|1.1 million (c. 2011)
|Regions with significant populations
|India • Bangladesh
|Christianity 90%, Songsarek 10%
|Related ethnic groups
|Bodo-Kachari peoples, Konyak
The Garo people are a Tibeto-Burmese ethnic group who live mostly in the Northeast Indian state of Meghalaya with relatively few people in neighboring Bangladesh. Historically, the name Garo was used for a large number of different peoples living on the southern bank of Brahmaputra river, but now refers primarily to those who call themselves A•chik Mande (literally "hill people," from A•chik "bite soil" + mande "people") or simply A•chik or Mande and the name "Garo" is now being used by outsiders as an exonym. They are the second-largest tribe in Meghalaya after the Khasi and comprise about a third of the local population.
Garo people mostly reside in Garo Hills region of Meghalaya. There are also large number of Garos residing in Khasi Hills region, Assam and other neighbouring states.
Tura is the main town in Garo Hills. Most of the Garo village or locality names ends with gre. Example, Dakopgre, Cherangre, Goeragre, Simsanggre etc. There are also names with ends with para, eg. Salmanpara, Asipara, Marakapara etc. Para is the corrupted name of bra which is a result of census mistake. Example, The village Asipara is a corrupted name which is in census records and in every government records but the original name is Asibra. The original name is being replaced by corrupted names which is a threat as we are loosing authentic Garo village names.
Many of the Garo community follow Christianity, with some rural pockets practising traditional animist religion known as Songsarek. It is argued that the indigenous groups who settled in the Garo Hills brought their ancient animistic religious beliefs and practices, with deities who must be appeased with rituals, ceremonies and animal sacrifices to ensure the welfare of the tribe.
Rev Ramke W. Momin was the first devout Christian from among the Garo. Rev Ramke W. Momin was born in Goalpara, Assam, India, sometime in the 1820s.
There are few Hindu and Muslim Garos living in Bangladesh.
The religion of the ancestors of the Garo is Songsarek. Their tradition "Dakbewal" relates to their most prominent cultural activities. In 2000, the group called "Risi Jilma" was founded to safeguard the ancient Garo Songsarek religion. Seeing the Songsarek population in decline, youth from the Dadenggiri subdivision of Garo Hills felt the need to preserve the Songsarek culture. The Rishi Jilma group is active in about 480 villages in and around Garo Hills.
The Garo are mainly distributed over the Garo Hills, Khasi Hills, Ri-Bhoi districts in Meghalaya, Kamrup, Goalpara, Sivasagar, and Karbi Anglong districts of Assam. Lesser numbers (about 200,000) are found in Mymensingh and capital Dhaka, and the Sylhet, and Moulovibazar districts of Bangladesh.
It is estimated that total Garo population in Meghalaya, Assam, Nagaland, Tripura, West Bengal, Canada, US, Europe, Australia and Bangladesh together is more than 1 million.
Garo are also found scattered in the Indian state of Tripura. The recorded Garo population was around 6,000 in 1971.
Garo form minority groups in Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling and West Dinajpur of West Bengal, as well as in Nagaland. The present generation of Garo forming minority groups in these states of India that do not speak the ethnic language any longer.
Garo form small communities in different parts of the world including Canada, America, Australia, England.
Main article: Garo language
The Garo language belongs to the Tibeto-Burman language family. The brief lists of Garo words were compiled by East India Company officials in 1800, and Garo acquired a Latin-based spelling system during the late 19th century, devised by American Baptist missionaries and based on a northeastern dialect of Garo. The first translation of the Garo Bible was published in 1924. The modern official language in schools and government offices is English.
According to one oral tradition, the Garo first migrated to the Garo Hills from Tibet (referred to as Tibotgre) around 400 BC under the leadership of Jappa Jalimpa, crossing the Brahmaputra River (Songdu Chibima) and tentatively settling in the river valley. The Garo finally settled down in Garo Hills (East-West Garo Hills), finding providence and security in this uncharted territory and claiming it as their own. Records of the tribe by expanding Mughal armies and by East India Company officials in what is now Bangladesh wrote of the brutality of the people.
The earliest written records about the Garo date from around 1800, and were written by officials of the East India Company. They "...were looked upon as bloodthirsty savages, who inhabited a tract of hills covered with almost impenetrable jungle, the climate of which was considered so deadly as to make it impossible for a white man to live there".
In December 1872, the British Raj dispatched a military expedition to Garo Hills to establish control over the region. The campaign was conducted from three sides – south, east, and west. The Garo warriors (matgriks) confronted them at the Battle of Rongrenggre equipped with spears, swords, and shields. They were defeated in the engagement, as the Garo did not have guns or mortars like the British Indian Army. By the early 1900s, the American Baptist Mission was active in the area, working from Tura, Meghalaya.
Two early histories of the Garo people were written by deputy commissioner for Eastern Bengal and Assam Major A. Playfair, The Garos (1909), and by Sinha T.C., The Psyche of Garos (1955).
The Garo are one of the few remaining matrilineal societies in the world. The individuals take their clan titles from their mothers. Traditionally, the youngest daughter (nokmechik) inherits the property from her mother. Sons leave their parents' house at puberty and are trained in the village bachelor dormitory (nokpante). After getting married, the man lives in his wife's house.
In Garo habitations, the house where unmarried male youth or bachelors live is called Nokpante. The women were forbidden from entering the Nokpante. Any woman who broke this rule was considered tainted or "marang nangjok." But this is not as common now.
Garo is a matrilineal society but is not to be mistaken to be matriarchal. While the property is owned by women, the men govern the society and domestic affairs and manage the property.
The Garo people have traditional names. However, the culture of the modern Garo community has been greatly influenced by Christianity.
Ornaments: Both men and women enjoy adorning themselves with ornaments:
The dresses of Meghalaya worn by the Garo tribe vary depending on the basis of the place of residence of the people. Women who belong to faraway villages of Garo hills wear an eking, a small cloth worn around the waist.
Clothing: The traditional dress of the Garo Women's is Dakmanda, Dakshari. In keeping with the modern age, Garo women wear jeans, Sari, T-shirts, pajamas. Garo men wear jeans, T-shirts, shirts.
Weapons: Garo have their own weapons. One of the principal weapons is a two-edged sword called mil·am made of one piece of iron from hilt to point. There is a cross-bar between the hilt and the blade where a bunch of ox's tail-hair is attached. The other types of weapons are shield, spear, bow and arrow, axe, dagger, etc.
Food and drink: Their staple food is rice. Kochu (taro), millet, maize, and tapioca are important substitutes for rice when it is scarce. Other than rice, some of the most frequently consumed foods are kochu, dried fish, bamboo shoots, sorrell, sweet potato, pumpkin, gourd, and banana. Although they eat meat less often, they relish that of wild animals, beef , pork, chicken, and fish and other aquatic fauna.
They use a kind of potash in curries, which they obtain by burning dry pieces of plantain stems or young bamboo locally known as kalchi or katchi. After they are burnt, the ashes are collected and dipped in water; they are strained in conical shapes in a bamboo strainer. These days most of the townspeople use cooking soda from the market in place of ash water. The Garo make their own liquor by fermenting a special type of rice and the finished product is called "Minil Bichi". Besides other drinks, country liquor plays an important role in the life of the Garo.
Chu: The Holy wine of Garo society: Sacred drink of the Garos is Chu. Any Garo child is made to drink this Chu at birth. They entertain guests with Chu.
Most Garo festivals are based on the agricultural cycle of crops. The harvesting festival Wangala is the biggest celebration of the tribe happening in the month of October or November every year. It is the thanksgiving after harvest in the honor of the god Saljong, provider of nature's bounties.
Other festivals include Gal·mak Goa, Agalmaka, etc.
There is a celebration of the 100-drum festival in Asanang near Tura in West Garo Hills, Meghalaya, India usually in October or November. Thousands of people, especially young people, gather at Asanang and celebrate Wangala. Garo girls known as nomil and boys pante take part in 'Wangala' festivals. The pantes beat a kind of long drum called dama in groups and play bamboo flute. The nomils with colorful costumes dance to the tune of dama and folk songs in a circle.
Garo in Dhaka celebrates wangala festival every year in November–December. There are 30,000 Garo in Dhaka Metropolitan city who are preserving the Garo Culture and tradition. In the Wangala day Garo arrive from every corner of the city in Lalmatia Housing Society ground to celebrate the festival. A total number of ten thousand people attend the celebration. Colorful rally with traditional dress, musical drums are played. The speeches from the guests are also one of the attraction for the people. The AMUA for Misi Saljon is take place by the original Kamal from village. The display stalls are arrange with traditional food, dresses, and other materials. There is also Souvenir publication from the Nokma Parishad where Prime Minister's Message is included. The Walgala festival in Dhaka bring special day for the Garo in Dhaka city.
Though Christmas is a religious celebration, December is a great season of celebration in Garo Hills. In the first week of December, the town of Tura and all other smaller towns are illuminated with lights. This celebration featured by worship, dance, merry-making, grand feasts, and social visits goes on till 10 January. People from all religions and sections take part in the Christmas celebration. In December 2003 the tallest Christmas tree of the world was erected at Dobasipara, Tura by the Baptist boys of Dobasipara. Its height was 119.3 feet, covered by BBC and widely broadcast on television. The tree was decorated with 16,319 colored light bulbs; it took about 14 days to complete the decoration.
The annual festival, conceptualised in 2008, is aimed to promote and brand this part of the region as a popular tourist destination by giving an opportunity for the local people to showcase their skills and expertise. The three-day fest features a gala event with carnival, cultural show, food festival, rock concert, wine festival, angling competition, ethnic wear competition, children's fancy dress, DJ Nite, exhibitions, housie housie, and other games. The entry forms for carnival and other events are available at the Tourist Office, Tura.
It was first started in 2006 in Williamnagar, Meghalaya. Simsang festival was known as Winter festival before and it promotes the talents of the local people. It also promotes the local bands and the exhibition on hand crafts made by local people. It also promotes the indigenous games of Garo.
Group songs may include Ku·dare sala, Hoa ring·a, Injoka, Kore doka, Ajea, Doroa, Nanggorere goserong, Dim dim chong dading chong, Serejing or Serenjing, Boel sala etc.
Dance forms are Ajema Roa, Mi Su·a, Chambil Moa, Do·kru Sua, Chame mikkang nia, Kambe Toa, Gaewang Roa, Napsepgrika and many others.
Traditional Garo musical instruments can broadly be classified into four groups.
Apart from traditional music and dances, Garos are now excelling in modern music creation. Garo community has popular modern music singers and music producers.
The Garo rely on nature. Their profession is hunting and warrior known as Matgrik. They practice jhum cultivation which is the most common agricultural tradition. For more than 4,000 years, until modern times, the Garo have been practicing jhum cultivation. Since the middle of the twentieth century, most Garo work in private industry or have government jobs. There is coal mining in the area, as well as the cultivation of bananas and other fruits.