William Wilson Hunter.

A statistical account of Assam online

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found in the hills, nor any medicinal drugs of value. The Gdros
are the only people in the District who 'drive a small trade by
coDecting and trading in jungle products. There are no wide
uncultivated pasture grounds in the hills, nor do any people of the
District live by pasturing in the forest.

FERiE NATXJRiE. — ^Wild auimals and large game abound in the
Giro Hills, but are rarely to be seen owing to the dense forests and
jungle. Wild elephants, rhinoceros, tigers, leopards, wild dogs,
deer of various kinds, wild hogs, buffaloes, and mithun or wild cattle
are found. The cost of keeping down wild beasts has hitherto
been nominal, as until a year or two ago no rewards were paid for
their destruction. The small game consists of silver pheasants,
college pheasants, snipe, jungle -fowl, pea-fowl, hares, partridges,
quails, etc ; but, although abundant, they are rarely bagged, owing
to the heavy jungle. The mahsir fish is found in some of the
rivers, and numerous varieties of fish abound in all the streams.
A considerable trade in wild elephants is carried on, and large
parties of native huntsmen used formerly to come up every year
from Pumiah, Rangpur, and Maimansinh to capture them. The
method known as meld-shikdri, or catching wild elephants by
lassoing, formerly prevailed ; but this has now been prohibited, and
Government has asserted its right to all the wild elephants within
the Giro Hills. No wild elephants have been captured for the last
two years, as all hunting has been prohibited. The Deputy-Com-
missioner states that it is probable that hunting on the khedd plan
will be permitted this year (1876) in certain localities in the hills.
The same officer adds that the District will probably yield from a
hundred and fifty to two hundred animals annually for several years
to come, which would supply all the wants of the Commissariat
Department, and leave a good number of animals for sale. He
states that the profits from this source would probably pay nearly all
the expenses of the District Administration. The Rdj^ of Susdng,
whose estates adjoin the northern boundary of Maimansinh
District, formerly possessed an elephant khedd or stockade, in
which considerable numbers of wild elephants were annually
captured ; and up to two years ago the Rdji derived the sole benefit
from the use of this k?iedd. He now possesses no rights over the
wild elephants in any part of the hills. Previous to the prohibition

VOL. 11^ K



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146 STATISTICAL ACCOUNT OF GARO HILLS.

of elephant-hunting, the Deputy-Commissioner collected the
revenue from the hunters on behalf of Government Every
elephant hunter had to take out a lease sanctioning his himting,
for which he had to pay £,2 a half-year on every kumki or trained
elephant which he employed. These hunting licences were renewed
every April and November. No trade in wild-beast skins is carried
on in the Gdro Hills.

Population. — No attempt at a census has yet been made in
this wild tract, which was first brought partially under the im-
mediate control of a separate British officer in July 1866. In 1872-
73 a series of murderous raids on the part of the Giros of the
interior upon British subjects in the plains led to an expedition
against the Giros who had not previously acknowledged British
suzerainty, and the subjugation of the entire Giro Hills territory to
British rule. By the new boundary recently laid down, a consider-
able number of villages formerly situated in Godlpird have been in-
cluded within the Giro Hills District The Deputy-Commissioner
estimates the population of the tract at from 80,000 to 100,000.
The former estimate is adopted in the Census Report of 1872.

Different Races. — The only race actually living within the
Giro Hills proper is the Giro, with the exception of one isolated
small village called Thipi, inhabited by Ribhis. Villages in the
plains inhabited by Ribhis, Hijungs, Kochs, Rijbansfs, Dilus,
Mechs, and a few Musalmins, have now been included within
the Giro Hills District. The Giros are a race similar to the
Mechs or Cichiris, and also bear a strong resemblance to the
Kochs. Tradition relates that in former years the Giro Hills
were peopled by Kochs, who were gradually driven from the hills
northward by the Giros; and it is a fact that to this day the
Kochs claim land in the Giro Hills. These Kochs are the same
tribe as that described by Mr. B. H. Hodgson in his work on the
Aborigitus of India^ where he speaks of them as having become
almost Bengilis, and as having entirely lost their nationality and
language. This description, however, does not apply to those
Kochs living on the borders of the Giro Hills, who speak a
distinct language of their own, and have their own separate
habits and customs, somewhat like those of the Giros, but yet
distinguishing them as a race apart from the people around them.
The Ribhis also have a dialect of theu: own. The Dilus are
only found in the vicinity of the village of Dilu, and are a small



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DESCRIPTION OF THE GARO TRIBES. 147

cian. Formerly they had a dialect of their own, which they have
now nearly forgotten. They resemble the Kochs and Hdjungs.

Description of the Garo Tribes. — ^The G^ros are a robust,
active, and, generally speaking, very strong and muscular race,
capable of enduring a great amount of exertion and fatigue, and of
about the middle height They have prominent cheek-bones, a
large proportion of nose as compared with the head, eyes usually
hazel in colour, large ears, thick lips, little beard, and of a dark-
brown swarthy colour. They are an excessively ugly people, and
it is very rare to find any of the women with even the least
pretensions to good looks. The men lead a very active life, eat
but little, and that coarse food. They carry heavy burdens of
cotton of their own production across the mountains to the
frontier market villages, which a Bengdlf would probably be unable
to lift The Gdros are remarkable for their scarcity of beard. Hair
about the face is very rarely seen; occasionally among the lately
independent Giros a man with a beard is met with, although,
generally speaking, what little hair they have is carefully pulled out
The hair of the head is worn long and is never cut, but either tied
up in a kAot or kept off the face by means of a piece of cloth or
pagri wound round the head, and called by the Giros kotip. As
a race, the Gdros are fairly courageous, generally truthful, except
when answering inquiries as to the locality of their villages, land
disputes, etc. ; easily excitable by the remembrance of former injuries,
and then revengeful, cruel, and bloodthirsty. Their dress, if such it
can be called, is of the simplest description, and consists, for the
males, merely of a band of homespun cloth about a yard and a half
in length, which is passed round the waist and between the legs, and
then tied at the back. Although small, the cloth is dexterously worn,
and serves all the purposes of decency. It is called the gdndu bdrdy
and is assumed at an early age. The dress of the women is some-
what more extensive, but still very scanty, and consists of a cloth
tied round the waist, called rikhing. Nothing is usually worn
over the bosom. Both men and women carry a small blanket or
overall, made from ordinary cloth for the more well-to-do, and from
the bark of a tree for the poorer classes. This miserable covering
is made by steeping the bark in water, beating it out, and afterwards
drying it well in the sun. It is called phdkrdm, and, as may be
supposed, gives but little warmth. The Gdros of the eastern
hills resemble the Khisiis in their dress. Many of them wear the



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148 STATISTICAL ACCOUNT OF GARO HILLS.

small fringed jacket which is the Khdsiis' ordinary dress. The
women dress much the same all over the hills.

Ornaments, — ^The G^os, male and female, are inordinately fond
of ornaments, which are of the rudest and poorest description,
although of a rather unusual kind. The ornaments of the men
consist of three or four brass earrings, plain rings about two
inches in diameter, and of very trifling value. A bead necklace,
and sometimes two or three of them are worn, and occasionally
these are rather valuable. Necklaces are so much in request
that it is by no means an infrequent occunence for a Giro to go
without a warm covering, in order to provide himself with one
of these ornaments. The people of DimrtL, who have intercourse
with the Khdsids, usually wear coloured silk turbans, which cer-
tainly improve their appearance. The ornaments worn by the
women consist of earrings of gigantic size and weight, which are
worn until the lobe of the ear gives way under the unnatural strain.
Indeed, it is considered a much coveted mark of beauty to have
the lobe broken in this way, and in such a case the earrings are
worn by a string passed over the top of the head. Necklaces
of glass and bell-metal beads are also commonly worn by the
women. In some parts of the hills, both men and women ornament
their clothes with shells, obtained from Bengal Some of the
shell ornaments are prepared by the G^os of the south-eastern
hills near the Khisi border, and are called rupok and smku
Persons of rank among the Giros wear an iron or brass ring above
the elbow, which is called idr^ and is a token of respectability
on the part of the wearer. No slave can wear it without having
purchased the privilege from the landholder or lakhma of his
village ; neither can a free man who has not inherited the privilege
wear the token without payment to the head of the village. Another
ornament peculiar to the Giros is called kdddsil^ worn only by the
men, which consists of a crown constructed of brass plates con-
nected together by a string passed round the head and tied
behind. In former times it is said that this ornament could only
be assumed by those who had slain a foe in battle. The Deputy-
Commissioner thinks it likely that this distinction is still observed
in the lately independent country; although, in those tracts of
the hills which acknowledge and submit to British authority, the
kdddsil has come to be regarded as a common ornament, and
is worn indiscriminately by all It is manufactured by Bengdlfs,



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DESCRIPTION OF THE GARO TRIBES. 149

and imported into the hills. The Giros never tattoo their
bodies.

Tke Weapons of the Gdros consist of a spear {shelu), sword
{mdldfn\ shield, or case for holding small slips of sharpened
bamboos {pdnjis, called wd by the Giros), which are stuck into
the ground as a chevaux de frise. To these may be added a
bamboo spear called hiil gpnja^ which is thrown from ambush. The
other spear has an ordinary triangular head, mounted on a bamboo
staff, and is only effective at close quarters. It is used as a
walking-staff in time of peace, and the blade as a chopper. The
sword is a weapon peculiar to these hills ; it is a two-edged instru-
ment, the blade and handle forming one piece, with a small
abrupt point The rough guard or hilt is made of bamboo, and
its ends are ornamented with goafs hah:. This sword is the Giro's
constant companion, and, besides being a weapon, is used to clear
jungle, as well as for a variety of other peaceful purposes. The
shield consists of thin strips of bamboo beautifully worked to-
gether, and is nearly proof against a spear-thrust. In the back of
the shield, which is carried in the left hand, is a small receptacle
for bamboo spikes, which form an important item in a Giro's equip-
ment These small spikes or pdnjis are constructed in many ways,
but their use is always the same — ^namely, to block the road and
delay an enemy's advance ; and against a shoeless foe they are
very effective. An extract from a report by Captain Reynolds when
Deputy-Commissioner of Godlpird is quoted by Mr. Latham, in
his account of these people, as follows : — * Captain Re3molds found
the road barricaded in several places, and planted with pdnjis ox
bamboo stakes, short, sharp, and dangerous. One end is set in the
ground, the other wounds the feet of those who tread upon it So
effective are they, that the troops in one place were delayed an
hour and a half in getting over two hundred yards of ground.'
Although the Gdros are well acquainted with several poisons, they
do not use them to tip their spears or pdnjis with, as is done by
their Assam neighbours the Abars. The Gdros know well how to
lay an ambush; and, although they usually have no firearms, they
find an effective missile in large pieces of rock, which are tied
up in convenient places ready to be let down on the heads of an
unsuspecting foe whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Hunting, — The Giros, although a quarrelsome people, and
frequently engaged in feuds among themselves, are not huntsmen.



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ISO STATISTICAL ACCOUNT OF GARO HILLS

They know very little of the art of hunting and trapping the beasts
and birds with which their hills abound. Occasionally, but not
often, they kill a deer or a buffalo in a pitfall, and trap a pea-fowl.
The Deputy-Commissioner, however, reports to me that he has
known them to run down and spear a small wild elephant, which
they occasionally kill for meat Wild elephants are also sometimes
killed in the following manner : — A large spear, loaded with a
heavy stone, is attached to a convenient tree ; a string is connected
with the spear, and stretched across the path. The elephant on
touching the string brings down the loaded spear on his back, which
usually inflicts a mortal wound. Elephants are also occasionally
captured in pitfalls.

Food, — ^The Gdros are an omnivorous people, and devour all
kinds of animal food, even snakes, frogs, dogs, etc Their staple
article of food is rice, and very little pulse is eaten with it. A dog
stuffed with rice is said to be a favourite dish with the Gdros. They
breed pigs, and eat greedily of the flesh. Large quantities of rice-
beer or tsu are brewed, which is said to be rather a pleasant
drink when well made. This beverage is made from kdon megdrk
and other grains, as well as from rice, but that prepared from rice is
the best. The Gdros eat three times a day, — at sunrise, midday, and
evening, — the three meals being termed mifringy misdl^ and midtham
respectively. Drunkenness is common, although it is very difficult
to get intoxicated on the rice beer, and a seasoned toper would
have to consume gallons of it before the desired effect would be
produced. The Gdros are great smokers, and the men are generally
seen with a bamboo pipe either in their mouths, or stuck in
their girdles ready for use. The pipe is called kasrmg, and is
frequently made from the root of the bamboo. Metal pipes of very
singular shape, manufactured by Bengalis, are also in common
use. The tobacco used is the ordinary dried leaf, and is kept alight
by a live coal in the bowl of the pipe. Opium, gdnjdy charaSy
and other intoxicating drugs are not used by the Gdros, who despise
the Bengdlfs for their use of these enervating compounds. The
first fruits of the harvest are celebrated with a feast, and until this
is over the Giros will not partake of the new grain or vegetables.

Domestic Animals, — ^The Giros have but few domestic animals
of their own, but they purchase bulls from the people of the plain
for fattening, and one or more of these animals is usually killed
on the death of any person of importance, or of a member of



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DESCRIPTION OF THE GARO TRIBES, 151

the family. A few pigs, goats, fowls, and ducks are bred for food.
Like the Kh^iis, the Giros have a great aversion to milk, believing
it to be the urine of the cow.

Mode of Cultivation, — The Gdros are a purely agricultural
people, and depend entirely on their crops for the means of sub-
sistence. The hill land is poor, and only suited to Xhtjum method
of cultivation which the people follow. Suitable plots of land
are cleared in December and January, and the felled jungle
is allowed to remain until March, when it is fired. On the
approach of the rains, the rice is planted ; and afterwards the
seeds of vegetables, cotton, pepper, and pulses, all of which are
grown together in the same field. Land is allowed to remain
fallow for ten years or so, after which it is brought vmder cultivation
anew. Two crops are taken off the land — namely, the ordinary
crop of rice, vegetables, cotton, etc., the first year; and in the
second, only a crop of rice, after which the clearing is abandoned
and a new spot is selected. Rice, cotton, pepper, vegetable marrows,
bdigufiy turmeric, pulses, Indian corn, etc. are all grown in the
hills. Generally speaking, the only crop of rice grown by the
Giros is the dus ; but on the higher slopes of the Turd range the
rice crop is sown about June and reaped in December. The
cotton grown in the hills is short in staple and poor in quality.
All the efforts that have been hitherto made to introduce a
better kind have failed; but the attempt is now being renewed,
and it is hoped will be attended with success. In such a
rude mode of cultivation as that followed by the Gdros, the
agricultural implements, as might be expected, are of a very simple
kind. They consist merely of a large knife or ddo, called dtc by the
Gdros; an axe {rod) ; a hoe, called kichi ; and a sharp-pointed stake,
called gul-maihary for digging holes in the ground into which the
seed is dropped. The Gdros do not prepare the ground for sowing
in any way, except by weeding and clearing it for the reception of
the seed. They use neither plough nor spade.

Dwellings^ etc, — ^The Gdros always build temporary huts in the
fields they are cultivating, and generally reside in them during
the season of the year in which the crops are in the ground. The
reason for this is, that if the fields were not carefully watched, wild
animals would destroy the crops. The village sites are generally
permanent ; but the cultivation sites change year by year, i,e, a new
clearance is made every year and new huts built thereon, but a



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IS2 STATISTICAL ACCOUNT OF GARO HILLS

second crop of rice is invariably taken oflf the old clearing before
it is finally abandoned Each village has certain well-defined
boundaries ; and the community cultivates the lands within these
boundaries in rotation, the soil being allowed to lie fallow for a certain
number of years, generally from seven to ten, according to the
extent of the village lands and the number of the inhabitants. The
villages are usually placed on the side of a hill some distance from
the crest, and within easy reach of water. The houses are built
on piles, and are frequently of considerable size. The building
materials are bamboo and thatch, and the house is divided into
several compartments — namely, the verandah, the place where the
cattle are kept, the large room where the family live, the apartment
for the women, and another verandah at the back. A rude fire-
place, made simply of mud spread on the floor, is situated in the
middle of the house. No exit is provided for the smoke, which is
allowed to escape as it best can, and consequently the house is
always begrimed with soot. The Gdros are very indifferent cooks.
Their daily food generally consists of boiled rice and^^r, or potash
made by burning old plantain trees, used as a substitute for
salt, which the people are often too poor to purchase. The rice
is cooked either in rough earthenware pots, or in a hollowed green
bamboo; and whatever meat they may have is roasted on the
embers till it is warmed through. Skin and flesh is eaten together,
and, indeed, no part is wasted of any animal they may capture or
kill for food. The richer people among the Giros, of course, possess
brass or earthen pots for cooking, and for purposes of eating and
drinking. The people are ignorant of even the simplest arts, and
there are very few villages in the hills which can produce even the
rudest attempt at an earthenware vessel. Although the earth is not
generally suitable for pottery, there are places where abundance of
good day is procurable. A few villages boast of a blacksmith and
a forge ; but the Deputy-Cominissioner states that he never saw any
man among the Gdros who was capable of making more than the
simplest ddo or hoe.

Trade is carried on with the plains, and the people often travel
immense distances with loads of from eighty to a hundred-and-
twenty pounds on their backs, to the market villages, where they
barter cotton, chillies, wax, lac, india-rubber, timber, etc, with the
Bengilfs ; in return for which they receive cows, pigs, goats, fowls,
salt, earthenware pots, swords, spear heads, cloth, etc Sometimes



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DESCRIPTION OF THE GARO TRIBES. 153

cash is paid for cotton, and in that case the Giro makes his purchases
through the same medium. The principal markets are at Dimrd,
Jiri, Nfbdrf, Lakshmipur, Bengal Khdt^ Thikrikilld, Rajiballi,
Singimdrf, Mankarchar, and Putimiri, all situated just within
Goilpdrd District, close to the Giro border, and not far from the
Brahmaputra; Bahidurkdtd, ShakimaM-Durgi or Baklir hdt, and
Sarramphang, in the G^o Hills ; and Haluighdt, Naludbdrl, Phul-
bdri, Ghosgdon, Durgdpur, and Nazdpur, in Maimansinh. There
is generally easy water communication between all the markets
in Godlpiri and the Brahmaputra ; but those in Maimansinh
are difficult of access, except during the rains. A good trade is
done in cotton, which is purchased by Mdrwdrf merchants, and
shipped by them to Sirijganj and other parts of Bengal. The total
out-turn of cotton during 1874-75 was, roughly speaking, 35,000
maundsy excluding that delivered at the markets in Maimansinh and
some other small villages from which no returns were received. The
price of cotton varies year by year. It ranges usually from thirteen
to sixteen shillings a hundredweight, but during the American War
it reached nearly double that price. In 1874-75 the price was only
Rs. 4 per maundy or about eleven shillings a hundredweight Trade in
lac to the extent of about 2220 maunds was carried on in 1874-75,
the lac being sold at the marts of Ddmrd, Jird, and Nibiri. The
average price at these hdts for rough lac was from Rs. 20 to
Rs. 22. 8. o per maundy or from ;^2, 14s. 8d. to ;^3, is. 5d. a hundred-
weight

Marriages are usually arranged by the parents, and concluded when
the contracting parties are of a fit age. The ceremony is simple,
but curious. The bridegroom is carried by his friends to the house of
the bride, where a cock and hen are sacrificed, and the entrails
consulted for an omen ; but whether this turns out to be good or
bad, the marriage still takes place. After the sacrifice of the fowls,
the priest, should there be one in attendance, and if not, a friend,
strikes the woman on the back with the dead cock, and the man
with the Hen. The ceremony is then over, and the marriage
declared valid. Feasting and general rejoicings follow. No
marriage dower is demanded on either side. The yoimg husband
dwells with his wife in the house of her parents, and becomes one
of her mdhdri or dan. People belongmg to the same clan cannot
intermarry, although persons bound by near ties of consanguinity,
according to English ideas, are not interdicted from marrying.



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154 STATISTICAL ACCOUNT OF GARO HILLS.

Polygamy is practised ; but a Giro hardly ever marries more than
two wives, and cannot even take a second wife without the consent
of the first The principal wife is czWtd, jik pJiongmOj or the eternal
wife; the other wives are cahcdjik gitii. Adultery is punished by
a fine, and a wife can abandon an adulterous husband and demand
ddi or compensation from him. In former times this offence used
to be punished by death to both the offending parties.

Right of Suaession. — A remarkable custom among the G^os
is that a man who marries the favoiuite daughter of a household
has to marry his mother-in-law in the event of the death of his father-
in-law, and through her succeeds to all the property, which thus
descends through the female line. The sons receive nothing, but have
to look to the family into which they marry for their establishment
in life.

Rights and Position of Women, — As among the Khdsiis, the
wife is the head of the family, and through her all the family
property descends. Among Giro families, women enjoy a power
and position quite unknown among more civilised tribes and
peoples. It is impossible to state to what extent the women



Online LibraryWilliam Wilson HunterA statistical account of Assam → online text (page 14 of 50)