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Frederick W. Harding Collection relating to the Garo People

An inventory of the collection at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: MRC
Date: 4 Jan 2010

Biographical History

The Garo people call themselves A'chik Mande with a'chik meaning "hill people" and mande meaning "people." The name "Garo" was given to people of the Assam and Meghalaya states of India who lived south of the Brahamputra river by outsiders. Today Garo means the hill tribes who call themselves A'chik or Mande. The Garo people settled in the hills of Assam and Meghalaya states of India. This section of India is situated between Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Arunachal Pradesh. Until the 18th century, this matrilineal society passed down their histories, customs, and beliefs through the oral tradition.

Born in Leeds, England in 1878, Rev. Frederick W. Harding (1878-1975) graduated from Hamilton Theological seminary in 1907 becoming an ordained Baptist minister. Shortly after being ordained, he traveled to Tura, Meghalaya, India to begin ministering. By 1919 he set up the A'chik Theological College, which became the Harding Theological College, then (as it is known today) the American Baptist Missionary. Harding, other Christian missionaries, and British officials came to the Assam and Meghalaya region in late 19th and early 20th century to govern the people of this region and convert the polytheistic people to monotheistic Christianity.

Major A. Playfair (b. 1868) was the Deputy Commissioner of Eastern Bengal and Assam during the early 20th century. In 1909 he wrote a book entitled The Garos which was published under the orders of the Government of Eastern Bengal and Assam. His monograph on the Garo people in pre-independent India is still considered one of the most comprehensive work on them.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Frederick W. Harding Collection relating to the Garo People has been largely left in its original order. Some attempt had evidently been made to organize the material; based on handwriting and folder age, this was probably not done by Harding. However, given the uncertainty, this organization has been preserved with the exception of placing scholarly evaluations of the collection at the beginning. Thus, the organization is as follows: Evaluations, I. Introduction, II. Domestic life, III. Laws and customs, IV. Religion, V. Folklore, VI. Language, VII. Miscellaneous, and VIII. Education, Literature, Mission, The Reforms.

At the beginning of each series, the original organizer listed what should be found in that section, but this information is not always consistent or accurate. Reserachers are encouraged to thoroughly investigate the collection.

Throughout the collection, Harding's and Playfair's names are written on pages, suggesting they used the material for research; there are also notes glued to some pages that were written and signed by Harding.

Evaluations consist of two evaluations of the collection, one completed by Ernest Becker in 1959 and the other by University of Pennsylvania's Robbins Burling in 1961. In their opinions, the collection will be invaluable to individuals researching the Garo language since there are many items completely in Garo with no translation.

The original organizer's list for I. Introduction includes habitat, appearance, physical and general characteristics, origin, divisions, affinities, dress, tattooing, jewelry, and weapons. Instead, the series includes origin stories and history by the Garo people, a history of the Garo people by the British, information on the Hazangs and Koaches, a migration story in Garo, relationships between Garo people and between the Garo tribe and other tribes, and so on.

The original organizer's list for II. Domestic life includes occupation, agriculture, houses, villages, furniture and household utensils, musical instruments, crops, hunting, fishing, food, drink, games, dancing, and manufactures. This series is small and contains suicide statistics for 1903-1905, names of dances, instructions on making cloths, and botanical identification.

For III. Laws and customs, the content is close to the original organizer's list. The organizer intended the series to contain information on tribal organization, marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption, tenure of land, decision of disputes, and head hunting, which the series does. Other subjects are property rights, religious beliefs, ceremonies, mythology, the Garo's custom of Dai, and so on.

Within IV. Religion, the original list included the general character of popular beliefs, ancestor worship, worship of natural forces, worship of deities, sacrificial stones, memorial posts (Kimas), divination, priesthood, ceremonies and custom attending birth and naming of children, ceremonies attending marriage, beliefs concerning death, disposal of dead, genna, and dreams and superstitions. The series does include information on priests and ceremonies, but it also contains a case of trial by ordeal, “Kosis,” reincarnation, and other information.

V. Folklore had no list of intended contents, possibly because this series contains the most Garo throughout the entire collection. Proverbs, song, and stories are transcribed by Garo individuals in the Garo language with few stories written in English.

VI. Language series contains one item, Linguistic 1898 Survey, which was completed by G.A. Grierson, Esq. for the Deputy Commissioner of the Garo Hills.

VII. Miscellaneous was listed as containing teknonymy, miscell and general, Kala-azar, calendar: days of the week, names of months, and criticisms of Playfair's The Garos. The series is close to their original intention. There is information on "Kala-azar" and the agricultural season, but also annual reports, a long-typed copy of a text, and other information.

The last series, VIII. Education, Literature, Mission, The Reforms, matches the original organizer's list. Harding created a school at Tura, information on which is in the first folder. There are also reports, information on the Reforms, and so on.

As the researcher explores the collection, they will find that there are inconsistencies in the original organizer's intended filing. As such, when using this collection, the researcher is encouraged to investigate the collection in its entiraty so as to not over look important items.

Arrangement of the Collection

The collection remains in its original order.

Other Related Finding Aids

See also Frederick W. Harding Manuscript.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advance notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

A copy of Playfair's book, The Garos, is available in the library catalog.

Subject Headings


Harding, F. W.
Playfair, A. (Alan), 1868-

Corporate Bodies

American Baptist Missionary Union. Garo Mission


Baptists -- Missions -- India.
Garo (Indic people) -- Agriculture.
Garo (Indic people) -- Clothing.
Garo (Indic people) -- Folklore.
Garo (Indic people) -- Government relations.
Garo (Indic people) -- History.
Garo (Indic people) -- Legal status, laws, etc.
Garo (Indic people) -- Missions.
Garo (Indic people) -- Religion.
Garo (Indic people) -- Rites and ceremonies.
Garo (Indic people) -- Social life and customs.
Garo language.
Garo literature -- History and criticism.
Garo literature -- Translations into English.
Garo literature.
Garo poetry.
Garo songs.


Assam (India) -- History.
Assam (India) -- Religious life and customs.
Garo Hills (India) -- History.
Garo Hills (India) -- Religious life and customs.
Meghalaya (India) -- History.

Genres and Forms

Folk tales.
Research notes.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Frederick W. Harding Collection relating to the Garo People,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of Frederick W. Harding, 1970.

Table of Contents


I. Introduction

II. Domestic Life

III. Laws and Customs

IV. Religion

V. Folklore

VI. Language

VII. Miscellaneous

VIII. Education, Literature, Mission, The Reforms