Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Clan System: The Bedrock Of Khasi-pnar Society

Not long ago the Pnars settled in Shillong (particularly those from Jowai), use to walk on foot from Shillong to Jowai to carry their deceased relatives bones that was purposely left from cremation in a tradition call “Rah chyein.” The tradition has it that no matter where on Earth a person died, it is imperative that the remains of the cremated person should be place on ones Clan Mootyllein. The deceased person bones should be place in its rightful place along with all his clan under the mootyllein (a square shape stone-box cover on the top by a stone slab). Even in death the clan should remain together, no, not even death can do them apart. The tradition of carrying ones departed relative’s bones to the family’s ancestral mootyllein, where the mortal remains of the demised relatives will have their final rest is still practice by the believers in the Niamtynrai the traditional animist religion albeit without the walking.

Clan is a very important part and parcel of Khasi-pnar society, in fact it has been inscribed in not less than the three cardinal values of the Khasis-pnar. The tri-cardinal values of the Khasi on which they base their philoshophy of life are Tip kur tip kha, Tip-briew tip-blei and Kamai ia ka hok. These can be literally translate to (Know and honour ones relative both of mother (kur) and father’s (Kha) side), my translation of the second value is (Live courteously and know God) and (To earn righteousness). I am of the opinion that the “Tip-briew tip-blei” value was mist-translated as (Know man know God), in fact in a khasi parlance ‘Tip-briew’ comprises of two words with one meaning which literally means (courteous or honourable living). ‘Tip-briew tip-blei’ when translated it give us the meaning of one very important principle of live in the Khasi society meaning ‘live courteously and honourably and know God.’ In another sense, it means courteous or honourable living is the way to know/understand God.

What is a Clan? Once when I tried to explain the enormity of the clan system in the Khasi-pnar society to my friends from abroad, I cited a beggar as an example, yes a beggar. I told them that if one would walk in the street of Jowai or Shillong, one would hardly see a Khasi-pnar to beg in the street. Then they asked me why? What does this has to do with the clan? Precisely because the beggar if there is any, he would be someone’s relative and it will be a shame if not a curse to the relatives or the clan as a whole to let him live in that shameful way. Even orphanage and old age home are new thing in the Khasi-pnar society, because we are supposed to take care of each other. If somebody is left orphaned there is always somebody; may be close relatives who are supposed to take care and look after the orphans. It is not only true that there are very few Khasi beggars, but it is also true that there are very few homeless people in the Khasi-pnar society, the reason being that the clan system prevailing encourage members of the clan to think and work together as a community.

Clan is not only something very important to the Khasi-pnar but it is also very unique and of very huge magnitude. In the western cultural context, or even in the context of the other race in the country, family means parents, children, grand parents and of course ones uncles and aunts. And that’s about it. In the Khasi-pnar context, a family consists of the parents, children, grandparents, uncles and aunts, including those who are in the same clan. For instance, my Father is from a Pariat clan, so, not only all of the Pariat clan are my ‘Kha’ but all those clan which belong to the ‘San Syngkong,’ which include Shylla, Pde, Lamarr etc. are my relations on my fathers side. So also with regard to my maternal relations, not only Mohrmen are my relatives, but also the Lamin, Laloo, Pyrbot, Diengdoh and all those in the Iawchibidi clan are my relatives.

I remember in my childhood days, I use to think that like the Khasi-pnar, in the other races too, a person’s surname identifies the clan that he belongs. Later on I realised that in the context of our non-tribal friends for instance, one Das and another Das does not necessarily have to be related, or Mr Brown and Miss Brown can get married, while in the Khasi-pnar context it is a taboo.

The Impact of Clan system: The feelings of belonging to one clan or the knowledge that whole clan are the children of the same “Iawbei” (Great Grandmother,) binds the clan together. All the different family names that are suppose to belong to the same clan share the same mythology about their Great Grandmother. Take for instances the “Iaw Shi Bidi Clan,” those families that are related to each other as one clan, share the same legend of their Great grandmother, who was sold in the market, for just few pieces of coins. In Nontalang the Pohsnem, the Pohlynjar, the Myrmen they believe that they descended from their Great grandmother whom they call “Iawshibidai,” the Lamin the Pohchen from Lamin they call her “Iaw shi bijai,” the Laloo, and the Pyrbot of Jowai would call her “Iaw chi bidi.” No matter how different they called their Great grand Mother, but the elements of the legend is the same, she was sold at the market for just one bidi. The Passah and the Chadap Passah believe to descend from “Bor Kupli” their Great Grandmother and “Yale” their Great grandfather.

The impact of the clan on a person can be seen from the fact that irrespective of one’s religion or any other condition, all its members hold the clan ‘kur’ in high esteem. In times of grief or in times of joy, they would always try to be together and support each other. A colleague of mine in school where I am teaching; once took a day leave on the funeral of some one who belongs to the same clan with him. He told me that even though his family is in taboo (sang) with the death person’s family, it is believe that on the day the Clans mootyllein is open one should at least take a day off as a mark of respect to their ancestors. The reason is that after one was cremated, the next ritual that followed in the funeral rite is that the remains of the deceased person body is then carried to the “Kpep” of that particular clan (each clan has their own kpep). A kpep is a kind o memorial garden where the clan’s Mootyllein was kept along with the bones of the kur’s ancestor and memorial tombs for the dead person was also erected there. The remaining was then placed under the mootyllein of the clan.

The important of the clan is particularly very significant in times of grief; in such time one would always look to ones own clan for support. Late woh Harendro Dkhar an elderly man whose ancestors migrated to Demthring (a village near Jowai) from Tuber since time immemorial, told me how his ancestor communicated to inform ones relative in a far away village of the bereavement in the clan. Woh Harendro told me that in the times gone by, the clan on both side found it difficult to send some body every time to inform of the death in the family to Tuber and vice versa. So they invented some kind of a smoke signal, when ever the family on each others side across the horizon see the familiar smoke, it symbolized that somebody in the clan has died so the family would take a day of. The invention of the smoke signal was necessary because of the need to respect the demised of somebody in ones own clan. A day off is a valuable prize that one pays as a mark of tribute to one’s relative.

Of late we have seen that clan has even begin organising themselves into association or organisation. Previously it is just the beliefs and the traditions that bind the children of the same clan together, but now these organised kur has even had their own constitutions to strengthen their commitments to each other. The sense of belonging to the same clan not only forbid one from marrying the other of the same clan but the tradition have it that there is more to it than having the same title or surname. In the khasi-pnar society the surname is not merely a word one adds after ones first or second name, the surname connotes that one belong to the certain clan and that is very important. It is in fact ones own identity in the tribal culture, which identify to which clan does one belong.

The “Ting Kur idea.” Apart from ones original related families in the clan, there are also some families which, were later incorporated to the clan due to various reasons. It was a common practice in the past that women too join the men folk working in the field. There were times when a neighbour would breast fed the child of the other women who was already able enough to join her husband in the field. In this case out of ones gratitude to the lady who breast fed her child while she was away, the child’s mother would then declare that lady would be her relative from now on. Others reason would be like if somebody would be so good to the other, they would then ‘ting kur’ declare to be related to the clan of the others. Therefore there are two types of kur in the clan, those originated from the same great grand mother and those who simply become related to the clan by way of ting kur. No matter whether the family originally belongs to the clan or become related to the clan simply by ‘calling one related to the other’ out of gratitude, the sense of belonging to the clan is the same. It is the same feeling of oneness and togetherness that bind them together. Of late the Ting Kurs encountered with some kind of contradiction and to some extend even confusion. The cases in point are those of the Passah and that of the Pariat clan. The case in the Passah clan is that a certain Passah also called War Passah is the ting kur of the Passah clan. The Passah clan has from time immemorial a taboo (sang) with the Niangty clan, the taboo forbids any members of the two clans to enter into wedlock. Even though Passah and Niangty are forbid to enter into a marriage, the War Passah though very much related to the pan-passah clan can enter into a holy matrimony with the Niangty. The other case study is that of the Pariat. The Pariat, the Lato and the Bareh, these three clans are related in a ting kur system, but the dichotomy is that members of the Latos and the Bareh clan, can get married with each other but Pariat cannot marry any of the Latos or the Bareh.

My idea of the important of the clan to a khasi-pnar is in the form of a concentric circle. The person is in the center and one is being surrounded first; by ones own family, then the bigger family which include of aunts and uncles and finally the clan. Clan is a kind of original support group that our ancestor has invented. In any public gathering particularly that of a funeral, when ever one would address the gathering one would first address “Ki kur ki kha,” then “ki lok ki jor” (friends) will come later. Or for that matter, one would always ask a stranger his title or clan’s name first and then his first name later on.

The clan is an intrinsic part of the Khasi-pnar culture and milieu it is a magnum opus that one is very proud of because it showcases ones basic and profound family value system. When family values in different parts of the world are crumbling, the Khasi-pnar family values system stood against the times and tides. The clan system is one classic example of khasi-pnar wisdom that transcends time. Though everything else around change, the important and the uniqueness of the clan remains in tact. In fact it is not simply alive in the Khasi culture and milieu but it grows from strength to strength from time to time. Any one wish to understand Khasi-pnar culture will find that one’s efforts will be futile, if one fail to understand the important o clan in the society.

1 comment:

Philippe Ramirez said...

Among the three fundamental principles, I don't find your explanation about "Kamai ia ka hok". Thank you