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Mangalsingh Rongphar
Date of Publish: 2015-11-04

Ronghang Rongbong—from where the king rules sans political power

From the traditional capital Ronghang Rongbong, the Karbi king still exercises his right over the social and cultural activities of his people

Mangalsingh Rongphar


You may call him a figure head, or look at the system he operates as one caught in a time warp but in the Rongkhang region of West Karbi Anglong in Assam, the reign of the local king still prevails. Though he doesn’t share political power with the Karbi Anglong District Autonomous Council (KADAC), which conducts the daily administration of the area, the Karbi king certainly has his supreme influence and authority over the socio-cultural life of his people.

Called Lindokpo or Richo, the king is traditionally selected from the Ronghangclan. Three subordinate kings, namely, Rongchaicho Lindok, Rongpi Lindok and Kiling Lindok, are appointed to help the Lindokpo in the administrative work besides many other functionaries to look into the central and regional administration. While the central administrative functionaries are called Pinpo, their regional counterparts are called Habe.

The traditional system prevails till date. Presently, there are 30 members in the king’s council,along with the three subordinate kings. Like the ancient times, the Capital, Ronghang Rongbong, is divided into three ‘artu’ (parts) and the three subordinate kings control the socio-cultural activities of the people in these neighbourhoods.

The present Lindokpo, Harsing Ronghang, resides at RonghangRongbong, situated 16 kms away from the Hamren town. His capital complex is built on a hill surrounded by a thick growth of old, large trees that create a solemn yet mystic atmosphere. Only the king, his queen and the other central functionaries with their wives are allowed to reside in the capital. No common man or woman can reside in and around the king’s palace and the capital complex.

Among the 30 members of the royal council, there is a head priest called Katharpo, who is considered next to the king. WhileDili is the king’s prime minister and defence minister, it is the Patorpo who heads the Army. Bormiji and Borpator oversee the regional administration or the LongreHabe. Three officials -- Borsenot ,Rongchitim and Rongling-- are appointed as security personnel for the capital area. Like before, Dengjakethe and the Dengjapo -- the chief and assistant priests who carry out animal sacrificial in the religious ceremonies of the capital – are elected though they now conduct the sacrifice of goats. There is a Pherangke, the royal messenger and also the public relations in-charge of the king’s affairs. The Burtumen deals with customary laws who also hears and dispense all cases of disputes in the Rongkang area. Teronmiji and Killingmiji are his assistant law officers.

Though the army is no longer maintained,  the Patorpo is still there in the King's council.  The three security officials are still there. The Karbi king still administer the customary court and the Habe on his behalf administer the customary court at local level. 

Altogether, there are 12 Longri or regions under the Karbi king. They are Habepi, Chongkhili, Umaha, Rapati, Umlarong, Ronghan, Nokbare, Dera, Rongcheicho, Rongpi,Killing and Bhoitiri. Generally, there are two Habeor administrator in each Longri, called Habekong and Haberiso. They are like the chief minister and the deputy chief minister in our present governing system. The Longri of Habepi is placed above all the other Longri and the Habekong of that area is given more importance than the other Habe.

Ronghang Rongbong is an important place for Karbis as it is closely linked with their history and traditions. A large wooden pillar is preserved in the capital which is said to have been brought from earlier capital complex. Not very far from the present capital complex is the place of immolation for human sacrifice. It is believed that in ancient time once a year or within a gap of two years, three years men used to come to that place on their own to offer themselves to the gods. Dengjakethe from the Teron clan would sacrifice the man in the yearly ‘Thanthepi Rongker’ ceremony. The ceremony is still followed by offering a goat for sacrifice.

There is also a piece of rock called Senemaharlong under an ancient peepal tree in the capital. People are forbidden to touch the rock as it is believed that if somebody gets to touch the rock, he will grow sexually impulsive and lose his moral senses.        

In 2007, with the Autonomous Council erected a durbar hall for the king and also a RisoAterank, the youth dormitory and guest house and the altar for the worship of ‘b ari’(the snake god) besides building a concrete boundary wall all around that place of worship. The king and his officials receive a monthly honorarium from the Council too.

Many feel that the Council can do a lot more to preserve the Karbi roayl tradition. But there are many things left to be done. If there is enough good will, RonghangRongbong can also be uplifted as a heritage centre of Karbi culture. It can be developed as a centre of attraction for cultural tourism with a cultural museum. If some guest houses are constructed, overnight stay can be made possible. When Jayanta Rongpi was the MP of the district, he constructed an Assam type house with his MP’s Local Area Development Fund. It could have been much better if the house was built in traditional stilt house architecture with modern technologies. But there is still scope for new constructions in the capital complex.

(Mangalsingh Rongphar is a freelance writer and an Extension Officer in the Panchayat and Rural Development Department, Assam)



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