Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Too Much Garo Hospitality Can Be Burdensome!

It was 21 years ago at Birisiri near Shushong-Durgapur of Netrakona District. Rev. John Key, the then Executive Director of World Vision of Bangladesh -- an international NGO -- was invited as the keynote speaker for the large gathering of Garo Baptist Convention leaders. Representatives of Garo Baptist churches from several northern districts gathered for their convention.

After crossing the Shomeshwari River, as we approached the Birisiri Mission compound, we were given a rousing welcome by Rev. Shubash Sangma, Chairman of the Garo Baptist Convention, and other Baptist leaders and school teachers and students.

As Rev. John Key was going forward, he was receiving paper and flower garlands from students, Garo leaders and World Vision-funded project partners. Garland after garland began to pour and finally he was about to be 'drowned' with garlands. It was both a 'suffocating' as well as enjoyable situation!

About 400 B.C., the Garos (also called Mandis) came down to the Garo Hills of the Brahmaputra River Basin (in the State of Meghalaya of India) from Tibet. Then some groups of the Garos gradually moved to the south to the plain lands of Bangladesh region. Presently, Garos, in Bangladesh, can be found in the districts of Mymensingh, Jamalpur, Kishoreganj, Netrakona, Sherpur, Tangail, Sylhet, Moulavibazar, and Sunamganj.

American Baptists first started their mission work among the Garos of Meghalaya in 1867. Their work gradually spread to the Garos of Bangladesh region in early 20th century. American Holy Cross Fathers were the first Roman Catholic missionaries to start work among the Garos (of Bangladesh region) in late 1910. In Bangladesh, at present, greater number of Garos are Roman Catholics, followed by Baptists, Anglicans and Seventh-Day Adventists. Christian missionaries were also first to bring the light of education among the Garos. This education work was greatly strengthened with the assistance given by World Vision of Bangladesh.

Garos belong to the matriarchal society. Unlike the Bangalis, the mother is the head of the family. Daughters inherit lands and properties. Garos are well-known for their hospitality. Strangers are treated as special guests. They will kill the best pig or chickens for feeding the guests.

Rev. John Key (in the middle) is being received by the headmistress
of Birisiri High School. Rev. Shubash Sangma (in white shirt at right)
is looking on

Rev. John Key receives more applause and garlands

More garlands...

Further garlands are piling up!

About to be drowned with garlands

Finally, really drowned!

Photos (Birisiri, Netrakona District: April, 1989) © Jerome D'Costa

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