KHASI AND JAINTIA HILLS, a district of British India, in the Surma valley and the Hill Districts division of Assam. It occupies the central plateau between the valleys of the Brahma putra and the Surma. Area, 6,022 sq.m. ; pop. (1921) 243,263.
The district consists of a succession of steep ridges, running east and west, with elevated table-lands between. On the southern side, towards Sylhet, the mountains rise precipitously from the valley of the Surma and form a plateau 4,000 to 6,000 ft. above sea-level. Here is situated the station of Shillong, 4,90o ft. above the sea ; behind lies the Shillong range, of which the highest peak rises to 6,450 feet. On the north side, towards Kamrup, are two similar plateaux of lower elevation. The general appearance of all these table-lands is that of undulating grassy downs. At 3,00o ft. elevation the indigenous pine (not found in the Himalayas or else where) predominates and forms almost pure pine forests. The highest ridges are clothed with magnificent clumps of timber trees, chiefly oaks, chestnuts, magnolias. The flora is, in the opinion of Sir Joseph Hooker, the richest in India, in the extent and number of fine plants ; of orchids alone there are 250 kinds.
Oranges, betel-nuts and pineapples are a source of wealth to the Khasis. The orange groves supply the greater part of Bengal and Assam ; the pineapple is almost like a weed in the profusion of its growth. Potatoes are cultivated and exported on a large scale. Iron ore exists in the central plateau, where the remains of smelting furnaces may be seen for miles below Cherrapunji. The industry has almost died out owing to the competition of English iron and the exhaustion of local supplies of fuel. Vast deposits of limestone are found and quarried on the southern face of the hills. Coal of fair quality crops out at several places.
The Khasi hills were conquered by the British in 1833 but the people were left in semi-independence under their own chiefs. The Lushais still live in primitive communities under elective chiefs in political subordination to the British Government. Shillong and a few villages are under direct British government. The remainder are grouped in 25 petty States, each under a chief, called a Siem, with a Darbar or Council. The chiefs and Darbars exercise independent jurisdiction but heinous offences and cases in which subjects of different States are concerned are tried by the district authorities.
The Jaintia hills are British territory; they used to form a petty Hindu principality which was annexed in 1835, the rajah having kidnapped British subjects and sacrificed them to Kali. The in habitants are called Syntengs.
The headquarters of the district were transferred in 1864 from Cherrapunji to Shillong, which was afterwards made the capital of the province of Assam. A good road runs north from Cherra punji, through Shillong to Gauhati on the Brahmaputra ; total length 97 m. The district was the focus of the great earthquake
of 1897, which not only destroyed every permanent building, but broke up the roads and caused many landslips. The Welsh Pres byterian mission has been an agent of civilization in the district since 1841. Besides its evangelistic efforts, which have had much success, it has done valuable educational and medical work. One sixth of the population is now Christian. (L. S. O'M.) The Khasi People.—The Khasis are of short stature, mesa ticephalic, hair sometimes straight, sometimes curly, light com plexion, platyrrhine nose, of mixed origin (see ASIA: Ethnology), but speaking a Mon-Khmer language. The use of shouldered iron hoes and of long two-handled iron swords also suggests a Khmer culture. Iron is dug and smelted. Menhirs and table-stones as cenotaphs, generally speaking, of male and female ancestors re spectively were until recently freely erected and are often of great size, a menhir at Nartiang measuring 26 ft. above ground and a table-stone at Laitlyngkot 281 x 13-* x i ft. Menhirs are some times capped with a round stone and occasionally carved. They may be compared to the stones at Dimapur in the Naga hills and to certain types in Chota Nagpur, and are probably phallic in original intention. Ideas of ancestor worship are strong, but there is a belief also in a Creator or Creatrix. Tabu exists, also divina tion by egg-breaking. Property passes by the female line and is always inherited by the youngest daughter, and the social organ ization is by matrilineal exogamous clans some of which are epony mous while the names of some suggest a totemistic origin. Public affairs, however, are a purely male province. Their political organ ization is into a number of variously constituted states adminis tered by chiefs called Siems in some cases hereditary, in others elective, where the hereditary principle obtains the succession goes to the youngest daughter's eldest son. The dead are burnt and the uncalcined bones placed in small stone cairns. Periodically the bones from these cairns are collected with ceremony and placed in a family burial cromlech, different cromlechs being used for the bones of males and of females. The bones and ashes are in some villages put into a hollowed erect post as an intermediate resting place, and the Siem of Cherra is pickled, and can only be burnt by his successor after accession. Head-hunting used to be prac tised and the head placed on a table-stone. Remnants of human sacrifice and snake-worship survive in the cult of the Thlen, a phantom serpent whose cult is hereditary in certain families and requires the offering of a human life. Human victims were also regularly sacrificed in the Synteng Kingdom of Jaintia, and these sacrifices were accompanied by a form of ceremonial cannibalism.
See P. R. Gurdon, The Khasis (1914). (J. H. H.)