Garo people

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A·chik Mande
A Garo couple in traditional dress
Total population
1.1 million (2011)
Regions with significant populations
India • Bangladesh
 • Meghalaya821,026
 • Assam136,077
 • Tripura12,952
Garo (A.chikku)
Christianity 90%, Songsarek 10%[3]
Related ethnic groups
Bodo-Kachari peoples, Khasi people
Garo women and a Garo boy

The Garo are a Tibeto-Burman ethnic group from the Indian subcontinent, living mostly in the Indian states of Meghalaya, Assam, Tripura, and Nagaland, and in neighboring areas of Bangladesh, including Madhupur, Mymensingh, Netrokona, Jamalpur, Sherpur and Sylhet, Rangamati. Historically, the name Garo was used for wide range of inhabitants in southern bank of Brahmaputra but now refers to those who call themselves A·chik Mande (literally "hill people," from a·chik "bite soil" + mande "people") or simply A·chik or Mande - the name "Garo" being used by outsiders as an exonym.[4] They are the second-largest tribe in Meghalaya after the Khasi and comprise about a third of the local population.


Many of the Garo community follow Christianity,[5] with some rural pockets practising traditional animist religion known as Songsarek. The book The Garo Ancestors Religion: Beliefs And [6] tries to interpret and expound on the origin and migration of the Garo — consisting of Indigenous groups who settled in the Garo Hills and their ancient animistic religious beliefs and practices: deities who must be appeased with rituals, ceremonies and animal sacrifices to ensure welfare of the tribe.

Rev Ramke W. Momin was the first devout Christian from among the Garo. Rev Ramke W. Momin was born Goalpara, Assam, India, sometime in the 1820


The religion of the ancestors of the Garo is Songsarek. Their tradition "Dakbewal" relates to their most prominent cultural activities. In 2000, the group called "Rishi Jilma" was founded to safeguard the ancient Garo Songsarek religion. Seeing the Songsarek population in decline, youth from the Dadenggiri subdivision of Garo Hills felt the need to preserve the Songsarek culture. The Rishi Jilma group is active in about 480 villages in and around Garo Hills.

Geographical distribution[edit]

The traditional house of Garo tribes

The Garo are mainly distributed over the Garo Hills, Khasi Hills, Ri-Bhoi Districts in Meghalaya, Kamrup, Goalpara, Sivasagar, Karbi Anglong districts of Assam, Khasi Hills in Meghalaya and Dimapur (Nagaland State), lesser numbers (about 200,000) are found in Mymensingh (Jamalpur, Sherpur, Netrakona, Mymensingh) and capital Dhaka, Sylhet, and Moulovibazar districts of Bangladesh.

It is estimated that total Garo population in Meghalaya, Assam, Nagaland, Tripura, West Bengal, Canada, USA, Europe, Australia and Bangladesh together is more than 1 million.[7]

Garo are also found scattered in the Indian state of Tripura. The recorded Garo population was around 6,000 in 1971.[8]

Garo form minority groups in Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling and West Dinajpur of West Bengal, as well as in Nagaland. The present generation of Garo forming minority groups in these states of India that do not speak the ethnic language any longer.[citation needed]

Garo form small communities in different parts of the world including Canada, America, Australia, England.[citation needed]


The Garo language belongs to the Tibeto-Burman language family. The language was not traditionally written down; customs, traditions, and beliefs were handed down orally.

Brief lists of Garo words were compiled by East India Company officials in 1800, and Garo acquired a Latin-based spelling system during the late 19th century, devised by American Baptist missionaries and based on a northeastern dialect of Garo. The first translation of the Garo Bible was published in 1924.

Language Family[edit]


Later in the nineteenth century, the Garo alphabet had 21 letters based on the Latin alphabet amd is now used by the Garo of Meghalaya, Assam and Bangladesh.

One of the differences between the English and Garo alphabet is the pronunciation of T, which is usually but not always aspirated.

Modern Garo Letters
Letters English Latin Garo
A a ā a
B bee bee
C cee cee
D dee dee
E e ē e
F ef ef
G gee gee
H aitch aitch
I i ī i
J jay jay
K kay kay/kha
L el el el
M em em em
N en en en
O O ō O
P pee p/ph
Q cue
R ar/or er ar/or
S ess es ess
T tee tee/th
U U ū U
V vee
W double-u double-u
X ex ex
Y wye
Z zed zēta
' rakka

The Garo language has dialects — 1. Chisak 2. Matchi 3. Matabeng 4. Am'beng/A'beng 5. Matchi Dual 6. Atong/Attong/Atdong 7. Gara Gancheng 8. Chibok 9. Ruga 10. Me'gam 11. A'kawe/A'we 12. Kamrup in Meghalaya, Assam, West Bengal , Nagaland, Tripura(India) and Bangladesh. A'chik is the usually standard written Garo Language in India and Bangladesh. A'chik is the used in Garo literature and, hence, for the translation of the Bible.. The Garo language has some similarities with Boro-Kachari, Dimasa, and Kok-Borok languages. About 70% of the similarities between Koch Kachari and Tripuri language are found in Atong.

The modern official language in schools and government offices is English.

Historical accounts[edit]

A Garo woman, 1912

According to one oral tradition, the Garo first migrated to the 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 Garo finally settled down in Garo Hills (East-West Garo Hills), finding providence and security in this uncharted territory and claiming it their own. Records of the tribe by invading Mughal armies and by East India Company officials in what is now Bangladesh wrote of the brutality of the people.

The earliest written records about the Garo dates from around 1800, and written by officials of the East India Company. 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".[9]

In December 1872, the British Raj dispatched a military expedition to Garo Hills to establish control over the region. The campaign was conducted from three sides – south, east, and west. The Garo warriors (matgriks) confronted them at the Battle of Rongrenggre equipped spears, swords, and shields. They were defeated in the engagement, as the Garo did not have guns or mortars like the British Indian Army.

Later on, Garo nationalist and statesman Sonaram R Sangma participated in the Indian independence movement and tried to unify the contiguous Garo inhabited areas.

Garo Boy in traditional dress
Garo girl in traditional dress


The Garo 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.

In Garo habitations, the house where unmarried male youth or bachelors live is called Nokpante. The women were forbidden from entering the Nokpante. Any woman who broke this rule was considered tainted or "marang nangjok." But this is not as common now.

Garo are a matrilineal society but are not to be mistaken to be matriarchal. While the property is owned by women, the men govern the society and domestic affairs and manage the property.

The Garo people have traditional names.[10] However, the culture of modern Garo community has been greatly influenced by Christianity.[citation needed]

A Garo woman with traditional ornaments

Ornaments: Both men and women enjoy adorning themselves with ornaments:

  • 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 of brass or silver and are worn in special occasions
  • Jaksil – elbow ring worn by rich men on Gana ceremonies

The dresses of Meghalaya worn by the Garo tribe vary depending on the basis of the place of residence of the people. Women who belong to faraway villages of Garo hills wear an eking, a small cloth worn around the waist.

  • 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 women
  • Pilne – head ornament worn during dances only by women

Clothing: The traditional dress of the Garo Women's is Dakmanda, Dakshari. In keeping with the modern age, Garo women wear jeans, Sari, T-shirts, pajamas . Garo men wear jeans, T-shirts, shirts.

Weapons: Garo 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 a bunch of ox's tail-hair is attached. The other types of weapons are shield, spear, bow and arrow, axe, dagger, etc.

Food and drink: The staple cereal food is rice. They also eat millet, maize, tapioca etc. Garo are very liberal in their food habits. They rear cows, goats, pigs, fowls, ducks etc. and relish their meat. They eat other wild animal like deer, bison, wild pigs etc. Fish, prawns, crabs, eels and dry fish are a part of their food. Their jhum fields and the forests provide them with vegetables and roots for their curry. Bamboo shoots are esteemed as a delicacy. They use a kind of potash in curries, which they obtain by burning dry pieces of plantain stems or young bamboo locally known as kalchi or katchi. After they are burnt, the ashes are collected and dipped in water; they are strained in conical shapes in a bamboo strainer. These days most of the townspeople use cooking soda from the market in place of ash water. The Garo make their own liquor by fermenting a special type of rice and the finished product is called "Minil Bichi". Besides other drinks, country liquor plays an important role in the life of the Garo.


Na•kam Bitchi: A palate cleanser, Na•kam Bitchi is a popular soup consumed before meals and served to guests. Na•kam is a special kind of dry fish, which is sun-dried or fire-dried. The fish is then fried and boiled in water, to make a thick, rich soup. It is then flavored with many chillies and peppers to make it tasty and tangy, suitable for the Meghalayan weather. There are also various cuisines. These are Do•o kapa / Chicken Garo style, Na•kam Baring belati Chutney / Dry Fish Chutney with Roasted Tomatoes, Na•kam Bitchi / Dry Fish Soup, Na•kam Chutney / Dryfish Chutney, Wak Jo•krapa / Pork Fried with Tomatoes, Do•o Modipol (Chicken with Raw Papaya, Na•kam Chutney Rasin ming/ Dryfish Chutney with Onions,Wak Jo•krapa, Wak Pura, Gal•da Na•kam/ Dry Fish with a tangy green vegetable.

Garo architecture[edit]

Generally one finds similar types of arts and architecture in Garo Hills. They normally use locally available building materials like timber, bamboo, cane, and thatch. Garo architecture can be classified into the following categories:

  • Nokmong – The house where every A'chik household can stay together. This house is built so 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 is 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, arts, and cultures, and games are taught in the Nokpante to the 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. The season's fruits or grains are collected and stored in the Jamsireng, 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’.


Young Garo girls in traditional dress before the start of a festival in Resubelpara in 2016
A 'Wangala' drummer of Garo Tribe of Meghalaya at the Republic Day Folk Dance Festival 2004 which was inaugurated by the President Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam in New Delhi on January 24, 2004

The common and regular festivals are those connected with agricultural operations.

Most Garo festivals are based on the agricultural cycle of crops. The harvesting festival Wangala is the biggest celebration of the tribe happening in the month of October or November every year. It is the thanksgiving after harvest in the honor of the god Saljong, provider of nature's bounties.

Other festivals include Gal·mak Goa, Agalmaka, etc.

Asanang Wangala[edit]

There is a celebration of the 100-drum festival in Asanang near Tura in West Garo Hills, Meghalaya, India usually in October or November. Thousands of people, especially young people, gather at Asanang and celebrate Wangala. Garo girls known as nomil and boys pante take part in 'Wangala' festivals. The pantes beat a kind of long drum called dama in groups and play bamboo flute. The nomils with colorful costumes dance to the tune of dama and folk songs in a circle.

Dhaka Wangala[edit]

Garo in Dhaka celebrates wangala festival every year in November-December. There are 30,000 Garo in Dhaka Metropolitan city who are preserving the Garo Culture and tradition. In the Wangala day Garo arrive from every corner of the city in Lalmatia Housing Society ground to celebrate the festival. A total number of ten thousand people attend the celebration. Colorful rally with traditional dress, musical drums are played. The speeches from the guests are also one of the atraction for the people. The AMUA for Misi Saljon is take place by the original Kamal from village. The display stalls are arrange with traditional food, dresses, and other materials. There is also Souvenir publication from the Nokma Parishad where Prime Minister's Message is included. The Walgala festival in Dhaka bring special day for the Garo in Dhaka city.


Though Christmas is a religious celebration, December is a great season of celebration in Garo Hills. In the first week of December, the town of Tura and all other smaller towns are illuminated with lights. This celebration featured by worship, dance, merry-making, grand feasts, and social visits goes on till 10 January. People from all religions and sections take part in the Christmas celebration. 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.

Ahaia Winter Festival[edit]

The annual festival, conceptualised in 2008, is aimed to promote and brand this part of the region as a popular tourist destination by giving an opportunity for the local 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.

Simsang Festival[edit]

It was first started in 2006 in Williamnagar, Meghalaya. Simsang festival was known as Winter festival before and it promotes the talents of the local people. It also promotes the local bands and the exhibition on hand crafts made by local people. It also promotes the indigenous games of Garo.

Music and dance[edit]

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.

Traditional Garo musical instruments can broadly be classified into four groups.[11]

  • 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 Goggins.
  • Membranophone: With 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.
  • War Dance: War dance is danced before going to war and after returning victorious. At this time, all the men and women got up to drink and dance with joy


Garo literature mainly transferred from generation to generation and one place to another orally. Most of the oral tradition becomes the element of Garo literature. One of the oldest books written by Major A. Playfair, The Garos, is a source of information which was published in 1909. Dr. Sinha T.C published a book in 1955 on the Garo: The Psyche of Garos.


The Garo rely on nature. Their profession is hunting and warrior known as Matgrik. They practice jhum cultivation which is the most common agricultural tradition. For more than 4,000 years, the Garo have been practicing jhum cultivation. It was their main profession for feeding themselves. They are one of the tribes of Meghalaya.

But in the last 50 years, the most changing scenario of the Garo ethnic people is the changing of professions. They are now influenced and have adapted to modern technology and professions. They are engaged in Government and non-government jobs. In India Government jobs are most common for the Garo. They might have jobs in schools, colleges, universities, and other educational institutions. In Bangladesh, their jobs are more diverse than in India. Almost 30,000 Garo are living in Dhaka metropolitan city and most of them are working in beauty parlors, EPZ industries, housekeeping, security personnel, driving, NGOs private service, real-estate, garment industries, etc. There is a good number in Bangladesh Civil Service Cedre service.

Painters can be seen in Meghalaya (India) and Bangladesh. Many Garo people make a living with it. Many male and female nurses and doctors are seen. There are many Garo in the tourism industry. Especially the Tura of Meghalaya and its surroundings. Small traders are also seen in Meghalaya (India) and Bangladesh, although Garo are not yet seen in large scale industries. Recently some Garo have been seen to be associated with the clinic business. Some people are seen making money from being associated with the music scene. Many are involved in businesses like bus, trucks, furniture, Construction firm or coal mines. Garo of Garo Hills (Meghalaya) and Madhupur (Bangladesh) are getting involved in agro business. Some are also getting involved in small production business. Such as banana cultivation, pineapple, kachu, wood, orange cultivation, pear, rubber production, cashew production and marketing etc.

Important Places of Garo[edit]

Notable Garo people[edit]


  1. ^ "A-11 Individual Scheduled Tribe Primary Census Abstract Data and its Appendix". Government of India. Retrieved 28 October 2017.
  2. ^ "Garo". Ethnologue. SIL International. Retrieved 28 October 2017.
  3. ^ "Missionary is not a popular word in India. But in the Khasi hills, it holds a different meaning". 16 October 2021.
  4. ^ Official Homepage of Meghalaya State of India Archived 8 March 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ "People of Meghalaya". Archived from the original on 8 November 2017. Retrieved 3 May 2012.
  6. ^ Paulinus R. Marak: The Garo tribal religion: beliefs and practices (Delhi: Anshah Pub. House, 2005) ISBN 8183640028
  7. ^ '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.
  8. ^ Gan-Chaudhuri, Jagadis. Tripura: The Land and its People. (Delhi: Leeladevi Publications, 1980) p. 10
  9. ^ Playfair 1909: 76-77)
  10. ^ An academic study about personal names in Garo villages
  11. ^ Culture section in the official Garo Hills area Archived 2 May 2006 at the Wayback Machine
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External links[edit]