Tuesday, February 27, 2024

MATRILINEAL SYSTEM: PNAR PERSPECTIVE

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By Helen Dkhar

This article aims at supporting my strong belief about the Pnar matrilineal lineage. The Pnar are one of the major tribes in Meghalaya besides the Garo and Khasi tribes.

According to Pnar traditional religious beliefs, changing ones title to that of the father/husband is extremely frightening because according to our belief, disposal of the dead through cremation and the collection of ashes is done, after which the remains are kept in sacred places specifically meant for individual clan (kur) known as Ka Thaw Buh Chien located in Jowai or Shillong as desired by the clan or Kur members. For example Kur Dkhar will only use the place meant for the Kur Dkhar and not anywhere else. Now the biggest obstacle is that the Pnar people who take the title of the father/husband will no longer be permitted to keep their ashes in the ossuary of their ancestral Kur Dkhar as now they no longer belong to the Kur Dkhar. The question is will the members of the new clan the title of which they have taken allow them to inter the bones in their ossuary since they do not originally belong to that clan? According to my understanding the answer is a big NO. Merely taking the title of the father/husband does not make them their Kur.

This practice may not be a concern or even applicable to those who have converted to other faiths be it Christianity, Hinduism or even Islam. At the time of the last rites for the dead, a number of religious ceremonies have to be performed by the Kur. It is not a mere act of placing the remains at the designated place. Here in Shillong, we are deeply grateful to the Forest Department of Meghalaya, who had given us Ki Khon Ka Niamtre, a piece of land at Mawlai to be used as the clan ossuary for the benefit of those who find it difficult and challenging to go all the way to Jowai in order to complete this last rite of their loved ones. I wonder if this challenge could be one of the reasons for some of our own to change their faith.

If a marriage takes place between a Dkhar and a Shullai clan from one particular Iawbei, the other Dkhar or Shullai members from the other Iawbei can very well enter into wedlock. The taboo occurs only if marriage takes place from the same Iawbei, which may result in ka chong sang that amounts to incest.

Regarding the observations made by the Syngkhong Rympei Thymmai (SRT) that some feel insecure being in the matrilineal system on grounds that they are losing their identity, equal share of property, have no say at either their in-laws or own clan (ing kur), etc., I feel the above claims have more to do with individuality of men on how they conduct themselves. If a man has a strong personality to be a responsible uncle in his iing kur and likewise a dependable and trustworthy father/husband in his in-laws house, nothing in the world can label him as one having no identity of his own. His presence would appease all and one with care, love and respect. It also depends on the family background, living habits and mentality he comes from.

Another hiccup that men tout is that they don’t inherit family property, I for one would say that a majority of us Khasi/Pnar do not belong to a wealthy section of the society and a few that have, usually divide their property amongst their children, both male and female. But in the case of those who have say just one house then naturally the house would go to the youngest daughter or the khatduh who usually takes care of the aged parents. In fact, most families today do not even have a house of their own and have to live in rented houses.

As Mr Thyrniang observed in his article (Is Matrilineal Lineage under question?, TST, January 19, 2021) that we are a matrilineal tribe not matriarchal where uncle/father are influential decision makers in the family, the head of the Dorbar Shnong are also male, the Dalloi are also male and so on and so forth, as such the land (clan property) belongs to the woman in name only while the actual executer is the man. Yes, there is no denying the fact that even in the modern political sphere female representation is still negligible. Then why the need for a change from the matrilineal system to patriliny!

True lineage comes from a woman who is looked upon as a custodian of the well being of every member of the family. A woman is one which every family member should love and respect. Why should such a system that is so unique and has been here since time immemorial not be allowed to continue?

As a Pnar following the indigenous religion (Niamtre), to just take up the father’s or husband’s title for the heck of it will result in a lot of hassle and chaos as our lineage goes hand in hand with “ka khein kiur khein kha” involving a lot of religious ceremonies and practices.

I would like to end with the saying that religion and culture go hand in hand and cannot be separated at least for us ki khon ka Niamtre. In Pnar there is an adage that goes like this, “kylli ka dustur jubab ka niam” which means that every question on culture and tradition will end up at the doorstep of religion. This means that the indigenous faith is intrinsically linked to our culture and tradition.

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