Christianity and Songsarek|
The Garos are indigenous people in Meghalaya, India and neighboring areas of Bangladesh like Mymensingh, Netrokona and Sylhet, who call themselves A·chik Mande (literally "hill people," from a·chik "bite soil"+ mande "people") or simply A·chik or Mande. They are the second-largest tribe in Meghalaya after the Khasi and comprise about a third of the local population. The Garos are one of the few remaining matrilineal societies in the world.
Garos are mainly Christians, although there are some rural pockets where the traditional animist religion and traditions are still followed. The book, The Garo Tribal Religion: Beliefs And Practices tries to interpret and expound upon the origin and migration of the Garos consisting of different tribal groups who settled in Garo hills, their ancient animistic religious beliefs and practices, numerous deities, which control their life and must be appeased with rituals, ceremonies and animal sacrifices to ensure welfare of the tribe. The Garo tribal religion is popularly known as Songsarek.The Garo people refer to their traditions as "Dakbewal" relating to their most prominent cultural activities.
The Garos are mainly distributed over the Kamrup, Goalpara and Karbi Anglong districts of Assam, Garo Hills and few in Khasi Hills in Meghalaya, and substantial numbers, about 200,000 are found in greater Mymensingh ( Tangail, Jamalpur, Sherpore, Netrakona, Mymensingh) and Capital Dhaka, Gazipur, Sirajgonj, Rangpur, Sunamgonj, Sylhet, Moulovibazar district of Bangladesh. It is estimated that total Garo population in India and Bangladesh together are about 1 million.
Garos are also found scattered in the state of Tripura. The recorded Garo population was around 6,000 in 1971. In a recent survey conducted by the newly revived Tripura Garo Union revealed that the number of Garos have increased to about 15000, spreading to all the four districts of Tripura.
Garos also form minority in Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling and Dinajpur of West Bengal. As well as in Nagaland, the present generation of Garos forming minority do not speak the ethnic language anymore.
The Garo language belongs to the Bodo–Garo branch of the Tibeto-Burman language family. As the Garo language is not traditionally written down, customs, traditions, and beliefs are handed down orally. It is also believed that the written language was lost in its transit to the present Garo Hills.
Garo language has different dialects, viz- A·being or Am·being, Matabeng, Atong, Me·gam, Matchi, Dual [Matchi-Dual]Ruga, Chibok, Chisak, Gara, Gan·ching [Gara-Gan·ching] A·we etc. In Bangladesh A·being is the usual dialect, but A·chik is used more in India. A·we has become the standard dialect of the Garos. A·we is used in Garo literature and hence for the translation of the Bible. The Garo language has some similarities with Boro-Kachari, Rava, Dimasa and Kok-Borok languages.
However, the modern official language in schools and government offices is English and the modern generation is more inclined towards English.
According to one such oral tradition, the Garos first immigrated to Garo Hills from Tibet (referred to as Tibotgre) around 400 BC under the leadership of Jappa Jalimpa, crossing the Brahmaputra River and tentatively settling in the river valley. The Garos finally settled down in Garo Hills (East-West Garo Hills), finding both providence and security in this uncharted territory and claiming it their own. Various records of the tribe by invading Mughal armies and by British observers in what is now Bangladesh wrote of the brutality of the people.
The earliest written records about the Garo dates from around 1800. They "...were looked upon as bloodthirsty savages, who inhabited a tract of hills covered with almost impenetrable jungle, the climate of which was considered so deadly as to make it impossible for a white man to live there" (Playfair 1909: 76-77). The Garo had the reputation of being fierce headhunters, the social status of a man being decided by the number of heads he owned.
In December 1872, the British sent out battalions to Garo Hills to establish their control in the region. The attack was conducted from three sides – south, east and west. The Garo warriors (matgriks) confronted them at Rongrenggre with their spears, swords and shields. The battle that ensued was heavily unmatched, as the Garos did not have guns or mortars like the British Army.
Togan Nengminja, a young matgrik, was in command of the valiant Garo warriors. He fell fighting with unmatched heroism and courage in December 1872.
Later, a Garo patriot and statesman Sonaram R Sangma also fought against the British and tried to unify the contiguous Garo inhabited areas.
The Garos are one of the few remaining matrilineal societies in the world. The individuals take their clan titles from their mothers. Traditionally, the youngest daughter (nokmechik) inherits the property from her mother. Sons leave the parents' house at puberty, and are trained in the village bachelor dormitory (nokpante). After getting married, the man lives in his wife's house. Garos are only a matrilinear society, but not matriarchal. While property of Garo's is owned by the women, the men folk govern the society and domestic affairs and manage the property. This gives a solid security to the Garo women folk. Garo also have their traditional names. However, the culture of modern Garo community has been greatly influenced by Christianity. Nokpantes are glory of the past and all children are given equal care, rights and importance by the modern parents.
Ornaments: Both men and women enjoy adorning themselves with varieties of ornaments. These ornaments are:
- Nadongbi or sisa – made of a brass ring worn in the lobe of the ear.
- Nadirong – brass ring worn in the upper part of the ear
- Natapsi – string of beads worn in the upper part of the ear
- Jaksan – Bangles of different materials and sizes
- Ripok – Necklaces made of long barrel shaped beads of cornelian or red glass while some are made out of brass or silver and are worn in special occasions.
- Jaksil – elbow ring worn by rich men on Gana Ceremonies
- Penta – small piece of ivory struck into the upper part of the ear projecting upwards parallel to the side of the head
- Seng·ki – Waistband consisting of several rows of conch-shells worn by womenPilne – head ornament worn during the dances only by the women
Weapons: Garos have their own weapons. One of the principal weapons is a two-edged sword called mil·am made of one piece of iron from hilt to point. There is a cross-bar between the hilt and the blade where attached a bunch of ox’s tail-hair. Other types of weapons are shields, spear, bows and arrows, axes, daggers etc.
Food and drink: The staple cereal food is rice. They also eat millet, maize, tapioca etc. Garos are very liberal in their food habits. They rear goats, pigs, fowls, ducks etc. and relish their meat. They also eat other wild animal like deer, bison, wild pigs etc. Fish, prawns, crabs, eels and dry fish also are a part of their food. Their jhum fields and the forests provide them with a number of vegetables and root for their curry but bamboo shoots are esteemed as a delicacy. They use a kind of potash in curries, which they obtained by burning dry pieces of plaintain stems or young bamboos locally known as Kalchi or Katchi. After they are burnt, the ashes are collected and are dipped in water and are strained in conical shaped in bamboo strainer. These days most of the town people use soda from the market in place of this ash water. Apart from other drinks country liquor plays an important role in the life of the Garos.
Garo Architecture: Generally one finds the similar type of arts and architecture in the whole of Garo Hills. They normally use locally available building materials like timbers, bamboo, cane and thatch. Garo architecture can be classified into following categories:
- Nokmong: The house where every A'chik household can stay together. This house is built in such a way that inside the house, there are provisions for sleeping, hearth, sanitary arrangements, kitchen, water storage, place for fermenting wine, place for use as cattle-shed or for stall-feeding the cow and the space between earthen floor and raised platform for use as pigsty and in the back of the house, the raised platform serves as hencoop for keeping fowl and for storing firewood, thus every need being fully provisioned for in one house.
- Nokpante: In the Garo habitation, the house where unmarried male youth or bachelors live is called Nokpante. The word Nokpante means the house of bachelors. Nokpantes are generally constructed in the front courtyard of the Nokma, the chief. The art of cultivation, various arts and cultures, and different games are also taught in the Nokpante to the young boys by the senior boys and elders.
- Jamsireng: In certain areas, in the rice field or orchards, small huts are constructed. They are called Jamsireng or Jamdap. Either the season’s fruits or grains are collected and stored in the Jamsreng or it can be used for sleeping.
- Jamadal: The small house, a type of miniature house, built in the jhum fields is called Jamadal or ‘field house’. In certain places, where there is danger from wild animals, a small house with ladder is constructed on the treetop. This is called Borang or ‘house on the treetop’.
The common and regular festivals are those connected with agricultural operations.
Greatest among Garo festivals is the Wangala, usually celebrated in October or November, is thanksgiving after harvest in which Saljong, the god who provides mankind with Nature’s bounties and ensures their prosperity, is honored.
Other festivals: Gal·mak Goa, Agalmaka, etc.
- Wangala of Asanang: There is a celebration of 100 drum festival in Asanang near Tura in West Garo Hills, Meghalaya, India usually in the month of October or November. Thousands of people especially the young people gather at Asanang and celebrate Wangala with great joy. Beautiful Garo girls known as nomil and handsome young men pante take part in 'Wangala' festivals. The 'pante's beat a kind of long drum called dama in groups and play bamboo flute. The 'nomil's with colorful costume dance to the tune of dama' 'and folk songs in a circle. Most of the folk songs depict ordinary garo life, God's blessings, beauty of nature, day to day struggles, romance and human aspirations.
: Dhaka Wangala: There are thirty thousand Garos living in Dhaka Capital City. They celebrate their Wangala festival every year with the new spirit as a thanksgiving to the creator. The Garos started the `Dhaka Wangala' festival in the capital city in 1994 by the leadership of Fr. Cammillus Rema, a professor of National Major Seminary. There were a Nokma Committee for the celebration. The 1st Kamal was Fr. Cammilus Rema. The Committee included Albert Mankin, Topon Marak, Sanjeeb Drong, Nipun Sangma, Theophil Nokrek, Ranjit Ruga, Torun Marak, Premson Mrong and others. At least 10,000 Garos attended the 1st Dhaka Wangala. At present Garos celebrates three Wangala in Dhaka city ( Botomly, Gulshan and Banani). The Nokma of Wangala is elected every year for the celebration. He is the head of the feast. In 2014 Dhaka Wangala was celebrated at Technical School field of Botomly. The chief guest was Adv. Promode Mankin MP, State minister for Social Welfare, People's Republic of Bangladesh. Special guests were Nirmal Rozario, Secretary of Bangladesh Christian Association; and Theophil Nokrek, Ph.D researcher and Director, Caritas Development Institute, Dhaka. More than 15,000 Garos attended the Dhaka Wangala 2014. The celebration started with the Wangala mass presided over by Rt. Rev. Bishop Ponen Paul Kubi, csc, Bishop of Mymensingh. The mixed culture Wangala bring together all Garos to one place for worship and thanksgiving of God. The Garos of Bangladesh celebrates Wangala at Abima, Modhupur, Tangail as 100 Drums, 100 Drums at Ranikhong. Durgapur, Netrokona, Bangladesh. The ancient traditional culture of Garos are disappearing in some areas due to lack of practice and nurture by themselves and also Government. Nowadays some researcher are trying to promote this traditional culture to preserve in Bangladesh and also in India. Mr. Subhash Jengcham, Mr. Theophil Nokrek, Mr. Sanjeeb Drong, Mr. Albert Mankin, Mr. Badhon Areng, Mr. Bashor Dango are trying to research on the Garo culture.
- Christmas: Though Christmas is basically a religious celebration, in Garo Hills the month of December is a great season of celebration. In the first week of December the town of Tura and all other smaller towns are illuminated with lights and celebration goes till about 10 January. The celebration is featured by worship, dance, merry-making, grand feasts and social visits. People from all religions and sections take part in the Christmas celebration.
- Tallest Christmas Tree of the World: In December 2003 the tallest Christmas tree of the world was erected at Dobasipara, Tura by the Baptist boys of Dobasipara. Its height was 119.3 feet, covered by BBC and widely broadcast on television. The tree was decorated with 16,319 colored light bulbs; it took about 14 days to complete the decoration.
- The annual winter festival AHAIA: The festival, conceptualised in 2008, is aimed to promote and brand this part of the region as a popular tourist destination vis-à-vis giving an opportunity for the regional people to showcase their skills and expertise. The three-day fest features a gala event with carnival, cultural show, food festival, rock concert, wine festival, angling competition, ethnic wear competition, children's fancy dress, DJ Nite, exhibitions, housie housie and other games. The entry forms for carnival and other events are available at the Tourist Office, Tura.
Music and dance
Group songs may include Ku·dare sala, Hoa ring·a, Injoka, Kore doka, Ajea, Doroa, Nanggorere goserong, Dim dim chong dading chong, Serejing, Boel sala etc. Dance forms are Ajema Roa, Mi Su·a, Chambil Moa, Do·kru Sua, Chame mikkang nia, Kambe Toa, Gaewang Roa, Napsepgrika and many others.
Garo literature mainly transferred from generation to generation and one place to another orally. Most of the oral tradition now become the element of Garo literature. One of the oldest book written by Major A. Playfair 'The Garos' is the source of information on Garos which was published in 1909 . Dr. Sinha T.C also published a book in 1955 on the Garos 'The Psyche of Garos'.
The traditional Garo musical instruments can broadly be classified into four groups.
- Idiophones: Self-sounding and made of resonant materials – Kakwa, Nanggilsi, Guridomik, Kamaljakmora, all kinds of gongs, Rangkilding, Rangbong, Nogri etc.
- Aerophone: Wind instruments, whose sound come from air vibrating inside a pipe when is blown – Adil, Singga, Sanai, Kal, Bolbijak, Illep or Illip, Olongna, Tarabeng, Imbanggi, Akok or Dakok, Bangsi rori, Tilara or Taragaku, Bangsi mande, Otekra, Wa·pepe or Wa·pek.
- Chordophone: Stringed instrument – Dotrong, Sarenda, Chigring or Bagring, Dimchrang or Kimjim, Gongmima or Gonggina.
- Membranophone: Which have skins or membranes stretched over a frame – Am·being Dama, Chisak Dama, Atong Dama, Garaganching Dama, Ruga and Chibok Dama, Dual-Matchi Dama, Nagra, Kram etc.
- Official Homepage of Meghalaya State of India
- "People of Meghalaya".
- Garo in: Lewis, M. Paul, Gary F. Simons, and Charles D. Fennig (eds.). 2013. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, 17th edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International: 889,000 in India (2001 census), 120,000 in Bangladesh (2005). Population total all countries: 1,009,000.
- Gan-Chaudhuri, Jagadis. Tripura: The Land and its People. (Delhi: Leeladevi Publications, 1980) p. 10
- Academic study about personal names in Garo villages
- Culture section in the official Garo Hills area
 Still The Children Are Here (brief documentary of a Garo neighbourhood in Sadolpara, interior Garo Hills )
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Garo people.|
- Official site of Meghalaya State of India
- East Garo Hills District: The people
- West Garo Hills District official website: The people - Garos
- South Garo Hills District official website - People and Culture
- Ethnologue entry for Garo