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The Khasi are a tribe in Meghalayamarker, formerly part of Assam in north-eastern Indiamarker and in parts of Bangladeshmarker, who call themselves Ki Hynñiew trep which means "the seven huts" in the Khasi language. Their language, also called Khasi, was essentially oral until the arrival of European missionaries, and particularly significant in this regard was the Welsh missionry Thomas Jones, who transcribed the Khasi language into the Roman Script. The Khasi people form the majority of the population of the eastern part of Meghalaya. Most Khasi are Presbyterian, Anglican, Roman Catholic, or followers of the original Khasi religion Ka Niam Tynrai, although there is a tiny Unitarian presence, as well. Some Khasi reside in the hilly areas of Sylhet, Bangladeshmarker. The Khasi tribes are usually dependent upon jhoom cultivation in which the vegetation is left to grow totally under the care of nature. In Bangladesh, one of the main products produced by the Khasi using jhoom cultivation is betel leaf.

Residences

The Khasis consist of four sub-tribes, Khynriam, Pnar, Bhoi and War, the Khasis or Khynriam inhabiting the Khasi Hills proper, the Pnar or Syntengs the Jaintia Hills and the steep southern slopes leading to Bangladeshmarker. The Bhoi live in the lower hills to the north and north-east of the Khasi and Jaintia Hills towards the Brahmaputramarker valley.The Lynngam people who inhabit the western parts of the Khasi Hills display linguistic and cultural characteristics which show influences from both the Khasis to their east and the Garo people to the west. The Wars inhabit the precipitous slopes and deep valleys to the south of the district.

Physical variation

A Khasi man
Khasi from different regions have small, but noted differences. They are descendants of Mon-Khmer speakers who migrated probably from Mongoliamarker to Meghalayamarker. Most Khasi have brown to light yellow skin, epicanthic folds, high nasal bridges and aquiline noses.

Dress

The traditional Khasi male dress is Jymphong or a longish sleeveless coat without collar, fastened by thongs in front. Now, the Khasis have adopted the western dress. On ceremonial occasions, they appear in ‘Jymphong’ and dhoti with an ornamental waist-band.

The Khasi traditional female dress is called a jainsem or a dhara, which are rather elaborate with several pieces of cloth, giving the body a cylindrical shape. On ceremonial occasions, they wear a crown of silver or gold on the head. A spike or peak is fixed to the back of the crown, corresponding to the feathers worn by the menfolk. The Jainsem consists of two pieces of material fastened at each shoulder. The Dhara consists of a single piece of material also fastened at each shoulder.

Social structure

The Khasis have a matrilineal and Matrilocal society. Descent is traced through the mother, but the father plays an important role in the material, mental life of the family and social welfare. According to Khasi laws, a woman cannot be forced into marriage, she owns the children and properties. In Khasi tradition, the youngest daughter will also inherit the property. A woman may end a marriage at her will with no objection from her husband. The Khasi have an unusual dedication toward matrilineal customs, most notably similar to the Minangkabaus.

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