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By Seino van Breugel

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All houses are built on a piece of land that has been made completely level, called nok+hap (house+place). Every traditional Atong household lives in a compound consisting of at least two, but often more structures. There is a main house in which the married couple, their small children and sometimes the parents of the wife sleep. The main house has one big central room to receive guests and smaller side rooms which are bedrooms. There are separate bedrooms for the married couple, the wife’s parents and the male and female children.

Grierson (1902: 85) mentions some fifteen thousand Atong speakers, while Van Driem (2001: 541) speaks about “a few thousand”. Even after twelve months of fieldwork in the area, it was impossible to estimate the number of speakers. New Atong-speaking villages are reportedly still being built, while at the same time Garo, a closely related and regionally important language, encroaches rapidly on a lot of existing Atong-speaking villages. 1 THE ATONG LANGUAGE AND ITS SPEAKERS 4 Map 1 The location of the state of Meghalaya within India Map 2 Map 3 The Atong language area within Meghalaya The Atong speaking area in South Garo Hills District 1 THE ATONG LANGUAGE AND ITS SPEAKERS The boundaries on maps 1, 2, and 3 are not necessarily authoritative.

Sometimes domestic animals are kept to fatten or get pregnant, after which either the pregnant animals or the offspring are sold. Around the compound is usually a stretch of land where edible fruit trees grow, like banana, jackfruit, coconut, betel nut, lychee, star fruit, mango and sometimes also pineapple and useful species of bamboo. g. betel nut is a big source of income for many households. 4 Living environment: the jungle The jungle of the South Garo hills is thick and quasi-impenetrable, with many steep slopes and many streams that flow in beds invariably sewn with rocks.

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