All Photographs by Karolin Klüppel
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Anisha Nongrum, seven, wears a headdress of areca seeds, used in a chew called kwai.
All Photographs by Karolin Klüppel

Photographing in the Kingdom of Girls

In the lush jungles of northeastern India, hard against the Bangladesh border, is a tiny village with an unconventional social order. Mawlynnong is where about 500 members of the indigenous Khasi tribe still follow ancient matrilineal traditions. Where succession, money, property, and power pass from mother to daughter. Where girls—literally—rule their roosts.

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To make Khasi tradition visible, photographer Karolin Klüppel “created portraits as a reference or allusion to the girls’ surroundings and culture.” That means a fish-drying device could be a necklace for Grace Tangsong, seven.

Karolin Klüppel wanted to see this inverted world for herself. So for nine months spanning two years, the Berlin-based photographer lived with different Khasi families in the “unbelievably clean, calm, and peaceful” village. What she found was a culture in which youngest daughters (called khadduh) inherit wealth and property, husbands move into their wives’ homes, and children take their mother’s surname.

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Anisha Nongrum, seven, wears a headdress of areca seeds, used in a chew called kwai.

Girls go to school in the village until they’re teens, though some move to the state capital at 11 or 12 for further education. After that they attend college or
return to Mawlynnong, where they care for their parents. They may marry whomever they choose; there is no stigma attached to divorce or opting to stay single.