Let’s Dance / by David Johnstone

Khasi Dance Festival, Mawkdok Village, Meghalaya

Sunday 11th March 2018

I visited a beautiful little festival in the East Khasi Hills the other day, very much a local occasion specifically for non-Christian Khasi people (most Khasi have converted). Not an Indian in sight let alone foreigner. I felt pretty privileged to be there. 

The band put in a shift

The band put in a shift

Set within a concentric field, the girls - all virgins - danced a strange, slow, shuffling routine to a hypnotic mix of drum and flute. It was extraordinary to witness as they moved at a snail’s pace around the circle. 

Khasi girls shuffle around the circular dance stage

Khasi girls shuffle around the circular dance stage

If the girls are untruthful about their virginity they’ll either collapse on the spot or fall ill the next day. No such criteria for the boys who joined later in the dance, skirting the outside with increasing pace and vigour, tooled up with their ceremonial gear.

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If the girls are untruthful about their virginity they’ll either collapse on the spot or fall ill the next day

Children also participate and it was gorgeous to see the little ones being prepared by their parents, their traditional finery being adjusted before they took to the field. The complexities of the costume indicate status and wealth. 

MOTHER KNOWS BEST

The Khasi are one of a handful of matrilineal tribes with the children taking the mother’s name. This originates from the time when local tribes fought and killed each other and their name meant they were untraceable should a tribe seek revenge and wish to kill the entire family!

Thankfully they’re a lot friendlier these days and I had a lovely, relaxed time amongst these warm and gentle people.

Girls await the sign to start their routine  

Girls await the sign to start their routine