Symbolism in A·chik Material Culture

Rhinkle M. Marak

(Research Scholar. Dept. of Garo. NEHU Tura Campus, Tura)

 According to Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend (edited by Leach Maria & Jerome Fried, Published by Harper & Row in New York 1984), “Symbolism is an aspect of thinking or expression in which the process of association is brought into play so that a concept or, more often, a climate of thought is encompassed or suggested by a word, phrase, sign, gesture, object, depiction, diagram, etc.(1094)

Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory, defines Symbol as “derived from the Greek verb symballien, ‘to throw together’, and its noun symbolon, ‘mark’, ‘emblem’, ‘token’ or ‘sign’. It is an object animate or inanimate, which represents or ‘stands for’ something else… A literary symbol combines an image with a concept. It may be public or private, universal or local…In literature an example of a public or universal symbol is a journey into the underworld and a return from it. (J. A Cuddon, Penguin: 884-885)


The above definition or explanation of symbol point can be listed. Symbolism is an aspect of thinking or expression. It is a sign/mark, depiction/emblem/diagram, object/token and it has combines an images with a concept. There are many things to be studied about symbolism in A∙chik material culture. Basing on this explanation A·chik material culture symbolism can be briefly identified. Symbolism in A∙chik material culture will be stretched mainly on material they use. A·chik people make and use their own tool implements such as materials that are used in agriculture, weapons like sword and spear. Almost all materials of A·chik signify something. Many Symbols are found in A∙chik materials. It can be seen in their customs, ceremony or rituals and beliefs. The symbolisms in the materials used by A∙chiks are briefly described below:

 Material used as Sign/Mark

In Jaksil Gana Ceremony wearing of the armlet exhibit the riches and prosperity with the intention of gaining respect from the community. Jaksil ceremony cannot be done by ordinary people. Only those who have enough means of serving the feast to the community can perform this ceremony. In this ceremony, the man will be wearing a red turban and an armlet. From this day onward he will be known as Gana Nokma. Jaksil symbolise prosperity and red turban symbolise power and status.

Rongchu gala or Wanna Stita guri Janggia ceremony symbolises the bond between the creator and man. Nokma ties the olmak, (a new remove bark thread like skin of a pasticar tree) on the post tightly. The strength of relationship between god and man is shown by tightness of the knot.

At the time of death, the rituals of the A·chiks are quite different. ‘Grengdik’ is a specially designed earthen pot to preserve the remaining bones of the cremated person and it is buried under ‘delang’. Delang is a small house built to keep the spirit of the dead person.  This symbolises that the spirit of the death man is still being requested to stay at home. A·chiks believe that if the spirit of the dead man is sent away without completing the ritual ‘Mangona’ the spirit will go astray from the route of final destination or resting place, and will be reborn as animals or insects. That is why they preserve the bones till the completion of Mangona ceremony.

Symbolism can be found in the customs and rituals of the A∙chiks. Paulinus R. Marak talks about the A·chik indigenous religion and their beliefs in his book He gives a specific description about the materials given away to female relatives of the dead person so that the dead may be remembered. He writes: “According to the custom some gongs or any valuable materials like plates made of brass are given to the person who washes the corpse as the customary practice” (The A·chik Tribal Religion: Beliefs and Practices,85). The custom of giving away material items like the gong to the relative/relatives of the dead is not only for the sake of remembrance but also to keep the bond between the two families alive.

Kima or the memorial post is erected the A∙chiks following the indigenous religion. When a family member dies, a post is erected attired in clothes. It is erected in memory of the dead person. They believe that a person will be born in the family. Kima is believed to be a symbol for the soul to come back home. Another post is erected after the ‘mangona’ ceremony infront of the nokma’s house and this post is sculpted with horns. It symbolises the number of dead person in the family.

A·chiks use variety of materials according to their needs to inform about the death of a person. When a man expires or any unwanted incidents occur in the village, dama dalsang (nagra drum) is beaten to give information. It is kept only in the nokma’s house. When the villagers hear the beating of the drum, they automatically understand that something has happened in the village and gather to the nokma’s house. Dama dalsang/nagra cannot be beaten any time.

To inform the message of such fateful incident to the relatives they used to go carrying a spear or sword. When man die due to sickness sword will be taken by the messengers. But if a man dies due to other reason like attack of wild animals then the messenger takes the spear. Seeing at the spear or sword, the relatives come to know how their beloved die. Sword and spear symbolises the cause of the person’s death.

In A∙krita or Me∙jak Sim∙a Ceremony variety of materials like kanchibrak (stick ladle), salwa (broom), wera (small basket), rong∙tek songa (erected stones), jamdap bi∙sa rika (small thatched hut) rawekong (water filled gongs), koksep (bamboo basket specially designed for the purpose) are used to perform this ceremony. All these articles or materials symbolise something’s, for instance the koksep symbolise the caging of the malevolent spirit. They collect the a∙kinte (lump of earth) which represent malevolent spirit from their field and put it in the bamboo basket saying spirit have been caged. After offering drinks to god, the priest locks the basket and hangs it at the junction of the village road. It symbolises the chasing of spirit. In a way, it signifies a control over the wicked gods.

Material used as the Depiction/Emblem/Diagram

Llwellyn R. Marak records their ‘barter system’ in the olden days, as:

Gore agong dokako,

Sola jajong dakako,

Chipu matpu dakako setoka,

Bapme gore setoka,

Ko·gniko on·atgen,

Uachin ra·algen. (Dikki Bak-I 1983 12)

Gongs are precious to the A·chiks and some bear the images of moon, snake and reptiles. Moon, snake and reptiles are pictorial representation of gods and are reminders of the gods in their daily lives.  A∙chiks believe that moon represents the Saljong and the reptiles are his angels. So, they regard these gongs as precious. In the same way such carvings are found in the beam of the nokma’s house and the bachelor’s dormitory. These carvings signify the gods and angels. The sun represents the god ‘Salgra’, moon represent ‘Susime’, reptiles represent the angels. These carvings remind them of their gods

There are changes in the A∙chik society in modern times. Some materials are not used any longer due to advancement in technology but it is woven in the clothes. The picture of swords in shawls or bags or book covers symbolises culture.

 Material used as Object/Token

The real mother and sister of the dead man should give the final bathe to him/her. Gore Ginchi will be given to the person who does the final bathe, it may be mother or sisters of the dead person and these gongs will be taken to the mother’s home by the close relatives carrying with a new cloth. This signifies that after the death, the spirit is being taken back to the mother’s home. If it is done, it is believed that the spirit will be reborn in the same clan. The Gore Ginchi represents the dead person and is given as token of remembrance of him.

A·chiks give importance to death rituals be it be rich or poor. Before burning the corpse the family members they should give rang (gong) and five metre long clothes to the relatives of the dead man. If these are not given the relatives prevent the burning of corpse. This ceremony is known as ma∙gual or chikitra. This means the two mahari or clans will maintain their relations for generation. Another ceremony is Urim or Kokam/kukam. Kokam is the gong used as a pillow for the dead person. This gong is given to the person who bathes the corpse. This signifies the unity between the two clans.


The A∙chiks use symbols to signify their wealth, beliefs, and their bond with gods. They used these from ancient times and it has been entwined in their culture. If this facet of culture can be preserved it would have been excellent. We can find that variety of materials are used by A·chik in their ceremonies, beliefs and cultural tradition. Each and every tool has a symbolism. A small or large tools has symbolism to the A·chiks. It is found that by using these materials they have been preserving the age old cultures and beliefs for generation. Many A∙chiks have lost their rich valuable materials except a few families, and the history associated with it has been lost. Therefore these materials are the precious heritage for A·chiks and one should take up responsibility to preserve it. In modern times, the A∙chiks do not know much about their culture. They do not understand the meaning of the tradition that is to be followed when a person dies and present gifts as they wish. As it is not possible to get the required things, rules also cannot be followed strictly.

Primary Source:


  1. Joyanty M. Mark, Age 60, New Tura,
  2. Dr. Fameline K. sangma. HOD, Garo Dept. NEHU, Tura
  3. Cristal Cornelius D. Marak. Associate Prof. NEHU, Tura.

Secondary Source:

Marak , Julius L R.  Garo Customary Law and Practices. New Delhi: M.P. Mishra,            Akansha Publishing, 2000. Print.

Sangma, Mihir N. Maniani Bidik. Tura: Garo Hills Book Emporium, 2010. Print.

Leach Maria & Jerome Fried (Ed). Standard Dictionary of Folklore Mythology and            Legend. New York: Harper & Row, Publisher, 1984. Print

Cuddon, J. A. A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. Delhi: Maya 

Blackwell, 1998. Print.

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