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Garos of Meghalaya


Franco Zecchin

People among the clouds Forgotten by the technological world, Garos are located between Assam and Bangladesh. Although they have been converted to devout christianity, the Garos people have conserved their millinial traditions, comprised of harvest festivities and drinking rice beer, but more importantly those which are anchored in the power relationships between the sexes. The Garos woman chooses her future husband and then has her brother kidnap him until he accepts the marriage. In spite the intense christianisation of the last twenty years, the Garos people have preserved an animiste tradition. They often thank the divinities with animal sacrifices. The divinities ensure good harvests and keep them from natural catastrophies. At sunrise, the family gets ready for a day at camp. While a central fire smokes the interior of the house to get rid of insects and parasites, women cook a morning dish as well as a rice dish wrapped in banana leaves for lunch. The men, women and children then leave for the fields, cutting the rice by hand as a family, or harvesting the cotton. A third of the Garos population live on jhum, a slash and burn crop. A group decision was made where the villagers chose the hilly fields that they mark, cut, dry and burn at the end of the dry season. The ashes fertilize the field. The farmers plant rice and millet and other grains that will later grow, like callebasse, onions or manioc. In an attempt to stop the degradation of the ecosystem provoked by jum, the Dheli government tried to help farmers with the development of commercial plantations like ginger, tea, fruits, tapioca of cashew nuts. But this strategy leads to an economic dependance of the Garos who then must buy their basic nutritional products. Fields must be continually cultivated to prevent the weeds from overwhelming the crops. Women share this job with the men The Wangala festival is celebrated after most of the harvest is well finished, at the end of the rain season, and at the beginning of the cold season, when work in the fields slackens, though a few chilis and some cotton remain to be picked. Created by India in 1972 and located at 300 kilometers north of the Golf of Bengal, the state of Meghalaya, or "home of the clouds", owes its poetic name to its humid and cloudy climate, subject to Bangladesh' monsoons. In the village of Sadolpara, Tami, 17, who lives with her parents, had a man that she loved and wanted to marry kidnapped in the night by her brother and cousins. This practise is an non-violent one. Always according to the ritual, the man escapes three times only to be kidnapped again, until he accepts to marry Tami. The wedding was then celebrated in a most simple fashion, under the protection of the god Saljong, the fertility god. A million Garos live in Meghalaya, protected in their ancestral home of the Garos hills, in a background of misty hillsides, covered with a jungle many water pathways. © text : Frédéric Castel


 

Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023907

A rice field in the Garos Hills.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023908

Besides agricultural activities, the Garos people gather, hunt, and fish throughout part of the year in campgrounds on riverbanks.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023909

When a Garo dies, his "kima", a statuette created with the dead person's personal belongings, is placed in front of his house. The kima reminds the others of his life, until it is removed by nature.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023910

The women return to the village at sunset. Very rare in India, the Garos society is structured by matrilineal model. Only women can inherit land from their families, the parental home being passed on to the youngest daughter.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023911

A women coming back to the village with her baby. In her hand, she is holding a sort of machete, an "attie", which is used to cut the throats of chickens as well as to construct homes.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023912

Inside the Garo house, the main room is dominated by its central fireplace, which is built on an earth platform and surmounted by a shelf on which cooking materials are kept.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023913

The Borang - a tree-house built in the fields which serves as lookout tower and a place of refuge against raiding wild elephants. Borangs are pleasant and cool on hot summer evenings, and are sometimes used for cooking, eating, and sleeping.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023914

The Garos carry their cotton to market in openwork baskets. Cotton is the most important cash crop of the people.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023915

November is the month of rest. Everyone prepares themselves to go danse and sing at the Wangala feast, which terminates the harvest period.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023916

At Jochang Marak's home, the Nokma, the village leader of the Gambarigri. But this title doesn't allow him priviliges or any particular authority, the Garos society does not recognize class or hierarchy.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023917

The Garos people have no machines, nor wheelbarrows, nor work animals : the fields are not plowed and the harvests are transported by back.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023918

The washing of the rice. The older women hold an important role in the Garos society : they give their names to their decendants.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023919

A calf-skin dries in the sun.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023920

Mass in a Protestant Church. Christianity allows the access of the Garos people to education. It questions however their culture and traditions. Baptist puritanism prohibits the drinking of rice beer and the sexual freedom of the youth. A growing economi

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023921

Before going to bed, men women and children drink rice beer and smoke small cigarettes rolled with corn paper, biris.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023922

After working in the fields, the women go together to wash dishes in the river, where they swim leisurely.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023923

Harvesting tea on the Garos hills.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023924

Drying and commercializing of tea products of the Garos hills.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023925

Commercializing of tea products of the Garos hills.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023926

After drying them in the sun, the sheaves are walked on to tread out rice or millet.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023927

In the village, the women seperate the spices that they will sell at market.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023928

Much of the daily work is assigned to women. One of their regular jobs is pounding rice.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023929

Lunch - rice wrapped in banana leaves.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023930

The Nokpante, the youth house where the young meet in the center of the village: the traditional ceremonies are also organized here.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023931

The Wangala festival. The sabre, the shield, the drums are the trace of the bloody past of the ancestors beheading up until the 19th century.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023932

Each village has a public space for improvised concerts. Adults and children come here to rest, sing or play music. In this common hall, drums are hung from rafters for everyone to play.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023933

A young mother harvests rice. The rice harvest begins in early September. Virtually everyone in the village goes out to the fields at this time and all must work for at least a week before the harvest is finished.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023934

Men and women of the village participate at the Wangala festival, the most important festivity of the Garos people.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023935

Rice beer is offered to the gods . Everyone drinks and beats the gongs and drums.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023936

Everyone prepares themselves with a meticulous ritual.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023937

Few parts of the Garo Hills District lie at an altitude of more than two or three thousand feet, but the ground is seldom level.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023938

Each village consists of clusters of houses which are usually arranged around one or more open courtyards.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023939

The high point of the Wangala festival is the dancing. Dancers (especially the girls) dress with great elegance in their best clothes and jewelery, and tie sprays of feathers into the backs of their turbans.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023940

Men sometimes fish with round nets, which they throw into the water in the hope of entangling small fish.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023941

Wangala Festival. Dancing is generally felt to be appropriate for the young, especially those who are unmarried.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023942

Construction of a roof. Here there is neither plastic or metal : the homes are roofed with palm leaves and dried bamboo, braided or sculpted.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023943

The Garos, who exploit bamboo forests, transport the stalks north, on one of the tributary of the Brahmapoutre.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023944

A village close to the rice field.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023945

A kima, an effigy which signifies the mourning of someone and and serves as a refuge of losts souls. These thrones are sculpted in the image of the ancestors ; they are dressed with the clothes and belongings of the dead. Often covered with white spots wh

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023946

Bathing at the river. Once the young girl have chosen her fiance, he must leave his clan and live and join the clan of his future wife's family.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023947

After the harvest, the cotton is transported to market.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023948

The high point of the Wangala festival is the dancing. Dancers (especially the girls) dress with great elegance in their best clothes and jewelery, and tie sprays of feathers into the backs of their turbans.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023949

In the traditional Garo homes, constructed with palms leaves and dried bamboo, the rooms are well defined.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023950

Family meal of chicken curry with rice with chili and ginger.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023951

Bamboo is extremely tough when whole, and can be used as structural members for all sorts of construction. But it splits easily in a lengthwise direction, and can be shaved down to extremely thin, flexible strips.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023952

A bridge allowing the passage over many rivers of the region.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023953

Scattered about in non-Christian villages are decaying remains of old sacrificial altars, which must be re-built each time a sacrifice is permormed.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023954

The Garos visit eachother’s homes constantly, not only during large festivals, but also on petty errands or simply for casual gossip.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023956

Public transport is largely insuficcient and the road conditions can be critical, especially in the rain season.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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Franco Zecchin / Picturetank ZEF0023958

Drums are made of a hollowed and carefully shaped piece of wood with raw-hide stretched over the end.

Meghalaya - 00/00/2002

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