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Who were the Garos ?

Ethnicity in the 18th century

mercredi 23 février 2011, par P. Ramirez

Francis Hamilton, An Account of Assam (written 1808-1814)

Baraduyar : "The Raja is a Garo, who lives at Bhogpur two days S.W. from Gohati. It is close to the mountains inhabited by the independent Garos ; but these consider the Baraduyar Raja as their chief. It is for his low lands that he pays tribute to Assam. In his territory is a market place name Kukuriya, to which the independent Garos bring salt that they purchase at Rajhat in Jaintiya, and at Laur (Laour R.) in the district of Srihatta (Sylhet R.). The road from Laur, as I was informed by a Brahman, who had come by it, passes through the territory of a Garo chief named Koiram, who borders on Susangga (Susung R.). West from Koiram is the territory of Ganeswar raja (Gonaser R.), a nephew of the Raja of Koroyivari (Currybary R.)".

Koiram could be Khyrim, the largest Khasi polity nowadays. Pre 1834 documents designated all inhabitants of the Meghalaya plateau as "Garo". Either this was the generic term used by the Assamese and/or Bengali to call the dwellers of this area, or the ethnonym Garo (which was not use by those who call them Garo today) was extended to all hill people. Most of the petty rajas mentioned by Hamilton for the South Bank are said to be "Garo" (Luki, Rani, Bongram, Dimoria...). (ref)

In 1745AD an ambassador from Rani is reported to start his request by "We Mikirs and Garos (gāro mikir) live in the interior of the hills (pabatar mājat)." (Tungkhungia buranji §80)

In the Baharistan-I-Ghaybi,, the account of Mughal wars in Bengal and Assam in early 17th century, all the hills on the Southern bank of the Brahmaputra are called "Garo hills", even as far as Dimarua, i.e. on the eastern side of present Guwahati.

Surprisingly,the term Khasi is seldom present in the buranjis. Hamilton’s account does not mention it a single time. This is not the case of late 18th century British testimonies from Sylhet side which contains numerous mentions of the "Cosseahs". As Hamilton collected his informations solely from Goalpara in Lower Assam, this suggests that "Garo" was a generic term used by Assamese to designate people from a large part of the hills on the South bank of the Brahmaputra.

The main geographical reference of Hamilton was the 1776 Rennell map inserted below (click to enlarge).

JPEG - 17.8 ko
Part of Rennell Map, 1776

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