“MEGHALAYA” is the name given by Dr. Chatterjee to that isolated block of peninsular India which sticks out westwards like a promontory from the Naga Hills into the plain of Assam-Bengal. The meaning is ‘abode of cloud’, on the analogy of Himalaya, ‘abode of snow’. Although the “Khasi and Jaintia Hills”, as the name appears on maps, are connected by a high ridge with the Naga Hills, they form no part of them, being very much older.
The Khasi, who number about 1 million in India's north-eastern state of Meghalaya, carry on the matrilineal tradition. The youngest daughter inherits, children take their mother's surname, and once married, men live in their mother-in-law's home.
"Only mothers or mother-in-laws look after the children. Men are not even entitled to take part in family gatherings. The husband is up against a whole clan of people: his wife, his mother-in-law and his children. So all he can do is play the guitar, sing, take to drink and die young," Pariat concludes gloomily.
Khasis follow a matrilineal system of inheritance. In the Khasi society, it is only the youngest daughter or “Ka Khadduh” who is eligible to inherit the ancestral property.If ‘Ka Khadduh’ dies without any daughter surviving her, her next elder sister inherits the ancestral property, and after her, the youngest daughter of that sister. Failing all daughters and their female issues, the property goes back to the mother’s sister, mother’s sister’s daughter and so on.
The Ka Khadduh’s property is actually the ancestral property and so if she wants to dispose it off, she must obtain consent and approval of the uncles and brothers.
Among the War-Khasis, however property passes to the children, male or female, in equal shares but among the War-Jaintias, only the female children get the inheritance
The Khāsi speak a Mon-Khmer language of the Austroasiatic stock. They are divided into several clans. Wet rice (paddy) provides the main subsistence; it is cultivated in the valley bottoms and in terrace gardens built on the hillsides. Many of the farmers still cultivate only by the slash-and-burn method, in which secondary jungle is burnt over and a crop raised for one or two years in the ash.
During monsoon season in northeast India, rainwater gushes through the emerald valleys and deep gorges of Meghalaya, the “abode of the clouds.” The mountainous plateau between Assam and Bangladesh is one of the wettest places on Earth, and the Khasi tribes who inhabit these hills have developed an intimate relationship with the forest.
Long before the availability of modern construction materials, the Khasi devised an ingenious way to traverse the turbulent waterways and link isolated villages: living root bridges, locally known as jing kieng jri
Tree trunks are planted on each side of the bank to create a sturdy foundation, and over the course of 15 to 30 years, the Khasi slowly thread Ficus elastica roots across a temporary bamboo scaffolding to connect the gap. A combination of humidity and foot traffic help compact the soil over time, and the tangle of roots grows thick and strong. Mature bridges stretch 15 to 250 feet over deep rivers and gorges, and can bear impressive loads—upwards of 35 people at a time.
Unlike modern building materials like concrete and steel, these structures typically become more resilient with age and can survive centuries. They regularly withstand flash flooding and storm surges that are common in the region—a low-cost and sustainable way to connect remote mountain villages scattered throughout the steep terrain. The exact origin of the tradition in this region is unknown, but the first written record appears more than a hundred years ago.
Beyond their sacred groves, the Khasi’s reverence for nature suffuses daily life. Like many villages in Meghalaya, Mawlynnong has no formal sanitation infrastructure, and every person is entrusted with safeguarding the environment. Waste is collected in bamboo receptacles located all over the village, which is then recycled into fertilizer and used for agriculture, their primary occupation. Plastics are repurposed, and villagers sweep lanes and public spaces daily.
Self-named "God's own garden," Mawlynnong is known as the cleanest village in India, a title that has attracted a steady stream of tourists and bolstered the local economy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the community as a model for the rest of the country, which is also home to one of the world's most polluted cities.
The Chin are of Sino-Tibetan origin and inhabit a mountain chain which roughly covers western Burma through to Mizoram in north-east India (where they are related to the Mizos, Kuki and others) and small parts of Bangladesh.
During monsoon season in northeast India, rainwater gushes through the emerald valleys and deep gorges of Meghalaya, the "abode of the clouds"
The mountainous plateau between Assam and Bangladesh is one of the wettest places on Earth, and the Khasi tribes who inhabit these hills have developed an intimate relationship with the forest.