Khasi - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Cultivation is the major Khasi subsistence activity and the family farm (managed by a single family with or without the assistance of outside labor) is the basic operating unit in crop production. The Khasi are multioccupational and their economy is market-based. Marketing societies exist to facilitate trade and to provide aid in times of personal need. Crops are produced for consumption and trade. There are four types of land utilized for cultivation: forest; wet paddy land ( hali or pynthor ) ; homestead land ( ka 'dew kyper ); and high grass land ( ka ri lum or ka ri phlang ). Forest land is cleared by cutting trees, burning them, and planting seeds with hoes in the ground thus fertilized ( jhum agriculture). Paddy land in valleys is Divided into compartments by banks and flooded by irrigation channels. Proper soil consistency is obtained by using cattle and hoes. Crops produced by the Khasi include vegetables, pulses, sugarcane, maize, rice, potatoes, millet, pineapples, Job's tears, bay leaves, yams, tapioca, cotton, oranges, and betel nuts. Other crops known in the region include turmeric, ginger, pumpkins, gourds, eggplants, chilies, and sesame. The Khasi also engage in other subsistence activities such as fishing (by poisoning or with rod and line), bird snaring (quail, partridge, lapwings, coots, and wild geese), hunting (deer, wild dogs, wolves, bears, leopards, and tigers), and the raising of goats (for sacrifice), cattle (cows and oxen for manure, field cultivation, and dairy products), pigs, dogs, and hens (for sacrifice), chickens and ducks (largely for eggs), and bees (for larvae, wax, and honey).

Industrial Arts. Industrial specialization by village obtains to some extent among the Khasi, but generally they practice a great diversity of industrial arts. Cottage industries and industrial arts include cane and bamboo work, blacksmithing, tailoring, handloom weaving and spinning, cocoon rearing, lac production, stonecutting, brick making, jewelry making, pottery making, iron smelting, and beekeeping. Manufactured goods include: woven cloth, coarse cotton, randia cloth, quilts (made of beaten and woven tree bark), hoes, plowshares, billhooks, axes, silver work, miscellaneous implements of husbandry, netted bags (of pineapple fiber), pottery (made without the use of the potter's wheel), mats, baskets, rope and string, gunpowder, brass cooking utensils, bows, arrows, swords, spears, and shields.

Trade. Trade takes place between villages, with the plains areas, and between highland and lowland areas. Barter (though to a lesser extent now) and currency are the media of exchange. There are local markets (village-based) in addition to a large central market in Shillong, and a large portion of Khasi produce is exported. Within a typical Khasi market one may find the following for sale: bees, rice beer, rice, millet, beans, sugarcane, fish, potatoes, oranges, lemons, mangoes, breadfruit, pepper, bananas, cinnamon, goats, sheep, cattle (live and slaughtered), and housing and cultivation products (roofing grass, cut beams, bamboo poles, latticework, dried cow manure, spades, baskets, bamboo drinking cups, gourd bottles, wooden mortars, water pipes made of coconut, clay pipe bowls, iron pots, and earthen dishes). Large markets, like Shillong, contain goods from foreign markets (e.g., from Europe).

Division of Labor. Men clear land, perform jhum agriculture, handle cattle, and engage in metalworking and woodworking. Women weave cloth, act as vendors in the market, and are responsible in large part for the socialization of Children. Women are credited with being the growers of provisions sold at market. Men also participate in market activities by selling articles which they manufacture and produce (e.g., ironwork), raise (e.g., goats, sheep), or catch (e.g., birds). They also bring provisions to women at market and exercise some degree of control over the market by acting as accountants. For example, a husband may be responsible to his own family (by working the fields for his wife) while at the same time keeping his sister's mercantile accounts. A woman's uncle, brother, or son may function in a similar capacity on her behalf, though this is more likely to be the case if the woman's business is on a large scale.

Land Tenure. There are four kinds of public land: ka ri raj (Crown lands) ; ka ri lyngdoh (priestly lands) ; ki shong (village lands for the production of thatching grass, firewood, etc.); and ki 'lawkyntang (sacred groves). There are two types of private land: ri-kur (land owned by a clan) and ri-kynti (land owned by families or acquired; it is inherited by a woman from her mother or is acquired by a man or a woman). Ancestral land must always be owned by a woman. Men may cultivate the land, but the produce must be carried to the house of the mother who divides it among the members of her family. Usually, if a man obtains land, upon his death it is inherited by his mother (i.e., if he is unmarried). There is, however, a provision made for a man to will land acquired after marriage to his children.

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