Khasi people

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Ramakrishna Mission Cherrapunjee 106.JPG
A Khasi child
Total population
approx. 1,361,100
Regions with significant populations
Meghalaya (India): 1,250,000
Assam (India): 29,000
West Bengal, Mizoram, Maharashtra, Tripura, Tamil Nadu, Arunachal Pradesh, Nicobar Islands (India): 3,100
Bangladesh: 29,000[1]
Khasian languages
Presbyterian, Unitarian, Roman Catholic, Shaivism or tribal religions with animistic elements
Related ethnic groups
Khmers, Palaungs, Was, Kinh, Nicobarese and other Mon–Khmers

The Khasi people (or Khasis) are an indigenous tribe, the majority of whom live in the State of Meghalaya which is in the north eastern part of India, with a significant population in the border areas of the neighbouring state of Assam, and in certain parts of Bangladesh. They call themselves Ki Khun U Hynñiewtrep, which means "The Children of The Seven Huts" in the Khasi language. Their language, also called Khasi, is categorized as the northernmost language under the Austroasiatic family stock. The Khasi language was essentially oral until the arrival of Christian missionaries. Particularly significant in this regard was a Welsh evangelist, Thomas Jones, who transcribed the Khasi language into the Roman script. The Khasi people form the majority of the population of the eastern part of Meghalaya, and is the state's largest community. Though the majority of the Khasi populace have embraced Christianity, a substantial minority of the Khasi people still follow and practice their age old indigenous religion, which is known as "Ka Niam Khasi"; a monotheistic religion which teaches in the supremacy of a single Absolute, called 'U Blei' (which means God) and it is their belief that the rooster (U Syiar Khraw Jutang) is sacrificed as a substitute for man, it being thought that the rooster "bears the sins men and by its sacrifice, man will obtain redemption"[2] (compare Kapparot). Other religious group practiced among the Khasis include Presbyterian (the largest Christian denomination among the Khasis), Anglican, Unitarian, Roman Catholic, and others. A small number of Khasis, as a result of inter-community marriages, are also Muslims. There is also a very small number of Khasi Hindus inhabiting the Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya, a result of hundreds of years of exposure to the plains of Bengal and Assam. The main crops produced by the Khasi people are betel leaf, areca nut, oranges, local rice, vegetables, etc.

The Khasi people of the War sub-tribe designed and built the famous living root bridges of the Cherrapunjee region. Under the Constitution of India, the Khasis have been granted the status of Scheduled Tribe. A unique feature of the Khasi people is that they follow the matrilineal system of descent and inheritance. However, it must not be wrongly thought that men are completely powerless and have no say in private affairs of the household whatsoever. In matters of inheritance, some families do give men shares of the ancestral property, though the daughters usually get bigger shares. The reason is that, since women are the ones to continue the family lineage, giving them larger shares is necessary for them to run the households. In the Khasi system of asset management, the Khasi uncles (Kñi) of the household (usually under the authority of the eldest Kñi), are the managers of their sister's property. No decision can be taken without their consent. In their wife's household too, they provide for their children like a normal father would. In present times, many Khasis are well placed in government and corporare sectors. Many Khasis are well educated. The tribe has produced many IAS, IPS and IFS bureaucrats. Many Khasis are also settled abroad, particular in the USA and Great Britain.

Origin and history[edit]

The origin of the Khasis has not been satisfactorily explained by the historians. The Khasi language is classified as part of the Austroasiatic family stock; Peter Wilhelm Schmidt believed that the Khasi people are related to the Mon-Khmer people of South East Asia. Again, this is still disputed. A Khasi scholar, Sib Charan Roy Sawian, believed the Khasi language to be of the Indo-Aryan stock.

Khasi mythology traces the tribe's original abode to 'Ki Hynñiewtrep' ("The Seven Huts"). According to the Khasi mythology, "U Blei Trai Kynrad" (God, the Lord Master) had originally distributed the human race into 16 heavenly families (Khadhynriew Trep). However, seven out of these 16 families are stuck on earth while the other 9 are stuck in Heaven. According to the myth, a heavenly ladder resting on the sacred Lum Sohpetbneng Peak (located in the present-day Ri-Bhoi district) was meant to allow those divine families on earth to visit the heavens for worshipping God, but the seven families committed a grave unholy sin. They cut a divine tree which was situated at Lum Diengiei Peak (also in present day Ri-Bhoi district), going against God's command not to do so. This angered Him to the point where He destroyed the heavenly ladder.

The Khasis first came in contact with the British in 1823, after the latter captured Assam. The area inhabited by the Khasis became a part of the Assam province, after the numerous Khasi Hill States numbering to about 25 kingdoms entered into a subsidiary alliance with the British.

Geographical distribution and sub-groups[edit]

Khasi states, 1947

According to the 2011 Census of India, over 1.6 million Khasi lived in Meghalaya in the districts of East Khasi Hills, West Khasi Hills, South West Khasi Hills, Ri-Bhoi, West Jaintia Hills and East Jaintia Hills. In Assam, their population reached 15,000. In Bangladesh, they number to around 25,000. It is generally considered by many Khasi sociologists that the Khasi Tribe consist of seven sub-tribes, hence the title 'Children of the Seven Huts': Khynriam, Pnar, Bhoi, War, Maram, Lyngngam and Diko. The Khynriam (or Nongphlang) inhabit the uplands of the East Khasi Hills District; the Pnar or Syntengs live in the uplands of the Jaintia Hills. The Bhoi live in the lower hills to the north and north-east of the Khasi Hills and Jaintia Hills towards the Brahmaputra valley. The War, usually divided into War-Jaintia in the south of the Jaintia Hills and War-Khasi in the south of the Khasi Hills, live on the steep southern slopes leading to Bangladesh. The Marams inhabit the uplands of the West Khasi Hills Districts. The Lyngngam people who inhabit the western parts of the Khasi Hills bordering the Garo Hills display linguistic and cultural characteristics which show influences from both the Khasis to their east and the Garo people to the west.


A Khasi woman
A Khasi man

Khasi people from different regions have small, but noted differences. Recent genetic researches have shown that Khasis are closer to their Garo neighbours as compared to other populations of Northeast India.[3]


Khasi children, 1944
Men dance during the Khasi festival of Shad Suk Mynsiem in Shillong

The traditional Khasi male dress is a Jymphong, a longish sleeveless coat without collar, fastened by thongs in front. Nowadays, most male Khasis have adopted western attire. On ceremonial occasions they appear in a Jymphong and sarong with an ornamental waist-band and they may also wear a turban.

The traditional Khasi female dress is called the Jainsem or Dhara, both of which are rather elaborate with several pieces of cloth, giving the body a cylindrical shape. On ceremonial occasions they may wear a crown of silver or gold. A spike or peak is fixed to the back of the crown, corresponding to the feathers worn by the menfolk. The Jainsem consists of two pieces of material fastened at each shoulder. The "Dhara" consists of a single piece of material also fastened at each shoulder.


The Khasis are, for the most part, monogamous. Their social organization does not favor other forms of marriage; therefore, deviation from this norm is quite rare. Young men and women are permitted considerable freedom in the choice of mates. Potential marriage partners are likely to have been acquainted before betrothal. Once a man has selected his desired spouse, he reports his choice to his parents. They then secure the services of a mediator to make the arrangements with the woman's family (provided that the man's clan agree with his choice). The parents of the woman ascertain her wishes and if she agrees to the arrangement her parents check to make certain that the man to be wed is not a member of their clan (since Khasi clans are exogamous, marital partners may not be from the same clan). If this is satisfactory then a wedding date is set.

Divorce is frequent (with causes ranging from incompatibility to lack of offspring) and easily obtainable. This ceremony traditionally consists of the husband handing the wife 5 cowries or paisa which the wife then hands back to her husband along with 5 of her own. The husband then throws these away or gives them to a village elder who throws them away. Present-day Khasis divorce through the Indian legal system.

The type of marriage is the determining factor in marital residence. In short, post marital residence when an heiress Khaduh is involved must be matrilocal, while post marital residence when a non-heiress is involved is neolocal. Generally, Khasi men prefer to marry a non-heiress because it will allow them to form independent family units somewhat immune to pressures from the wife's kin. A Khasi man returns to his iing (home) upon the death of his spouse (if she is an heiress). These practices are the result of rules governing inheritance and property ownership. These rules are themselves related to the structure of the Khasi iing(clan).


Khasi names are known for their originality and elaborate nature. The given names may be invented by parents for their children, and these can be based on traditional native names, Christian names, or other English words. The family names, which they call "surnames," remain typically in the native Khasi language.

Khasis are rich in music. The Khasis are a matrilineal society.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Joshua Project - Khasi of Bangladesh Ethnic People Profile
  2. ^ Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Volume 71, Part 3 - By Asiatic Society (Calcutta, India), Asiatic Society of Bengal – page 63 [1]
  3. ^ Langstieh B.T. & al., "Genetic diversity and relationships among the tribes of Meghalaya compared to other Indian and Continental populations". Human Biology. Aug 2004;76(4):569-90.

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