Saturday, November 29, 2008

Jaintia Tourism Festival begins

The week long tourism festival organise by the Jaintia Tourism and Environment Society (JTES) in collaboration with the District Administration and partner NGOs will start with an inaugural function on the November 1 and followed by a carnival or road show and food festival. Then at 4 PM in the evening people will be treated a musical extravaganza in the form of a beat contest.

The first part of the programme on the second day of the festival is a cultural programme at Khliehriat followed by fishing, boating cum wine festival at the famous Sajar Niangly Lake. In the evening another dose of musical treat called down memory lane will offered to the people. The third day of the festival will include cultural programme, archery, fishing, kite flying and fire balloon flying competition at the strikingly beautiful Syntu Ksiar with Kiang Nangbah memorial stone on the backup. In the evening there will be another musical concert organise by the All India Radio, Jowai.

The fourth day is a special day in the sense that simultaneously two programme in being organised on two special locations, a Boating, swimming competion entitled War Jaintia festival at Jarain another programme is cultural cum water sport at Iooksi on the Kupli river. In the evening a special comedy show called the great Jaintia laughter challenge will be held at Iawusiang, Jowai.
The fifth day has a pack programme which will start with a Nature and cultural tour to many tourist spots of the district, and then in the afternoon a festival of flying colours will held at the Ialong park followed by an evening of thousand lights cum musical night at the same venue. The last day of the festival is the closing ceremony cum fashion extravaganza at the district library auditorium, Jowai.

Jaintia: Nature’s Own Land Beckons

Jowai town now wore a festive look even if Christmas and New Year day is three weeks away. Thanks to the annual tourism festival brand named Discover Jaintia 2008, the festive spirit is already in the air in the town in particular and the district in general. The third edition of the week long Discover Jaintia beginning on November 1, is organised by the Jaintia Tourism and Environment Society in collaboration with the District administration and other partner NGOs.

The festival adds festive spirit to the beautiful tourist spots of the district and this is the best time to visit such places. From Shillong one can visit Nartiang by taking left on reaching Ummulong. Nartiang is famous for the Monolith Park which has the largest collection of dolmen and menhir in one place and the park is also famous for the tallest and largest monolith believed to be erected by the giant u Mar Phalangki. While in Nartiang don’t forget to visit the famous Durga temple believed to be about 300 years old and a Shiv temple adjacent to it. The erstwhile Jaintia kings are believed to performed human sacrifice in the Durga temple in the days of the yore. From Nartiang one can return back on the same road to hit the National Highway 44 again and head towards Jowai. After traveling for few minutes before reaching Jowai one will see to the left; the magnificent Thadlaskein lake also known as Sajar Niangli lake; believed to be dug by Sajar Niangli and his followers with the edge of their bows only.

In Jowai there are many places to visit, the Tyrchi fall which is again only few minutes’ drive from Thadlaskein lake is another important tourist spot, but before one decide to decent down to have a view of the majestic fall one should remember that there are more 300 steps to the lower part of the fall. On reaching Jowai; one can drive to Syntu Ksiar and enjoy the beautiful view of Myntdu river, believe to be the guardian angel (ka tawiar takan) and the memorial tomb of u Kiang Nangbah, or one can also travel to Ialong which is about 6 KM from Jowai where the famous Ialong sacred grove is located.

On the second day, stating from Jowai one can travel to Muktapur which is 50 KM from Jowai ad a frontier village on the Indian side of the Indo-Bangla border. On the way one can stop and visit Thlumiwi falls and the ancient stone bridge. Then proceed further and stop at the Jarain pitcher plant lake for a while. If you want to see a living pitcher plant, you can stop at Myrkein where the small reserve forest of the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council is located. On reaching Amalrem about 28 KM from Jowai, to proceed to Muktapur one should take extreme left and after traveling for few minutes you will see to your left a huge sign post indicating the location of the Krangshuri falls. This again is a unique spot which has many features in the one ecosystem. Then the next stop will be at Syndai where the Rupasor the ancient bathing ghat of the Maharanis of the erstwhile King of the Janitia kingdom. Few metres down one can see the Umpubon river and in the river there is a sculpture of an elephant carved since time immemorial. Syndai also have another sculpture of “u Khmi” earthquake and to see this sculpture and the cave; one has to take the path near the river which leads to Syndai village. Syndai cave is considered to be people friendly cave.

For people with a knack for adventure, one can drive to Elaka Nongkhlieh and visit the exotic caves recently discovered and mapped by the Meghalaya Adventure Association, but a word of caution, this caves are not for amateurs. For serious cavers one can contact the MAA in Shillong. Nature loving people tempted by the wild, one can seek the help of the Divisional Forest Officer incharge of wildlife division to trek on the three protected area or the reserve forest of the district. Of the three; Narpuh is easily accessible though it is more than 60 KM from Jowai, but it is assured that it worth taking the effort.
So what else are you waiting for, pack your bags and baggage and hit the road Jack, nature is calling and Jaintia beckons.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Kopati goddess praised for bountiful harvest

(Jaintia’s Thanksgiving Festival)
The Niamtre People (people who still adhere to tribal animist religion) of the Raij Raliang in Jaintia hills today lay to rest the goddess Kopati in a colourful religious festival held at Raliang. The Kopati puja is a harvest and thanks giving religious festival which is being celebrate by the tribals of this area after rice which is the main crop of the people is harvested.

The three days festival which was started on November 26 reaches its crescendo on the second day which is the 27. The ritual on the second day begins with a ritual in the wee hour of the morning followed by the warrior dance at the sacred grove of the Raij (state comprising of several villages) Raliang. After the warrior dance; the goddess was then taken to the river Umiurem to be laid to rest.

The final journey for the goddess started from the house of the Sutnga clan which is the “ksoh blai” or the keeper of the goddess. The goddess was carried by the wamon (priest) from the Sutnga clan accompanied by the people of the Raij under the leadership of Chawas Lyngdoh the dalloi (governor) of the Elaka Raliang. The dalloi along with the pator (chief of staff) and other dignitaries of the Elaka bate goodbye to the goddess before it crossed the boundary of the village.

The procession continues and then the Harmuid and the Laram along with the drums under their command also has to bate farewell to the goddess. The remaining of the procession along with the beating of the two remaining drums; proceeds on a long and arduous journey of more than 5 KM towards the Umiurem River. After walking for several hours; passing through hills and vales and walked by the harvested paddy field, the processions finally reached the river. On reaching the river bank, everybody took their shoes off before proceeding towards the altar. The wamon then immersed in the river bunch of flower and simultaneously the Wasan-noh-blai released a dove in the middle of the river. The pigeon crossed to the other side of the river and that is a good sign that the god(s) has accepted all the sacrifices and offerings provided by the people.

After the goddess was immersed, the wamon along with his helper arrange for the offerings which include rice, sugarcane and other fruits and vegetables. The offering was offered on the altar and later it was then shared among those who were present in the ceremony. The sharing also symbolized that people can now use or partake the newly harvested rice, fruits and vegetables.

The puja Kopati is the last religious rites of the Elaka Raliang, it is people way of expressing gratitude to the gods for the plentiful harvest this year, it may be mention that people are forbid from partaking new rice, fruits and vegetables before the puja was performed. Its only after the offering was first offered to the goddess, that the people of the raij can enjoy its blessings.

Under the Elaka (state) Raliang there are 5 raij, the raij Raliang, the raij Khonchnong, raij Ynniaw Kmai, raij Ionglang and raij Lapne. All these raij has a role to play to make this religious festival a success.

The last part of the programme was the warrior dance performed by the elders of the different clans of the raij and the climax of the festival was the warrior dance between C. Lyngdoh the dalloi versus the Firstly born Synnah the pator of the Elaka. The festival which started yesterday will continue till tomorrow.

The third day of the festival consist of many more rites and ceremony like “choo daloi” escorting the daloi and the fourth day will be the final day which is called “hiar rep Langdoh” or the priest symbolic act of starting the cycle of farming again after the harvest.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Symphut: The Dead Ghost

My Parents has a Tea stall then at Iawmusiang the Main market of the Jowai, and because our Parents were pre-occupied in the Shop, they didn’t really had time to prepare meal for us at home. So every morning, noon and evening we had our morning meal, lunch and Dinner in the shop. This suits me well because for a boy of my age, having the opportunity to go to the market and spend time at our shop is nothing but a wonderful opportunity. More so, Teashop in Jowai till today served as a chat room for those who have interesting topics to discuss especially politics. It came to pass one day, while I was having my meal in the shop, I overheard people saying that a Man had disappeared from his home and the whole town was looking for him. I was a young boy then about 10 years old and Jowai was still a small sleepy hamlet. Curious as any boy of my age, I eve dropped when ever I over heard people congregated and spoke about the sudden and mystery disappearance of the Man. The whole of his locality went searching for him but to no avail. It was only after few days that he was found in the forest in the suburb of the Town. The man was found sitting on the edge of a steep. Eyewitness stated that he was in a state of Trance and had it been that he was in his normal self, he would have fall down.
During our childhood, we were forbid to wear our clothes in side out, we were told by our elders that it is a taboo less we would be carried by the “SYMPHUT” (Suit Tynjang in Khasi). I am not sure whether Symphut was a kind of Ghost or a kind of animal, but one think I was sure was that Symphut if at all it is a ghost, it is a not a bad ghost, it never harm or injured its victims. During our Childhood incidents of some body being carried by the Symphut occurred quite frequently. We were told that Symphut can change itself to a Goat and lured its victim. It was said when somebody is being carried away by the Symphut, one will be in a state of trance, never to feel hungry, pain or even losses one’s sense of fear. Symphut was one of the phenomenon that every child dreads even to think of. It is said that female are more prone to fall victim to Symphut than their male counterpart. Legends have it that when Symphut left somebody after carried (kidnapped!) somebody away; one is always left in an odd or awkward position. For example a girl was found on the top of the tree, or at the fag end of the branch of a tree, a position that she would never have been able to reach has it been that she was in her normal self.
Whenever there was an incident of somebody being carried by Symphut, It becomes a talk of the village, and because Symphut is supposedly a good ghost, he never harm his victim and therefore there is no tragic end to the story, people love talking about the incidents albeit with awe. Symphut is a ‘wonder’ that is peculiar only to the people of Khasi and Jaintia Hills and it was very popular during our childhood. What strikes me is my Children aged 10, 8 and 6 respectively seldom heard about the Symphut phenomena anymore, they even heard the name the first time when I asked them whether they have ever heard about the Symphut. Symphut has gradually slipped from our mind, where has it gone I never know. Whether it has disappeared like the foxes that used to steal chickens from our coop, and dreadfully howl from a hill where the Jowai Circuit house now stand, or did it just disappeared with the advent of Civilization and light? I just don’t know. Whether Symphut is a reality or just myth that I will never know but one thing I know, oh how I hate to remember those spine chilling howls of the foxes on those moon lit night and how we like to talk about the incident when somebody was carried away by the Symphut. Oh! the romance of the good ghost, a ghost that did no harm to its victim. Symphut in our childhood is a reality, but a reality that seems to gradually fade away.

Noh-sa-kyriat: A Sowing Fest of a Different Kind

Imagine oscillating on a giant Seesaw made of an 18 feet tree trunk, which is placed on a bigger pine tree trunk, and over 7 feet high. It is indeed a very huge seesaw and the most gigantic one that I perchance had ever seen. No, I am not talking about Disney Land or about a seesaw in any one of those entertainment parks, this is not a child play either; this is the annual Seesaw fest that the people in certain area of Jaintia Hills still practice till date. In the local Pnar parlance, it is called “Noh-sa-kyriat” which literarily means playing seesawing. Traditional belief had it that, since time immemorial before going to their field for sowing rice (Rice is the main staple diet of the people) in their paddy fields people would celebrate a kind of Festival to pray God or gods for the seeds to be put on the Mother Earth and for a bountiful harvest in the season.
To appease the Deities rituals were performed early in the morning of the first day and then in the after noon, villagers would collect at the village playground to take part in the Seesaw fest. As the appointed time arrived, people from all walks of life young and old alike gather around the two seesaws erected in the middle of the playground. When it is all set; elderly ladies! (yes elderly ladies) were helped to climb the 7 feet tall giant seesaw and were pushed up and down by men to the merriment of the people present. One after another daring couple of ladies in their traditional fineries join in the seesawing and was help tilting up and down by men of the village.
The traditional attire of Pnar ladies consisted of a black and white jainsem called ‘Khywang’ wore round waist-down with a golden muga with two red stripes ‘Muka’ tied from one side of their shoulder down like a Jainkyrshah. And to add more colour ladies also wore a red blouse with ‘Paila ksiar’ and gold locket bedecked their neck. The traditional costume would remain incomplete if a woman failed to adorned golden bracelets festooned with precious stones in both of her wrist. The seesawing goes on till the ripe Sun kissed the hills on the western horizon one last good night kiss.
The next day is the last day of the Sowing Fest is the ‘Chad Sukra’, or it can be called a day of Joy and Merriment. The day consisted of a Cultural dance by young lads and beautiful damsels of the village. The traditional dance consisted of some dance that was rarely seen even by people from Jowai, these are the ‘Chad Kti’, ‘Chad Myrwa’, ‘Chad Rwai’ and of course the usual plate dance or ‘Chad Pliang’. These entire dances were performed to the tune of the music played on the backdrop by the local artist. And talking of synthesizing music, the village people of Jaintia has done that long time ago. The musical instrument consists of a Harmonium, Tablas, local instruments and even a Clarinet, the music blends harmoniously to the folk song that was played for the lasses to perform their dance. And that is not all the whole community join together not only in cheering to the music, but applauds the dancers too. When asked how come the Harmonium, the Tabla and et all were incorporated to the instruments used by village people in the remote part of the District? The answer was perhaps since the yester years of the mighty Jaintia Monarch, which ruled Jaintia also had part of the plain areas in its dominion. Influence of Plain People’s culture in the day-to-day life of the tribal people particularly the Pnars of Jaintia is still very prevalent till date.
The Traditional Sowing Festival is being performed by the people belong to Elaka Nangbah, namely Nangbah village, Mukhla and even Ialong village which is now in the Elaka Jowai, but was once upon a time it was historically part of Elaka Nangbah. Recently Raij Nangbah and Raij Ialong celebrated Seesaw Fest respectively but Sad to say, that the tradition is dying. History has it that in the olden days even Jowai folks used to perform what they called “Chad Mih Iaw” but for reason not known it was stopped. If it is not for the effort to revive the tradition by the organization like the Sein Raij of Ialong Village, Sein Raij of Nangbah Village and the Sein Kyntu Niamtre Khad-Ar-Dalloi, the traditional Seesaw Fest, Chad Mastieh (Warrior Dance) Rong Kusi and other alike tradition would have died a natural dead like a fallen leaves in the Autumn only to fossilized in the layers of history.

Bamphalar: The Anuual Theatrical Festival Of Jowai

Come May and June and the Jowai Town’s folk will once again celebrate yet another festival extravaganza. The lesser-known Festival of the town is a sort of month-long theatrical festival known to the local people as Bamphalar. The ancient Khasi-pnar is not known to possess any particular artistic inclination. Except for our monolith, our blacksmith, our Lyrnai Pottery and few sculptures scattered here and there, our artistic heritages would have been blank. Though we lack in the other artistic trait like painting, sculpting etc, yet we are proud that we still keep the unique theatrical heritage that we inherited. The origin of the festival is very recently according to woh Chaimon Pyrbot an elderly man of Iongpiah, locality. In my interview with him sometime ago, woh Chaimon is of the opinion that the people of Jowai borrowed this art from their neighbours in Shilot (now Sylhet), with whom they had a very good trade relationship in the times gone by.
Bam Phalar, derived its name from the last part of this festival- the community feast after the two or three days dramatic extravaganza. The month of April, May and June are the hay days for those with any theatrical talent in the locality, it is a time to prepare themselves to perform yet another drama in the local Community hall known as Yungwalieh (literary meaning white-house). The origin of the Yungwalieh is also very unique to this area alone. The denizen of this District has traditionally had this community hall since time immemorial. The Yungwalieh serves as a community hall where the community will meet for various reasons and the same time it is also use for Bamphalar, particularly for staging the dramas. Now the newly construct community hall in Localities like the Loomiongkjam, Iongnpiah, Tympang Club and Tpepale designed their hall for multipurpose uses. The Halls were designed in such a way that it combine in one a theatre and an indoor stadium. In the past almost all the localities in the town organise their own Bamphalar, old localities like the Chutwakhu, the Mission Compound and I still remember in the mid seventies; accompanying my parents to watch a drama in our local Yungwalieh at Iawmusiang. Sadly now only few localities took the trouble to organise Bamphalar and stage their dramas. To be precise now only locality like the Panaliar, the Loomiongkjam, Iongpiah Loompyrdi, Lumkyrwiang, Chilliangraij, Lulong and Tpep-pale regularly celebrate Bamphalar.
Bamphalar are normally scheduled to start on the Market day, still a payday in the local culture and it depends on the locality or the dong, how many drama would they staged. By mutual understanding it is arranged that each locality would organise their Bamphalar on the market day of the week in the span of these two months, so there is no chance of one locality’s Bamphalar clashing with the other. Normally Bamphalar is a three days affair, in which the local theatrical troupe will present their drama on the first two nights and the third and the last day is the big day of community feasting together (Bamdoh). It is a common practice now that the troupe of the locality will stage a serious drama on one night and a comedy on another night. Both the comedy and the serious dramas staged by the troupe, the story line will always depict the present cultural scenario of the society. There were times when the locality would also stage a drama on a historical and legendary figure of the community, like that of Kiang Nangbah, Lo Ryndi, Suna Raja and many other legendary figure of the area. But locality would very rarely perform this kind of drama; now a typical drama stage by any locality would contain the popular Bollywood block buster masala, a bit of gyrating dance, a bit of action and a lot of romance in the air. For the convenient of the local daily labourers, the drama normally started at 8 (eight) o’clock in the evening and would finish at around 1 to 2 o’clock in the morning. There were times that the drama will go on till the dawn of the new day.
The Bamphalar not only serve as a stage or an opportunity for those members of the local artist to showcase their talent, but it is also a great fund raising occasion for the locality. Dramas stage now a days always hit the box office and with tickets fare costing Rs. 100 and above,this naturally enables the community to raise a lot of fund. To me it is a treasure of literature, I often wonder what happen to the script of the drama that was staged, I doubt if the locality would have any mechanism to preserve these huge literary treasure. Just imagine if one locality would present two dramas in a year and there are 9 (nine) Dongs, which still organise their Bamphalar, how many drama would we have? In total we have 18 dramas a year and not to mention of the songs that goes to be part of a drama to make it a perfect Bollywood production. Of late with the advent of generation next in the locality, scripts of the dramas are now type in the computer and preserve well by the young artist.
It is very inspiring to learn that even though all the actors, the dramatist, the comedian, the dancers has spend their time and energy to present to the audience the best drama, yet they did this all for free. Nobody charge any fee for performing or involving in organising the drama; all did it voluntarily and for the love of their locality and of course the art. For weeks together they spend their time and energy yet its all for free.
Although there are those localities that stop organising Bamphalar, I personally see no threat of this tradition fading away with time. In the localities that still organise this yearly event, the theatrical festival is still alive and thriving. Actors, Dramatist, Comedians et al still spend their leisure time in the evening of these three months practicing and preparing each day for the D day. This dramatic event will still last, because the generation next of each locality not only enjoy performing in the stage, but are now using other modern dramatic gadgets to improve their presentation. The last drama of Iongpiah Loompyrdi club, even use Computers and LCD screen to improvise the dramatic-effect on one of their drama. The move to improve their presentation is also drive by the competition spirit among the locality. In their effort to perform the best drama, the troupe of the locality will try their level best to out do the others.
Not only these few localities in Jowai that still actively organise Bamphalar, but villages like Mihmyntdu, Sabah, Nongtalang and many more still organise their own annual Bamphalar.

Chhoh-ñia : The traditional lamentation of the War Jaiñtia People

(Paper presented by H.H.Mohrmen at the Seminar on Folklore and Oral tradition organized by the Sahitya Academi on the 24th and 25th April 2006 at Chutwakhu, Jowai.)

War Jaintia are the people living in the southern slopes of the state in the border with Bangladesh. Perhaps it is not wrong to say that “The War” (as they are commonly known in the District) is a community which still follows traditional customs which is unique to this particular group of people only. Choh-ñia is one such tradition that I seldom encounter elsewhere in Khasi Jaiñtia other than in the war Jaintia area. Even among the war, only those who live in certain areas follow this tradition. As far as I know, apart from the inhabitants of Nongtalang Village, others who are still practicing this customs are inhabitants of Lamin its neighbouring village and to some extend those who are residing also arround Khonglah and Nongbareh area. The reason for discontinuance of practicing the heritage is due to the fact that apart from the areas mentioned earlier, almost the whole War Jaintia region the population in other villages are predominantly Christians, resulting in the natural decrease of the indigenous religion. The other hypothesis could well be due to the fact that the villages which practice chhoh-ñia falls under the jurisdiction of the Daloi Nongtalang and as we all know that in the context of Jaintia Hills, traditions differ from one elaka to another or from one region to another. The case in point are the festivals known as Pastieh celebrated by the people of Elaka Shangpung and Raliang, is not celebrated by the people in Jowai or Tuber etc. which celebrates Behdieñkhlam instead. On the other hand the War Jaiñtia celebrates Rong Kusi, Rongkhla and other festivals. The inhabitants of Padu village too practice chhoh-ñia even though Padu now falls under the jurisdiction of the Elaka of Daloi Jowai. From time immemorial Padu was part and parcel of the elaka Nongtalang. One may question how then Padu became part of Elaka Jowai. Perhaps it is not out of place to mention here that Padu ‘annexed!’ itself to Elaka Jowai after the famous battle known as the “Thmi thhat khier.” We have a near accurate translation in Pnar (Ka Thma jed kper) or the battle that torn or broke the fence. As legend would have it; the famous battle was between the people of Nongtalang village and those of Padu, which ultimately led to the two to part ways forever. However the Padus keep chhoh-ñia and other Nongtalang tradition in tact as a token of its origin.
In Nongtalang Chhoh-ñia is also known as ‘Khae-na-salon.’ To define Chhoh-ñia, it is a kind of Lamentation; because it is normally performed when death occurred in the particular family. It is also in someway similar to chanting because it was sing to its own unique and melodious tune. And in all this lamentation and chanting there is a golden thread that go through this fabric and that is story-telling.
Chhoh-ñia is normally performed on two occasions, when death occurred in the family and on the occasion when the bones of the deceased are kept under the clan’s ossuaries. In War Jaiñtia dialect we say Chhoh-ñia is performed “ti ae ah i-jia i-jot ti sni” and during the “lum shyiang” time. The other reason of performing Chhoh-ñia is also to console the family which met with the unfortunate demise of their near and dear one; in our war-jaiñtia dialect we say “tju pyndot pynsyang.”
Chhoh-ñia is enerally performed at night and at the bereaved family and it continues till the dawn of the next day. Chhoh-ñia is also continued to be performed at the cremation ground and ends till the cremation ceremony is over. It begins soon after the bereaved family perform ritual of offering food to the deceased, I think this is akin to ‘ka siang ka pha.’ In Nongtalang they call it “Tai tji, tai tjia. Kae nguuh Prai nguuh shyem.” The offerings consist of food which the deceased use to take while he or she was a toddler. In war-jaiñtia dialect we call the typical food offered as “ka hi piah bae i-ji ladia. After the ritual, rice beer called “Ra” is given to one of the “Chyrkiang” elder present in the place and his role is to “Phriah” make an announcement. The announcement is not only to call upon the people present to listen to the Chhoh-ñia but it is also the occasion when the bereaved family announce the price for the team who perform the best Chhoh-ñia. Yes, in almost every Chhoh-ñia there is a competition. One may also question what the competition is all about or what is so competitive about Chhoh-ñia? Remember Chhoh-ñia is also storytelling occasion; the stories are of wide variety which includes the many popular folk tales and legends of the Khasi Pnar were narrated in a chant. So the competition is on the ability of the team to narrate accurately the legends and folktales that was jointly decided for competition. Traditionally the Chhoh-ñia will begin with folktales of the origin of the clan that the deceased person belongs. So if the dead person belongs to a Lamin clan, then the competition will on who can narrate the most accurate story of how the “Iawbei” of the Lamin name “Iawchibidi” started from Iapngar then proceed till she reach Umngot. The competition is divided in to different parts “Lyngkhot” so it could be from Iapngar to Umngot, or from Umngot till she reach the present domicile of the family. Similarly if the demised person belongs to Lyngdoh Talang clan, the story of how their Iawbei started from their place of origin; again depend on the agreement of the piece for competition. Likewise if the competition is on the popular folktales or legends, the competition will be on the specific part that has been agreed upon. The most popular legend and stories used in a typical Chhoh-ñia are Stories of the “Iawbei” of the different clans, the generations of the Jaiñtia monarch from Li dacha to the last, the king who change his intestine and others.
The competition is not merely an entertainment, it is not to be taken lightly by either the bereaved family who hold the competition or the “Nong chhoh-ñia,” it is the duty of the “Man-ñiew” the maternal uncle of the family to hire the judge who received the highest respect in the village, and considered to be the best in the business. I was told that a particular; village seldom perform chhoh-ñia anymore because of the non-availability of judges who can really do justice to his duty. Very recently in Nongtalang judges and even Nongchhoh-ñia was hired from Nongbareh because of the non-availability of the same in the village.
Any body can take part in the Chhoh-ñia and the only criteria needed are; that one needs to have knowledge of all the popular folktales and legends and of course the talent to chant. Chhoh-ñia has it own rhythm and it is normally performed by three people – a leader and two of his colleague to “Pyndon pyntoh,” meaning to follow in chorus the last syllable of the sentence to add flavour to the chanting. For instance if the leaders conclude the first line with “tewan” then in a beat unique to itself, the two colleague will jointly repeat in chorus “tewan” after him. Obviously, Chhoh- ñia is also a store house of folktales and legends; it is perhaps one of the few oral tradition that is being performed in public.
By now I think one may say that there is nothing related to lamentation in Chhoh-ñia. Well, it does not begin unless there is bereavement in the family and of course the placing of bones in the family ossuaries. A typical Chhoh-ñia begins with “Hai re hai/ Ah bea-rom ϊae tea-wan…” which referred to the occasion- the dead of so and so which is very unfortunate. This line is referred at a regular interval, to express the regrettable incident.
Chhoh-ñia is a lamentation mixed with chanting and story telling. It is rather unfortunate to mention here that Chhoh-ñia is rather a dying art, now because very few people can chant Chhoh-ñia in Nongtalang and when I say few I mean the number dwindled to the extend that they can be count on the fingers on both your hands. If Sahitya Academy can be of any help on the matter I would be willing to extend my support and co-operation to revive this dying art including another unique tradition called “Long Hai.”

I extend my sincere gratitude to the following for being generous enough to spend their time and energy in sharing their thoughts and experiences on the subject with me, I shall always remain grateful to :-

1. Chui Lamin pohlynjar, Daloi Elaka Nongtalang,
2. Siang Bareh, Myntri Dorbar Nongtalang,
3. Khyllaw Mychiang, Nongthang juprew (tymmen thangbru)
4. Plielad Lyngdoh, Ex. Headmaster Sohkha Secondary School. (Recipient of the National Award for Teachers)
5. J.F. Pohsnem for introducing me to the elders.
6. H.L.Giri Revenue Officer (JHADC) for giving more input to the paper.
7. P. Lyngdoh for correcting the draft of this paper.

The legend of u Ran Niangti: A porter who became a conqueror

The legend of u Ran Niangti: A porter who became a conqueror

Traditionally; Pnar people too observe certain kind of taboos, there are taboos which are general canon which forbids the whole community from indulging in certain act, and still there are taboos which are rules for certain clan only. One such taboo is the regulation which prohibits the Niangti clan from eating potatoes in any way or form. Yes anybody who is from a Niangti Clan is forbid from eating potato and it is all in the legend of Ran Niangti.

Ran Niangti was a Youngman from Jowai, nothing much is known about his early life but one thing that is certain is the fact that he is a kind of rebel, who lived by his own understanding and would not easily obey anybody’s order. During his time; trade between the Pnars on the hill portion of erstwhile Jaintia Kingdom and the plain of now Bangladesh was at its peak. So; he must also be a smart man that unlike his contemporary he did not end as a farmer but venture on the new available occupation by becoming a porter. In those days when the only means of communication is by walking, he earned his livelihood carrying goods for the traders from both Jowai and Jaintiapur. Obviously carrying goods to and from the hills to the plain is no cakewalk so, he must be a strong and a healthy man too.

His daily life usually started ‘at the first crow of a rooster’ and walk along with the traders the whole day with the heavy load over his head towards his destination. If they start from Jowai, by midday they will reach Myrkein and have their lunch then proceeds towards Syndai, at time they stay overnight at Syndai and start early towards Jaintiapur which was the seat of the erstwhile Jaintia Kindom. On returning back most of the time they will stay overnight at Jarain and proceeds the next day to Jowai. After climbing the Myntdu hill on reaching Jowai they were greeted by their relatives and friends at a place which is till now called Khlieh-lam-cha at Khimusniang. The Monolith in the area was a resting place for the travelers to lay their goods and have a cup of tea after a long arduous journey.

During those days the journey from Jowai to Jaintiapur must also be an interesting journey too. Throughout the trail on the way from Jowai to Jaintiapur one will find in many places, a collection of monoliths known as Kor shongthait in local parlance which literarily means resting place. One of the remnants of such place is located at Thlumuwi where there is also a stone bridge across the river. The trail also has many monoliths which act like a compass pointing the right direction to the travelers.

Once while doing his usual job of carrying goods, on reaching one resting place like any other porter on the trail; he too laid his load on the resting stones and rested for a while. He took out his pipe from a bag he carry on his shoulder which include everything that he need a can full of tobacco, many pieces of kwai, a smoke pipe, two pieces of flint stone with a dried local herbs called turiem to capture the spark from the flint stone and lit his smoke. He then took out a knife and made himself a piece of kwai, lit his smoke and went backwoods to relieve himself from nature call. When he returned back to his utter surprise he was greeted by angry people who accused him of stealing a bag of potatoes which they had laid on the resting stones. Ran was taken to the palace at Jaintiapur for trial and in spite of pleading innocent he was pronounced guilty as charged.

Throughout the trial Ran maintained his innocent and since he was convicted for the crime of stealing a bag of potatoes which he did not, out of anger Ran cursed the potatoes that landed him in jail. Since it was the potatoes that put him in the goal, he vowed and declared that his Clan and the generation to come should not consume potatoes in any form. Since then it becomes a taboo for anybody from the Niangti clan to eat potatoes and till date they are forbidden from eating potatoes in any way or form.

While he was in the custody of the King in Jaintiapur, certain enemy invaded the Jaintia Kingdom from one of its frontier; the Jaintia Kingdom has suffered a loss and the King was at his wits end. Ran on hearing the King’s trouble he requested the King to allow him to fight the enemy, but Ran was a mere porter he was never a military. Ran pleaded with the King to allow him proves his innocent and allegiance to the Kingdom. The King agreed to allow Ran to fight against the enemy but he has to prove himself first whether he has the blessing of the gods of not.

Since he was a mere porter, he has to proved himself whether he is fit for the job, the King summon a huge crowd on his courtyard to witness the trial if Ran can really fight the enemies. He was first given an ordinary sword to test his mantle; Ran took the sword and broke it to pieces simply by waving it in the air. Then another better sword was brought and that was also broken to pieces easily by Ran, then the King thought Ran is ready for the final trial. The King summon his priest to open the room where he kept the divine sword, he then summon some military from his army and ordered them to bring the divine sword to the fore. It took several men to carry the Diving Sword called “Ka wait Kokopati” to the King’s courtyard. The King indicated to Ran to give it a try and Ran took the huge sword and was happy with it, but that was not the final test. The King then summon another group of people to bring a huge banana tree, he then ordered Ran to use the divine sword and cut the banana tree into two pieces. Ran mightily cut the banana tree into two pieces but lo and behold hidden inside the banana tree was a huge iron rod which Ran was able to cut to pieces. After the completion of the final test the King believed that Ran has the divine blessing to protect the Kingdom, and ordered him to lead the army.

Ran not only protected the Kingdom from the invasion of another tribal King but he also conquered many more places and extended the territory of Jaintia Kingdom to far off land. The Pnar of Jaintia believes that once the Kingdom of the King extended up to Khanapara. Legends have it that on reaching the place now known as Khanapara near Guwahati, Ran was tired and he went to a huge banyan tree and tried to release the sword from his hand but he cannot. Blood dripping from the divine sword was like a clue which made the sword stuck to his clench fist, on reaching the banyan tree he mightily struck the sword in the middle of the tree and was slowly able to release his hand from it. While he struck the sword on the tree he also uttered these words “Yow ioh u Khanapara.” That everybody may know,” it is believed that Jaintia Kingdom once extended up to Khanapara. It is also believed that the sword remained inside the huge banyan tree and since then the place is known as Khanapara.

U Loh Ryndi: The Founder of the Jaintia Monarch

Once upon a time long, long ago, in a village called Sutnga there lived a man named Lo Ryndi. By sheer ill luck was left orphaned by his parents since he was a child; he gradually grew up only with the grace of his Neighbors. U Lo Ryndi who grew up as an orphan lived a lonely and a melancholy life. He begins his life as a Shepherd of one family in the village and spends his life mostly with the animals in the hills and valleys of the area. Each day he would normally woke up at the crack of dawn and had his first meal of the day consisting of red rice (Khoo pnar) and pieces of “ktung”1. This he had with a couple of fresh chilies and of course few sprinkle of salt. After the rather very early meal, his employer will pack his mid day meal in a “trop” consisting of rice, dry fish, chilies and few crystal of salt again. Occasionally on a local market day, he will get a special treat from his employer and that will sometime be fish, pork or even wild animals meat. When everything is ready, he would take his “Knup2,” “Shaladiang3,” stick and of course his only companion the “Matur 4“and walk to the cow shed to open his cattle. While taking his animals on reaching the outskirt of the village he would meet his fellow shepherd and move their animals together to the valley nearby. Along the way he would practice his shooting skill with his Matur aiming at any birds or squirrels appearing, if he is lucky the burned animal will be an addition to his mid day meals menu. On reaching the spot they selected for their animals to graze for the day, sometime he would be busy making “thri 5” with his knife from a pieces of Bamboo. The pieces of thri came in for many use, sometime he used it to make basket, sometime he made a hat for himself and sometime he would make a “lakynjot 6” to catch birds. At the onset of Spring every year, he would be very happy because now he can collect wild mushrooms to add to his menu of the day and there are also wild berries which grows all along the way and a lot more wild fruits that he can enjoy.
During summer sometimes he would carry a lot of “Khnam 7” to waylay small fish and “dohthli 8” in the small streams that carry water to the paddy fields. When he had a huge catch he would smile and after he barbecued the catch, the remaining he would take home. Summer is also a season of lots of wild fruits and of course lots of leaches and snakes to be careful of. One fine summer day after having his midday meal; he went to the river nearby and after washing his hands and trop he again climbed to the hilltop where he left his belonging. He thought of resting for a while and laid on the green grass with his face towards the sky, he didn’t realize that he dozed out till he woke up at dusk. He immediately called his cattle and took them home. By the time he reached the vicinity of the village it was already dark, from a distance he saw some body walking towards the way he came with a fire torch in their hand. He was afraid because at first he though it was the “Lyngkhooh 9”, but when they were closer he realized that they were somebody who came searching for him.
During off-season (I.e. after harvest) when the cattle were left astray during the whole winter in a tradition called “Dat-rai 10”, he spends his time fishing in the streams and rivers nearby and also collecting firewood for his master. Though his neighbors extended all their help and support, but the prevailing situation tends to make him lived a melancholy live. He grew up feeding and fending for himself till he became a man.
When he grew up and is old enough to stand on his own feet, he left his previous master and his previous profession and naturally graduated to the next and only popular profession in those days - farmer. By that time; he was a grown up young man mature enough fen for himself, though having a short stature, he has a well build body with all his muscles well developed. He lived alone in a hut he made for himself on the slope of a hill and all around it was a garden where he planted vegetables for his daily requirement. Because he had nobody, so he had not inherited anything from anybody, so, he has to start from the scratch. He started to plough and make his own paddy field where he mainly grew crops Rice and Maize. For him life begins, at the crack of the dawn, when he started to cook his early food and packed some for his midday meal and head for the field as the first light of the day. While walking towards the paddy field, he would also carry a scalpel on the left side of his arm and very often he would make use of it to slice cane to thread. The sliced cane comes to many use for him, he would sometime make a basket of it, a cane stool, Knup or many tools that he might need.
There were not many recreations that time, but he personally is fond of fishing, at leisure, he would all alone go angling for hours together and come dusk; he would collect his fishing rod and take the catch home. On one of his fishing outing, he failed to catch any fish even after laying his fishing rod for many hours. He then decided to call it a day and start collecting his fishing gears, just as he was trying to do so, the rod move and he could recognized that it was going to be a big catch. He ran to get hold of the pole and fought to pull her out of water. The fight was such a difficult one that sometimes he was about to loose it, but his determination got better of it and finally he netted the catch. From a distance he could see that, it was as he had anticipated a big fish. Satisfied with the prize catch, he collects his equipments and walk tall with his left hand holding his Fishing rod and on his right hand he carries his catch.
On reaching home, because it was too late and was very tired, he decided to postpone preparing the fish till morning and kept it on the wedge, which hangs over the fireplace to keep it dry. The next morning came and his mind was pre-occupied with the work that he planned to finish during the day or may be due to kind of divine intervention, he completely forgot about the fish lying on a bamboo ledge over the fireplace. On reaching the field he remembered about the fish, but he then though that he could always cook it during the night, there is no rush it will still be there on the wedge over the fireplace when he returned.
As usual he was returning home from his field after sun down, but on reaching home, lo and behold! He was surprised to see the some body has clean up his house while he was away. How can it be? Who would do me a service? He was trying hard to think it over who could have done him the favour, but he has no answer. On the second day, his mind was preoccupied with the thoughts of some body that came to clean up his house, so he totally forgotten about the Fish, but on returning home that evening, he saw the same thing happened. His house was spot less clean, he was baffled by what had happened in his house. He then decided to find out for himself as who could this secret admirer be who came to clean up his house while he was away in the field. He was definite that he had no Well-wisher for he lives a forlorn life.
He was puzzled by the incident, so he decided to play a trick to enable him to find it out for himself. The next day as usual he picked up his spade, other necessary tools and finally took his Knup and hanged it over his back and walked his way out. He pretended as he would walk straight to the filed but he returned mid way. He took shelter on a spot where he could peep and have a good view of the whole house. He waited for sometime then to his utter surprise he saw the beautiful young girl that came out of the basket where he kept the fish. At first he could hardly belief his eyes but after wiping his eyes he saw the young damsel took the broom stick from the corner of his kitchen and wiped it clean as if she has been instructed to do so. The scene of a beautiful young lady came out of his fish basket left him awestruck, he cannot think what to do but his instinct got better of him so he immediately moved from where he was hidden towards the door and force him self inside the room. Inside the room, the young lady was caught unaware and he quickly got hold of her and holds her tight. He could not understand whether it was sheer curiosity about the wonder that he had just seen or it was love at the first sight that made him hold her tight and not to let go. He asked her who she was and what was she doing in his house? At first she was reluctant to tell him her secret but he was so persistent that she finally succumb and told him every thing about her.
She was a Mermaid a Fairy that he caught from the river and it was divine intervention that he kept forgetting about her. She also told him that when he married her, their Children would be the originator of a new Dynasty and their children’s children will be the Royal progeny. She then also adds that the moment she saw a broomstick at the verandah of any house she will disappear. Since then they live together as husband and wife and it was so peculiar of her that she seldom venture out of their humble hut. They lived together many years and she bore him children. It is customary that a husband should take his wife to his relative and he too persuades her to visit his distant relative. With out a second thought she refused point blank to his request, she was shy no doubt but that is not all, she had this premonition of an impending threat that she could not explain. She tried to make him understand, but he won’t listen finally a woman herself she has to give-in to her his request. How ever she reminded him about the broomstick.
He then immediately went to his relative and explained to them very clearly about the broomstick. On the appointed date he then took her with his children to his relative, though she was shy yet she accompany them to the relatives house. The moment she reached their destination, the relatives greeted her but there was a broomstick in the place that it should not have been in the first place. She ran as if she had seen a ghost, her husband saw the broom and realized what has happened, he too followed her immediately, he tried to speak sense to her but to no avail. She ran towards the river Waikhyrwi and as soon as she reached the bank of the river she jumped into the river immersed into the deep and never to be seen again. Poor Man he then went back home and took his fishing rod and made sure he carried the lucky one, he fished and fished for days together but no she will never bite again. A promise has been broken and she has to go. After trying his luck for many days, he decided to call it a day and went to his children and devoted his time in caring for them. Since then the offspring of ka Li dakha and u Lo Ryndi are believed to be the descendant of the Sutnga Dynsaty the rulers of the Jaintia Kingdom.

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.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Unitarianism: The Saga of a free spirit


The History of a Liberal religion is not something that happened at a wave of a hand. Infact it is the evolution of human being itself. It is a phenomenon that began at the dawn of the civilization when people protested against conformity, superstition, oppression and injustice. When Socrates in the Ancient Athen said to Crito “Do not mind whether the teachers of Philosophy are good or bad, but think only of Philosophy herself. Try to examine her well and truly; and if she be evil, seek to turn all away from her, but if she be what I believe she is, then follow her and serve, and be of good cheer”… He infact layed the first foundation step of free and rational search for truth. Truth to a liberal religionist is not an exclusive right of one generation, one race, one religion, or one Philosophy for that matter. A liberal religion like Unitarianism lays great emphasis on a rational and free search fr truth.Truth is also very dear to Unitarians as it was then to Aristotle in the ancient Greek when he said “Plato is dear to me but dearer still is truth.” Unitarianism therefore owes this rich tradition of loving truth and nothing but the truth and the free and rational way of attaining it; to our ancient Athen ancestors.
The root of this Liberal religion is also firm in the Jewish tradition. Unitarians hold in high esteem the teachings of the Prophets of ancient Isreal like Amos, Isaiah, Jermaiah, Micah and a galaxy of others. Their Prophetic teaching on the ethics of working humbly, doing justice, mercy and to love and serve fellow human beings is highly revered by the Unitarians. The most honoured name in the Judeo-Christian heritage of Unitarianism is the second Micah. The book of Micah chapter six is considered to be the high point of old Testament Religion, because it turns religion from the external form to internal faith which inspires and guides People. He said “…Where with Shall I come before him with burn offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams or ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the Sin of my Soul? He had showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.
Unitarians believe Jesus to be one of the greatest teachers, and the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount are the epitome of his teachings. As a matter of fact for more than three hundred years after Jesus was crucified, the early Christians were neither Unitarian (Monotheist) nor Trinitarians. There were no specific doctrine (s) or creed(s) that was unanimous to all. It was not till 325 (Common Era) C.E that the issue on the nature of God was brought to the lime light by a young Charismatic leader named Arius. Emperor Constantine who himself was a recent convert saw that the issue could be a thread to the Roman Empire, summoned a council in Nicea on May 20,325. It was on this council that Jesus was voted with a royal Patronage (Constantine) to be of the same substance with God. How ever, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit was incorporated as Christian dogmas half a century later in Constantinople to complete the holy trinity. Thus on the above notes the Christian Heritage of Unitarianism is a complex situation, the answer to the question whether Unitarians are Christians or not depends on ones idea of Christianity.
Unitarians not only owes its origin to these three great tradition of the world but the path to its development is stained-red with bloods of its Martyrs. From Socrates unlimited and rational search for truth to the present generation’s fight for justice, toleration and freedom of human conscience, the path is not a plain sailing. Arius and his followers called Arians were executed and have to go underground after the council of Nicea.The Martyrdom of Micheal Servetus who was born in 1511 was a landmark in the annals of Unitarian history. A Youthful and vigourous Servetus published his book “On the errors of the trinity” in 1531, it was a stringent denunciation of the dogma of trinity as upheld by both the reformers and the Catholics authority. The book was selling like hot cakes and swiftly spread to Switzerland, Germany and Italy. Luther and the Church condemned Servetus work, his book was banned by the Church authority. The suppression was so successful that 25 years later when Servetus was put on trial for blasphemy not a single copy could be found to use in the court. The Irony of the ironies is that Micheal Servetus was not condemned and burnt at stake by any other people but by the great reformers John Calvin in Geneva 1553. Constellio one of Calvin’s lieutenant remarked; “To burn a man alive does not defend a doctrine. It slays a person.” At a site near Servetus was burned there was a memorial stone with an inscription saying it was erected by the spiritual heirs of John Calvin and that a great wrong was committed in the case of Servetus’ the gospel can only be preached authentically where freedom of conscience is respected.
The anti-trinitarian movement flourished in Poland under the leadership of Foustus Socinus who was born in 1539. The movement which based its Principles on Liberty, reason and tolerance spread rapidly, the movement was eventually condemned and its followers were persecuted under the Jesuit leadership. Church records were burned and believers were exterminated under the Polish Diet which was passed in the 1658. Socinus himself was attacted in the street of Krakow, his face was smeared and his mouth filled with mud, the assult first left him broken then dead. With his dead Socinian movement a liberal religious movement was completely wiped out in Poland.
The Liberal movement in Transylvania was led by a Charismatic leader who converted from Fraciscan Chatholicism to Lutheran then to Calvanism and finally to Unitarianism. Francis David was one of an outstanding religious figure of Transylvania. Under his able guidance he influenced King John Sigismund (the only Unitarian King in the History) of Transylvania to issue western world’s first edict to religious freedom and toleration in the 1568. It reads “Preachers shall be allowed to preach the Gospel everywhere, each according to his own understanding of it. If the community wish to accept such preaching, well and good; if not, they shall not be compelled, but shall be allowed to keep the preacher they prefer. No one shall be made to suffer on account of religion, since faith is the gift of God.” This Bill of right is a landmark in the history of the western world.
The adventure of Unitarian movement in England was more peaceful compared to that in the Continent. The first Church in England was perhaps the one called “The Church of Stranger” in London in 1550. Later on in 1599 and 1601 John Robinson founded the Dissenting Church at Gainsborough and the Pilgrim Church in Scrooby. It was only in 1701 that the Act of toleration allowed Unitarians to worship openly but not to own property or to hold public offices. John Biddle is considered to be the earliest martyr of conscience in England. Biddle wrote his “Twelve Arguments Drawn from Scripture, where in the commonly Held notion touching the Deity of Holy Spirit is clearly refuted,” after publishing this book was arrested as heretic. In 1648 he wrote from his dungeon another book. “A confession of faith touching the trinity”, in which like Servetus he refuted the Biblical foundation of the Church doctrines. He spend almost his entire life in jail for his herecy, he was only released in 1652. The person that can be accredited as actual founder of Unitarianism in England was T. Lindsay an Anglican cleric who turned liberal. He conducted the first official Unitarian Service in a London auction room on the 17th of April 1774, the congregation included Benjamin Franklin and Joseph Priestly.
The Unitarian movement in England was star-studded; apart from the imminent scientist like Sir Issac Newton and Joseph Priestly it also included Charles Darvin famous for his theory of Evolution. A galaxy of prominent persons in the English literary world were also Unitarians, John Milton in his “areopagitica” he wrote one of the great credos for freedom of religions publishing. John Locke, the author of the Essay concerning Human Understanding” smuggled both his and Sir Issac Newton’s document on Unitarianism for publishing in France. Publishing of Unitarians “Confession of an Inquiring Spirit” publishing in 1840 and Charles Dicken the great English Novelist were also Unitarians. Florence Nightingale famed as lady with a lamb for her untiring work in the Crimean war was a Unitarian.
Across the Atlantic in the New-World, the liberal breeze has already blown gently through the doors of Calvanism in the pre-Revolutionary Colonies, the fertile land awaited for the arrival of Joseph Priestly who was discouraged by the political and ecelesiatical climate of his country at that time. Invited by his good friend Thomas Jefferson he sailed to America in 1794. The first Unitarian Church in USA was the Kings Chapel in Boston which is also one of Boston city’s Landmark. It was 1785 that his whole Church of England congregation adopted Unitarian Principle and become a Unitarian Church.
In the following generation Ralph Waldo Emerson who was a Unitarian and later decided to use his talent to tour addresses and famous of all the Divinity School address, “Dr Albert Sweitzer who spends his later life in Africa and wrote his famous book “In search of the historical Jesus” was also a Unitarian.
The saga of a free Spirit is not exclusive to the western World alone, in India the great reformer Raja Ram Mohon Roy the founder of Brahmo Samaj was greatly influenced by the Unitarians and the Noble laureate poet Rabindra Nath Tagore. In the Khasi Hills a Native Khasi, like many of his fore runners in the western world relized that the doctrine of trinity is rather unscriptural left his Calvanist faith and started a “Ka Niam Mane Wei Blei.” It was later on through his friends he came in contact with people on the other side of the Globe called Unitarians who believe exactly as he did, he eventually called himself and his group Unitarians. It was on the 18h Sept 1887 that Hajom Kissor Singh (brother of Nissor Singh) founded his “Ka Niam Mane Wei Blei” in Jowai. The day is being celebrated by Unitarians in the Khasi Jaintia Hills and Karbi Anglong every year as the Anniversary day. The adventure of H.K.Singh was not free from condemnation he was brand “Len Blei” (Heretic) by his friends, even a Church was not spared, a that roof Church was burned to ashes.
On the occasion of Unitarian Anniversary day on the 18 September, Unitarians in the Khasi Jaintia Hills pay homage to their departed leaders the torch bearer of this faith and pray for the World free from religious bigotry and intolerances.

Raij Tuber Behdieñkhlam : A Festival of Homcoming

Many a times when one speaks of Behdieñkhlam, people would only think of Jowai and the Behdieñkhlam of the Sein Raij Jowai. Not only that other Sen Raij too celebrate Behdieñkhlam, the largest of all the Behdieñkhlam is celebrate not in Jowai but in Tuber Kmaichnong.

The Behdieñkhlam Tuber as it is known in the District is the largest in terms of numbers of “Rots” carry by the faithful of the Niamtre to the aitnar at Tuber Kmaichnong. According to J. Sana altogether 25 villages from different parts of the district will bring their “rots” to Tuber Kmaichnong today the 23. The 25 village crisscross the district from Jalaphet in the Elaka Sutnga to Mupyut in the Elaka Amwi and Mihmyntdu and Khliehtyrchi in Elaka Jowai.

Behdieñkhlam is also like a homecoming of the people to Tuber; the place of their origin. Since time immemorial people originally from Tuber migrated to different parts of the district in search of livelihood. Once a year these people would join their brethrens on the last day of the Behdieñkhlam which culminate at Tuber Kmaichnong.

Therefore the other significance of the Behdieñkhlam festival is that it is a time for homecoming for the people who originated from the Raij and migrated to other parts of the District. In the Behdieñkhlam of the Raij Jowai, people of Jowai origin living in Shillong and Ummulong joined in the last day of the festival and bring their rots as a mark of respect. Khon ka Niamtre from the Wahiajer who originally hails from Ialong also took part in the Behdieñkhlam at Ialong and brings their rots to the aitnar. Khon ka Niamtre from Iongnoh join their counterpart in Chyrmang for the last day of the Behdieñkhlam. So also the khon ka Niamtre from different parts of the district unites with their brethrens at Tuber Kmaichnong once a year.

The Behdieñkhlam of Raij Tuber is the biggest Behdieñkhlam of all, last year more than 60 rots were brought from every nook and corner of the District, not only that, the rots at Tuber are of various shapes and sizes and are also made of all the colours of rainbow.

Behdieñkhlam festival is therefore not exclusive fest of the people of Raij Jowai only; others Sein Raij which celebrate Behdieñkhlam are Raij Chyrmang, Raij Tuber, Raij Ialong, Raij Mukhla and Raij Muthlong. The 6 Behdieñkhlam are celebrated at different time of the year by these Raijs, but of all the Behdieñkhlam festival, the Behdieñkhlam of the Raij Tuber at Tuber Kmaichnong is the largest in terms of numbers of people participation.