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Customary Law of the Garo Marriage

There were different customary law of marriage among the Garos. In any case, the role of the clan (chatchi) had to be strictly observed.

Customary Law of the Garo Marriage

Ruel C Sangma

Customary Law Of Selecting A Partner

The engagement for marriage was an act of agreement between the ma·chong of both the parties. The close relatives would remind the engaged couple that the boy is not wedded only to the girl but to her clan (chatchi). The agreements made between the ma·chong of the boy and girl involved certain duties, conventions, customs and practices of the society. The initiative for the proposal had to come from the relatives of the girl’s side and not vice versa. When she liked a boy, she would inform her father, brother or maternal uncle. Then the girl ‘s party would go to the boy; it was etiquette for him to resist, run away or hide, until they carried him by force victoriously. He might run away a second time, but should he run away a third time, it was taken for granted that he really did not wish to marry the girl and he was allowed to go free.

The mahari played a vital role in Garo marriages. After the marriage, if one of the partners died or ran away or divorced, it was the duty of the mahari to settle the issue or provide another partner. The mahari was the custodian of the marriage laws. The mahari ‘s role was very evident in the marriage negotiations and it looked after its members. The reason was to assure that the inheritance of the progenitors would be passed on to its legal heiress.

The custom of giving a partner to the survivor, in the case of the death of a spouse was called on-rikani. lt was the duty of the mahari to provide another spouse. The decision or choice of the mahari had to be accepted by the person, whether one liked it or not. The same custom was practiced even among Christians. Sometimes the new partner was given to the widower even before the funeral of the dead person. The new partner chosen could be a minor or a very old person. Sometimes, the partner chosen might not be compatible in age or according to one’s likes. However, it was the survivor’s duty to accept the decision of the mahari. Even after a man left his mother’s youngest daughter had a legal claim to the parents’ property. Today, however, the parents can give some of their earnings to their other children if they wish to do so.

Different Forms Of Garo Marriage

There were different customary law of marriage among the Garos. In any case, the role of the clan (chatchi) had to be strictly observed. Some were legal or official forms, whereas others were not legal. But they were all recognized by the customary laws. In all forms of marriage, the formality of approaching the parents and the clan of the boy, by the parents and the clan of the girl, was strictly observed and recognized, even after the couple had lived together. In the olden days, the Garos did not prescribe any age limit and in some cases, child marriages were prevalent.

Staying in her Lover’s House (cha·senga)

When a girl was in love with a boy, and no relatives were there to take the initiative to arrange her marriage, her parents might ask her to go to the house of the boy and help him in his domestic work. This was only an attempt to gain acceptability in boy’s house. The sisters of the boy might ill-treat her to test. her genuine love for the boy. If they found her satisfying, the in-laws of the girl would allow her to carry food for the boy to the bachelor’s house, serve him and to eat together with him from the same plate. If the boy and his relatives liked her and agreed, the marriage was celebrated by the existing custom of do·sia. If they did not like the girl, she had to return to her house. This trial period could be from six months to two years.

Taken to be the Husband of the Heiress (nokkrom-na sa/a)

According to this common custom of the Garos, the would-be husband of the heiress (nokkrom) should be the nephew of the father of the house (padot). The nephew (gritang) thus brought to the house had the full right of the property of the family and he had to look after the parents of his wife. Today this custom has changed and the girl might marry a boy of her choice.

Marriage by Sleeping Together (nape tua)

This was the custom according to which the man entered the hut of the girl at night and slept with her. Generally it was done with the knowledge of the girl and her parents, but without the permission of the mahari. If the mahari did not object to it and nobody drove the boy from the house within a month, such a union was thereby legalized and the two were considered husband and wife without further ceremony.

Climbing into the Bachelor’s House (Nokpante ga·a)

This was similar to the preceding form, but the woman took the initiative here. She went in search of her sweetheart at night and climbed into the bachelor’s house and slept with him. If he consented to the union, the next day he would go to live with the girl and they would be considered married. If the girl acted against the consent of her parents and relatives and if they objected to the union, they might send the boy away from the house. In this case they would not demand compensation even if there had been a case of fornication.

Baiting for a Partner (chame jika)

In the past, the boys and girls could freely mix only on occasions of festivals such as the Wangala, Ganna, Mangona, Chugan ringa ceremonies. On these occasions while they danced together, the boy would sing praises of the girl’s beauty, physique, stature, style of dancing and would try to win her heart. He would ask her whether she was in love or whether she would like him as her life partner. If both agreed, it would be announced to the relatives and marriage would be celebrated. Major Playfair observes that during such festivals, it was an unwritten law that girls and boys slept together after the entertainment was over. The partnership of one night was expected to continue in a lifelong union.

Providing an Additional Wife (dokchapa or on·chapa)

When a wife or husband died the relatives of the deceased had to provide another husband or wife, who might not be of the same age, for the widow or widower. If the partner supplied could no longer perform the domestic duties, another young girl also would be provided. It was usually the daughter of the old lady or of the same motherhood. In such cases, both would have conjugal rights, yet the older woman had priority to the property. The second wife would inherit the property only after the death of her mother.

Taking a Second Wife (jikgite ra·a)

Polygamy was permitted in Garo society. The custom of providing an additional spouse was called jikgite ra·a. A man could marry as many wives as he wanted, but usually three was the maximum. He might marry two sisters, but he must marry the elder before the younger. It was customary to obtain permission from the first wife, before he would take the next one. The first wife took precedence over the others (jik-mamong), who were equivalent to concubines (jik-gite). But all were looked upon as lawfully married wives. But polyandry was prohibited by Garo customary laws. For illegitimate relationships, one had to pay the fine decided by the mahari.

Marriage by Seduction (seka)

This occurred when one seduced a woman who was already married. The sinning couple could not stay in the vi llage and no one would lodge them, because they were afraid of becoming the enemy ofthe betrayed husband and his relatives. If, however, they could not be immediately separated, they would be considered a couple and their status would be legalized. They would, however, have to pay the fines attached to adultery and to the law of a· kim (accord ing to which, after once having contracted a marriage, one was not free to have another). In the olden days, if they were caught, they would both have been killed immediately.

Marriage through Elopement (seke kata)

This was like seduction but between persons not bound by marriage ties. If the parents and relatives agreed, the union was legalized. If they opposed, the parties had to be separated within a short time and no fine was imposed on the boy.

Marriage through Inducing to eat (cha·dila)

A young girl, who desired to marry a young man from the bachelor’s house, would secretly come in through the back door at mealtime and endeavor to partake of the meal with the man of her choice. If the young man was willing to marry the girl he went on eating with her, even in front of his friends. Thus, he became her lawful husband. If he accepted her, they became husband and wife without ceremony.

To bring a Son in-law (chawari rima)

In the matrilineal system of the Garos, it was customary that the girl or her relatives took the initiative of the proposal. The boy had to go to the house of the girl and make his home there. The manner of taking the boy as the son-in-law from the house of the parents was known as chawari rima. According to the custom, the boy had to be the nephew of the father of the house. lt was stricter, if she was the heiress of the inheritance.

Many of those customary laws of marriage have lost their relevance today, due to the freedom and the possi bility to meet each other in school and public places. Letter writing and the freedom of meeting boys and girls are more common today. They decide on their partner themselves and might sleep together without the permission of parents and mahari.

Custom Of Divorce

The Garo customary law permitted a man or a woman to seek separation for reasonable grounds, such as adultery, danger to the life of the partner, insanity, sterility, impotency, refusal of conjugal union, ill-treatment ofthe partner, irresponsibility towards the family and children, etc. Usually divorce would take place after two mahari meetings, exchange of documents of mutual voluntary separation and the approval of the relatives.

In general, conjugal fidelity was expected from both parties. Sterility of the wife, according to P.C. Kar, might lead to acceptance of a co-wife and not necessarily to divorce. A case of divorce would break the a·kim bond between the lineages of the couple. Hence the divorcing partner had to pay compensation (dai) to the divorced partner. This kind of compensation was called a·kim dai, which had to be paid by the accused and/or his/her mahari, if the nuptial engagements were broken. Compensation was also paid for the failure of providing a replacement for the dead spouse. After the advent of Christianity, divorce was not so common among the Garos due to the dictates of Christian ethics.


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