Tribe Before Self


We have often heard of young girls being married off before they reach puberty but in this continuing story on unusual marriage customs, older women are married to boys as young as ten years old. Once a girl turns 18, she selects a male partner that is usually younger by 6 years. She then undertakes to support her husband during the first half of her life and in return, he has to take of her in her old age. Can this custom save the tribe?

Meghalaya and Assam, two north eastern states of India are host to three important matrilineal and somewhat matriarchal tribes, because not all matrilineal are matriarchal societies.

The Garo, Khasi and Jaintia tribes, three cousin societies, have maintained the matrilineal tradition for thousands of years along with a unique system of marriage and male-female equality. Apparently, women are all powerful but in practice the women do not dominate the men. Here the men have power -- but it is inherited from the women. This power structure has created a unique balance between the sexes. The three tribes have broad similarities but also have their own specific characteristics pertaining to their matrilineal systems.

Although historical evidence is limited, it appears that the Gharo and Jaintia tribes migrated from Tibet, and the Khasi tribe from the Khmer areas of Southeast Asia. In these traditional societies, the men have always been traders and warriors and the women have stayed home.