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For the place in Armenia, see Karbi, Armenia.

The Karbis, mentioned as the Mikir in the Constitution Order of the Government of India, are one of the major ethnic groups in North-east India and especially in the hill areas of Assam. They prefer to call themselves Karbi, and sometimes Arleng (literally "man" in the Karbi language). The term Mikir is now not preferred and is considered to be derogatory.[1] The closest meaning of mikir could said to be derieved from "Mekar".[2]



The Karbis are the principal tribal community in the Karbi Anglong district of Assam, a district administered as per the provisions of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India, having an autonomous district of their own since 17 November, 1951.[3] Besides Karbi Anglong district, the Karbi inhabited areas include North Cachar Hills, Kamrup, Marigaon district, Nagaon, Golaghat, Karimganj and Sonitpur districts of Assam; Balijan circle of Papumpare district in Arunachal Pradesh, Jaintia Hills, Ri Bhoi and East Khasi Hills districts in Meghalaya and Dimapur District in Nagaland. Apart from Assam, the Karbis are also recognised as Scheduled Tribes in Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland. With a population of around 4 lacs 60 thousand as per 2001 Census, the Karbis constitutes the third largest tribal community in Assam after the Bodos and the Mishings.[4]


The Karbis were among the earliest inhabitants of Assam, so much so that Kalaguru Bishnu Prasad Rabha, a noted cultural personality and freedom fighter from Assam has called them the Discoverer of Assam. The Karbis too trace their origin and existence in China and South-east Asia. The traditional Karbi kingdom included Rongkhang, "Kiling", Amri, Chinthong, Nilip-Lumbajong and Longku-Longtar, which corresponds to the present day Hamren subdivision of Karbi Anglong district, Kamrup and Marigaon districts, eastern part of Karbi Anglong and the North Cachar Hills district.

Culture and tradition

The Karbis are a Patrilineal,society and is composed of five major clans or Kur. They are Ingti, Terang, Inghi, Teron and Timung which are again divided into many sub-clans. These clans are exogamous, in other words marriages between members of the same clan are not allowed. The traditional system of governance is headed by the Lindok or the king, who is assisted by the Katharpo, the Dilis, the Habes and the Pinpos. The Lindok is based in Ronghang Rongbong in the Hamren subdivision of the district. These posts of administration, however, are now merely ceremonial with no real power.

The Karbis celebrate many festivals. Rongker is one such festival held around January-February by the entire village as thanksgiving to the various gods and for the prosperity and the well-being of the community. The Chomkan (also known as "thi-karhi" and Chomangkan) is a festival unique to the Karbis. It is actually a ceremony performed by a family for the peace and the safe passage of the soul of family members who died recently.

Most of the Karbis still practice their traditional belief system, which is a branch of Hinduism, however, there is also a proportion of Karbis who follow Christianity. The practitioners of Hinduism believe in reincarnation and honours the ancestors, besides the traditional deities like Hemphu and Mukrang.

The Karbi women are expert weavers and they wear home-made clothes. Their main attire consist the pekok, a piece of cloth with designs wrapped around the upper part of the body and tied into a knot on the right shoulder, the pini, similar to a sarong and a vamkok, a decorative piece of cloth tied around the waist over the pini. The men's traditional dress consist of the choi, a sleeveless shirt with a 'V' shaped neck and loose threads at the bottom, a rikong, which looks like a dhoti and a poho, a turban.


The Karbis traditionally practice jhum cultivation (slash and burn cultivation) in the hills. They grow variety of crops which include foodgrains, vegetables and fruits like rice, maize, potato, tapioca, beans, ginger and turmeric. They are quiet self-sufficient and have homestead gardens with betel nut, jackfruit, oranges, pineapple, etc. which fulfill their nutritional as well as food needs. However, with the integration of the traditional lifestyle with the market economy, many of the traditional institutions and way of life has been left damaged, bringing about unending sufferings on the people. Karbi people has the highest HPI (Human Poverty Index) value of 33.52, indicating that this tribe has the highest number of people in human poverty. (Assam Human Development Report, 2003).


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