Glimpses from the elaborate and expensive death ceremony of the Karbis, which continues non-stop for four days and four nights.Text and Photos: Ritu Raj Konwar
The Karbi, one of the main tribes of Assam, are expert weavers. They practise Jhum (slash and burn) cultivation in the hills. After marriage, the wife continues to use the surname of her father, but the children take the name of their father. And they believe in the immortality of the soul and in rebirth.
But their most distinctive practice is their elaborate death ceremony, called Chomangkan. While the funeral ceremony is performed at the time of cremation, the death ceremony is held at a later date.
Chomangkan is unique to the Karbis and is observed by the entire tribe, regardless of social status and economic condition. But it is held sooner or later according to the convenience of the bereaved family, due to the extensive preparations needed as well as the expenses involved.
Chomangkan is the most elaborate and expensive socio-religious ceremony of the Karbis, which continues non-stop for four days and four nights.
Professional weepers and singers known as “Uchepi” are called to participate in the ceremony. They sing the dirge for hours, stopping just a few times for rest. The Karbis mourn their dead and remember them in the hope of seeing them again.