garo wangala dancegaro wangala danceWanna folk Dance

History of the Garo Migration and Settlement

The history of the migration and settlement of the Garos is contained in the ‘Katta Aganna’ or epic lore in verse as well as prose which has been handed down from generation to generation. It is quite remarkable that the tradition of their migration.

History of the Garo Migration and Settlement

The Garos are the earliest human group who migrated into the Indian sub-continent especially in North East India and Bangladesh from the Tibetan Plateau during the pre-historic period. The evidence of this found in the Garo villages across the Brahmaputra Valley, banks of river Ganol, old stone tools from Rombagre on the bank of river Simsang, including many in and around the Guwahati metropolitan area and spread far and wide as far as the Chindwin valley in Myanmar. It is often put forward that the famous Kamakhya was a Garo shrine before it was stolen by the patriarchal Aryans during the reign of the Koch kings.

Origin and Sub-Tribes of the Garos:

The origin of the term ‘Garo’ has been a subject of controversy. Different historians and writers have given a diverse opinion about the meaning of this term. The tribe itself is known to outsiders as Garo but the Garos call themselves as ‘A.chik’ or ‘Mande’. There are twelve sub-tribes of the Garos. They are folowings:

1. The Chisak
2. The Matchi
3. The Matabeng or Matjangchi
4. The Ambeng
5. The Dual or Matchi-Dual
6. The Atong
7. The Gara-Ganching
8. The Chibok
9. The Ruga
10. The Me.gam
11. The A.wes or A.kawes
12. The Koch or Kotchu or Kochus.

According to Major Playfair, the Gara-Ganching sub-tribe received their appellation of GARA and that the name was extended to all the other sub-tribes, and in the meantime it became corrupted from ‘Gara’ to ‘Garo’. Again, he says that ‘the Garos never use the term except in conversation with a foreigner and always refer to themselves as A.chik (hillman), Mande (the man) or A.chik Mande.

Yet another explanation is that the term Garo is derived from the Bodo word ‘Gau’ which means to separate and migrate. In Bodo, Gaoro-Gaolang also means to become separated gradually. The Bodos and the Dimasas regard the Garo tribe as being separated from them as ‘Gao’ or ‘Gaoro’.

Garo belongs to the Bodo group in the Tibeto-Burman family of languages, which in turn is one of the two main branches of the Sino-Tibetan or Tibeto -Chinese Speech Family.

The Bodos once formed a predominant section in the population of the North-Eastern region and had even established powerful kingdoms, till
they were superceded by other races. According to the scholars P.C. Bhattacharya and Robbins Burling, Garo, and Bodo separated from each other about 2000 years ago from an ancestral common language.

The other languages belonging to this group are -Bara Kachari, Dimasa, Rabha, Koch, Mech, Lalung, Reang, Tripuri, Hajong, Hojai, Chutia, and Deori.

The tribes speaking these languages are found in the banks of the Brahmaputra valley, Assam districts like Lakhimpur, Darrang, Kamrup, Goalpara, Cachar as well as in other districts in the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, and Tripura. They are also found in the Northern parts of West Bengal such as Koch Bihar and Jalpaiguri and large numbers in Bangladesh.

Traditions of Garo Migration and Settlement:

The history of the arrival into India of the Mongoloid groups speaking dialects of the Sino-Tibetan speech family is not known, but in the Kirata-Jana-Kriti by S. K. Chatterjee, is stated that their presence in India was noted by the 10th century B. C. when the Vedas were compiled.

The Census of India 1971, in its report on the population in Meghalaya, while referring to the ancient Mongoloid presence in the North East, stated that it is supposed to be as old as that of the Aryans in the west, during some period before 1000 B.C.

There are folk traditions prevalent among the various tribes recounting the story of their migration. They trace their origin from the Tibeto-Burman race of the Tibeto-Chinese family of northwest China, the area that lies between the upper waters of the Yang-tse-kiang and the Hwang-ho.

The history of the migration of the Garos is contained in the ‘Katta Aganna’ or epic lore in verse as well as prose which has been handed down from generation to generation. It is quite remarkable that the tradition of their migration from Tibet to their present places of settlement is still current among the Garos. The tenacity of oral tradition amongst the unlettered tribe is interesting and unique.

The Garo History by Jobang D. Marak referred to the place of their migration is known as Nonoini, Chiga Nengkuchotni, or Timbori (Achik Lake or Inland Lake in Tibet). The Garo believes that they come from Tibetgreni, Chiga A.pil jangsani. According to the garo tradition the place Tibet was known as ‘TORUA’. Their migrational records refer there are eight ancestors who came along with their husbands.

Achik 8 Great Grandmothers: Ambi Gitchamrang
They are Hima, Dolma, Bisoma, Sikme, Donse, Ulongga and Ulonggi.

Achik Great Grandfathers: Atchu Gitchamrang

The leaders of which are Jappa, Jalinpa, Sukapa, Bongpa, Toginpa, Damjangpa, Ejingpa, Kusanpa, Dasingpa, Asanpa, Chupanpa, Kumapa, Rejapa, Kukrengpa, Nengilpa, Nagongpa, Chongdapa, Panangpa, Rekinpa, Dopapa, Chisin, Kalsin Raji and Dopa.

The Garos Migrated from their original home northwest China, the area that lies between the upper waters of the Yang-tse-kiang and the Hwang-ho in three phases. According to Garo Tradition on the migration from Tibet , the garos can be divided into three main groups:

  • A group of Garos migrated from Tibet along with the source of river Torsa and Tista towards the south-western side of Tibet under the great leadership of Jappa Jalimpa and Sukpa Bongipa, Toginpa Damjanpa, Ejingpa Kusanpa, Dasengpa, Asangpa, Chukangpa Kumapa, Rejapa Kurengpa, Nenggilpa Nagonpa, Chongdapa Panangpa, Rekinpa Dopapa, Chisin aro Kalsin. Some of the great grand-mothers were Dipari Mechik and Nibari Tira and their daughters were Sikme and Donse and their daughters were Hima, Dolma, Bisoma, Sikme, Donse, Ulongga and Ulonggi.
  • Another group of Groups who started off from Central Tibet towards the south along with the source of the river Brahmaputra under the leadership of Auk Raja and Asilik Gitel.
  • A group of Garos who moved towards the south-eastern part of Tibet along the source of Chindwin, Salwin, and Irrawady rivers under the leadership of Raja Sirampa, Kotta Nanggrepa, and Muga Dingchepa. The others are Usengpa, Daepa, Jarongpa.

The main reason for the Garos’ migration from Tibet was the lack of fertile land and water for irrigation. Thus, the Garos started migrating to their present settlements from Tibet under the leadership of the above-mentioned chieftains. The Garos migrated towards the fertile valley of Assam and Burma from the uplands of the Himalayas during the early years of 1000 B.C.

Among them another group of migrating Garos settled down in the Brahmaputra Valley for a long time. They named the mighty river Brahmaputra as ‘Amawari’ or Mother River. Gradually they settled in the present-day Garo Hills.

The other group of Garos migrated towards the west from Burma, under the leadership of Raja Sirampa, Kotta Nangrepa, Basanpa, Dingat Dajepa through the Patkai Hills of present-day Nagaland along Disang, Dike (Dikhaw or Dikhu), Zanji, Bokdai (present-day Bhogdoi), Desai and Kadang (Kadang Korong River in East Siang District of Arunachal Pradesh) Rivers. This migration from the Arakan and Yoma Valley and Mandalaya (present day Mandalay) in Myanmar (erstwhile Burma) took place during the 11th Century.

1. The Garos by Major A. Playfair, I.A, Deputy Commissioner, Eastern Bengal, and Assam, 1909.
2. Gimagimin A’chikrangni A’dokrang (Lost Land of Garos) by Mihir N. Sangma, 1983.
3. Garo Hills Land and The People by L.S. Gassah, Dept. of Political Science, NEHU Shillong, 1984.
4. Garo Customary Laws and Practices by Dr. Julius L. R. Marak, Ph. D, Curator, State Museum, Meghalaya, 1999.

5. The Garo History by Jobang D. Marak, Part I and II.


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