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Celebrating Women as Powerful

khasi women in traditional dress

Ka Pomblang Nongkrem - Shillong, India

Click here to listen to Paola talk about this festival

This is an excerpt from the book Celebrating Women.

This year, 2001, is the Year of Women's Empowerment in India, but Khasi women already have more power than many women in the world.

Women here are economically active until they are very old.

Children take their mothers' clan names and descent is linear from mother to daughter.

The youngest daughter becomes the custodian of her family's property (the eldest daughter assumes that responsibility in the ruling family).

A High Priestess is responsible for the community's spiritual life. Her brother or son serves as King and is addressed by the honorific "Mother-Father".

The woman is the guardian spirit of each house; the cooking and eating area, which is considered the sacred, is where religious rites occur.

Grooms move into their mother-in-laws' homes.

The Khasi's omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent God is addressed both as “she” and “he.”

Even the language reflects women's power. You can hear how many more feminine than masculine nouns exist because they are preceded by the article, ka.

The first written reference to the Khasis appeared in 1500AD. Since the beginning, this matrilineal society celebrated a great religious festival, which is now called Ka Pomblang Nongkrem, the goat killing ceremony.

At the festival, the priest invokes the blessings of ancestral mother of the ruling clan and her maternal uncle, God Shillong. They ask for the well being of the Khyrim kingdom and foretell the fortunes of their community for the following year.

Festival timing is set by the King, Balajied Sing Syiem, a physician by profession, and his council.  The date is announced once a week by pipe and drum music at the home of the King's sister, Batriti Siem, a high school principal.

Some call her the High Priestess, but she is more properly titled The Custodian of the community's spiritual life because, although she prepares all the articles for the festival ceremonies, she deputizes a priest to execute the rites. Her residence, the festival site, is one of the last traditional Khasi turtle-shaped houses.

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