Karbi people

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Total population
4,19,534 (Assam, 2001[1])
Regions with significant populations
Karbi Anglong4,19,534
West Karbi Anglong0
Arunachal Pradesh0
Karbi language, Amri language
Animism, Hinduism, Christianity
A Karbi man of West Karbi Anglong in traditional attire, wearing a Poho (white turban), a choi-hongthor (woven jacket), a lek paikom (gold-plated necklace) and another poho on his right shoulder.
For the place in Armenia, see Karbi, Armenia.

The Karbis (Karbi:কাৰ্বি), mentioned as the Mikir in the Constitution Order of the Government of India, are one of the major indigenous ethnic tribe in Northeast India and especially in the hill areas of Assam. The great artist-scholar Bishnu Prasad Rabha refer to them as the Columbus of Assam.[5] Historically and by ancestry they have called themselves Arleng (literally "man" in Karbi language) and are called Karbi by other[6]. The term Mikir is now considered derogatory.[7] The closest meaning of mikir could said to be derived from "Mekar".[8]


The Karbis are the principal indigenous tribal community in the Karbi Anglong district of Assam, a district administered as per the provisions of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India, having an autonomous district of their own since 17 November 1951.[9] Besides Karbi Anglong district, the Karbi-inhabited areas include Dima Hasao, Kamrup Metropolitan, Hojai, Morigaon, Nagaon, Golaghat, Karimganj, Lakhimpur, Sonitpur and Biswanath Chariali districts of Assam; Balijan circle of Papumpare district in Arunachal Pradesh, Jaintia Hills, Ri Bhoi and East Khasi Hills districts in Meghalaya, and Dimapur District in Nagaland. Apart from Assam, where the Hill and Plain Karbis are recognised as Scheduled Tribes, the Hill Karbis in Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Nagaland as Mikir but they are not able to obtain ST certificates due to their current name as Karbi. With a population of around 4 lakhs 6 thousand (406,000) as per 2001 Census, the Karbis constitute a large community.[10]


The Karbis linguistically belong to the Tibeto-Burman group. The original home of the various people speaking Tibeto-Burman languages was in western China near the Yang-Tee-Kiang and the Howang-ho rivers and from these places, they went down the courses of the Brahmaputra, the Chindwin, and the Irrawaddy and entered India and Burma. The Karbis, along with others entered Assam from Central Asia in one of the waves of migrations.

The folk-lores of the Karbis, however, indicate that during the long past, once they used to live on the banks of the rivers the Kalang and the Kopili, along with Tiwas and Borahis, and the entire Kaziranga area, the famous National Park situated in Assam, was within their habitation. There are also monolithic & ornament evidences of their own which are yet from proper research (ex:-large stone plants, monolithic snake structure, the bangle size finger ring, small-large foot prints on stones of legendary folk figures etc.). During the reigns of the Dimasa Kachari kings, they were driven to the hills and some of them entered into Jaintia hills, the erstwhile Jaintia Kingdom and lived under Jaintia suzerainty.

While a section of the Karbis remained in the Jaintia kingdom, others moved towards north-east by crossing the river Barapani, a tributary of the Kopili and entered into the Rongkhang Ranges. There they established their capital at a place called Socheng. The Karbis who migrated to the Ahom Kingdom had to face the Burmese invasion.

The Burmese who invaded Assam perpetrated inhumane oppression on the people. The Karbis took refuge in the deep jungles and high hills leaving their hearth and home in the sub-mountainous regions. In order to save themselves from the greedy eyes of the Burmese invaders, the young Karbi girls started to use a black line from the forehead to the chin which is known a "Duk" with a view to making them look ugly. While some of the Karbis migrated to Western Assam, some had crossed the Brahmaputra and settled in the north bank.


Religion among Karbi [11]
Religion Percent

Teron, Dharamsing. Karbi Studies Vol-2. Assam Book Hive. p. 14. ISBN 938024713-3.

Most of the Karbi still practices Animism with their cultural and traditional influences. Census of India, 1961, mistakenly recorded Animism as Hinduism, leading to overnight conversion of majority of Karbi people to Hinduism. There are also Karbi Christians (some 15% according to the census of India, 2011). The practitioners of traditional believe in reincarnation and honour the ancestors.

Culture and tradition[edit]


The Karbis mainly speak their native language, i.e. Karbi language. Karbis are well versed in Assamese which they use as a lingua-franca to communicate with other indigenous Assamese communities. Many of the Plain Karbis use Assamese as their mother tongue. Several Assamese loan words have made their way into the Karbi Language and this is apparent in most parts of Karbi Anglong. For example, Kaam (Assamese origin word) is used in place of Sai which mean Work in english. Even Assamese has also a loan words. For example "Hanseronk Tenga" ( Karbi origin word) "Hanseronk". There are also minute variations in native Karbi language that can be observed in different geographical regions inhabited by the Karbis. For example, the Plain Karbis and Hill Karbis.


The Karbis are a Patrilineal society. They are composed of five major clans or Kur. They are Engti (Lizang), Terang (Hanzang), Rongpi (Ezang), Teron (Kronzang) and Timung (Tungzang) which are again divided into many sub-clans.


Clans in Karbi are exogamous, in other words, marriages between members of the same clan are not allowed because they are consider brother and sister among themselves. Marriage between cousin (in-laws) is highly favored and so is a love marriage[vague]. Arranged marriages are rarely seen in modern Karbi society. After marriage, neither the bride nor the groom change their surname i.e. they retain their original surname. Due to the same reason member of the same clan cannot marry each other. The children of the couple would inherit the surname of their father. The notion of Dowry doesn't exist in Karbi, as well as in the indigenous people of Northeast India region.


The traditional system of governance is headed by the Lindok or the king, who is assisted by the Katharpo, the Dilis, the Habes and the Pinpos. These posts of administration, however, are now merely ceremonial with no real power.


The Karbis celebrate many festivals. Among them, Hacha-Kekan,Chojun, Rongker, Peng Karkli, Thoi Asor Rit Asor, Botor Kekur are such festival held around the year and some of them at a specific time of the year. Botor kekur is celebrated for the purpose to request to god to grace the earth with rain so that crops could be sown. Rongker is celebrated either on 5 January or on 5 February as per the convenience of the villager as a thanksgiving to God and asking their assurance to protect them from any evil harm that may happen to the whole village.


The Chomangkan (also known as "thi-karhi") is a festival unique to the Karbis. It is actually a ceremony performed by a family for the peace and the safe passage of the soul of family members who died recently or long ago and never to celebrate them again.


Karbis have their own traditional attire. Wide range of clothing are very similar to Asian Sub-continent clothing, but with varied materials and design.

Song and musical instruments[edit]

Karbi have a rich oral song, which is different from normal spoken words. These songs are a oral narration of ancestors story. Karbi history has been carried forward through song.

Karbi musical instruments is similar to other indigenous tribal musical instruments. Difference is in variance of play and beat.


The Karbis traditionally practice jhum cultivation (Slash-and-burn cultivation) in the hills. They grow variety of crops which include foodgrains, vegetables and fruits like rice, maize, potato, tapioca, beans, ginger and turmeric. They are quiet self-sufficient and have homestead gardens with betel nut, jackfruit, oranges, pineapple, etc. which fulfill their nutritional as well as food needs. However, with the integration of the traditional lifestyle with the market economy, many of the traditional institutions and way of life has been left damaged, bringing about unending sufferings on the people.[citation needed]

Karbi people have the highest HPI (Human Poverty Index) value of 33.52, indicating that this tribe has the highest number of people in human poverty. (Assam Human Development Report, 2003).


  1. ^ http://www.censusindia.gov.in/Census_Data_2001/Census_Data_Online/Language/Statement1.aspx
  2. ^ "639 Identifier Documentation: aho – ISO 639-3". SIL International (formerly known as the Summer Institute of Linguistics). SIL International. Retrieved 29 June 2019. Ahom [aho]
  3. ^ "Population by Religious Communities". Census India – 2001. Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. Retrieved 1 July 2019. Census Data Finder/C Series/Population by Religious Communities
  4. ^ "Population by religion community – 2011". Census of India, 2011. The Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India. Archived from the original on 25 August 2015.
  5. ^ http://www.indiantravelportal.com/assam/tribes/karbi.html
  6. ^ http://multitree.org/codes/mjw.html
  7. ^ Ethnologue profile
  8. ^ Meaning of Mikir « Karbis Of Assam
  9. ^ Karbi Anglong District At A Glance
  10. ^ "Less than 50 percent Assamese speakers in Assam". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 9 January 2008.
  11. ^ Census of India - Socio-cultural aspects, Table ST-14 (Compact disc), Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°19′52″N 44°22′35″E / 40.3311°N 44.3764°E / 40.3311; 44.3764