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Author: David Hagan

Experiencing ancient animist culture in the Garo Hills (Meghalaya)

You know you’re travelling in an interesting place when the people you meet are always asking you if you’re an anthropologist. One such place is India’s north-east, which is only joined to the rest of the country by a tiny corridor of land running between Bangladesh and Bhutan. As this out-on-a-limb location suggests the seven states here are very different from the rest of the nation. Much closer, geographically, ethnically and culturally, to the tribal areas of neighbouring Burma, Tibet and China, the north-east is home to a wonderful diversity of traditional cultures that have little, or nothing, to do with the mainstream of Hindu, Hindi India. Sadly much of the traditional religious culture of the north-east states has been washed away by a relatively recent missionary led wave of hard-core Christianity. However fascinating pockets of resistance remain. One of the best places that I found in which to access the original animist culture of the north-east is in Meghalaya’s Garo Hills, where a traditionally matrilineal culture survives unknown to most in India. In truth, as with most of the tribes in the area, the majority of Garos have already converted to Christianity. But animist villages can be found within just a few kilometres of the region’s capital Tura. In the village of Chidowgre, located in heavy forest less than one hour’s drive from Tura, the villagers’ still live...

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Hunting out the head-hunters in the Mon Valley (Nagaland)

The Naga people of north-east India have a nice folktale which explains why their country is so hilly. It was said that when their creator god was making the earth he lavished lots of attention on it to make it as nice and neat as possible. However, whilst he was working on the final place, Nagaland, a giant cockroach came along with a warning that an enemy was coming to get him. The fearful god rushed to finish his work before making a quick escape, and consequently the Naga countryside ended up the rough and ready hodge-podge of peaks...

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