On 8th March of every year, we celebrate Women’s Day as a way of respect and also to honor what women have given to society. However, even today women are not looked as equal to their counterpart, especially in India. So, here is another story into the Northeast part of the India where women are empowered traditionally and let look at how its system that run for generations, known as Matrilineal society.
Matrilineal or Matriliny or Matrilineality is the tracing of kinship through the female line. Matrilineal society can also be defined as the kinship system in which ancestral descent is traced through maternal lines.
The proud heritage of the Khasi and Garo and other subgroups of Meghalaya which is matrilineal in nature , and one of the unique kinship systems of the world unlike the most commonly patrilineal ( descent or lineage is traced through the father’s line ).
Such society is very unique and can also be found in other societies of the world like for e.g the Nairs of Kerala(India) and the Ashanti of Ghana are one of the few examples of matrilineal society.
Marriage is strictly exogamous in the Khasi society, i.e. Outside the clan or kur, there cannot be a greater sin than a coition between members of the same kur or clan. The same applies to the other dominant tribe of Meghalaya the Garos being exogamous in nature, however, the mother’s brother’s daughter type of cross-cousin marriage is most widely accepted among the people.
But a rigid custom however still prevails that a man must marry from the opposite catch (moiety). The men have to leave their house and have to join the family of his wife’s house unlike in the paternal culture where the bride has to join her groom’s family.
Property among the Khasi and the Garos is inherited through the mother’s side or matrilineal descent , one of the daughters is selected, in case of a Khasi society the youngest daughter or the ‘khatduh’ of the family inherits all the ancestral property, she is to look after her parents and to care and fend for them till their old age , even the children take the mother’s name in the matrilineal society of Meghalaya.
But however she is not the absolute owner of the property, the men in the family have a say and she is to consult with the men in the family before taking any significant decisions. In a Garo society, some decisions are taken by the women along with her husband who is considered to be the household authority (noni skotong). However, in a Khasi society, the rigid authorization of power and all major important decisions lies in the hands of the maternal uncle ( called u kn`i )
The tribes of the state didn’t have a clear cut political structure, but the political scenarios have changed both men and women at hand are now contributing to the development of their state, and unlike the olden days where women didn’t have any political powers and politics are considered a man’s domain, now women have also contributed their part and are no less than the men and firmly held the political scepter in their hands whenever needed.
In Meghalaya, women are traditionally empowered, the inheritance of property and descent, but however the tribal woman is much burdened individually, heavy responsibilities are placed upon her shoulders to ensure the welfare of her children, husband, parents and the family as a whole.
However one thing we have to admit Meghalaya’s Matrilineal culture do offers a safe sanctuary for women , and it can also be said that women here in the state might be treated better than their counterparts with the rest of India i .e. the tribal women of the state do holds and enjoy special place of status and dignity .