Jaintia Hills in a nutshell

By H H Mohrmen

The modern day Jaintia hills which very recently was further divided into East and West Jaintia hills district, was once part of the grand Jaintia Kingdom. What is now known as Jaintia Hills was the remaining portion of the erstwhile Jaintia Kingdom, the boundary of which once extended from the Gobha-Sonapur in the north to the river Surma in the south. To the east lies the river Kupli and to the west the Brahmaputra. (J.B. Bhattacharjee, ‘Brahmanical Myth, Royal Legimisation and the Jaintia state formation’ in North Eastern Hills University Journal of Social Science and Humanities Vol. 3. No 1, P. 47).

People who settled in the Sylhet plains of the former Kingdom are the Bengalis and on the Nowgong side by the Jaintias, the Dimasas, Lalungs and other tribes. But the major tribes in the hill areas are the Pnars and the royal family too was originally from the Pnar tribe.

Jaintia hills district was carved out of the United Khasi Jaintia Hills District Council and the separate autonomous district council was established in 1972. The present inhabitants of the District are the Pnar, the War, the Bhoi (Karbis), the Lalungs, the Hadem of Saitsama area, the Beates/Biates of the Saipung Sub Division and the Hmars of Khaddum village.

It is believed that the Pnar and the War people are the sub tribes of the grand Hynniewtrep family which originated from the Mon-Khmer stock. The Pnar and the War also shares the same culture and language with the Khasis. While the word Bhoi is the nomenclature which the Pnar use to refer (sometimes derogatorily) to the Karbi people, a majority of them living in the Karbi Anglong District of Assam. The Hadem in Saitsama village are from the Tibeto Burman group of Kuki Chin language group so are the Beates/Biates of Saipung development Block in the East Jaintia Hills and the Hmar of Khaddum area of the same Block.

Among the Biate people, the Nampui, Darnei, Thiate, Lalsim and the Ngamlai are the original clans who came to settle in the Saipung area since time immemorial and the five clans are also known as ‘Namrnga kea dewan’ which literarily means the five clans.

Situated between 25o 3” to 25o 45” north latitudes and 91o 58” to 92o 47” east longitudes, Jaintia hills covers an area of 3819 sq km and is located at an altitude between 1250 and 1750 metres above sea level. It is bounded in the north by Karbi Anglong district of Assam, east by Dimasa Hasao District and Cachar district of Assam, south by Bangladesh and west by East Khasi hills District of Meghalaya.

For administrative conveniences Jaintia hills district was further divided into East and West Jaintia hills in the year 2013. The population of West Jaintia Hills District with Jowai as it’s headquarter and East Jaintia Hills with Khliehriat as it headquarter; is 2,72,185 and 1,22,939 respectively as per 2011 census.

In Jaintia hills the traditional village administration system continues to this day except for the villages in Saipung which have their own system of village administration. Since the days of yore when area was under the Jaintia kingdom, the territory was divided into ‘Elakas’ which comprise of several villages and the Eleka is further divided into Raids and the last tier is the Chnong. The Eleka are being looked after by the ‘Daloi’ and their role is that of the Regent or the governor representing the Syiem in the area and in many cases the head of the Raid is the Lyngdoh or the High Priest of the community.

Earlier Jaintia hills was also known as ‘ka Ri Khad Ar Daloi’ or the land of the twelve chieftains’ because the Kingdom was initially divided into 12 Daloiship in the pre-colonial period. After India attained its independent in 1947 the erstwhile Jaintia Kingdom was made part of the United Khasi Jaintia hills under the composite state of Assam. But during independence when the international border was demarcated a large part of the Kingdom which lies in the plains was then handed over to East Pakistan and this includes Jaintiapur the famous winter capital of the Jaintia kingdom which is now part of Bangladesh.

United Khasi Jaintia Hills District Council was further divided and the hills area under the then Jaintia kingdom was included under the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council (JHADC). Now there are 18 Daloiship or Elaka in Jaintia hills but the Raid has a lesser role play except those that have to do with the traditional religion because Dorbar Chnong has become more important than the Raid. Also, since we now have religious pluralistic societies in almost the entire region, in many cases the Raid were replaced by Sein Raij which are socio religious organizations representing people following the Niamtre religion. Almost all former Raids now have their own Sein Raij.

The Jaintia King was defeated by the British and Kiang Nangbah’s revolt was quelled by the mighty British Empire, his fight to re-instate the Jaintia King ended with his death. Hence in the pre-independence year the entire Jaintia Kingdom was under the British Raj. This is also the reason why the Jaintia King was not party to the signing of the Instrument of Accession, because the kingdom was already under the British dominion.

The size of the Elaka depends on the numbers of villages which are under its jurisdiction and the numbers of villages vary from one Elaka to another. For example Maskut which is the smallest eleka has only few villages under its raid and Raliang the largest Elaka is so huge that the Daloi has to appoint a Pator his subordinate to look after one region which is called Sumer Patorship.

The entire Jaintia hills district was divided into Elekas and the Daloi was elected from each Elaka except for Saipung which was predominantly occupied by the Biates/Beates and the Hmar. The election to the Dolloiship is conducted by the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council after the demise of every Daloi. So Daloi is elected for life. In the case of Saipung the villages were represented at the District Council by the ‘Sardar.’ While the Daloi were elected by male adults of the eleka, the office Sardarship rotates amongst the five clans ‘Namrnga kea dewan’ every five years and each clan nominates a male member of the clan to be a Sardar.

In the Khasi and the Pnar traditional village administration system, women have no role in the entire scheme of things. Tradition has it that only a person who wears a moustache or sports a beard can attend the village durbar/council. At the village level, the ultimate power rests with the Dorbar Chnong or the village council which comprises of all adult members of the villages. Traditionally only male adults can become members of the village council, but now some villages even allow women to attend the council, but women are yet to be given any role in the Executive Committee of the dorbar shnong not to mention being elected headman of the village. The council elect/select the executive committee which administers the day to day affairs of the dorbar shnong and the election/selection is mostly by consensus and only men were elected /selected to the various offices in the Dorbar Chnong.

The major tribes of Jaintia hills, namely the Pnar and the War like their counterparts in Khasi hills follow a matrilineal family system. It is a matrilineal and not matriarchal family system and woman is not the head of the family or the society but only the lineage is taken from the mother’s clan’s name. And other than the fact that lineage is from a mother’s line, woman has very little or no role in village administration. A woman cannot become a headman because she do not wear a moustache and nor does she sport a beard. To this day, females do not even have the right to vote in the election to the Daloiship in Jaintia hills.

Even in administration of family affairs, a woman cannot make any decision without consulting the maternal uncles because as per tradition ‘it is unbecoming for a hen (woman) to crow’. Women are mere custodians of the family inheritance and decision about the family wealth has to be made in consultation with the maternal uncle.

Joint family system is also very strong in villages or areas where we still have considerable presence of people who still follow Niamtre faith. But nuclear family system is getting popular in areas or villages where people have converted to Christianity. In areas and villages where there is a considerable population of Niamtre followers, it is found that the Pnar culture and tradition is also still alive and vibrant.

This is a short and broad overview of Jaintia Hills and its people in the contemporary society. One hopes that a better and more detailed study of the region is done in the future.

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