In a matriarchal society, the family/community/society is governed and run by women more often than men. The mother is the head of the family and the lineage runs through daughters.
My first stop in the trip to Meghalaya was Mawphlang - a small village about 2-3 hours ride from city of Shillong. I had read about the Sacred Forests of Meghalaya before and wanted to get a deeper understanding of their culture. I decided to first go and visit the Sacred Forest in this village.
The Khasi tribe is divided into kingdoms - lineage of that kingdom restricted to just one clan/family (associated with surname). Every kingdom would have its sacred grove, a forest which is a place of worship and is believed to be magical.
They believe and pray to the forces of nature - water, fire, plants, wind - an era that existed before the prevalence of the current idea of religion - where Gods are more idolized and specific.
The people of kingdom can use resources of the forest, only for personal consumption. You’re not supposed to take anything out of the forest, even a leaf or a stone. The forest also has super high density of medicinal plants and trees - extensively used for medicinal purposes. These forests were also place of animal sacrifice (bull, goat, etc.) and annual worships. Eventually the sacrifice tradition reduced but these forests are considered with great respect even today amongst the tribe.
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While I spoke to the local person whom I hired as a guide, I asked him his name and more about his village and how things work here. He told me his name is now "Warjri". When I asked him what he meant by "now", he adapted his wife's surname after his wedding and has moved into a house assisted/supported by the girl's parents. I was surprised listening to this story - I asked him more.
Technically, there are still kings that exist in the kingdom but it is the King's sister's son who is the successor to the throne & not the King's son. Even the transfer of ownership of assets happen from mothers to daughters and not through the men.
I was amazed.
Getting to know that such a society exists in India was eye-opening but it was not surprising that it was found in Meghalaya. In fact, given the lack of gender driven biases across Meghalaya made it very evident to me that if something like this has to exist, it's got to be in Meghalaya!
The govt is trying a lot of eco-tourism awareness there. A representative of the tribal community is built in Mawphlang (open for tourists) and there a couple of guest houses there - made in collaboration with the state govts.
If you guys are planning to visit Meghalaya - I have added all important details in this itinerary blog - contact points/accommodation details/things to do in this blog.