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Captivating Portraits Taken in a Small Indian Village Where Girls Rule the World

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A few kilometers from the border of India, German photographer Karolin Klüppel discovered the tiny, isolated village of Mawlynnong where ‘girls rule the world’. Made up of only 92 dwellings in the East Khasi Hills, the town uniquely operates as a matrilinear society, each family’s lineage traced through the surname of the wife instead of the husband. The result is a culture where female descendants are most crucial to the continuing bloodline and the youngest daughter inherits all family property. Fascinated by this rare singularity, Klüppel spent 6 months with the Mawlynnong women to create Mädchenland (Kingdom of Girls).

Along with the privilege of carrying the family name, girls are expected to take on many responsibilities at a very young age, often caring for 3 generations under one roof. As early as 8 years old, Mawlynnong females can run the entire household and tend to their younger siblings single handed. Despite their isolation from the modern world and a plethora of familial duties, the girls of Mawlynnong experience a life of freedom and reverence all their own.

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  • http://www.jimnewberry.com Jim Newberry

    These are fantastic!

  • melanie

    What a pity that these apparently ‘revered’ and ‘empowered’ young girls and women are photographed in such a way. The high vantage point is disempowering, the poses subjugate the subjects to a certain extent. They’ve basically been objectified. What a lost opportunity – would have loved to see the girls/women in the context of the societal hierarchy rather than in supine, passive and objectified poses. The little girls with the bruised eye is an obvious contradiction to the accompanying text also. I’ve learned nothing at all about the subjects nor the Mawlynnong.

  • Lindsay

    I hear what you’re saying. But maybe you’re imposing your biases on these photos. Maybe a person can be powerful while lying in a supine pose. If these contexts in which we’re seeing the girls are their everyday realities, why force them to strike poses that seem more powerful according to our ideas of how a revered person behaves?

  • melanie

    Not so much biases being imposed, but rather a sophisticated visual literacy. The population of this village is widely known for its close relationship with nature, for its cleanliness and, by all accounts, a somewhat harmonious lifestyle amongst its people. What I see here are photographs of little girls that are non-specific, with no visual signs as to the matriarchal society being promoted in the accompanying text. If the image series is about this societal structure, then it’s not present in the images. Perhaps it’s more a case of a mismatch between text and image—the writer making more of the images than actually exists. Or, perhaps a poor image edit on the part of whoever selected the images for the feature.

  • http://islandinthenet.com/ Khürt L. Williams

    I agree with what you just wrote. Human and meaning making machines and @disqus_pZ7l2fyg4j:disqus had seen something negative. You have chosen to see something positive. Same thing, only difference is in the persons mind.

  • Bob Smith

    I think you should just relax and enjoy the photos without reading that much into it…

  • Claudia Moroni

    I agree with you on pretty much everything you said.
    Personally I see Lindsay’s point about photographing the girls as they are in their everyday realities and not make them pose, but I doubt most of these photos aren’t posed, as they look highly constructed.
    They’re beautiful photos, but they don’t really have any reference to the text, as you say “they’re non-specific photographs of little girls”

  • HaashiaExE

    You know…… I think this photoshoot is rather cool :]
    Even though, to the outsiders like us they may look a bit too…. erroneous….. But…. It depends on your point of view.

  • Samantha Crane

    Not to mention that apparently the city is completely NOT isolated from the modern world – they’re known as the “cleanest village” in India, are a regular tourist destination, with a literacy rate of 100%.

    These are certainly not images of the “everyday life” of girls in Mawlynnong, unless one considers balancing citrus branches on one’s head to be an inherent part of running a household.

    They’re nice photos, and emotionally evocative, but no, it doesn’t really teach you much about the village or about matrilineal societies in general.

  • Mike

    This is not nice to see of what the girls of our village were being photograph and to be post to any site. And we dont like this photographer because her previous work and this is serious concern from our end.

  • https://twitter.com/adamhowardcross Adam Cross

    100% with you on that

  • Amanda Barker

    So let me get this straight. The girls are still the ones taking care of the entire household but now it’s a good thing…? The end result seems to be the same, a bunch of female children being culturally forced to care for the household while the boys do… what exactly are the boys doing while the girls are taking on all these responsibilities at a young age?

  • Robyn Coburn

    For me, taken in isolation, some of the photos are unsettlingly odd, almost surreal, others are decontextualized or general (kids in a pond), and others seem unsettling. If it were not for the description of the matrilineal culture in that village, I would have been unsurprised to read that these were photos of orphans, or young girls rescued from prostitution, or farmer’s children in rural anywhere SE Asia. I’m sure there is an interesting story behind the child with the black eye (accident in play?) but it could just as easily illustrate a story about physical abuse. I find I rather agree with Melanie’s comment.

  • Derek Rhode

    or its all subjective

  • Lynae Cook

    I completely agree, they’re being kids. They’re out and about and liberated by being able to do normal child things, but as it says above, they also are given a lot of responsibility. These are not carefree children, so how would it be more correct to show them that way?

  • Lynae Cook

    Mike- do you live in this village? Would love to hear more from your perspective.

  • Jennie Mison

    These are the creepiest, most depressing images I have seen in a situation that is neither depressing or creepy. What is the photographers problem with this culture that she specifically focused on young girls in the most lackluster and non-revealing set of images ever. Distasteful, lazy work.

  • http://www.abicana.com/shop2.htm Knut Holt

    They have the same freedom and burdens that men in our societies have, not ideal neither of them.

  • Chris Cherry

    From one of my contacts in India, this contradictory information and additional links:

    Here’s a 2007 study which found that: “Overall, in the East Khasi Hills and the West Garo Hills districts the women are in a better position than the men. In the East Garo Hills, with a few exceptions, women are better off in general. In the West Khasi Hills and Ri Bhoi districts, on the contrary, women are either deprived, or more or less at par with the men. In the Jaintia Hills and the South Garo Hills districts a mixed picture emerges.”
    It also notes that: “It appears that matrifocality in Meghalaya has not crossed the boundaries of household when we notice that among the three Members of Parliament from the state all are men, and among sixty Members of the (7th) Legislative Assembly of the state only three are women, one from the opposition and two from the ruling party. At the level of the local self-government a village head is a ‘headman’. Then it is worth investigating if matrifocality has promoted literacy, economic participation and well being of the women.”
    http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/3612/1/MPRA_paper_3612.pdf
    Here’s a story on male violence against women in the state:
    http://www.tehelka.com/raped-in-a-safe-state/?singlepage=1.
    It also has these quotes:
    ‘According to Mark Laitflang Stone, General Manger of the Avenues Group, a youth empowerment organisation, the answer is an emphatic no. “Matrilineality is a
    myth,” says Mark. “The fact that women are custodians of property and that their title is passed on to their children is just something that sustains or rather enforces our cultural identity and that’s about it. There is no empowerment of women.”
    ‘Mark seems to be right. Look closely at the matrilineal structure of the Khasi society, and you find that it is anything but that. The youngest daughter may be the caretaker of the property, but she is not the head of the family; her brother, or her mama (maternal uncle) takes the final decisions. Women are excluded from the political process, so in the local durbars or village councils, they can neither vote nor participate in a discussion, nor be elected.
    ‘“There is this perception that women are stronger because they have inheritance
    rights,” says Lahun Rumnong, Programme Assistant at North East Network, a women’s rights organisation, “but empowerment through matrilineality is a myth.”’
    http://www.tehelka.com/why-is-matrilineal-meghalaya…/

  • Alex Broadgood

    there’s only a high vantage point in a couple of the photos, and in those it’s used to give environmental context. Also you don’t know in what context the black eye came about.

    To me the photos imply an ethereal and spiritual sense of freedom that these girls are afforded in the absence of patriarchy.