• HISTORY, TOPOGRAPHY, GENERAL GLIMPSES INTO GARO COMMUNITY LIFE


    Introduction

    Until the 22nd October, 1976, the area comprising the Garo Hills constituted a single administrative district with its capital at Tura. In the following pages, thereof, all references to the Garo Hills (except where specified) are to be understood as applicable to the original geographical area of the two districts and not linked to any one of the present two districts i.e., West Garo Hills headquarters (Tura), and East Garo Hills headquarters (Williamnagar).

    • Early Migrations and Settlements

      We cannot be certain about the length of time the Garos have been in the hills that their name. According to their own traditions, they have migrated to their present abode from elsewhere. Many recent authors, both Garos and non-Garos, tend to support this view. Major Playfair, the District Officer (who was commissioned to write a monograph on the tribe) and others are of the opinion that the Garos, on the evidence of ethnic similarities and linguistic affinity, are closely related to the Kacharis, the Rabhas and other aboriginal tribes inhabiting the Brahmaputra valley. Thus,on ethic and linguistic evidence, the Garos may be assumed to belong to the great Bodo family.

      The Garos own traditions relate that they came originally, from Tibet to what is now Cooch Behar, whence they moved on to Dhubri whose king received them warmly. However, later on, being afraid of them he did not allow them to settle permanently. From there they moved to the neighbourhood of Jogighopa where they remained for about 400 years but they were again forced to leave the place, driven towards the south by the ruler of that country with the help of the king of Cooch Behar . Being compelled to vacate the territory they moved towards the south, crossed the Brahmaputra on rafts and advanced towards Guahati, where they settled at Ka·magre or present Kamakhya Hills and along the Brahmaputra valley. As the place was infested with tigers, the Garos relinquished the place and then spread into Habraghat Pargana in Goapara. Tradition also tells us that while in the neighbourhood of Habraghat Pargana, the Garos appear to have become rich and prosperous and the first Garo Kingdom was established, of which the first reigning prince was Abrasen who has his palace and capital at Sambol A.ding, an isolated hill near the Dakaidol village not far from Goalpara town.

      Sangma in support of Playfair is of the opinion that it was about this time that dissensions apparently crept in among the Garos as a result of which, some of them set out on their exodus again and entered the hills which are called the Garo Hills.

      The Garos seem to have entered the hills in batches from different directions and spread into different regions where they settled down, geographically being completely cut off from frequent contact type of clan-centred village polity and of certain linguistic and cultural variations amongst them. In course of time, there came the division of the tribe into several component groups : the A.kawes or A.wes, the Chisaks, the Matchis, the Matabengs or Matjangchis, the Chiboks, the Rugas, the Garas or Ganching, the Atongs, and the Me.gams. Playfair mentions two more – the Kochus and the Atiagras – who are numerically insignificant.

      With the progress in education and considerable improvements in modes of transport and communication, there regional differences are fast disappearing, and the educated Garos today like to refer to themselves only as A.chiks, a Garo word that is comprehensive and it signifies the tribe as a whole.

      If critically examined, the ancient history of the Garos would seem to have been a period marked by persistent and tenacious internal warfare and many blood-feuds seem to have occurred between families or village and between neighbouring Chiefs or Nokmas. The main reasons were:
      (i) the belief that the dead man requires the head of another man to accompany him to the land of the dead, and
      (ii) to revenge. Sharp pointed bamboo stakes being planted in the ground at strategic spots along village paths, these approaches being carefully guarded. Garo traditions also state that many attempts were made by some Chiefs to weld different tribes under one kingdom: but all thee efforts proved futile and the land remained divided into a congeries of petty Nokmaships until the coming of the British.

      The Garos in the past also earned notoriety because of the numerous raids they periodically made in to the plains at the foot of the hills, in the districts of Goalpara and Mymensing. From time to time they would sally forth from their mountainous recesses to attack unarmed, unsuspecting villages in the plains, murdering, plundering and burning down everything before swiftly retreating in to the jungle, leaving behind only the headless corpses of men and women. On their return, the whole village would gather round the captured heads, and there would be feasting with the chanting of songs of triumph. These barbarous depredations were the root causes of troubles with the people of the plains and when these were continued in to the British period, Garo Hills district was created in 1866 and complete annexation took place in 1873.

    • History of the District as an Administrative Unit

      The entire area under Garo Hills was organized as a single administrative district in 1873 in consequence of unsettled conditions prevailing particularly in the hill tracts. When the British took over the administration of Bengal in the middle of the 18th Century, they inherited problems that had persisted throughout the administration of the territory adjoining the Garo Hills by the Choudhuries who were tributary Zamindars or landholders under the Moguls. These Choudhuries owned markets near the foothills which were regularly frequented by the Garo highlanders. Occasionally, their attitude towards the hillmen was such that conflicts, though on minor scales, were inevitable. On the other hand, the Garos, too, were in the habit of sending out raiding parties to the plains and as a punitive measure the markets would be barred to them. In 1775, the Choudhuries of Mechpara and Karaibari in Goalpara launched punitive expeditions and even penetrated into the interior with a view to bringing the whole tribe under their control, but they were unable to stay for more than two or three years. The British sought to bring the situation under control by a series measures, but during a period of nine years between 1807 and 1817 the Garos made several incursions into the course of which as many as 157 villages were burnt and 181 persons were killed, 94 of them in the worst raid of all in 1816 when 150 villages were destroyed.

      A change in policy was brought into effect with the appointment of David Scott as Magistrate of Rangpur. This illustrious officer would later play a very important part in the events that would ultimately bring the whole of Assam under British rule. Scott imposed the usual punitive measures including an economic blockade but he also saw that the roots of the troubles went deeper than a appeared on the surface. He recommended a change in the regulations that had hitherto guided the administration of the region, proposing that the Garos should be excluded from the control of the Choudhuries and be brought under the direct management of the British authorities. Bengal Regulation X was passed on 19th September 1822, and in the words of the Preamble, the objectives was “to promote the desirable object of reclaiming these races to the habits of civilized life” and towards this end recommended that “a special plan for the administration of justice, of a kind adapted to their peculiar customs and prejudices, should arranged and concerted with the headmen and that measures should at the same time taken for freeing them from any dependence on the Zamindars of the British Provinces.” The latter would, however, be paid just compensation.

      Initially, the new provisions affected only the Garos in the areas contiguous to Goalpara. In time, however, raids by the tribesmen of the unadministered areas into British territory in Assam led to the progressive annexation of guilty villages till by 1867 a sufficiently large portion of the Garo Hills has come under British rule, and a separate officer was appointed to administer the hills. The Garo Hills Act of 1869 superseded the Bengal regulation X of 1822 in respect of the entire territory bounded on the north and west by the district of Goalpara, on the south by the district of Mymensingh and on the east by the Khasi Hills. Tura was established as the administrative headquarters in 1867. Its situation well within the hills contributed to the ensuing period of peace which endured for some years.

      When, however, the British Government proposed a survey of the Garo Hills in 1970, misunderstanding with the independent Garo was inevitable. The operation during the working season of 1870 passed off uneventfully but, in 1871 the reaction of the Garos was definitely hostile. The survey party, prior to commencing its operations, sent two of its field labourer to collect labourers from two village in the vicinity of Meminram Hills on which it was intended to set up a station. The coolies were attacked and seized. One was killed and the other escaped. A punitive expeditions could not immediately be mounted because of the approach of the rainy season, but in the following cold season, several columns were sent to bring the guilty persons to justice. These forces extended their operations to practically all hostile villages and it was then decided to take over the remaining portions of the hills under British management. The entire area was organized as a single administrative district with captain Williamson as the first Deputy Commissioner of the unified district. Apart from trifling disturbances in 1882, the Garos have since then settled down to a peaceful way of life.

      Detailed accounts of important historical events after 1873 are given in Chapter II. It is sufficient to mention here that the District was bifurcated into two districts in October 1979. These districts have as in 1982 the following Sub-Divisions (with dates of creation in brackets):
      West Garo Hills -
      1. Baghmara Sub-Division (December 1976)
      2. Dadenggre Sub-Division (August 1982)
      3. Ampati Sub-Division (August 1982)
      East Garo Hills -
      1. Resubelpara Sub-Division (August 1982)
      Some of these Sub-Divisions cut across the boundaries of a few of the so called Laskar’s Elakas which had been constituted for judicial and revenue administration by the British.

    • Geological History

      Gneissic Complex with Palaeozoic sediments of this region is considered to be an integral part of the main Indian Peninsular-Gneissic Complex from which it has been detached to the present position due to the late Tertiary tectonic activity.

      The Gneissic Complex of Garo Hills documents intensive magmatic activity in phases, during late Precambrian time. The advent of Phanerozoic passed on quietly except the formation of some shallow troughs on the western most part of Garo Hills favouring sedimentation of lower Gondwana Group of rocks. Rest of the basement remained exposed. By the close of the Mesozoic the western Garo Hills experienced terrestrial volcanism of moderate magnitude with the beginning of Territory epoch. The southern side of the gneissic mass with sporadic sedimentary cover gradually subsided to form deltaic basin where coal measures were formed during early Eocene. During middle Eocene the basement further subsided when widespread marine transgression took place resulting deposition of thick limestone.

      During the upper Eocene the shelf become unstable. Basinal irregularities are reflected in the overlying alterations of limestone, shale and sandstones of Kopili formation. Subsequent upliftment of the basement resulted in complete removal of marine water southward from Garo Hills. However, sedimentation continued towards the southwest part of Garo Hills in shallow freshwater basin where Garo Group was deposited. By the close of Tertiary the Gneissic Complex along with the overlying sediments was detached from gneissic mass of northern Bihar (Rajmahal area) either due to the subsidence of the mass if in between present position. The vertical component of this tectonism resulted in uplifting the mass in phases to attain its present plateau configuration. Close of this tectonism phases was marked by the formation of large fresh waters shallow lakes in the southern part of Garo Hills where Dupitili Group deposited on the dipping strata of Garo Group. Subsequent geological history is recorded in the form of the Quarternary deposits representing older and newer alluvium.



    • Location, general boundaries, total area and population

      The Garo Hills lie between 25.9in and 26.1in North Latitudes and 89.49in and 91°2’ East longitudes and cover an area of 8,167 sq.km. (1981 Cencus). The area is bounded on the North-West and North by Assam, on the East by West Khasi Hills District and on the South-West by Bangladesh. The Population at the Census of 1981 was 5,06,427 compared with 4,06,615 in 1971, thus registering a rise of 24°20% during the decade.

    • Origin of the name of the Districts

      According to Playfair in his monograph on the Garos, the name Garo could have been derived from the name of one division of the tribe, the Garas, who live in an area Mymensingh District of Bangladesh and with whom the people of Bengal, subsequently the British, first came into contact. The name ‘Garo’ is not used by the Garos who in fact call themselves by the name A.chik. In the earliest references in British records, the name Garrow was applied to all the native tribes west of the Jaintia Hills, including the Khasi. What is more important, however, is the fact that the present-day Garos have accepted the name without the reservation seen among several other tribes in the north-east who have agitated for change of earlier nomenclatures. With no grounds for misapprehension or confusion of identity, the application of the name Garo to the major tribe of the Garo Hills has been sanctified by usage will in all likelihood continue for the foreseeable future.