MacKay on women of NE India

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, March 9, 2023

Women in NE India show Robyn MacKay warm hospitality. Photo by Bruce Roberts

Thank you, readers, for your heartwarming responses to last week’s column about Robyn MacKay and Bruce Roberts’s recent biking trek through northeast India in which they experienced an abundance of caring, happiness and acceptance by some amazing people. In a most timely way, Robyn is adding a postscript to that column this week.

Timely? Well, with this Wednesday, March 8, being International Women’s Day, Robyn couldn’t resist sharing an insight from her time in northeast India inspired by the influence of her late mother, Christine MacKay, cofounder of MacKay’s Ice Cream 75 years ago, as of July 30.

Robyn had come across a story by her mother in the Nov. 28, 2001 issue of the Cochrane Eagle.

“WHEN I RE-READ IT,” Robyn says, “it brought tears to my eyes and reminded me of the enormous influence my mom had on me to go out and travel by bicycle. Her words about the loving acceptance of the Cochrane people towards her is very much like what Bruce and I experience on our trips through India.

“Mom, a World War II bride from Scotland, arrived in Cochrane not knowing anyone but my dad, Jimmy MacKay, leaving her family behind, with very little in her bag, after an arduous journey, and complete faith that Canadians will be welcoming. Not only were they welcoming, everyone embraced her no matter what religion, age, occupation, or land they lived on.

“Mom’s experience arriving here in Cochrane inspired me to travel in slow motion by bicycle with very little in my bags and faith that the goodness of humanity will prevail with open hearts to Bruce and me.

“Sometimes people think we travel by bicycle to accomplish a physical feat, but that is not the reason. Bicycle travel opens all your senses; you hear, smell, see and feel everything you pedal through. Our bicycles are a cultural bridge that the people in the remote corners of the world we have encountered can relate to.

“We specifically chose NE India for cycle touring because we  had dipped our toes in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh previously. For us, NE India is ‘borderless’; we can cross into any state, religion, culture, and landscape, and be welcomed with open hearts – just as mom was here!

“I am especially reminded of an interesting social and cultural practice that had a delightful and surprising effect on our trip in the NE states. The area is home to over 200 different tribes and in the state of Meghalaya, women were the dominant force. The Khasis tribe, which is one of the largest ethnic communities, is also home to one of the last matrilineal societies in the world. We were told by families we stayed with that when marriages took place, men changed their last names to the wife’s family name, and all properties were inherited by the youngest daughter. The youngest daughter is obligated to stay with the close-knit family and care for the parents as they age. 

“Most questions we had were answered by women which gave us a unique opportunity to learn about life from the female point of view. Women of all ages stepped forward with ease to help us find food, directions and places to stay. With every encounter we learned something from the women.”

AND THIS WAS very much the kind of welcoming Robyn’s mother, Christine, experienced upon arriving in Cochrane all those years ago – a welcoming that launched Robyn and Bruce on their own biking treks through India. Happy International Women’s Day!


© 2023 Warren Harbeck

Return to Coffee With Warren home page