Other States

What’s in a Galo name? A pointer to ancestors

Illustration: Deepak Harichandan

Illustration: Deepak Harichandan

Can you recall the name of your ancestor from 20 generations ago? Or rattle off the names of all your forefathers, right up to the founder of your clan or ethnic group, centuries ago?

Members of the Galo community in Arunachal Pradesh can, and this is made possible by their system of naming.

At about 1.5 lakh people, the Galos are one of the 26 major communities of Arunachal Pradesh, and dominate West Siang, Lepa Rada and Lower Siang districts. They have a big population in East Siang, Upper Subansiri and Namsai districts too.

Primeval ancestor

The Galos belong to the Tani group inhabiting Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, besides Tibet.

They trace their common origin to a primeval ancestor, Abotani.

But unlike the Mising (Assam), Adi, Apatani, Nyishi and Tagin, the other communities, only the Galos maintain genealogy through given names. “We have a system of prefixing the second syllable of a father’s name to that of a son, who passes on the suffix in his name to his son. We can trace the names of ancestors from the first syllable or prefix of our names,” Kenjum Bagra, a zoologist at Pasighat’s North Eastern Institute of Folk Medicine, said.

Mr. Bagra is the 21st descendant of Memo, the founder of the Memo clan.

Ethnographer Moi Bagra’s book Identity says the Memos belong to the Paktu Ao “clan fraternity”, one of 22 the Galos are divided into.

The Memos have nine sub-clans: Angu, Bagra, Doji, Kamnyi, Karso, Naho, Ngomdir, Rasa or Rame, and Yorsi or Kamsi. The numbers of sub-clans of the other clans vary.

Genealogical website

Mr. Bagra, who began record-keeping for Memos 20 years ago, has created a genealogical site, with some names hyperlinked.

Mr. Bagra’s father, at number 20 on the Memo line, is Gumken, his grandfather is Megum, and his great-grandfather is Gumme. The ‘me’ in his great-grandfather’s name was prefixed to his grandfather’s name, whose suffix decided his father’s name.

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2022 12:14:46 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/galo-an-ethnic-group-in-arunachal-pradesh-can-tell-who-started-its-clan/article29550571.ece