In the remote village of Mawlynnong in northeast India, the Khasi tribe follows a rare tradition of women running the show.
The village, which borders Bangladesh, is quite popular with tourists because of its beauty and its reputation as the “cleanest village in Asia.” But when Berlin-based photographer Karolin Klüppel traveled to the village what she found most fascinating was the Khasis’ matrilineal system.
In the Khasi tradition, women hold all of the economic power. The youngest daughter inherits the family’s wealth and property, which men rarely own. According to Le Monde the system also dictates that children take their mother’s surname, and once a man marries, he lives in his mother-in-law’s home. A family with only sons is considered unlucky, Klüppel reports.
“Women are very respected in the Khasi culture.” Klüppel said in a statement e-mailed to In Sight and Violet magazine. “To disrespect a woman in this culture means to harm the society. Daughters are often more wanted than boys, and a family with just sons is considered to be miserable, because only daughters can assure the continuity of a clan.”
Klüppel’s series of photographs, “Mädchenland,” which means “Kingdom of girls,” focuses on the lives of young girls in the village. The photographs are not so much a documentary, but a suggestion, she said. “I did not want to do a classical documentary on their culture,” Klüppel said. “I decided to make a portrait series of the girls because I was so impressed by their self-assured appearance and thought that this must be how matriliny becomes visible.”
During Klüppel’s nine-month project she lived most of the time with different families. Klüppel said:
“Western societies there are much more opportunities for girls and women to live independently and self-determined. Many of the Khasi families are very, very poor, especially in the villages. Even if you are a Khasi girl it doesn’t mean you are able to get a good education or go to the university; it just means that if there is some money left for education, it will probably be spent on the girls and not on boys. …But what really impressed me–and what I miss very much in Germany–is how much the Khasi and Indians generally care about their family and friends. …in my society, loneliness is something that a lot of people suffer from. Every culture has its tradeoffs.”