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.