The Concept of 'Kur' as part and parcel of the Khasi culture


By Smti. B. Kharlyngdoh

Right from the time immemorial, the Khasi society resolved around the concept of 'Kur'. It is a concept that is alive and active till the present day society. To make a study on the concept of 'Kur' in Khasi Culture one should try to define the term culture as found in Dictionaries and other related text for understanding of the term.

The Universal Dictionary defines: "The totality of socially transmitted behaviour patterns, arts, beliefs, institution and all other product of human work and thought characteristics of a community or population".1

Graham Wallas an English Sociologist defines : "Culture as an accumulation of thoughts, values and objects; it is the social heritage acquired by us from proceeding generation through learning as distinguished from the biological heritage in passed on to us automatically through genes." 2

But when we talk of Khasi culture we understand that the whole system of Khasi culture stems from the basic tenets of teh Khasi religion and they are:

  • "Kamai ia ka hok" which means to perform the duty well, to live justly and work honestly
  • "Tipbriew tipblei" which means that man must behave well with his fellow men to enable him to do God's will
  • "Tip kur tipkha" to know the 'Kur' and the 'kha' which means to respect the relation from mother's side and father's side respectively.

The whole system of Khasi culture cannot be covered within a small article, therefore lets concentrate only in the topic , " The concept of Kur as a part and parcel of the Khasi culture."

To understand better the word 'Kur' let us first see what our Khasi writers explain:-

  1. H.Lyngdoh, "The word 'Kur' refers to all group of people both male and female descended from the first mother of the family line which is known as "Lawbei" 3
  2. Kynpham Sing defines" All those who are discended from the some ancestral mother belong to the same 'Kur'. 4
  3. R.T. Rymbai defines, "The Kur have their origin from a common ancestress and their lineal descent is from the mother to daughter." 5
  4. Sib Charan Roy explains, "The Khasis are matrilineal descent. Generations after generations are still if the same 'kur' as long as they descended from the same ancestral mother, they are all related by blood." 6
  5. R.T. Rymbai explains, "The Kur may have one clan name as known from time immemorial or they may have different surnames known after the names of the female descendents of the first ancestress." 7
  6. S. Lamare, in his unpublished dissertation on "the concept of Kur among the Khasi, wrote, ".....among the Khasis the word 'jait' came to be understood as title or surname in the modern generation and even earlier." 8

From the above, we can say that the word 'Kur' among the Khasis is clear that the descend is from the mother and is passed on from the mother to daughter; while jait' is the name given to the 'Kur'. These names are based on various grounds such as :

  1. After the mythical ancestress such as Ngap, Bon, and Nga. (The daughters of Li Dohkha) where Phyrngap, Syiemlieh and Sutnga clan came out
  2. After the names of plants like Sohhlie, Pathaw and Rymbai etc.
  3. After the name of the place from where they originated like Nongspung, Nongsteng, Massar, etc.
  4. After the name of the office like Lyngdoh, Doloi, Syiem, etc.
  5. After the name of the non-Khasi female who married a Khasi man. Hence, most of the Kur start with 'Khar' have their ancestral from the Non-Khasi mother like Kharshandi, Kharbani, Kharnarbi, etc.
  • It was believed that the concept of Kur started from the times of is 'U 7' trep.around the 'Sohpetbneng'. It was said that there were seven kur in the beginning. They were Khynriam, Pnar, Bhoi,War, Maram, Lyngngam and Diko which make the Khasi Race. But now we have around 3363 kur according to Spiton Karakor in his book 'Ki khun ki ksiew u Hynniew Trep Hynniew skum'. It was found that the source of the kur system is from the common ancestress or 'lawbei Tynrai' from where they get a surname. For that reason we call 'kur' system of the Khasis the matrilineal descent but not matriachal system. The kur is never constituted by combining the linenage of both mother and father. It is unilateral. Therefore 'kur' is a whole and 'jait' is a part of a 'kur'. 'Kur' is constituted of many 'jait' in which 'kur' have any child born of a khasi women belongs to her 'kur'. The father might not be a khasi but the children are accepted in the kur of the mother.
  • It was also found that the Khasis still recognise the concepts such as 'teh kur', 'ting kur' and 'dei kur'. Hence among the Khasis, it is accepted that to be of the same 'kur' blood relationship is not only criteria; it could be due to friendship, or assistance at the time of crisis that they enter into covenant of belonging to the same clan.'Teh kur' and 'ting kur' could be due to so many factors. For instance 'Mawrie' and 'Sohtun' enter into 'teh kur' to avoid war and revenge for the fact committed by a member of the 'Sohtun' clan. against a member of the 'Mawrie' clan. The 'Syiem ' of Shyllong and the Mylliemngap adopted 'ting kur' since it was the Mylliemngaps who reared the ancestress of the Syiem of 'Shillong ka Pahsyntiew'. The'Shadap','Nongkynrih','Passah' and 'Lyngdoh' Nongbri' however claim to be related that is 'dei shi kur' and they cannot enter into marriage because they descended from the same ancestress. Among the Khasis 'kur' is not merely an organisation or institution that is well set up, but it is far more than that'. In order to be a member of the kur one has to born in the 'kur'. However the society also accepts other means of including new member who are not born but outsider by means of 'ting kur' and 'teh kur'. Before this comes into play the member has to go through process of 'tang kur'
  • The 'kur' in the Khasi society gives a double role to the man . one as the 'kni' with in the 'Kur' he has to look after the welfare of the 'Kur', and the other as the father of the family he has the responsibility for the good of his children. The role of 'U kni kur' is much more of status rather than financial power. His presence is a mark that the 'kur' still have a person of knowledge and wisdom. It was also found that the Kur still follow the Khasi tradition. He is mainly a consultor, a counsellor and a person who is to be respected and who will speak on behalf of his brothers and sisters, niece and nephew in certain important occassions. Therefore, 'U Kni Kur' is a status symbol in the Khasi society

Regarding marriage within the 'kur' till today the Khasi treat as a grievous crime a Khasi can commit and such person is ostracised from the kur and the society at large.

Till now we can see that the 'kur' plays an important role in the matter of birth and naming ceremony. Though it is a small ceremony, it is very important for they will introduce the 'kur' and 'kha' of the baby. And whether it be a boy or a girl they welcome it as a member of the 'kur'.

In the matter of death we find that the 'kur' still claims its own 'kur' when one member dies,all the 'kur' specially those who are near and dear ones share the sad occassion on the death of the particular 'kur'.

The 'Kur' has helped the Khasi to be united and organised . Every man, women and child is a member of one 'kur' or the other and no one is without a 'kur' . Therefore, the 'kur' is the pillar of the Khasi's family which needs of be always alive and active. It is very important to note down that from the 'Durbar' Kur' it gives birth to the Khasi traditional Democracy. These are the facts thet the concept of 'kur' is a part and parcel of the Khasi culture which needs to be alive and active even in the present society also.

References

  1. Reader's Digest Association Ltd., Universal Dictionary
  2. C.N. Shankar Rao, Sociology. {New Delhi : S. Chand and Company, 1997) pg. 217
  3. H. Lyngdoh, Ka ninm khasi. (Shillong: George M, Lyngdoh, 1970) pg. 132
  4. Hipshon Roy (Ed.) Khasi Heritage (Shillong : Ri Khasi Press 1979) pg. 94
  5. Ibid pg. 112
  6. Sib Charan Roy Jait Dkhar, Ka Niam Khasi Ka Niam Tip Blei Tip briew. (Shillong: Ri Khasi Press, 1959), pg. 7
  7. Khasi Heritage pg. 75
  8. S. Lamare, "The Concept of kur Among the Khasis ,(Unpublished dissertion page 4.)