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Domestic Life


The greater proportion of the population subsists by cultivation. Cultivation of rice may be divided under two headings, high land or dry cultivation and low land or wet cultivation. The total number of persons who subsist by agriculture generally in the hills, is given is the last Census Report as 154,907, but the term agriculture includes the cultivation of the potato, the orange, betel-nut and pan. A full description of the different forms of agriculture will be given under the heading “Agriculture.” A considerable number of Khasis earn their livelihood as porters, carrying potatoes to the markets on the Sylhet side of the district, from whence the crop is conveyed by means of country boats to the different places of call of river-steamers in the Surma Valley, the steamers carrying the potatoes to Calcutta. Potatoes are also largely carried to Shillong by porters, where the tuber is readily bought by Marwari merchants, who load it in carts to be conveyed by road to Gauhati, from which station it is again shipped to Calcutta and Upper Assam. Many persons are also employed in carrying rice up the hill from Theria to Cherrapunji, Shillong, and on to other places. Salt is also carried by porters by this route. Many Khasis, both male and female, live by daily labour in this way, earning as much as eight annas, and six annas a day, respectively. The Census Report of 1901 shows some 14,000 “general labourers” in the district, the greater number of whom are porters and coolies, both male and female, employed on road work and on building. In Shillong the Government Offices and the printing press give employment to a certain number of Khasis. There is also a fair demand for Khasi domestic servants, both among the Europeans and the Bengali and Assamese clerks who are employed at the headquarters of the Administration. The manufacture of country spirit gives employment to a considerable number of persons, most of whom are females. At a recent census of the country stills in the district, undertaken by the district officials, the number of stills has been found to be 1,530. There must be at least one person employed at each still, so that the number of distillers is probably not less than 2,000, possibly more. The spirit is distilled both for home consumption and for purposes of sale, in some villages almost entirely for sale. In, the Jaintia Hills stock-breeding and dealing in cattle provides occupation for 1,295 people, according to the last census. The cattle are reared in the Jaintia Hills and are driven down to the plains when they reach the age of maturity, where they find a ready market amongst the Sylhetis. Cattle are also driven into Shillong for sale from the Jaintia Hills. Another place for rearing cattle is the Siemship of Nongkhlaw, where there is good pasturage in the neighbourhood of Mairang. These cattle are either sold in Shillong or find their way to the Kamrup district by the old Nongkhlaw road. Cattle-breeding is an industry which is capable of expansion in these hills. There are a few carpenters to be found in Shillong and its neighbourhood. The Khasis are said by Col. Waddell to be unacquainted with the art of weaving; but the fact that a considerable weaving industry exists amongst the Khyrwang villages of the Syntengs, and at Mynso and Suhtnga, has been overlooked by him. The Khyrwangs weave a special pattern of cotton and silk cloth, striped red and white. In Mynso and Suhtnga similar cloths are woven, also the sleeveless coat. In former days this industry is said to have been considerable, but it has been displaced to a large extent of late years by Manchester piece goods. The number of weavers returned at the last census in the district was 533. The Khasis and Mikirs of the low country, or Bhois as they are called, weave cotton cloths which they dye with the leaves of a plant called u noli. This is perhaps the wild indigo, or ram, of the Shan settlers in the Assam Valley. The weavers are almost always females. An important means of subsistence is road and building work; a considerable number of coolies, both male and female, are employed under Government, practically throughout the year, in this manner, the males earning on an average 8 annas and the females 6 annas a day. Col Bivar writes that in 1875 the wages for ordinary male labourers were 4 to 8 annas a day, and for females 21/2 to 4 annas, so that the wages rates have almost doubled in the last thirty years. Contractors, however, often manage to obtain daily labour at lower rates than those paid by Government. Stonemasons and skilled labourers are able to get higher rates. It is easier to obtain coolies in the Khasi than in the Jaintia Hills, where a large proportion of the population is employed in cultivation. The Khasis are excellent labourers, and cheerful and willing, but they at once resent bad treatment, and are then intractable and hard to manage. Khasis are averse to working in the plains in the hot-weather months.


I am indebted to Mr. Rita for the following remarks on apiculture in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills.

There are two kinds of indigenous bees in the Khasi Hills: one domesticated, called u ngap (apis Indica), and the other u lywai, which is never domesticated, and is very pugnacious; its hives are difficult of access, being always located in very high cliffs. A few hives of a third class of bee are now-a-days to be found in and around the station of Shillong, i.e. the Italian. This bee was imported into the hills by Messrs. Dobbie and Rita, and the species became propagated in the following manner. The bees had been just established in a hive, where they had constructed a brood comb, when the hive was robbed by some Khasis for the sake of the larvae it contained, which they wished to consume as food; but the queen bee escaped and established other colonies, one of which was afterwards captured by Mr. Rita, the others establishing themselves at places in the neighbourhood. The hive used by the Khasis is of a very primitive description. It is usually a hollow piece of wood, about 2 1/2 to 3 ft. in length and 10 or 12 in. in diameter. A small door is placed at each end of the log, one for the bees to go in and out, and the other for the removal of the honey when wanted. The honey-combs are broken and the honey is extracted by squeezing the comb with the hand. Wax is obtained by placing the comb in boiling water and allowing it to cool, when the wax floats to the surface. The Khasis do not systematically tend their bees, as they do not understand how to prevent swarming, and as the Khasi bee is a prolific swarmer, hives become weak very soon and a new hive has to be started from a captured natural swarm. The villages in which bees are regularly kept to any large extent in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills are Thied-dieng, Mawphoo, Nongwar, Mawlong, Pynter, Tyrna, and Kongthong, but most of the War villagers rear bees and sell the honey at the neighbouring markets. The collection of the honey of the wild bee, or u lywai, is a hazardous occupation, the services of some six or seven persons being required, as the combs of this bee are generally built in the crevices of precipitous rocks, and sometimes weigh more than half a maund each. When such hives are discovered the bees are driven out by the smoke of a smouldering fire lit at the foot of the rock below the hive. Two or three men get to the top of the precipice, leaving two or three of their companions at the base. One of the men on the top of the rock is then lowered down in a sling tied to a strong rope, which is made fast by his companions above to a tree or boulder. The man in the sling is supplied with material to light a torch which gives out a thick smoke, with the aid of which the bees are expelled. The man then cuts out the comb, which he places in a leather bucket or bag, which, when filled, he lowers down to the persons in waiting at the foot of the rock. The wild honey may be distinguished from that of the domestic bee by being of a reddish colour. Honey from the last-mentioned bee is gathered twice or thrice in the year, once in the autumn and once or twice in the spring; that gathered in early spring is not so matured as that collected in autumn. The flora of the Khasi Hills being so numerous, there is no necessity for providing bees with artificial food. The bees are generally able to obtain their sustenance from clover, anemonies, “golden rod,” bush honeysuckle, and numerous shrubs such as andrómeda, daphné, &c., which abound about Shillong. There seem to be facilities for apiculture on a large scale in these hills, and certainly the honey which is brought round by the Khasis for sale in Shillong is excellent, the flavour being quite as good as that of English honey. Under “Miscellaneous Customs connected with Death” will be found a reference to the statement that the dead bodies of Siems used to be embalmed in honey. The existence of the custom is generally denied by Khasis, but its former prevalence is probable, as several trustworthy authors have quoted it.


The houses of the people are cleaner than might be supposed after taking into consideration the dirtiness of the clothes and persons of those who inhabit them. They are as a rule substantial thatched cottages with plank or stone walls, and raised on a plinth some 2 to 3 ft. from the ground. The only window is a small opening on one side of the house, which admits but a dim light into the smoke-begrimed interior. The beams are so low that it is impossible for a person of ordinary stature to stand erect within. The fire is always burning on an earthen or stone hearth in the centre. There is no chimney, the smoke finding its exit as best it can. The firewood is placed to dry on a swinging frame above the hearth. In the porch are stacked fuel and odds and ends. The pigs and calves are generally kept in little houses just outside the main building. The Khasi house is oval-shaped, and is divided into three rooms, a porch, a centre room, and a retiring-room.

In olden days the Khasis considered nails sang, or taboo, and only used a certain kind of timber for the fender which surrounds the hearth; but they are not so particular now-a-days. In Mawkhar, Cherrapunji, and other large villages, the walls of houses are generally of stone. In Cherrapunji the houses are frequently large, but the largest house I have seen in the hills is that of the Doloi of Suhtnga in the Jaintia Hills which measures 74 ft. in length. The house of the Siem Priestess at Smit in the Khasi Hills is another large one, being 61 ft. long by 30 ft. broad. In front of the Khasi house is a little space fenced in on two sides, but open towards the village street. The Syntengs plaster the space in front of the house with red earth and cow-dung, this custom being probably a remnant of Hindu influences. The Khasis have some peculiar customs when they build a new house. When the house is completed they perform a ceremony, kynjoh-hka-skain, when they tie three pieces of dried fish to the ridge pole of the house and then jump up and try to pull them down again. Or they kill a pig, cut a piece of the flesh with the skin attached, and fix it to the ridge pole, and then endeavour to dislodge it. The Syntengs at Nartiang worship U Biskurom (Biswakarma) and Ka Siem Synshar when a house is completed, two fowls being sacrificed, one to the former, the other to the latter. The feathers of the fowls are affixed to the centre post of the house, which must be of u dieng sning, a variety of the Khasi oak. The worship of a Hindu god (Biswakarma), the architect of the Hindu gods, alongside the Khasi deity Ka Siem Synshar, is interesting, and may be explained by the fact that Nartiang was at one time the summer capital of the kings of Jaintia, who were Hindus latterly and disseminated Hindu customs largely amongst the Syntengs. Mr. Rita says that amongst the Syntengs, a house, the walls of which have been plastered with mud, is a sign that the householder has an enemy. The plastering no doubt is executed as a preventive of fire, arson in these hills being a common form of revenge.

Amongst the Khasis, when a daughter leaves her mother’s house and builds a house in the mother’s compound, it is considered sang, or taboo, for the daughter’s house to be built on the right-hand side of the mother’s house, it should be built either on the left hand or at the back of the mother’s house.

In Nongstoin it is customary to worship a deity called u’lei lap (Khasi, u phan), by nailing up branches of the Khasi oak, interspersed with jaw-bones of cattle and the feathers of fowls, to the principal post, which must be of u dieng sning. The Siem priestess of the Nongkrem State at Smit and the ladies of the Siem family perform a ceremonial dance before a large post of oak in the midst of the Siem priestesses’ house on the occasion of the annual goat-killing ceremony. This oak post is furnished according to custom by the lyngskor or official spokesman of the Siem’s Durbar. Another post of oak in this house is furnished by the people of the State.

The houses of the well-to-do Khasis of the present day in Mawkhar and Cherrapunji are built after the modern style with iron roofs, chimneys, glass windows and doors. In Jowai the well-to-do traders have excellent houses of the European pattern, which are as comfortable as many of the European subordinates’ quarters in Shillong. Some up-to-date families in Shillong and at Cherra allow themselves muslin curtains and European furniture.

The houses of the Pnar-Wars are peculiar. The roof, which is thatched with the leaves of a palm called u tynriew, is hog-backed and the eaves come down almost to the ground. There are three rooms in the War as in the Khasi house, although called by different names in the War dialect. The hearth is in the centre room. The houses are built flush with the ground and are made of bamboos. In the War villages of Nongjri and Umniuh there are small houses erected in the compounds of the ordinary dwelling-houses called ieng ksuid (spirit houses). In these houses offerings to the spirits of departed family ancestors are placed at intervals, this practice being very similar to the more ancient form of Shintoism. In some War villages there are also separate bachelors’ quarters. This custom is in accordance with that of the Naga tribes. There is no such custom amongst the Khasi Uplanders. The War houses are similar to those of the Pnar Wars, except that a portion of the house is generally built on a platform, the main house resting on the hill-side and the portion on the platform projecting therefrom, the object being to obtain more space, the area for houses in the village sites being often limited owing to the steepness of the hill-sides.

The Bhoi and Lynngam houses are practically similar, and may be described together. They are generally built on fairly high platforms of bamboo, are frequently 30 to 40 ft. in length, and are divided into various compartments in order to suit the needs of the family. The hearth, which is of earth, is in the centre room. There is a platform at the back of the Lynngam house, and in front of the Bhoi house, used for drying paddy, spreading chillies, &c., and for sitting on when the day’s work is done. In order to ascend to a Bhoi house, yon have to climb up a notched pole. The Bhois sacrifice a he-goat and a fowl to Rek-anglong (Khasi, Ramiew iing), the household god, when they build a new house.


Unlike the Nagas and Kukis, the Khasis do not build their villages on the extreme summits of hills, but a little below the tops, generally in small depressions; in order to obtain some protection from the strong winds and storms which prevail in these hills at certain times of the year. According to the late U Jeebon Roy, it is sang, or taboo, to the Khasis to build a house on the last eminence of a range of hills, this custom having perhaps arisen owing to the necessity of locating villages with reference to their defence against an enemy. Khasis build their houses fairly close together, but not as close as houses in the Bhoi and Lynngam villages. Khasis seldom change the sites of their villages, to which they are very much attached, where, as a rule, the family tombs are standing and the mawbynna or memorial stones. In many villages stone cromlechs and memorial stones are to be seen which from their appearance show that the villages have been there for many generations. During the Jaintia rebellion the village of Jowai was almost entirely destroyed, but as soon as the rebellion was over the people returned to the old site and rebuilt their village. Similarly, after the earthquake, the ancient village sites were not abandoned in many cases, but the people rebuilt their houses in their former positions, although in Shillong and Cherrapunji they rebuilt the walls of the houses of wooden materials instead of stone. There is no such thing as a specially reserved area in the village for the Siem and the nobility, all the people, rich or poor, living together in one village, their houses being scattered about indiscriminately. To the democratic Khasi the ides of the Siem living apart from his people would be repugnant. In the vicinity of the Khasi village, often just below the brow of the hill to the leeward side, are to be seen dark woods of oak and other trees. These are the sacred groves. Here the villagers worship U ryngkew U basa, the tutelary deity of the village. These groves are taboo, and it is an offence to cut trees therein for any purpose other than for performing funeral obsequies. The groves are generally not more than a few hundred yards away from the villages. The villages of the Syntengs are similar in character to those of the Khasis. The War villages nestle on the hill-sides of the southern border, and are to be seen peeping out from the green foliage with which the southern slopes are clad. In the vicinity of, and actually up to the houses, in the War villages, are to be observed large groves of areca-nut, often twined with the pan creeper, and of plantain trees, which much enhance the beauty of the scene. Looking at a War village from a distance, a darker shade of green is seen; this denotes the limits of the extensive groves where the justly celebrated Khasi orange is grown, which is the source of so much profit to these people. The houses in the War villages are generally closer together than those of the Khasis, probably owing to apace being limited, and to the villages being located on the slopes of hills. Generally up the narrow village street, and from house to house, there are rough steep stone steps, the upper portion of a village being frequently situated at as high an elevation as 200 to 300 ft. above the lower. In a convenient spot in a War village a clear space is to be seen neatly swept and kept free from weeds, and surrounded with a stone wall, where the village tribunals sit, and the elders meet in solemn conclave. Dances also are held here on festive occasions. At Nongjri village there is a fine rubber tree, under whose hollow trunk there are certain sacred stones where the priest performs the village ceremonies.

The Bhoi and Lynngam villages are built in small clearings in the forest, the houses are close together and are built often in parallel lines, a fairly broad space being reserved between the lines of houses to serve as a street. One misses the pretty gardens of the War villages, for Bhois and Lynngams attempt nothing of the sort, probably because, unlike the Khasi, a Bhoi or Lynngam village never remains more than two or three years in one spot; generally the villages of these people are in the vicinity of the forest clearings, sometimes actually in the midst of them, more especially when the latter are situated in places where jungle is dense, and there is fear of attacks from wild animals. In the Lynngam village is to be seen a high bamboo platform some 20 to 30 ft. from the ground, built in the midst of the village, where the elders sit and gossip in the evening.

All the villages, Khasi, War, Lynngam and Bhoi, swarm with pigs, which run about the villages unchecked. The pigs feed on all kinds of filth, and in addition are fed upon the wort and spent wash of the brewings of country spirit, of rice beer, the latter being carefully collected and poured into wooden troughs. The pigs are of the usual black description seen in India. They thrive greatly in the Khasi villages, and frequently attain extreme obesity.

In the Khasi villages of the high plateaux are often nowadays potato gardens, the latter being carefully protected from the inroads of pigs, calves, and goats by dry dikes surmounted by hedges.

I noticed an interesting custom at a Bhoi village in Nongpoh of barricading the path leading to the village from the forest with bamboo palisading and bamboo chevaux de frise to keep out the demon of cholera. In the middle of the barricade there was a wooden door over which was nailed the skull of a monkey which had been sacrificed to this demon, which is, as amongst the Syntengs, called khlam.

Furniture and Household Utensils.

As in the case of houses, so with reference to furniture, the influence of civilization shows many changes. The Khasi of the present day who lives in Mawkhar has a comfortable house regularly divided up into rooms in the European style with even some European articles of furniture, but owing probably to the influence of the women, he still possesses several of the articles of furniture which are to be met with in the houses of those who still observe the old style of living. Let us take the furniture of the kitchen to begin with. Above the hearth is slung by ropes of cane a swinging wooden framework blackened with the smoke of years, upon which are spread the faggots of resinous fir-wood used for kindling the fire. Above this again is a wooden framework fixed on to the beams of the house, upon which all sorts of odds and ends are kept. Around the fire are to be seen small wooden stools, upon which the members of the household sit. Up-to-date Khasis have cane chairs, but the women of the family, true to the conservative instincts of the sex, prefer the humble stool to sit upon. Well-to-do Khasis nowadays have, in addition to the ordinary cooking vessels made of iron and earthenware, a number of brass utensils. The writer has seen in a Khasi house in Mawkhar brass drinking vessels of the pattern used in Orissa, of the description used in Manipur, and of the kind which is in vogue in Sylhet. The ordinary cultivator, however, uses a waterpot made from a gourd hollowed out for keeping water and liquor in, and drinks from a bamboo cylinder. Plates, or more properly speaking dishes, are of several kinds in the houses of the rich, the two larger ones being styled ka pliang kynthei (female) and ka pliang shynrang (male). Needless to say, the first mentioned is a larger utensil than the latter. The ordinary waterpots, u khiew phiang kynthei and u khiew phiang shynrang, are made of brass, the former being a size larger and having a wider mouth than the latter. The pot for cooking vegetables is made of iron. Another utensil is made of earthenware; this is the ordinary cooking pot used in the houses of the poor. Brass spoons of different sizes are used for stirring the contents of the different cooking utensils, also a wooden spoon.

In the sleeping-rooms of the well-to-do there are wooden beds with mattresses and sheets and pillows, clothes being hung upon clothes-racks, which in one house visited were of the same pattern as the English “towel horse.” The ordinary cultivator and his wife sleep on mats made of plaited bamboo, which are spread on the bare boards of the house. There are various kinds of mats to be met with in the Khasi houses made of plaited cane, of a kind of reed, and of plaited bamboo. The best kind of mat is prepared from cane. In all Khasi houses are to be seen ki knup, or rain shields, of different sizes and sometimes of somewhat different shapes. The large shield of Cherrapunji is used as a protection from rain. Those of Maharam and Mawiang are each of a peculiar pattern. Smaller shields are used as protections from the sun or merely for show, and there are specially small sizes for children. Then there are the different kinds of baskets (ki khoh) which are carried on the back, slung across the forehead by a cane head-strap. These, again, are of different sizes. They are, however, always of the same conical shape, being round and broad-mouthed at the top and gradually tapering to a point at the bottom. A bamboo cover is used to protect the contents of the basket from rain. There is a special kind of basket made of cane or bamboo with a cover, which is used for carrying articles on a journey. These baskets, again, are of different sizes, the largest and best that the writer has seen being manufactured at Rambrai, in the south-western portion of the hills. Paddy is husked in a wooden mortar by means of a heavy wooden pestle. These are to be seen all over the hills. The work of husking paddy is performed by the women. A bamboo sieve is sometimes used for sifting the husked rise, a winnowing fan being applied to separate the husk. The cleaned rice is exposed to the sun in a bamboo tray. Paddy is stored in a separate store-house in large circular bamboo receptacles. These hold sometimes as much as 30 maunds of grain. Large baskets are also used for keeping paddy in. In every Khasi house is to be found the net bag which is made out of pineapple fibre, or of u stein, the Assamese riha (Boehmeria nivea). These bags are of two sizes, the larger one for keeping cowries id, the cowrie in former days having been used instead of current coin in these hills, the smaller far the ever necessary betel-nut. Pan leaves are kept in a bamboo tube, and tobacco leaves in a smaller one. Lime, for eating with betel-nut, is kept in a metal box, sometimes of silver, which is made in two separate parts held together by a chain. The box is called ka shanam, and is used all over the hills. This box is also used for divination purposes, one end of it being held in the hand, and the other, by means of the chain, being allowed to swing like a pendulum. An explanation of this method of divination will be found in the paragraph dealing with divination.

There is also a pair of squeezers used by the old and toothless for breaking up betel-nut. In the houses of the well-to-do is to be seen the ordinary hubble-bubble of India. Outside the houses of cultivators are wooden troughs hollowed out of the trunks of trees, which are used either as drinking troughs for cattle or for feeding pigs. A special set of utensils is used for manufacturing liquor. The Synteng and War articles of furniture and utensils are the same as those of the Khasis, with different names, a remark which applies also to those of the Bhois and Lynngams. Both the latter, however, use leaves as plates, the Bhoi using the wild plantain and the Lynngam a large leaf called ka ’la mariong. The leaves are thrown away after eating, fresh leaves being gathered for each meal. The Lynngams use a quilt (ka syllar) made out of the bark of a tree of the same name as a bed covering. This tree is perhaps the same as the Garo simpak. In the Bhoi and Lynngam houses the swinging shelf for keeping firewood is not to be seen, nor is the latter to be found amongst the submontane Bodo tribes in Assam.

Musical Instruments.

The Khasis have not many musical instruments, and those that they possess, with one or two exceptions, are of very much the same description as those of the Assamese. There are several kinds of drums, viz. ka nakra, which is a large kettledrum made of wood having the head covered with deerskin; ka ksing, which is a cylindrically-shaped drum rather smaller than the Assamese dhol (ka ksing kynthei takes its name from the fact that this drum is beaten when women, kynthei, dance), ka padiah, a small drum with a handle made of wood; katasa, a small circular drum. Khasi drums are nearly always made of wood, not of metal, like the drums to be seen in the monasteries of Upper Assam, or of earthenware, as in Lower Assam.

Ka duitara is a guitar with muga silk strings, which is played with a little wooden key held in the hand. Ka maryngod is an instrument much the same as the last, but is played with a bow like a violin. Ka marynthing is a kind of guitar with one string, played with the finger.

Ka tangmuri is a wooden pipe, which is played like a flageolet. Ka kynshaw, or shakuriaw, are cymbals made of bell metal; ka sharati, or ka shingwiang, is a kind of flute made of bamboo. This instrument is played at cremation ceremonies, and when the bones and ashes of a clan are collected and placed in the family tomb, or mawbah. This flute is not played on ordinary occasions. In the folk-lore portion of the Monograph will be found a tale regarding it. There are other kinds of flutes which are played on ordinary occasions. The Wars of the twenty-five villages in the Khyrim State make a sort of harp out of reed, which is called ka ’sing ding phong. The Khasis also play a Jews’ Harp (ka mieng), which is made of bamboo.


The Khasis are industrious cultivators, although they are behindhand in some of their methods of cultivation, (e.g. their failure to adopt the use of the plough in the greater portion of the district); they are thoroughly aware of the uses of manures. Their system of turning the sods, allowing them to dry, then burning them, and raking the ashes over the soil, is much in advance of any system of natural manuring to be seen elsewhere in the Province. The Khasis use the following agricultural implements: A large hoe (mokhiw heh), an axe for felling trees (u sdie), a large da for felling trees (ka wait lynngam), two kinds of bill-hooks (ka wait prat and ka wait khmut), a sickle (ka rashi), a plough in parts of the Jaintia Hills (ka lyngkor), also a harrow (ka iuh moi). In dealing with agriculture, the lands of the Khasi and Jaintia Hills may be divided into the following classes: (a) Forest land, (b) wet paddy land called hali or pynthor, (c) high grass land or ka ri lum or ka ri phlang, (d) homestead land (ka ’dew kyper). Forest lands are cleared by the process known as jhuming, the trees being felled early in the winter and allowed to lie till January or February, when fire is applied, logs of wood being placed at intervals of a few feet to prevent as far as possible the ashes being blown away by the wind. The lands are not hoed, nor treated any further, paddy and millet being sown broadcast, and the seeds of root crops, as well as of maize and Job’s tears, being dibbled into the ground by means of small hoes. No manure, beyond the wood ashes above mentioned, is used on this class of land; there is no irrigation, and no other system of watering is resorted to. The seeds are sown generally when the first rain falls. This style of cultivation, or jhum, is largely resorted to by the people inhabiting the eastern and southern portions of the Jaintia Hills, e.g. the Bhois and Lalungs, the Lynngams and Garos of the western tracts of the district. Wet paddy land (hali or pynthor) is, as the name implies, the land where the kind of paddy which requires a great deal of water is grown. The bottoms of valleys are divided up into little compartments by means of fairly high banks corresponding to the Assamese alis, and the water is let in at will into these compartments by means of skilfully contrived irrigation channels, sometimes a mile or more in length. The soil is made into a thick paste in the Jaintia Hills by means of the plough, and in the Khasi Hills through the agency of the hoe. Droves of cattle also are driven repeatedly over the paddy-fields until the mud has acquired the right consistency. The seed is then sown broadcast in the wet mud. It is not sown first in a seedling bed and then transplanted, as in Assam and Bengal. When the plants have grown to a height of about four inches, water is let in again; then comes the weeding, which has to be done several times. When the crop is ripe, the ears are cut with a sickle (ka rashi) generally, so as to leave almost the entire stalk, and are left is different parts of the field. A peculiarity about the Lynngam and the Khasis and Mikirs of the low hills, or Bhois as they are called, is that they reckon it sang, or taboo, to use the sickle. They reap their grain by pulling the ear through the hand. The sheaves, after they are dry, are collected and thrashed out on the spot, either by beating them against a stone (shoh kba), or by men and women treading them out (iuh kba). Cattle are not used for treading out the grain. The grain is then collected and placed in large bamboo receptacles (ki thiar). The paddy-fields are not manured. The Khasis, when cultivating high lands, select a clayey soil if they can. In the early part of the winter the sods are turned over with the hoe, and they are exposed to the action of the atmosphere for a period of about two months. When the sods are dry, they are placed in piles, which are generally in rows in the fields, and by means of ignited bunches of dry grass within the piles a slow fire is kept up, the piles of sods being gradually reduced to ashes. This is the “paring and burning process” used in England. The ashes so obtained are then carefully raked over the field. Sometimes other manure is also applied, but not when paddy is cultivated. The soil is now fit to receive the seed, either high-land paddy, millet, Job’s tears, or other crops, as the case may be. The homestead lands are plentifully manured, and consequently, with attention, produce good crops. They are cultivated with the hoe.

The cultivation of oranges in the southern portion of the district ranks equally in importance with that of the potato in the northern. The orange, which is known in Calcutta as the Chhatak or Sylhet orange, comes from the warm southern slopes of the hills in this district, where it is cultivated on an extensive scale. Although oranges do best when there is considerable heat, they have been known to do well as high as 3,000 ft.; but the usual limit of elevation for the growth of oranges in this district is probably about 1,000 to 1,500 ft. The orange of the Khasi Hills has always been famous for its excellence, and Sir George Birdwood, in his introduction to the “First Letter Book of the East India Company,” page 36, refers to the orange and lemon of Garhwal, Sikkim, and Khasia as having been carried by Arab traders into Syria, “whence the Crusaders helped to gradually propagate them throughout Southern Europe.” Therefore, whereas the potato was imported, the orange would appear to be indigenous in these hills.

Nurseries. The seeds are collected and dried by being exposed to the sun. In the spring nurseries we prepared, the ground being thoroughly hoed and the soil pulverized as far as possible. The nursery is walled with stones. The seeds are then sown, a thin top layer of earth being applied. The nurseries are regularly watered, and are covered up with layers of leaves to ensure, as far as possible, the retention of the necessary moisture. When the plants are 3 or 4 in. high, they are transplanted to another and larger nursery, the soil of which has been previously well prepared for the reception of the young plants.

An orangery is prepared in the following manner:

The shrubs, weeds and small trees are cut down, leaving only the big trees for the purpose of shade. The plants from the nurseries are planted from 6 ft. to 9 ft. apart. When they have become young trees, many of the branches of the sheltering trees mentioned above are lopped off, so as to admit the necessary amount of sunlight to the young orange trees. As the orange trees increase in size, the sheltering trees are gradually felled. The orchard requires clearing of jungle once in spring and once in autumn. The Khasis do not manure their orange trees, nor do they dig about and expose the roots. The price of orange plants is from 75 to 100 plants per rupee for plants from 1 to 2 ft. in height, and from fifty to seventy-five plants per rupee for plants from 2 to 5 ft. in height. Orange trees bear fruit when from five to eight years old in ordinary soils. In very fertile soils they sometimes bear after four years. A full-grown tree yields annually as many as 1,000 oranges, but a larger number is not unknown. The larger portion of the produce is exported from the district to the plains, and to fruit markets at the foot of the hills such as Theria, Mawdon, and Phali-Bazar, on the Shella river, whence it finds its way to the Calcutta and Eastern Bengal markets.

Potatoes are raised on all classes of land, except hali, or wet paddy land. When the land has been properly levelled and hoed, drains are dug about the field. A cultivator (generally a female), with a basket of seed potatoes on her back and with a small hoe in her right hand, digs holes and with the left hand drops two seed-potatoes into each hole. The holes are about 6 in. in diameter, 6 in. deep, and from 6 to 9 in. apart from one another. Another woman, with a load of manure in a basket on her back, throws a little manure over the seed in the hole, and then covers both up with earth. After the plants have attained the height of about 6 in., they are earthed up. When the leaves turn yellow, it is a sign that the potatoes are ripe. The different kinds of sweet potatoes grown and the yam and another kind of esculent root u sohphlang (femingia vestita Benth.) will be noticed under the head of “Crops.”

The Khasis possess very few agricultural sayings and proverbs, but the following may be quoted as examples:

(1) Wat ju aï thung jingthung ne bet symbai ha uba sniew kti.

Do not allow plants to be planted or seeds to be sown by one who has a bad hand.

As elsewhere, there is a belief amongst the Khasis that some people’s touch as regards agriculture is unlucky.

(2) Thung dieng ne bet symbai haba ngen bnai, ym haba shai u bnai.

Plant trees or sow seeds not when the moon is waxing, but when it is on the wane.

(3) Wei la saw bha ka bneng sepngi jan miet phin sa ioh jingrang lashai.

A red sky in the west in the evening is the sign of fine weather to-morrow.

Cf. our English proverb “a red sky in the morning is a shepherd’s warning, a red sky at night is a shepherd’s delight.”


The varieties of rice found in the Khasi Hills are divided into two main classes, one grown as a dry crop on high lands, and the other raised in valleys and hollows which are artificially irrigated from hill streams. The lowland rice is more productive than that grown on high lands, the average per acre of the former, according to the agricultural bulletin, as ascertained from the results of 817 experimental crop cuttings carried out during the fifteen years preceding the year 1898, being 11.7 maunds of paddy per acre, as against an average of 9.4 maunds per acre (resulting from 667 cuttings made during the same period) for the latter. The average out-turn of both kinds is extremely poor, as compared with that of any description of rice grown in the plains. The rice grown in the hills is said by the Agricultural Department to be of inferior quality, the grain when cleaned being of a red colour, and extremely coarse. The cultivation of potatoes is practically confined to the Khasi Hills, there being little or none in the Jaintia Hills. The normal out-turn of the summer crop sown in February and harvested in June is reported by the Agricultural Department to be five times the quantity of seed used, and that of the winter crop, sown in August and September on the land from which the summer crop has been taken, and harvested in December, twice the quantity of seed. The winter crop is raised chiefly for the purpose of obtaining seed for the spring sowings, as it is found difficult to keep potatoes from the summer crop in good condition till the following spring. The usual quantity of seed used to the acre at each sowing is about 9 maunds, so that the gross out-turn of an acre of land cultivated with potatoes during the year may be taken at 63 maunds, and the net out-turn, after deducting the quantity of seed used, at 45 maunds. The above estimate of the Agricultural Department rests chiefly on the statements of the cultivators, and has not been adequately tested by experiment.

Since the appearance of the potato disease in 1885-86 there has been a great decrease in the area under potato cultivation. In 1881-82 the exports of potatoes from the district were as high as 126,981 maunds. From 1886-87 the exports began annually to decrease until in 1895-96 the very low figure of 8,296 maunds was reached.

It will be observed that there has been some improvement, but the exports are still not half what they were in 1881-82. There are two kinds of sweet potatoes grown in the district, the Garo potato (u phan Karo), which appears to have been introduced from the Garo Hills, and u phan sawlia, the latter being distinguished from the Garo potato by its having a red skin, the Garo potato possessing a white skin. These kinds of potato are planted on all classes of land except hali, they do best on jhumed and homestead lands. The yam proper (u phan shynreh) is also largely grown. The small plant with an edible root called by the Khasis u sohphang (flemingia vestita Benth.), is also largely grown. The roots of the plant after being peeled are eaten raw by the Khasis. As far as we know, this esculent is not cultivated in the adjoining hill districts. Job’s tears (coix lachryma-Jobi) are extensively grown, and are planted frequently with the sohphlang mentioned above. This cereal forms a substitute for rice amongst the poorer cultivators. Maize or Indian corn (u riew hadem) is grown frequently, thriving best on homestead land, and requires heavy manuring; it is grown in rotation with potatoes. Next in importance to rice comes the millet (u krai), as a staple of food amongst the Khasis. There are three varieties of millets generally to be seen in the Khasi Hills: u ’rai-soh (setaria Italica), u ’rai-shan (Paspalum sanguinale), and u ’rai-truh (Eleusine coracana). U ’rai-shan is cultivated in rotation with the potato, u ’rai-soh and u ’rai-truh are generally cultivated on jhumed land, where they thrive well. Millet is sometimes used instead of rice in the manufacture of spirit by the Khasis; u rymbai-ja (phaseolus calcaratus), and u rymbai ktung (glycine soja) are beans which are cultivated occasionally: Khasis highly prize the fruit of the plantain, which they give to infants mashed up. The following are the best known varieties: Ka kait khun, ka kait siem, ka kait kulbuit, ka kait bamon, ka kait shyieng.

The most important crop on the southern side of the hills is the orange, which has already been referred to in the paragraph dealing with agriculture.

The price per spah varies from about 10 rupees in good years to R, when the orange harvest has been a poor one.

The lime is also cultivated, not separately, but along with the orange. The lime can be grown with success at a higher altitude than the orange. There is extensive betel-nut and pan cultivation on the southern slopes of the hills. The betel-nut tree is cultivated in the same manner as in the plains, except that the trees are planted nearer to one another. The trees bear when eight to ten years old. A portion of the crop is sold just after it has been plucked; this is called u ’wai khaw, and is for winter consumption. The remainder of the crop is kept in large baskets, which are placed in tanks containing water, the baskets being completely immersed. This kind of betel-nut is called u ’wai um. The Khasis, like the Assamese; prefer the fresh betel-nut. They do not relish the dry supari so much.

The principal pan gardens are on the south side of the hills, pan not being grown on the northern slopes, except in the neighbourhood of Jirang. The pan creepers are raised from cuttings, the latter being planted close to the trees up which they are to be trained. The creeper is manured with leaf mould. The plant is watered by means of small bamboo aqueducts which are constructed along the hill-sides, the water being conducted along them often considerable distances. As in the plains, the leaves of the pan creeper are collected throughout the year.

The bay leaf (’la tyrpad, or tezpat) is classified in the Agricultural Bulletin as Cinnamomum tamala, and there is a note in the column of remarks that “this tree, as well as one or two others of the same genus, yields two distinct products, tezpat (bay leaf) and cinnamon bark.” The bay leaf is gathered for export from the extensive gardens in Maharam, Malaisohmat, Mawsynram, and other Khasi States. The plants are raised from seed, although there are no regular nurseries, the young seedlings being transplanted from the jungle, where they have germinated, to regular gardens. Bay leaf gardens are cleared of jungle and weeds periodically; otherwise no care is taken of them. The leaf-gathering season is from November to March. The leaves are allowed to dry for a day or two in the sun, and then packed in large baskets for export. The gathering of bay leaf begins when the trees are about four years old.

The following are the other minor crops which are grown in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills:

Pineapples, turmeric, ginger, pumpkins and gourds, the egg plant, chillies, sesamum, and a little sugar-cane. The arum (ka shiriw) is also extensively grown in the hills, and forms one of the principal articles of food amongst the poorer classes; it is generally raised in rotation with potatoes, or is planted along with Job’s tears. The stem of the arum is sometimes used as a vegetable, also for feeding pigs.

In the Jowai Sub-Division, notably at Nartiang, there are fairly good mangoes, which are more free from worms than those grown in the plains of Assam.

The Bhois and Lynngams cultivate lac. They plant arhar dal, u landoo, in their fields, and rear the lac insect on this plant. Last year the price of lac at Gauhati and Palasbari markets rose as high as R per maund of 82 lbs., it is said, but the price at the outlying markets of Singra and Boko was about R. The price of lac has risen a good deal of late years. Formerly the price was about R to R a maund. The lac trade in the Jaintia Hills and in the southern portion of the Khyrim State is a valuable one. The profits, however, go largely to middle-men, who in the Jaintia Hills are Syntengs from Jowai, who give out advances to the Bhoi cultivators on the condition that they will be repaid in lac. The Marwari merchants from the plains attend all the plains markets which are frequented by the hill-men, and buy up the lac and export it to Calcutta. The whole of the lac is of the kind known as stick lac.


The weapons used by the Khasis for hunting are bows and arrows, the latter with barbed iron heads, and spears which are used both for casting and thrusting. Before proceeding on a hunting expedition the hunters break eggs, in order to ascertain whether they will be successful or not, and to which jungle they should proceed. Offerings are also made to certain village deities, e.g. U. Ryngkew, u Basa, and u Basa ki mrad. A lucky day having been selected and the deities propitiated, the hunters start with a number of dogs trained to the chase, the latter being held on leashes by a party of men called ki nongai-ksew. When the dogs have picked up the scent some hunters are placed as “stops” (ki ktem), at points of vantage in the jungle, and the drive commences with loud shouts from the hunters, the same being continued until the object of the chase breaks into the open. The man who draws the first blood is called u nongsiat, and the second man who scores a hit u nongban. These two men get larger shares of the flesh than the others. The nongsiat obtains the lower half of the body of the animal, thighs and feet excepted, called ka tdong, and the nongban one of the forequarters called ka tabla. The other hunters obtain a string of flesh each, and each hound gets a string of flesh to itself. These hunting parties pursue deer sometimes for many miles, and are indefatigable in the chase, the latter lasting occasionally more than one day. In the Jaintia Hills, at the end of the chase, the quarry is carried to the house of the nongsiat, where a puja is performed to some local deity, before the flesh is distributed. At Shangpung, when a tiger or a mithan is killed, the head is cut off, and is carried in triumph to a hill in the neighbourhood where there is a duwan, or altar, at the foot of an oak tree (dieng sning). The head is displayed on the altar, and worship offered to u ’lei lyngdoh, the God of the doloiship.

The Khasis make use of an ingenious species of spring gun for killing game, the spring gun being laid alongside a deer path in the jungle. A string stretched across the path, when touched, releases a bolt and spring, which latter impels a bamboo arrow with great force across the path. This spring gun is called ka riam siat. A pit-fall, with bamboo spikes at the bottom, is called u ’liw lep, and a trap of the pattern of the ordinary leopard trap is called ka riam slung. A noose attached to a long rope laid in a deer run is named riam syrwiah.

There is also ka riam pap, the principle of which is that an animal is attracted by a bait to walk on to a platform; the platform sinks under the weight of the animal, and a bolt is released which brings down a heavy roof from above weighted with stones, which crush the animal to death.

There are several means employed in snaring birds; one of the most common is to smear pieces of bamboo with the gum of the jack-tree, the former being tied to the branches of some wild fruit tree, upon which, when the fruit is ripe, the birds light and are caught by the bird lime. This is called ka riam thit. Another is a kind of spring bow made of bamboo which is laid on the ground in marshy places, such as are frequented by snipe and woodcock. This form of snare is unfortunately most common. A third is a cage into which birds are lured by means of a bait, the cage being hidden in the grass, and the entrance being so contrived that the birds can hop in but not out again. This is called ka riam sim.


Although there are some Khasis who fish with rod and line, it may be said that the national method of fishing is to poison the streams. Khasis, except the Wars and the people of Shella, unlike the Assamese and Bengalis, do not fish with nets, nor do they use the bamboo-work device known by the Assamese as pala (pala) and jakai (jakaaii). The method of fish-poisoning of the Khasis is the same as that described by Soppitt in his account of the tribes inhabiting North Cachar. The following is a description of how Khasis poison fish in the western portion of the district; it may be taken as a sample of the whole. A large quantity of the bark of the tree ka mynta and the creeper u khariew is first brought to the river-side to a place on the stream a little above the pool which it is proposed to poison, where it is thoroughly beaten with sticks till the juice exudes and flows into the water, the juice being of a milky white colour. In a few minutes the fish begin to rise and splash about, and, becoming stupefied, allow themselves to be caught in the shallows. If the beating of the bark has been well carried out, many of the fish soon die and after a time float on the surface of the water. A large number of Khasis stand on the banks armed with bamboo scoops shaped like small landing nets, to catch the fish, and fish traps (ki khowar) Assamese khoka (khookaa) are laid between the stones in the rapids to secure any fish that may escape the fishing party. Another fish poison is the berry u soh lew, the juice of which is beaten out in the same manner as described above.

Soppitt says, certain fish do not appear to be susceptible to the poison, and not nearly the destruction takes place that is popularly supposed. The mahseer and the carp family generally do not suffer much, whereas, on the other hand, the river shark, the bagh mas of the Bengalis, is killed in large numbers. It is impossible, however, in the opinion of the writer, that the mahseer fry, which abound in these hill rivers in the spring and early summer months, can escape being destroyed in great numbers when the streams are frequently poisoned. In the neighbourhood of lime quarries and other large works where dynamite is used for blasting, this explosive is sometimes employed for killing fish. The practice, however, has been strictly prohibited, and there have been some cases in which the offenders have been punished in the courts. Fish-poisoning is bad enough, but dynamiting is still worse, as with an effective cartridge all the fish within a certain area are killed, none escape. When poisons are used, however, some fish are not affected by them, and others are only stupefied for the time being and afterwards recover.


The Khasi and Syntengs ordinarily take two meals a day, one in the early morning and the other in the evening, but labourers and others who have to work hard in the open take a midday meal as well, consisting of cold boiled rice wrapped in a leaf (ka ja-song), cakes (ki kpu) and a tuberous root (u sohphlang) which is eaten raw. They are fond of all kinds of meat, especially pork and beef, although some of the Syntengs, owing to Hindu influence, abstain from eating the latter. Unlike the neighbouring Naga, Garo and Kuki tribes, the Khasis abstain from the flesh of the dog. Both Bivar and Shadwell say the reason why the Khasis do not eat the flesh of the dog is because he is in a certain sense a sacred animal amongst them. There is a Khasi folk-tale relating how the dog came to be regarded as the friend of man. It is, however, quite possible that the Khasis may never have eaten the flesh of the dog from remote times, and it is nothing extraordinary that the Khasis should differ in a detail of diet from the neighbouring Thibeto-Burman tribes which are so dissimilar to them in many respects. The Khasis, except some of the Christian community and some of the people of the Mawkhar, do not use milk, butter, or ghee as articles of food. In this respect they do not differ from the Kacharis and Rabhas of the plains or the Garos of the hills. The Mongolian race in its millions as a rule does not use milk for food, although the Tibetans and some of the Turcoman tribes are exceptions. Before fowls or animals are killed for food, prayers must be said, and rice sprinkled on the body of the animal. The staple food of the Khasis is rice and dried fish. When rice cannot be obtained or is scarce, millet or Job’s tears are used instead. The latter are boiled, and a sort of porridge is obtained, which is eaten either hot or cold according to fancy. Khasis eat the flesh of nearly all wild animals, they also eat field rats and one kind of monkey (u shrih). The Syntengs and Lynngams are fond of tadpoles, and the Khasis consider a curry made from a kind of green frog, called ka japieh, a bonne bouche. They, however, do not eat ordinary frogs (jakoid). The Khasis of Mariao, Maharam, Nongstoin and some other Siemships eat the hairy caterpillar, u’niang phlang.

A staple food which must not be forgotten is the inner portion of the bark of the sago palm tree, ka tlai, which grows wild in the forest and attains a large size. The tree is felled and the outer bark removed, the soft inner part is cut into slices, dried in the sun, pounded in a mortar and then passed through a fine bamboo sieve. A reddish flour is obtained, of sweet taste, which is boiled with rice. This flour is said to make good cakes and puddings.

Although the Khasis are such varied feeders, there are some clans amongst them which are prohibited by the ordinance of sang, or taboo, from eating certain articles. The following are some instances:

The Cherra Siem family cannot eat dried fish (’kha-piah); the Siem of Mylliem must not eat the gourd (u pathaw); a fish called ka’kha-lani is taboo to some of the Siem-lih class. Some of the War people must not eat ka ktung (preserved fish), and the clan ’khar-um-nuid in Khyrim is debarred from the pleasure of partaking of pork. The flesh of the sow is sang to the ’dkhar clan, although that of the male pig may be eaten.


The Khasis are in the habit of regularly drinking considerable quantities either of a spirit distilled from rice or millet (ka’iad pudka), or of rice-beer, which is of two kinds (1) ka’iad hiar, (2) ka’iad um. Both of these are made from rice and, in some places, from millet, and the root of a plant called u khawiang. Ka’iad hiar is made by boiling the rice or millet. It is then taken out and spread over a mat, and, when it cools, fragments of the yeast (u khawiang) are sprinkled over it. After this it is placed in a basket, which is put in a wooden bowl. The basket is covered tightly with a cloth so as to be air-tight, and it is allowed to remain in this condition for a couple of days, during which time the liquor has oozed out into the bowl. To make ka’iad um the material, the rice or millet from which the ka’iad hiar was brewed, is made use of. It is placed in a large earthen pot and allowed to remain there for about five days to ferment, after which the liquor is strained off. Ka’iad hiar is said to be stronger than ka’iad um. The former is used frequently by distillers of country spirit for mixing with the wort so as to set up fermentation. The people of the high plateaux generally prefer rice spirit, and the Wars of the southern slopes of the Khasi and Jaintia Hills customarily partake of it also. The Khasis of the western hills, e.g. of the Nongstoin Siemship, and the Lynngams, Bhois, Lalungs, and Hadems almost invariably drink rice-beer, but the Syntengs, like the Khasi uplanders, drink rice-spirit. Rice-beer (ka’iad um) is a necessary article for practically all Khasi and Synteng religious ceremonies of importance, it being the custom for the officiating priest to pour out libations of liquor from a hollow gourd (u klong) to the gods on these occasions. As there is no Excise in the district, except within a five-mile radius of Shillong, liquor of both the above descriptions can be possessed and sold without restriction.

According to some Khasi traditions the Khasis in ancient times used not to drink spirits, but confined themselves to rice-beer. It is only in the last couple of generations that the habit of drinking spirits has crept in, according to them. From Khasi accounts, the use of spirits is on the increase, but there is no means of testing these statements. There can be no doubt, however, that at the present time a very large amount of spirit is manufactured and consumed in the district. The spirit is distilled both for home consumption and for purposes of sale; in some villages, e.g. Mawlai and Marbisu, near Shillong, where there are fifty-nine and forty-nine stills respectively, there being a still almost in every house. Mawlai village supplies a great deal of the spirit which is drunk in Shillong, and from Marbisu spirit is carried for sale to various parts of the hills. Other large distilling centres are Cherrapunji, with forty-seven stills; Jowai, with thirty-one stills; Laitkynsew, with fifty-four stills; Nongwar, thirty-one stills; and Rangthang, thirty-seven stills.

From what has been stated above some idea may be gathered how very large the number of stills in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills is. I am not in a position to state with any degree of accuracy what is the amount of spirit manufactured or consumed in the year, but it is very considerable. The out-turn of a Khasi still has been reckoned at from four to eight bottles per day. From this estimate, and the fact that there are 1,530 stills in the district, it may be roughly calculated what is the consumption annually. Practically the whole of the spirit is consumed within the district. The liquor which is manufactured is far stronger than the spirit distilled in the ordinary out-stills in the plains. It has been stated by an expert analyst that the Khasi spirit contains 60 to 80 per cent. of proof spirit, and that it possesses “an exceptionally nice flavour and taste.” The usual price at which it is sold is 4 to 6 annas a quart bottle, a second quality being sometimes sold for 3 annas. It will be seen that the liquor is exceedingly cheap. A Khasi in the villages of the interior can get drunk for 2 annas, or a quarter of an ordinary coolie’s daily wage. Drunkenness prevails on every market day at Cherrapunji, Jowai, and other large hats, and on occasions when there are gatherings of the people for various purposes. This cheap but strong spirit is demoralizing the people, and some restriction of its use would be welcomed by many. In the Khasi Welsh Methodist Church abstention from liquor is made a condition of Church membership, but the vast number of stills and the facilities with which liquor can be obtained are a constant source of temptation to the Christian community, and cause many defections.


The Khasis have many games, but their principal game is archery, this may be said to be the national game, and is a very popular form of recreation amongst them, the sport being indulged in from about the beginning of January to the end of May each year. The following is a description of a Khasi archery meeting, for the details of which I am largely indebted to U Job Solomon. By way of introduction it should be stated that the Khasis opine that arrow-shooting originated at the beginning of creation. The Khasi Eve (Ka-mei-ka-nong-hukum) had two sons to whom she taught the toxophilite art, at the same time she warned them never to lose their tempers over the game. At the present day villages have regular archery meetings, the men of one village challenging those of another. There are men on both sides called nong khan khnam (lit., he who stops the arrow). This man, by uttering spells, and reciting the shortcomings of the opposite side, is supposed to possess the power of preventing the arrows of the opposing party hitting the mark. These men also, to some extent, may be said to perform the duties of umpires. They may be styled umpires for the sake of convenience in this account. Before the match commences conditions are laid down by the umpires of both sides, such as (a) the day on which the contest is to take place; (b) the place of the meeting; (c) the number of arrows to be shot by each archer; (d) the distinguishing marks to be given to the arrows of either side; (e) the amounts of the stakes on each side; (f) the number of times the competitors are to shoot on the day of the archery meeting, and many other conditions too numerous to mention here. The targets are generally small bundles of grass called “u skum,” about 1 ft. long by 4 in. in diameter, fastened on a small pole. Sometimes targets are made from the root of a plant called ka soh pdung. The distances from the point where the marksmen stand to the targets are some 40 to 50 yards. Each side has its own target, the different targets being placed in a line, and the competitors taking up their positions in a straight line at right angles to the line of fire, and facing the targets; each side in turn then shoots at its own target. Early in the morning of the day fixed for the contest the umpire of each side sits in front of his target with a hollow bamboo full of water in his hand, the bows and arrows being laid on the ground alongside the targets. The umpire then repeats all the conditions of the contest, invokes the aid of the primeval woman (ka mei ka nong hukum) aforesaid, goes through certain incantations freely referring to the many faults of the opposite side, and pours water at intervals from the bamboo in front of the target. This business lasts about two hours. Then they exhort the competitors of their respective sides, and the match commences amidst loud shouts. Every time there is a hit there are loud cheers, the competitors leaping high into the air, the umpires muttering their incantations all the while. At the end of each turn the number of hits are counted by representatives of both sides. At the close of the day the side with the greatest number of hits wins the match, the successful party returning home, dancing and shouting. The young women admirers of both sides assemble, and dispense refreshments to the competitors, taking a keen interest in the proceedings withal. Frequently large wagers are made on either side. In the Khadar Blang portion of the Nongkrem State as much as R are occasionally wagered on either side. In Jowai the practice is also to bet a lump sum, the amount being raised by subscription from amongst the competitors. More usual bets are, however, about one anna a head. The nong khang khnam and the men who prepare the targets receive presents from their respective sides. The Khasi bow carries a considerable distance, an arrow shot over 180 yards being within the personal knowledge of the writer. It is believed that Khasi bows wielded by experts carry up to 200 yards. The average range may be said, however, to be 150 to 180 yards.

Yule mentions peg-top spinning amongst Khasi children as being indigenous and not an importation, but Bivar thinks that the game is of foreign introduction. I am, however, inclined to agree with Yule that peg-top spinning is indigenous, inasmuch as this game could not have been copied from the Sylhetis or the Assamese of the plains, who do not indulge in it. As the British had only recently established themselves in the hills when Yule wrote, they would scarcely have had time or opportunity to introduce an English children’s game. Khasi children also play a kind of “hop Scotch” (khyndat mala shito and ia tiet hile), and Yule writes, “Another of their recreations is an old acquaintance also, which we are surprised to meet with in the Far East. A very tall thick bamboo is planted in the ground, and well oiled. A silver ornament, or a few rupees placed at the top, reward the successful climber.” A leg of mutton, or a piece of pork fixed at the top of this pole would render the pastime identical with the “greasy-pole” climbing of English villages. The following are some other Khasi games:

Wrestling; two persons grasping each other’s hands with the fingers interlocked, and then trying to push one another down; tug-of-war with a piece of stick, the two combatants placing their feet one against the other; butting at one another like bulls, and trying to upset each other (ia tur masi); long jump; high jump; blind-man’s buff; flying kites; pitching cowries into a hole in the ground; a game like marbles, only played with round pebbles, and others.


The manufactures of the Khasis are few in number, and do not seem to show any tendency to increase. On the contrary, two of the most important industries, the smelting of iron ore and the forging of iron implements therefrom, and the cotton-spinning industries at Mynso and Suhtnga, show signs of dying out. Ploughshares and hoes and bill-hooks can now be obtained more cheaply from the plains than from the forges in the hills, and Manchester piece goods are largely taking the place of cloths of local manufacture. The iron industry in former days was an important one, and there is abundant evidence that the workings were on a considerable scale, e.g. at Nongkrem and Laitlyngkot, in the shape of large granite boulders which have fallen to the ground from the sides of the hills owing to the softer rock which filled the interstices between the boulders having been worked out by the ironworkers, their process being to dig out the softer ferruginous rock, and then extract the iron ore from it by means of washing. The softer rock having been removed, the heavier portions fell by their own weight, and rolled down to the bottom of the slopes, the result being the great number of boulders to be seen near the sites of these workings.

Colonel Lister, writing in 1853, estimated that 20,000 maunds of iron were exported from the hills in the shape of hoes to the Assam Valley, and in lumps of pig iron to the Surma Valley, where it was used by boat-builders for clamps. Nowadays the smelting of iron is carried on in very few places. There are still smelting-houses at Nongkrem and Nongsprung, but these are practically the only places left where smelting of iron ore goes on: there are many forges where rough iron brought from the plains is melted down and forged into billhooks and hoes. Messrs. Yule and Cracroft have described the native process of smelting iron, and it is only necessary to refer to their papers if information is required on the subject. Yule’s account is a very full one, and is to be found at page 853, vol. xi. part ii. of the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. The system pursued, both in the extraction and in the subsequent smelting of the ore, is the same at the present day as that described by Yule. Dr. Oldham, writing in 1863, says, “The quality of this Khasi iron is excellent for all such purposes as Swedish iron is now used for. The impurity of the blooms (or masses of the metal in a molten state), however, as they are sent to market, is a great objection to its use, and the waste consequent thereon renders it expensive. It would also form steel or wootz (Indian steel) of excellent quality. I have no doubt that the manufacture could be greatly improved and possibly extended.” Dr. Oldham, however, goes on to remark that the manufacture of iron could not be very much extended, owing to the scanty dissemination of the ore in the rocks, and the consequent high cost of obtaining it. At present the want of any permanent supply of water prevents the natives from working for more than a few days during the year, whilst the rains are heavy, and they can readily obtain sufficient force of water for the washing of the ore from its matrix. The export of iron in any form from the district has now almost died out, only a few hoes being brought down by the Khasis from Laitdom, in Khadsawphra, to the Burdwar and Palasbari markets in the Kamrup District of the Assam Valley. Iron of English manufacture has, of course, much cheapened the market, but probably the fact that the parts of the country in the neighbourhood of the rocks which contain the metal have been denuded completely of timber, charcoal being necessary for smelting, has affected the production almost as much as the presence of cheap iron in the market.

Manufacture of Eri Silk Cloths and Cotton Cloths in the Jaintia Hills.

The number of weavers in the district at the last Census was 533. This number in the Census Report is ascribed to the cotton industry, no mention being made of weavers of silk. The spinning of Eri silk thread, and weaving it into cloths is, however, a fairly considerable industry amongst the Khyrwang and Nongtung villages of the Jaintia Hills. The Nongtungs and Khyrwangs rear their own Eri worms, and spin the silk from the cocoons. The late Mr. Stack, in his admirable note on silk in Assam, says, “Throughout the whole range of the southern hills, from the Mikir country, Eri thread is in great request for weaving those striped cloths, in which the mountaineers delight,” but this observation should have been confined to the Jaintia Hills portion of this district, the Khasis not weaving themselves either in silk or cotton. The Khasis obtain their silk cloths from the Assam Valley, and from the Nongtung or Khyrwang villages in Jaintia. The latter villages have given the name to the striped cloth, ka jaïn Khyrwang, which is almost invariably worn by the Syntengs. Mr. Stack has given in detail a description of the silk industry in Assam, and it is not therefore necessary to go over the same ground here. The Khyrwang cloth is red and white, mauve and white, or chocolate and white, the cloth being worn by both men and women. The Khyrwang cloths vary in price from R to R, according to size and texture. These cloths are the handiwork of women alone, and a woman working every day regularly will take six months to manufacture a cloth valued at R; but, as a rule, in the leisurely manner in which they work, it takes a year to complete it.

Cotton Cloths.

In the Jaintia Hills at Mynso cotton is spun into thread, and weaving is carried on there, but on a limited scale. The Mynso people weave the small strips of cloth worn by the men to serve the purpose of the Assamese lengti or Hindi languti. In Suhtnga the people import cotton thread from Mynso and weave the (ingki) or sleeveless coat, peculiar to the district; these coats are dyed red and blue. The dark blue or black dye is obtained from the leaf of a plant called u sybu, which Mr. Rita has classified as strobilanthus hoeditolius, which grows in the gardens round the homesteads. The leaves are dried, then reduced to powder, mixed with hot water, and the skeins of thread are steeped in the liquid. The colour is permanent. The red dye is obtained from the mixture of the dry bark of two shrubs, ka lapyndong (symplocos racemosa, Roxb.), and ka ’larnong (morinda-tinctoria, Roxb.), the latter being the same as the Assamese ( achukath. The bark is dried, then pounded, and the two sorts are mixed together and made into a paste with hot water. The skeins are steeped in this mixture for twenty-four hours, then taken out and divided, and again steeped for another twenty-four hours. The Lalungs and Bhois and Lynngams all weave cotton cloths, which are generally dyed blue, sometimes striped blue and red. The Wars weave cotton cloths which are dyed red and yellow, the cloths being woven in checks. Mr. Darrah remarks that the cotton grown in the Jaintia Hills is said to be the best cotton produced in the province. Its thread can be more closely woven than that of other kinds. This statement, however, is not borne out by Mr. Allen, writing in 1858, who says that the cotton is of inferior quality, the staple being short and woolly. The cotton cloths woven by the Bhois are called spua.


The Census Report of 1901 gave the number of persons who are supported by the manufacture of pottery at 54 only. Pottery is manufactured at one place only in the Jaintia Hills, Larnai. The Larnai potters make many of the earthen pots to be found in the Khasi houses called khiew ranei, or sometimes khiew Larnai. Mr. Gait says, “These potters use two kinds of clay mixed; one is of a dark blue colour, ’dew-iong, and the other of a greyish colour, ’dew khluid. These clays seem to correspond closely with the kumar mati and hira mati of the Brahmaputra Valley.”

The clay at Larnai is well beaten out upon a hide, or upon a flat disc of wood; the women fashion the pots by hand, they do not use the potter’s wheel. The pots are sun-dried and then fired. They are painted black with an infusion of a bark called sohliya. The Larnai potters also make flower-pots which are sold in Shillong at from 2 annas to 4 annas each, the price of the ordinary pot or khiew ranei varying from 2 pice to 4 annas each. A water-pot (khiew um) is also fashioned, which is sometimes used in the manufacture of liquor, price 4 annas to 6 annas each.