It's true that not much is known about the history of Meghalaya but what many historians have summed up from their years of research and studies is that this hilly region has been the home to many migrants belonging to the ancestral lineage of South-east Asia that also connects to the rest of this sub-continent.
The present-day Meghalaya has a fascinating historical timeline that is pretty ancient and largely shrouded in mystery.
Meghalaya is witness to innumerable migration layers, and hence, one can term this region as the place that comprises of a melting pot of diversity owing to this fact.
The Khasi, Pnar (Jaintia), and Garo communities are believed to belong to an ancestral lineage who were one of the pioneer settlers in today's Northeast India - they are primarily the descendants of the Paleo-Mongoloid clan. Population with a similar ancestral lineage are the Filipinos, Burmese, Jōmon, Polynesians and the indigenous people of the Americas.
The Garo and Achik inhabitants are believed to be related to the Tibeto-Burman clan and Assam's Bodo community whereas the Khasi and Pnar inhabitants are said to belong to the Mon-Khmer clan (primarily migrants from the South-east Asian family). A more recent mention in pre-colonial historical accounts and facts state that the Pnar community's ancestral lineage dates back to the days of the Ahom era (what we know today as 'Assam').
The Khasis and Pnars were skilled in commerce and trade. These skills soon made way across the hills and into the Sylhet plains (the present Bangladesh). Iron and Limestone were exported from this region as mentioned in records dating back to the 18th century. The British infiltrated the sub-continent, capturing major trade hubs during the early 19th century and wanted to infiltrate this region alike. The British made a diplomatic deal with the Khasi-Pnar clan as a way to manage conflict with the Burmese empire. They developed corridors to ensure their easy access to the plains of Assam.
Over the decades, the British experienced a sturdy resistance from the Royals and Chiefs of the tribal communities who did not trust the British and did not want them trespass and take over the tribal motherland. This gave the Europeans a perfect reason to initiate military action and attain political dominance.
Aside the recorded accounts of the Khasi royalties as mentioned in the Ahom's and Kachari's chronicles, little to nothing is known about the history of Meghalaya prior to the British rule in India. To elaborate on the aforementioned, it was during the early 19th century that the British saw the unlimited trading opportunities in North-east India, and hence, wanted to build a trading route through the Northeast region that would link Assam and Bengal - this resulted in the making of the 1827 treaty in agreement with the Khasi King (Syiem) of Nonkhlaw. Those who opposed this persuaded the Syiem of Nongkhlaw to reject the treaty in 1829. Subsequently, they launched an attack on the British which resulted in the British military action against the Khasi clan. By mid-1830s, most of the local Kings surrendered to the British. The next century saw attacks by the British army who exercised political control over the Garrows (Garo) and Cossiya (Khasi) regions. Despite The political dominance of the British, the local Kings, though in seclusion, managed to preserve their tradition and culture even to this day. Meghalaya has its share of well-known freedom fighters who resisted and fought the British - U Tirot Sing (Khasi tribe), Pa Togan Sangma (Garo tribe) and U Kiang Nongbah (Jaintia tribe) were among the many other unsung heroes.
It was post-independence of India in 1947 that the Kings of the region agreed to the constitution laid down by newly independent India. The first Prime Minister, Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, released a policy to protect and preserve tribal communities' way of life. Alongside other tribal regions of India, under the Indian constitution, this region was given special protection. Despite being included as part of Assam, it retained complete autonomy.
In 1960, Assamese became the official regional language of this region. A constitutional and peaceful movement for self-rule and autonomy gathered strength in this part of the northeast region. In 1970, Meghalaya came into existence and became an autonomous state within Assam. It attained full statehood on 21st January 1972.
The early history of Meghalaya is wrapped in different legends, ancient beliefs and in-depth findings of historians with respect to the Khasi, Pnar (Jaintia) and Garo communities. Here is a bit on each.
According to findings, Khasi people were believed to be the earliest immigrants of this region. Migrants travelled across northern Myanmar (Burma) to the Khasi Hills (which was then part of East Assam) where they settled and thrived. Linguistically, the Khasi people speak the language of the Mon-Khmer clan, which is spoken in South-east Asia.
Kingdoms of the Khasi clan were primarily confined to the east and to the Nagaon and Kamrup districts of Assam. These Kingdoms constitute of the Kamakhya region (which was derived from 'Ka Meikha' meaning 'Ancient Mother'), Kapli or Kolong region and the Mahadem region among several others. The Kingdom of 'Ka Meikha' became Nongwah (Rani) that thrived till mid-20th century. According to a few historians, Khasis were a very powerful clan during ancient times.
The early history of the Garo tribe is wrapped in mystery. According to most historians, their forefathers are from Tibet who migrated and settled at different places in India along the north-eastern region. During their journey into India, they met and settled at Ka-Meikha kingdom (present-day Kamakhya). The tradition of the Garo tribe centres King Nokma Abong Chirepu, who was believed to have united different tribes of this region as one clan under one kingdom.
On the other hand, the Pnar tribe (Jaintia clan) belong to the Hynniewtrep (Seven Clans) of the Austric family. People who settled in Jaintia hills are called ‘Synteng.’ Their ancestors are believed to have migrated from Tibet who travelled to this region in search of shelter and food. The Jaintia Kingdom once spanned over large hilly areas which were annexed by the British at the time of their rule in India. The fight between the Jaintias and the British continued until 1935 when political reforms allowed greater autonomy to Indian states though the Khasi Hills, Jaintia Hills and Garo Hills were still being administered by the British. It was until 1950 that the Garo hills, Jaintia hills and United Khasi hills came within the purview of 6th schedule of the constitution of India post which administrative control over these regions were given to the District council.
During the British rule, major part of the Northeastern tribal regions came under Assam's and East Bengal's administration. After India's independence, it was in 1972 that Meghalaya attained full statehood which was attributed to a peaceful 'Hill State' andolan (movement).
One of the primary reasons for this peaceful agitation was the imposition of the Assamese language as the tribal region's official regional language in 1960. The indigenous communities of this region were against it as it diminished their linguistic distinctiveness. Meghalaya was thus created in 1972 post which three autonomous district councils were administered to develop the Khasi hills, Garo hills and Jaintia hills.
One of the leaders of the 'Hill State' Movement, Captain Williamson A Sangma, was voted as the first Chief Minister of Meghalaya.