MDA Govt demolishing the foundation of matrilineal social system  

By H H Mohrmen

The decision of the MDA government to permit the issuance of Scheduled Tribe certificates to tribal children in the state who follow the patrilineal/patriarchal family system is going to have an irreparable damage to the culture and society of the Hynñew Trep community. This is no different from removing a keystone from the wall which will ultimately lead to its collapse. The Government has failed to realise that the matrilineal family system is not just children taking their mother’s surname and lineage, but it in fact is intricately linked to culture and tradition of the Hynñew Trep, Hynñew Skum society. The move made by the state government has also undermined the powers and functions of the Autonomous District Councils in the state and it has deliberately encroached into the Councils’ subject.

People are talking about identity, but the pertinent question is what makes the Hynñew Trep people different? Or what is the identity of the Jaidbynriew? What exactly do we mean when we talk about the identity of the Jaidbynriew? The Hynñew Trep people are different from other communities because of their unique culture and the family lineage system is a distinct aspect of its culture. The lineage system that people adopted is not only about children taking the mother’s surname but it is the foundation of the culture of the community. The entire culture and tradition of the Hynñew Trep revolves around the lineage system and matrilineal system is in fact what makes the culture of the people unique. The clan system which is the bedrock of the society rests on the foundation of matrilineal system and there wouldn’t be any clan without the ‘Ïawbei’ of the primal mother of the clan.

Let us try to examine elements that were alleged to be adverse to the progress of the jaidbynriew if we continue with the matrilineal system. The number one reason that is trotted out as a major cause of concern is the high number of single mother families (ka longing ba tang ka kmie/ka kmie ba hap ri khunrei) in the community. And without any data to support that, it was also alleged that the increase in number of fatherless children was because of rampant inter-marriages where Hynñew Trep female enter into inter-racial  marriages with men from other races. The other concern raised was that women have the freedom to choose their life partners so it promotes inter-racial marriages (shongkha khleh) which ultimately leads to single mother parents. The fact is that the issue of high numbers of single mothers cannot be blamed on others because there are  high divorce/abandonments even if the marriage is among two tribals.  The freedom that the females of the society enjoy is also blamed as the factor which leads to the weaker section of the society to have a loose character, which again is an unfounded allegation.

It is also alleged that the matrilineal system demeans the prestige of the male members of the family. It was said that men have no say in the affairs of the family because in it is the female members who rule the roost. In the matrilineal system the role of ‘u kñi’ or the maternal uncle is very significant but this has not been taken into consideration. The problem is because the matrilineal family is criticised using the lenses of patriarchy. The Hynñew Trep family system is a unique system where the role of the male and female members are clearly defined.

It is alleged that the family system is not suitable for business because the inheritance is from the mother to the daughter; not the father to the son. Hence this does not augur well for the success of any business and this is detrimental to family business. But in a true matrilineal system the inheritance is not only from the mother to the daughter but the status of the head of the family descends from the uncle to the nephew. Moreover can it be concluded that only Khasi Pnar or those who follow matrilineal family system fail in their businesses and other communities have hundred percent successes in their businesses because they follow patriarchy?

Now let us try to examine what are the traditions which are going to be affected by changing the lineage system? Or how is this going to affect the jaidbynriew? As mentioned it destroys the foundation of the society, the very essence of the ‘tip kur tip kha’ is obliterated as the ‘Kha’ will become the ‘Kur’ and there are no Kur anymore. The question is whether the Kur can become the Kha or are we going to do away with the Kur and the Kha elements of the society?

And if we are going to do away with the matrilineal system, then the mawshyieng/mootylleñ moo tymmoh or the repository of the deceased person’s charred bones which is based on matrilineal system and the bones of those of the same clan are interred in the same ossuary will become redundant. In culture and tradition of the Khasi Pnar, the Kha and the Kur have their own respective roles to play in every aspects of the society. This will become obsolete in the family which follows the patriarchal system.

The allegation that the increasing numbers of single parent families are because there is something wrong in the family system of the society is unfounded. Divorce is an integral part of the society, as there is a tradition in place which allows divorce like ‘pynleit san shyieng, pynleit kurim, e thnem or e chipiah’. The idea that marriage should be ‘until death do us apart’ is a modern idea which is a western Christian influence on the tribal institutions of marriages. Even in the generation of our grandmothers divorce is not an uncommon practice. For instance I have two grandmothers and both of them have different fathers.

Now the question is whether the patriarchal family system is a solution? Is patriarchal system a perfect system?  If the community decides to adapt patriarchy our model will be the western patriarchal family system. With large Christian population, we are not only influenced by western culture but western patriarchal family systems with high divorce rates will be our natural inclination. At the end of the day if we adopt patriarchy we will be no different from the people of the West and our apprehension about the high divorce rate is unfounded.

In fact if people are not satisfied with the matrilineal system the tradition is so rich that it even allows children of Khasi Pnar men who marry non-Hynñew Trep to become part of the tribe using ‘Tangjait ‘ tradition. The alternative is men who do not wish their children to take their wife’s surname can also opt for ‘tangjait’ and start a new clan which can by tradition be recognised as a new clan.

The truth is that the matrilineal system did not fail us; it is we who have failed the system by adopting the foreign culture which is not in sync with the tradition. The reason is also the lack of understanding of the profound system which has survived the test of time. The question that begs the answer is, how can ILP protect the jaidbynriew, or what is the need of introducing ILP, when the MDA government has destroyed its very foundation? What is there to protect if the very essence of the jaidbynriew is destroyed? What is Khasi Pnar without matrilineal family system? Or what is left of the Hynñew Trep if we take away the matrilineal family system?  Almost all Kurs have their own Seng Kur hence the question arises as to what is the use of the Seng Kur if the matrilineal family system is done away with? Will these Seng Kur permit children of male members of the clan to take the clan’s name? If so will they become Kur or Kha to the children?

How can the regional parties which are part of the MDA government allow this to happen? How can regional parties which claim to protect the jaidbynriew, which also means the culture and tradition of the people, support such a move? It looks like the regional parties have lost their moorings and are only interested in grabbing and remaining in power only.

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