Getting to Know the Karbi People of India

  • May 29, 2018      Friendly Borders Staff

Dispur – Asia is the largest continent with numerous and diverse ethnic groups living in various communities all across the different countries. India is home to various races and ethnic groups. Within this diverse society lives the Karbi people found in the hill regions of Assam. They are noted as Mikirs in the Constitution Order, but the members of this ethnic community prefer to be called as Karbi or even Arleng (“man”) at times. However, what exactly do other people know about them? Are they different from the other Indian ethnicities who have lived in the country for centuries?

Folklores and Identity

It is somehow difficult to identify the historical timelines of the events pertaining to the lives of the Karbis. Only folktales and folklores are their sources of information regarding the important events that affected their communities for the past centuries. These stories are the ones filling in the gaps of the Karbi people’s early histories.

Looking closely into the descriptions from the tales, many of the original Karbi people live near riverbanks including that of the Kalang, Kapili, and even the entire Kaziranga area. The area of the popular National Park in Assam may have been a part of their habitation as well. However, the early Karbis of India have been driven out of their original habitats and moved to the Jaintia hills, where they began building another community of their own.

Now, the Karbis are divided into three groups: Amri, Chinthong, and Ronghang. Even though they are divided into these groups, people should not think of these as drastically different from each other. All of them still follow traditional institutions that have been passed on from generation to generation. It is good to still have some of these traditions withstanding the changing environment and modern society. However, one concern that arises is the possibility of the other institutions to become outdated in the modern context later on.

Language and Ethnicity

One other way to learn more about the history of the Karbi people is to look into their languages and ethnicities. The diverse regions of Assam can be described as an ethnocultural melting pot of various languages. However, the origin of the linguistic attributes of the Karbis can be ascribed to the Tibeto-Burman group.

Conversely, the people are racially labeled as Mongoloid. The similarities in their physical features and linguistics knowledge may have been brought about by the ancestors of the Karbis who migrated to Assam from Central Asia. The people later practiced their own community’s culture and tradition in their new home.

Aside from the use of language and the history of the ethnic communities, the Karbi people practice the use of the Me and the Farla. The Me is the term they use for their village council that is composed of all the elder males. Then, the Farla, more popularly known as Jirkedam, serves as the bachelor’s dormitory. It is a traditional institution constructed in the central place of the community and serves as a youth club. It is where the youth participate and get prepared for the future. Originally, only male members are included here, but nowadays females are included even though they don’t get to be one of the officers or leaders. This particular institution is slowly dying out because of the development of the society at the same time with the growing practice of education across the country. Still, the values learned through the Farla are not forgotten. People continue reaching out to the disadvantaged Karbi youth.

With these folklores, histories, languages, and ethnicity, people can get a glimpse of the lives of the Karbi, though nothing beats actually interacting with them to fully understand their culture and traditions. It is hoped that in time, more research and projects can be done to preserve their practices so that more people get to see the beauty of living in the Assam as the Karbi people do.

Image from Anna-Louise Meynell (annaloom), or