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Ant. I-Note on the Mechis, together mith a small Vocabulary of tle Language. By A. CAMPBELL, Esq., Assistant to the Resident WPal, in charge of Darjeeling.
To H. T. PRINSEP, Esq.
Secretary to Government of India. Fort William. 3/ of
Sin,-With reference to my letters of the 13th and 20th ultimo, I have the honor to forward a few Notes on the Mechis, with a small
* of their language, for the information of his Honor in Ouncil.
I have the honor to be, Sir,
Your most obedient servant,
*feeling, September 5th, 1839.
The Mech people inhabit the forest portion of the Turai stretching along the base of the mountains from the Burrumpootur to the Konki over, which leaves the Nipal mountains about 20 miles to the west of the Mechi River. In this tract they are respectively the subjects of the Nipalese, Sikim, and Bootan governments, occupying along with the Pimals—an allied tribe—and a few Garrows, a country of about 350 miles in length, having an average breadth of from 12 to 15 miles. In the eastern portion of the Nipal Turai they are but recent settlers ; at Nagol Bundi, on the right bank of the Mechi river, there are about 20 families; at Kalikajhar about the same number; and, west from these places, in the thickest parts of the forest, there are several small colonies, amounting in all to about 150 or 200 families. In the Sikim Turai, between the Mechi river and the Mahanuddi, there are about 400 families; to the east of the Teestah river, and in the Dooars of Bootan they are still more numerous, and to this latter portion of their habitat they point as the original seat of the tribe, although its name would indicate its derivation from the Mechi river. I believe that Mechis are also to be found on the northern confines of Lower Assam. The tribes immediately in contact and mixed with the Mechis, are the Koochias or Rajbungsi Bengalese, (whose original country is Kooch Behar,) the Dimals, Thawas, and Garrows. These neighbours of the hills are the Limboos, Kerantis, Lepchas, Murmis, and Bhotias; of these several tribes, I hope to furnish some particulars anon. As they associate much with the former, and frequently meet the latter at the frontier marts, their habits and manners are naturally a good deal modified by the contact; still their peculiar usages, form of religion, language, and appearance, entitle them to the acknowledgment of their claim as a distinct people. They are fairer than the Koochias, and have little of the regular features of the Hindoo, which characterize that tribe. The cast of the Mech countenance is strongly Mongolian, but accompanied by a softness of outline which distinguishes them readily from the more marked features of the same order—of the Lepchas, Limboos, and Bhotias. They resemble the Newars of the valley of Nipal, in complexion and feature, more than any other people I have seen in or near these mountains; they are taller, however, and the fairness of complexion is entirely of a yellow tinge, whereas the Newars are frequently almost ruddy. Many of the Mechis strongly resemble the Mugs and Burmese in face and figure, and like them are much addicted to drinking spirits, smoking, and eating pawn. In common with the Assamese, they are fond of opium eating. They never live on the hills at a higher elevation than 800 or 1,000 feet, and scarcely ever settle in the cleared and inhabited parts Of the Turai, but, keep entirely to the forest in which they make clearances, cultivating crops of rice and cotton with the hoe, and grazing buffaloes. The malaria of the forest so deadly to strangers, does not at all affect them; on the contrary, they are a remarkably healthy race, and dread visiting the plains, where they are subject to severe fevers. They have no towns, and rarely even live in permanent villages, generally quilting a clearance after having had two or three successive crops from the land, to take up their abodes in a fresh portion of the forest. In the above respects the erratic habits of the Mechis resemble those of the Thawas especially ere that race commenced, as lately, to form permanent villages in the open Turai; and are identical with those of the Dimals. The religion of the Mechis, in so far as they have any, is the Shivaite form of Hindooism, but it goes no further than to the occasional sacrifice—when they can afford a merry-making—of goats, buffaloes, pigs, and fowls at a clay image of Kali, when they drink spirits and a fermented liquor made from Murwa to excess, and indulge in much licentiousness. The influence of the Brahmins is not recognised; they have no guroos, nor priests, nor temples; do not perform the shrādh ; and bury the dead in any convenient part of the jungle, confining the obsequies to a feast among the relations of the deceased, and placing spirits and prepared food over the grave; tombs are never raised over the graves, nor have the small communities any common burying ground. There is no distinction of castes among them. In the Nipal Turai the population of which is composed of the most varied assemblage of would-be Hindoos, and almost destitute of real ones, the Mechis are admitted within the pale, and water is taken from their hands by persons of caste, although they eat fowls, buffaloes, the cow—when beyond the Nipalese limits—and the carrion of all animals except that of the elephant, which animal is held in high respect by them, although not venerated, so far as I can learn. The carrion eating and other impure but cherished practises of the Mechis are not followed to the fullest extent in Nipal, where Hindooism is at a high premium, and breaches of the Hindoo law by all pretenders to that faith are punished with much severity. In Sikim and Bootan, however, the Mechis indulge their natural habits, and are as omnivorous a race of human beings as any in the world. Marriages are contracted in youth or adolescence at convenience, the men purchasing their wives at prices varying from 10 to 60 Rupees, according to the beauty of the female and the means of the male. When an accepted husband has not the means of paying for his wife in money he joins her family party, working for the parents until he has fairly earned his bride according to previous contract; like the poorer classes elsewhere in India, a man can seldom afford to have more than one wife at a time, there is no restriction however on this head. The women share equally with the men in all the labors of the field, and manage household affairs exclusively; they likewise attend at the Periodical fairs (Hauths) selling, buying, and bartering the various