West Jaintia Hills District is one of the 11 (eleven) districts of the state of Meghalaya. With the bifurcation of the erstwhile Jaintia Hills District into East and West Jaintia Hills District, West Jaintia Hills District came into existence on 31st July 2012 with its Head Quarter at Jowai. Jowai is the host of all the heads of important governmental offices and establishments, educational institutions, hospitals, banking institutions, etc.
The total area of the district is 1693 Sq.kms. The district comprises of 1(one) Civil Sub-Division Viz. Amlarem Civil Sub-Division and 3(three) Community and Rural Development Blocks viz. Amlarem C&RD Block, Laskein C&RD Block and Thadlaskein C&RD Block with the following boundaries:-
North – Assam
South – Bangladesh and East Jaintia Hills District
East – Assam
West – East Khasi Hills District
The district has a total population of 2,70,352, of which 1,34,406 are males and 1,35,946 are females. The density of Population is 159.69 per sq. km.
West Jaintia Hills District is the home of one of the major tribes of Meghalaya popularly known as the ‘Jaintias’ or the ‘Pnars’ and other sub tribes like the wars, the ‘Bhois’ and the ‘Biates’. Like the Khasis, the Jaintias are believed to be remnants of the first Mongolian overflow into India. They established themselves in their present homeland in the remote past and owi ng primarily to their geographical isolation they succeeded in maintaining their independence until the consolidation of the British administration in this part of India.
Jaintias are a matri lineal society which is a very rare and unique practice where the children take the identity or family title solely from the mother. Women are very lucky in this way, because they a re treated with equal rights but the head of the family is always the father. Amongst the Jaintias, it is the youngest daughter who inherits property and has the obligation to take care and look after the fa mily members incase of any financial or health problems.
The people inhabiting the district are the Pnars, Wars, Bhois (Karbis) and Biates mainly. So it is obvious that not one language is spoken. But the main language widely used by the inhabitants of this di strict is the Pnar Language which is different in every sense from the Khasi language of the East and West Khasi Hills Districts of this State of Meghalaya. As is known there is no written script for this language and Khasi is used for ed ucative purposes.English is the only medium of instruction used in some schools e.g. Adventist Trai ning School. Other schools use the vernacular dialect in Roman letter (Khasi Cherra dialect) and English as the medium of instruction. However for high school section,English was adopted as the medium of instruction and Khasi dialect was studied as a vernacular subject. It is known that a few local learned people are trying to devise the alphabets for the Pnar language.Besides English, Hindi , Nepali, Bengali, Assamese, are spoken by outsiders for communication. A lot of outsiders can speak the Local language pretty well, making work and communication easier.
Dance and Music
Pnars are fond of dance, music, sports and festivals. Mindful of their cultural heritage, these simple folks are jovial and hospitable. Pnars are particularly fond of songs praising nahlre like lakes, waterfalls, hills etc. and expressing love for their land.They use different types of musical instruments like Duitara, Sarong, (both a restringed instruments), Ka Nakra, Padiah, Katasa (different types of drums), Marynken (harp), Chuwiang, Tangmuri (flutes) etc.
Pnars are music lovers and consider ‘Ka Duitara’as the Queen of music. Traditionally ‘Ryndia khyrwang’, ‘Ryndia Saru’ , ‘Ryndia Stem’,’Ryndia Tlem’ were worn by Jaintia ladies.Men used to wear Sula, Yuslei n, Patoi, Dhara etc. Usually women wear gold and silver ornaments like KhaiJa, Kpien Ksiar, Sahkti,Khadu, Pansngiat (tiara),etc. during Laho dance.Both males and females perform the Laho dance. Attired in their best finery, usually young men on either side of a woman holding arms together, dance in steps. In place of the usual drum and pipe, a cheerleader, usually a man gifted with the talent of impromptu recitation, recites couplets to the merriment of the audience.
‘Shad Pliang’ or plate dance was performed in the Royal palaces to please royal guests.This dance is performed in fields also.
Chad Sukra : This festival of dances is held annually in Jowai and many villages of West Jaintia Hills District, for a day in the month of Aprilj May before the sowing season.
This is the most important festival of the Jaintias and is celebrated after the sowing is done. It is celebra ted annually at Jowai, Ialong, Mukhla,Thadmuthlong and Chyrmang usually in the month of July-August. It is a popular and colourful festival. Men only, young and old, take part in the dancing to the tune of the drums and flute.Women do not take part in the dancing but have an important role to play at home in offering sacrificial food to the spirit of the ancestors. They invoke their aid and intercession that life here below will be good and worthy for the next one above. Men make a symbolic drivi ng away of the evil spirits which cause sickness and misery, by beating the roof of every house with bamboo poles. This festival is also an invocation to God seeking His blessing for a good harvest.
The original tribal religion of the Jaintias is known as Niamtre. The Jaintia tribals believe that their religion is God-given (not founded by man) and comes to this world by God’s decree. The three cardinal principles dictated by God are kamai yei hok, tipbru tipblai and tipkur tipkha. They signify right living and practice based right livelihood fulfillment of duties toward fellow men to reach God and showing respect to the members of one’s father’s and mother’s clans. Therefore Niamtre stresses equal weight to be given to fellow humans to attain God’s realisation.The British paramountcy during the Seventeenth Century brought about the winds of change in many aspects of the Jaintia society, a good percentage of the people started em bracin g Christianity as their religion. Also with the coming of the Welsh Missionaries, many significant changes took place which had certain effects on the value system, beliefs, speech, etiquettes, food habits, life styles and most importantly in the fields of health,education and economic condition of the people. Traditionally, if anyone died in the village, the whole village would stop their work and gather at the deceased person’s house. People still follow the custom inspite of the hectic schedule of everyday modern life.Apart from Christians, there are other religious groups in the district like the Unitarians, the Hindus, the Muslims etc.
Arts and Crafts
Jaintia people are famous for their weaving skills and creating cane mats, stools and baskets. They are also famous for weavi ng of carpet and silk and the making of musical instruments, jewellery and pineapple fiber articles.They also weave cloth. A collection of various types of clothing used by both men and women of this district.They include dresses worn during festivity as well as in their day to day life.
Jaintia people are famous for their potterys kills. They make special kinds of earthen containers (Maloi) used to store food items and others, earthen tea pots (Tipot Khyndew Heh) used for storing the prepared tea for serving purpose or simply for storing water, earthen mugs (Mok Um) used for drinking water.
Jaintia people a re very fond of Jadoh, a nourishing Biryani clone. It is prepared from pig head.Jadoh is served with Dokhleh (pieced pork). Another important cuisine is Tpusein(a steamed rice bread) which is bland in taste and it is taken with piping hot tea.Jaintias are famous for preparing “Tungtoh” or “Tungrymbai” which is a pungent mix of fermented beans and spices that adds the flavor to the simplest meal or festive spread.Another traditional delicacy of the Jailltias is ‘Kha rang'(dried fish) which is crispy in taste.’Kwai’ which is similar to ‘Tamul+Pan’ in Assam hasa special social importance.