Friday, November 27, 2009

Of acidic water, mining policy and the fate of hydel projects in the state

Scribes from Jaintia hills district; this writer in particularly has time and again raised hue and cry against the unscientific coal mining in the region which has drastically affect the environment and particularly the water bodies in the district; but sad to say all the voices raised is like a mere cry in the wilderness. All the efforts to raise this issue in the public domain land on the deaf ears of those in power.
In the Jaintia hills Coal was first mine in the Wapung village and its vicinity in the early seventies, since then it appears as if coal magically blob up like bubbles of a boiled water in almost every parts of the district. Now Wapung has practically stop producing coal altogether, but its adjacent villages like Sohkymphor and others still produce coal in drove. It has been more than three decades since coal mining was started in Jaintia hills district, in these thirty odd years; mining has done more harm than good to the common people of the coal mining areas. Not only the environment that was drastically affected, demography of the region has changed, the society has changed and the livelihood of the people downstream has also been affected, the question is why does it take the state government three decades to wake up from its slumber? Why it never strikes the government that it needs to regulate the unscientific coal mining that was in practice in the state. The leaders of the state were living in fool’s paradise not having the vision to foresee the imminent threat that the unscientific coal mining has in store for the environment and the people. And for that matter what has the Meghalaya Pollution Control Board (MSPCB) done to protect the environment?
Now all of a sudden NEEPCO brought to light the plight of the Kupli Hydro electric project which was commissioned about the same time people start mining coal in the Wapung area. It was a known fact that the entire stretch of the catchments area of Kupli river in Jaintia hills are coal mine areas and it is also an open secret that coal produced from Jaintia hills has high sulfur content, yet like the state government NEEPCO woke up to the reality only recently, when it is almost too late. NEEPCO has just recently accepted the reality that the acidic water of the Kupli River is having a toll on the life span of the project and even the capacity of the project to produce electricity. This scribe has already wrote (on a vernacular paper) about the plight of the river Kupli long time ago, mentioning the fact that water bodies of the river was polluted to the extent that one cannot see not even a single aquatic animal in the entire stretch of the river. This writer has also report on English daily from Shillong (not the Shillong times) about the fate of the river Lukha few years back and about the same time a premier monthly magazine from Shillong the Nort East Panorama carried this writer’s article entitle Jaintia Hills the land of the death river. This scribe has walked miles on the banks of many of these affected rivers of Jaintia hills and has literarily wept in his heart when he realizes the fate of all these rivers. Even the MSPCB has done precious little to control the pollution of the water in the rivers. As a matter of fact if we are to judge the MSPCB by the notification that the board publish in the press; it look as if the job of the MSPCB is merely to conduct public hearing for granting permission to start a new cement plants in Jaintia hills. If we are to judge by the condition of the water in the many rivers of the Jaintia hills district; it is suffice to say that the MSPCB does not live up to the public expectation i.e., to control pollution and it has failed the state miserably.
Now the big question is; what about the Myntdu Lechka hydro electric project? Like Kupli, the entire stretches of Myntdu River’s catchments area are coal mine areas except for a small stretch around Jowai town. Is the MeSEB realizing the enormity of the problem that the acidic water on the river could cause to this yet to commission project? What measure has been taken by the MeSEB to prevent this project from suffering the same fate as the Kupli hydro electric project? Or are we waiting for the eleventh hour when it is too late to save the project? Because Myntdu, Lukha and Myngngot (Umngot) rivers from Jaintia hills flow to Bangladesh, the country is lucky that people across the border did not protest against the polluted water that flows to Bangladesh.
The only rivers in Jaintia hills that were still not affected by random and unscientific mining are the Myntang and the Myngngot (Umngot), because these rivers flow from the area where there is no mining activity as yet, but the pertinent question is how long will it be before Umngot also suffer the same fate as Myntdu, the Lukha and Kupli. It will not be too late before the haphazard dumping of coal in the Mookyndur area and the coal mining at Shkentalang, Thangbuli and Jarain areas could cause the same damage to the Umngot the way coal did to the Myntdu and Kupli. If the government does not start control the flow of acidic water from the catchments area to Umngot River, the Umngot project will suffer the same fate as the Kupli and Myntdu and the proposed Umngot hydro electric project will die before it even starts. The other proposed hydro electric project of the state be it the Kynshi or other will also suffer the same fate if there is mining activity on the upstream of the river.
The other question is what does the MUA Government hope to achieve by introducing the states mining policy after coal mining has been going on in the state for more than thirty years now? This is a classic example of putting the cart before the horse. If it is the environment that we hope to preserve and protect, then I’m sorry to say that damage has already been done. In spite of all the facts and figure staring against us in the face, yet the land and mine owners still has the guts to protest against the effort of the government to regulate mining! The land and miners owner should first ask how they mined coal what have they done to the exhausted mine. Or are they trying to say that just because they owned the mineral rich area then they have all the freedom in the world to pollute not only farmland in the adjacent area but even water in the down stream of the river. The Government should listen to the coal mine owners and land owner only if they can clear the mess that they have already made, let them closed exhausted mines properly then give them the right to talk to the government. And why only land and mine owner protested against the draft mining policy? There is no protest from other section of those involve in the coal business because there is no local people directly involve in coal mining in the district. Only rich coal mine owners are benefited from the present arrangement, they bought new houses in the Jowai and Shillong because water in their area is already polluted and the poor has to live in the same place and suffer.
I often ask this question time and again; if coal mining can cause so much damage to the environment and the people, then the people of Jaintia are waiting for a catastrophe to happen when all the cement companies start production in the district. One can say that the plan to introduce Meghalaya’s own mining policy is a little too late but like the old adage says better late than never. One hopes that with government’s good intention; we can save the remaining area of the district from going the same way the coal mining area did. Coal owners, coal traders and NGO should join hand together to save the environment of the remaining area that we have, we have seen with our own eyes the damage that has wrecked the environment of our district, let us not think of one self or of one’s own generation only and let us look beyond one’s own selfish interest. The Coal owners and the NGO should support the Draft Mining policy so that coal will be scientific mined even though it is a little late. If we want clean environment we have to work hard and pay for it, we cannot simply sit tight and continue mining the usual traditional way and hope for a pristine, clear and healthy environment, that our state and district is famous for once upon a time.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The fall of the Berlin wall: reminiscence

Nineteen years ago on my return from England; ma Garland Challam the past president of JSU on seeing me for the first time after my sojourn in Britain asked, what in your opinion are the major difference between our life and society here with that of the people in England? He ended his talk abruptly and then he pointed towards the stray dog which was walking in front of us at Iawmusiang market in Jowai and remarked; are we any better than that (stray dog) if we compare the socio economic development of the two societies? I remember I told him that the difference is the elevation on which we stand, I continue by saying that while in England I was standing on a higher platform which enabled me to see the world much better and much clearer, here we are on the ground and we can hardly see anything. While giving him this answer I remember clearly the fact that live-scene of the fall of Berlin wall and the collapsed of Nicolai Chauchescu of Romania rolls like BBC live TV news on the back of my mind.
My answer was influenced by the media coverage of the two incidents that I saw live on TV then; I still remember people using chisels and hammer to literarily break the wall in the fall of 1989. Back home till then people still have to depend on the good old AIR and Doordarshan for our daily dose of news at an hourly interval. Before the arrival of Cable TV Network live coverage was not even known in the entire country, thanks to Pranoy Roy we were able to get our weekly dose of international news from his weekly programme -The World this week. In Shillong, if my memory serves me right; it was the people of posh locality of Lachumiere who had the opportunity to first watch cable TV in the comfort of their homes. In the 1989 England not only BBC has live coverage of all the events that happened in the world, Rupert Murdoch Sky TV has started to invade the British Sky and only few yuppies can afford to own car phones (not to mention mobile phones). Coming back to the subject matter; though history was made across the English Channel in the continent of Europe, I feel as if everything happened at our seminary’s backyard in Rusholme, Manchester.
But it was last summer that I had the opportunity to come close to the Berlin wall (yes of all places) in Washington DC. When I was asked what I would like to do on my first day in the DC, of the many offers that was placed on my table; apart from getting myself photograph from every available wings of the White House, I chose to visit the Newseum. Newseum is a News Museum where one can watch news papers and TV clips related to many history-making incidents in the whole world which was published and broadcasted during the incidents by different news channel and broadcasting corporation. Newseum also display news related memorabilia from the two World Wars and it also has a section which shows the visitors how news was broadcasted from newsroom. In front of the Newseum one can even read the current daily newspapers from all over the US of A and from many parts of the world. It was near the section were Pulitzer Prize winning photograph were displayed that I chance to see few pieces of the infamous Berlin wall all in its original shape, size and even colour. It was mentioned in the brochure that the Newseum has the largest collection of the remnant of the wall in the entire world. The collection also comprises a tower with a floodlight from where East German border police stand guard against any East German citizens who try to cross the border.
The fall of the Berlin wall was truly a people movement and the fall led to the imminent collapsed of all the communists’ regime in the entire east European countries. Like the proverbial deck of cards the fall of the Berlin wall led to the fall of dictatorial rulers in Eastern Europe one after the other.
Looking back, understandably in twenty odd years so much has changed, even in this far corner of the world. We are now not only talking about live coverage of events around the world or broadband internet connection, young generation are into facebook, twitter and what have you. One can’t imagine the rapid change when I come to think of it that twenty years ago; I remember I had to go to my neighbours house to watch TV and even if one use a very tall bamboo, the only programme that we have to satisfy ourselves with are those broadcasted by our good neighbour Bangladesh TV. One also has to move the antennae every now and then to get a satisfactory signal. Now DTH TV of every hue and colours beams their signals to hundred of household even in the farthest corner of the country. Media has indeed help change not only the way we communicate; it help redraw the boundaries of many countries but it even have a huge impact in our lifestyles. One day media in its many new avatars will be like a shadow to a human which follows him or her everywhere one goes and the digital shadow will be something that one cannot avoid or run away from, media will then stop being a platform but a shadow and that is scary.

Tourism Potential of the Jaintia Hills District

Jaintia Hills District in a Nutshell
Jaintia Hills is one of the three original District of the State of Meghalaya, it was carved out of the erstwhile Khasi-Jaintia District of the Composite State of Assam in the year 1972. It is situated between 25o 3” to 25o 45” North Latitudes and 91o 58” to 92o 47” East longitudes. It covers an area of about 3819sq kms and located in the altitude between 1250 and 1750 meters above the sea level. The District shares its border to the North with Assam, to the South with Bangladesh to the East with Khasi Hills and to the West with Assam again. People who live in this District are called Pnar with the exception of those live in the Southern slopes of the District called War, while the War call the people and the Jowai town they live PNA. Although the people are called by different names and they speak a slightly different language, the people share similar culture and follow common traditions. This takes us to the next the most important subject of this write up which will help us understand the people that we are concerning and that is the Culture of the people.
People for so long has this misconception about Jaiñtia Hills. The District has more often than not been associated with Coal - the so called Back diamond and of course wealth. Well I’m not trying to say that this ill-conceived notion is not true but what I mean to say is; neither does it represent the complete picture of the District. Apart from the spoilt environment polluted by drastic coal mining, Jaiñtia Hills has a huge scope for developing tourism in the District. The District indeed has some incredible sites and it also has in its possession some unique flora and fauna distinct only to this part of the Country. Apart from the flora and fauna and the tourist spots, Jaintia Hills also has many historical monuments and of course a rich culture, from traditions to food, from dress to pottery, you name it and they have it.
While the district is preparing for the annual tourism fest, perhaps it is not out of place to try exploring the tourism potential of the District Jaintia Hills.
I would rather not start with the familiar tourist spots that one must have already read in the Meghalaya Tourism brochure, but as the theme of this article suggest, the object of this write-up is to discover the vast tourist potential of the District which has otherwise remain unexplored.

Cultural Village
If at all the Tourism Department is planning to promote certain village as a cultural village, then Lyrnai in Jaintia is one village that can be a strong contender for the honour. This hamlet small and in-accessible it may be; is the keeper of a unique Pottery tradition distinct only to this village and its suburb. If any young person tells me that he had never ever heard of Lyrnai Pottery; that’s fine by me, it will not surprise me; not a wee bit. But I will be dumbfounded or even shocked if anybody would tell me that he had never ever tasted ‘Pu Tharo’ in his life time. One may ask what exactly does Pu Tharo has to do with Lyrnai ? Well to start with there won’t be any Pu Tharo if it is not for Lyrnai Pottery or as it is commonly known “Khiew Ranei” in Khasi and “Kchu Lynrnai” in Pnar. The pots for baking Pu tharo are made in Lyrnai only and nowhere else.
Lyrnai is a small hamlet of a little less than 100 families about 6 K.M from Ummulong village, and though the village is only 6 K.M from the NH 44, it is still in-accessible by road. People still have to walk for few hours to reach the village. Though the main occupation of the villagers is farming, yet the village is famous for the distinct art of making pots that they inherited from their ancestor. Incidentally in my travel around Jaintia Hills, I found that Lyrnai Village is the only place where people are still involving in the art of making pottery; I think even in the whole Khasi Jaintia, Lyrnai is the only place where the art of making earthen pots is till being practiced albeit at a diminishing rate. Nosibon Lamare an old lady of about 70 years told me once that they have been practicing this art since time immemorial and she took part in many Expo and Exhibition conducted by the District Industries to showcase this distinct art of the village. The old lady who can barely move out of her house then (when I last visit the village), told me that; once she was even put to some kind of a challenge somewhere in Shillong in a place she could barely remember. The test was to try if Putharo taste better using utensils other than the Lyrnai pots. After a brief silent, the old lady continued, “When it comes to Putharo or Pumaloi, they just can’t beat Lyrnai pots you know.”
Lyrnai pots; does not only include pots that are used for baking Putharo and Pumaloi, but there are some pots of a different shape and size that are used for other purpose also. Some of the pots made in Lyrnai have religious significant; these pots are still being used by the Doloi of Nartiang to perform some rituals. Without these pots the ceremony will be incomplete, so the Doloi will order them much in advance and in huge quantity. Another type of pots make at Lyrnai is also used by the people in the traditional animist religion for the purpose of keeping a piece of the cut umbilical cord that connect newborn baby with its mother. This particular body part of the mother and the baby is needed for a ritual that is normally being performed during the welcoming ceremony of the baby.
The process of making the pots is time consuming, the first part of the process is to collect the necessary earth from Sung valley, and soil is available only on this valley. Making Lyrnai pots is seasonal because the process of drying the pots and burning them in fire pit can only be done in an open space and of course during dry season. The colour of the pot derived from the bark of a certain tree.
Lyrnai pottery or ‘Khiew Ranei’ as it was commonly known in Khasi, is a dying art, very few people in the village involve themselves with the art of making the variety of pots, fortunately other villages like Tyrchang adjacent to Lyrnai has learned the trade and are now making the earthen pots. Saving Lyrnai pottery is also saving the Pu tharo and pu maloi, the two unique and exquisite delicacy of the Khasi Pnar. The Tourism Department can start by doing some kind of a survey and move towards making Lyrnai a cultural village, by doing so; we are also helping in protecting and preserving this unique tradition. Lyrnai is also on the way to Nartiang so a tour comprising of Lyrnai village, Nartiang and Thadlaskein can be identified as one tour circuit.

Religious Tourism: Nartiang unexploited tourism potential
For so long Nartiang was merely promoted by the Tourism Department for its famous Dolmen and Menhirs as a monolith park. The Monoliths was erected by the famous Mar (giant) U Marphalangki of the Phalangki clan. The unique standing stones park which is under the auspices of the Archeological survey of India, is the only place where one could see the largest collection of these distinct culture of the Khasi Pnars. Otherwise the dolmen and menhirs can be seen dotted almost in every beautiful landscape of the hills. Nartiang Park is also fortunate to have in its possession the tallest monolith in the whole of the Khasi Jaintia hills, but that’s not all. Nartiang being the summer capital of the erstwhile Sutnga monarch of the Jaintias, is also blessed with monuments that people of those era build for posterity. Sad to say that while Sajar Niangli’s lake at Thadlaskein is very well preserved and protected, Sajar’s lakes in Nartiang unfortunately failed to get the same attention from the power that be. The Sutnga dynasty was not only success in building and creating historical monuments in its former summer capital, but the last of the Sutnga rulers has also achieve another feat and that is converting the tribal population in the village to Hinduism.
The Pnar of Nartiang has successfully adopted and follows Hinduism. The main deities that they worship are Maa Durga and her male counterpart in the Hindu pantheon -Shiva. The remarkable thing is that they were able to blend their adopted religion beautifully with the culture and ethos of the people in the area. Legend have it that the erstwhile king of Jaiñtia use to perform human sacrifice in the famous Durga temple to appease Durga and her many incarnations. It is also believe that the severed head of the sacrificial human fell directly to the Myntang River through a secret passageway and the priest claimed that the temple is in possession of the sword used by the Kings in the yesteryears to perform human sacrifice. The Durga temple could be the star attraction of the proposed religious tourism at Nartiang, but the Shiva temple in the same village is no less significant. The last time I visit the temple along with Erick Miles a friend from USA, the pujari told me that the Pnar of Nartiang have special name for Shiva and his Pnar name is u Sahmai. The young Pandit even told me of a legend that once u Sahmai left his abode and stayed in the forest near by till he was persuaded to return back to his abode in the temple. The distinctive local architecture of the temples and the unique image of the deities both Durga and Shiva could also attract worshippers to Nartiang.
With this huge potential, Nartiang can also be promoted as a Religious tourism destination. If thousands of believers dare to face the bullets and bombs of terrorist to undertake a pilgrimage to Amarnath, Nartiang; if it is properly packaged, can be marketed as a religious tourism destination. Few years back Central Puja Committee from Shillong has initiated steps towards making Nartiang a destination for religious tourism. Let’s hope that good sense will prevail in the Tourism Department and it will generously encourage and support CPC initiative.

Discover Southern Slopes of the District
In the earlier write-up; I had suggested that one tour circuit in the District can start from Jowai then proceed to Thadlaskein and from the Lake the tour can continue to Lyrnai, the proposed cultural village famous for its unique pottery. From Lyrnai the conduct tour can proceed to Nartiang where we have the famous Monolith Park and the temples for those who are interested in religious tourism. Less we forget Nartiang being the summer capital of the erstwhile Jaintia Kingdom; the village also has in its proud procession the other important historical monuments like the lakes dug by Sajar Niangli and his followers and other important monuments. The tour will take one whole day to complete. However that’s not all that this District has to offer to the tourists, the next tour circuit can be south bound and as usual it will start from Jowai.

A tour circuit the feasibility of which the Department of tourism can explore is a tour towards the sounther slope of Jaintia hills in the Amlarem sub division. If a tourist will head south on the Jowai-Dawki road or rather Jowai- Muktapur road, the first stop will be at the Thlumuwi. River Thlumuwi used to be famous fishing spot, but thanks to the drastic coal mining the river is not even a shadow of its past pristine beauty. Though a lot of harm has been done to kshaid Thlumuwi, the fall which lies to the right on the Jowai Muktapur road stills captivate the rowing eye of nature lovers. To the left of the bridge is one of the star attractions of this tour – the famous stone bridge and a collection of dolmen and menhirs. The bridge was the only link between the erstwhile Jaintia King’s winter and summer capital and the monoliths served as a resting place “Kor shongthait” for the trekker to rest and relax before they continue on their arduous journey. The stone bridge is an existing example of the genius of ancient Jaintia engineering. The King’s entourage consisted of large numbers of his staff and of course few elephants and inspite of the load the stone bridge was strong enough to support the Royal entourage on his journey to and fro Nartiang to Jaintiapur which is now in Bangladesh.
While traveling towards Jarain, on reaching Skhentalang a glance to the left and and one can enjoy a captivating view of an enchanting natural beauty. The cliff at Skhentalang can also be good for rock climbing. Before reaching Jarain there is a lake which is currently being developed and Jarain also use to be famous for its ethnic ale. The village of Jarain and the surrounding of the Amlarem the Block headquarter is the area famous for one very unique heritage of the District- the pitcher plant. There is an effort to protect and preserve this very important flora and fauna of the District by the Jaintia Hills District Council and the council has allotted a section of its protected forest for this purpose. The portion of the forest which can be called the Pitcher plant Park is on the left of the Jowai Muktapur road and it situated in between Amalrem and Jarain in a place called Myrkein. It may be mentioned that apart from Balpakram National park this unique insect eating plant can be found in different parts of Jaintia Hills like in Chyrmang-Yongnoh near Jowai, Myndihati, Wahiajer area of Khliehriat Sub-Division, but Jarain-Amlarem area is the only place where we can found it in abundant and the park is easily accessible.
On reaching Amalrem one has to take left on the Amalrem-Muktaput road and head for Syndai. Before reaching Syndai the next big village is Pdengchakap and the famous Lechka Hydel project is near Pdengchakap.
Syndai is a small village on the Southern slope of Meghalaya’s border with Bangladesh but this tiny hamlet has in its procession immense collection of heritages both natural and man made. In the natural heritages category we have the famous Syndai cave, which is not, only one of the beautiful cave but it is also one of caver friendly cave. The cave has been electrified to help make it easier for cavers to enter and explore the cave. Apart from the natural cave in the village, is also blessed to be on the route of the famous Royal Path that connects the two capital of the ancient Jaintia Kingdom. So on their frequent shuttle between their two capitals the Kings build some very rare monuments on the whole Royal Path and particularly at Syndai. In front of the Syndai cave stand a ruined temple partly destroyed by time and weather and also by the banyan tree which grow over the temple. Near the temple there is a small stone path that leads down to the wah Umpubon (river umpubon), just few minutes walk from the temple, lies a stone sculpture. It was a sculpture carved on one lose rock, the sculpture was that of Ganapati or Ganesh, the elephant headed god of the Hindu pantheon. The path from the Pubon leads down to the wah umpubon, here also one can see few sculptures, and the prominent is that of the elephant under the river water.
Now a few minutes walks to the left of river pubon (after crossing the Jowai Muktapur road) one can see the magnificent bathing ghat. Rupasor is a bathing tub carved on one very huge rock. Rupasor is a 10-meter square shape and its depth is 4 meter. The rocky bathing tub was well carved with steps that lead to the path (similar to the modern-day swimming pool.) To the left of the pool an elephant sculpture was sculpted from the same rock, but sad to say the trunk of the elephant is broken. The pool was well planned that drains were carved on both sides in such a way that water would continuously flow to and from the pool. On the entry to the Pool, there was another sculpture of the Sun and the Moon on the rock. From the pool a walk on the steps dawn the path that leads to the plains of Bangladesh, there is a stone bridge of a better architecture work. The bridge was made in arch shape, but one wonders how they could do that when cement was not even heard of in those days of the yore. The stone where carved in such a way that it fit into each other like a building block and joined by an iron rod the two stones fits into each other tight and strong enough even for elephants to walk over it.
Throughout the journey one can see Bangladesh and view of Bangladesh itself is magnificent sight. There are also several view point and the most important was the one on the side of the Khli fall near Amlari village. If one is adventure enough, one ca proceeds on the border road to Dawki via Muktapur. Dawki itself is one tourist destination famous for the river Umnongot and its bridge and it is also famous for its “Ja ah” Dawki’s own unique Jadoh. On the way to back to Jowai Nongtalang can be another stop and in this village also there is lot to see and understand. The village has two important view points and it also has many ancient monuments which testify to its glorious past of this village.

Nongtalang Village: The Keeper of the tradition
In the last episode we have introduced Nongtalang and it is one of the oldest villages in the war Jaintia area. The important thing about Nongtalang is that this village is one of the few villages that can rightly be called ‘the keeper of the traditions’ in the warjaintia area. For reason being the village which still has the large numbers of its dweller still follow traditional tribal religion, and still keeps a lot of its traditions intact. Nongtalang is the only place where the ‘Rong Khli’ (Tiger festival) is being performed as and when necessary. Rong Khli is a festival that can be performed only when some one in the village killed a tiger. The festival which was normally held in late winter and early spring is rarely being practiced now a day may be it is due to the fact that there are no more tigers in the prowl in the area. However the village also follows a unique tradition of village administration in which the High Priest of the traditional tribal religion is also the Headman of the village. As mentioned earlier the village has two view points from which one can have a grand view of Bangladesh, the scenic beauty of these two points’ only needs a little more improvement to convert it to a park par excellence. The village also has a cave but perhaps not fit for amateur cavers. Being one of the oldest villages, Nongtalang also has a few collection of monolith. But the distinctiveness of the village as such lies in the ability of its people to keep the typical warjaintia customs intact. People in warjaintia area particularly in Nongtalang still strictly adhere to joint family systems, which means that the entire family lives under one roof albeit in a separate unit.
The village also has quite a few monoliths in and around the village; most of these megalith have certain religious significances. Nongtalang is the only place where the tradition of erecting monolith is being practice till this day.

Kyntiñ mookhrah: the lost traditional game of the Pnars

No it is not an oversize soccer ball; it is not a wooden ball use in the game of datlawakor a game similar to football played at the fag end of the celebration of Behdieñkhlam festival, it is a stone about thrice the size of a football and it was used in the traditional sports played by the earlier generation of the Pnars to compete among themselves.
Apart from the common game of archery known as ia-siat thong, earlier the Pnars also use to have many more games that they played to entertain themselves at their leisure time. Noh sakyriat (seesawing), dat rangdoos (a game similar to cricket using a long stick as a bat and a small stick instead of a ball with no opposing team), iadat moopoin (a game in which the goal for a team is to try putting flats stones on top of each other till the last one; while the opposing team using a ball or any soft object try to hit the opponents preventing them from being able to completely put the flat stones on the top of each other, the player who was hit has stay out of the game.), ialeh seitjain (a game similar to hop skip and jump), pdiah myrlot (playing marbles), e- iapuh syiar (cockfighting), e-iadaw masi (bull fighting), siat sim, eiñ-sim eiñ-lakynjot (bird catching and bird trapping), beh doh (hunting), ieñ doh (trapping animals) iapuh syiar pyllah (boys imitating cock fighting each other standing on one leg and holding the other leg up with one of their hand), beh kynjun (community fish catching using a huge basket as a trap), kher dakha (cathing fish in the big river by using nets), ieñ-khnam (catching one type of fish -dathli by using a basket trap), khwe dakha (fishing), ia beh ke (children chasing each other using a pole in the middle as a goal to rest), ia hai (a game which is pnars own version of Kabbaddi), rieh ku-ku (play hide and seek), chong sapdoi (play swing), khreh khon kchu (play acting), ia sleit (wrestling), ia-panang lapakhot (throwing boomerang) and kyntiñ mookhrah (a competition to lift and throw the stone as far as one can). In the War Jaintia area of Amlarem sub division, they have a special game called iah-kui thneng (a competition in which men compete each other to climb a bamboo with all its branches cut clean and the top of the bamboo was filled to the brim with mustard oil which spills as the bamboo move and make it slippery).
Noh sakyriat, iadat moo-poin, ialeh seit jain, pdiah myrlot, eiñ sim, eiñ lakynjot, iapuh syiar pyllah, ia beh ke, ia hai, rieh ku ku, chong sapdoi, khreh khon kchu are children’s games in which both boys and girls plays together, then dat rangdoos, e- iapuh syiar, e iadaw masi, siat sim-ieñ sim, ia-puh syiar, ia-panang lapakhot are boys games, e- iadaw masi, beh kynjun, khwe dakha, ieñ khnam, ia sleit, kyntin mookhrah, beh doh, ieñ doh, ia siat thong are men’s games.
Kyntiñ mookhrah which literarily means lifting and throwing the khrah stone; is not only a man’s game, but it is a game for the big and muscular members of the community. Unlike a modern day shot put the size of which one can hold with one hand, mookhrah is a huge stone with an approximate size of two or three soccer ball. The competition is to lift the huge and heavy and round stone (most of the time made of granite) over one’s shoulder and then throw it forward as far as one can possibly throw it, obviously the man who can throw the farthest away becomes the winner.
The mookhrah are always round in shape and some of the mookhrah are hand carved and some are round stones collected from the river beds. There are only few villages that still have these mookhrah although now no one can even lift it singlehandedly. In most of the villages where one can find mookhrah, the stone are left uncared and one fear lest the stones will disappear one day. One hopes that it is not too late for the department of Arts and Culture Government of Meghalaya to try and salvage this stone or they will be lost forever.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Bull Sacrifice

It is not often that the people of the Raij Ialong get the opportunity to celebrate the festival of paying obeisance to ‘lei Sohpetbneng, the last one was celebrated in 2007 after a gap of 20 years. People of Ialong village performed bull sacrifice to propitiate the deity U lei Sohpetbneng at Ialong Sacred Groves, Jowai on September 22, 2007.
Ialong villagers carried out the bull sacrifice as a token of gratitude to god U lei Sohpetbneng for ridding the village of plague and other evils.

The sacrifice began with the prayer ka nguh ka dem performed at the residence of the priest of the Raij Ialong "Langdoh" in the presence of the nine chieftains of the Raij "khynde wasan."

After the invocation, the sacrificial bull, black and spotless, was taken to the sacred grove by people, shouting risa and kynhoi all through the way.

Near the sacred grove; on a hill lock known as Lum Sohpetbneng, the bull was tied with a rope made of bamboo to a tree that was meant to serve as an altar, where similar sacrifices have been performed since time immemorial.

The Langdoh u Kyrmen Langdoh performed another prayer and invocation in the presence of Kni Langdoh u ma Mon Langdoh and nine chieftains of the different clans. After chanting ka niam ka khot, the Sangot ma Dikir Pale drew a circle in front of the left foot of the bull, which was supposed to act as a target for the archer. With the Kni Langdoh sprinkling divine water and rice on the black bull, the "Tymmen Phawa" shot an arrow at the bull from his bow. The archer hit the centre of the circle and the animal was then beaten till it collapsed. The bull was cut on the neck. The head severed from the animal's body was put on the branch of the tree on which the altar was erected.

The body of the bull was next taken to an adjacent area to be cut into pieces and cooked. The delicate parts were cooked first and served to the leaders of the Raij. This practice is known as Bam Kynchi. Only men, who are free from vices, including yait thiah, i.e., and have not slept with their wives for three consecutive nights, have the right to partake in the Bam Kynchi.

What is unique about this religious ritual is that the sacrificial animal is not the usual rooster or goat or pig but a bull. By tradition, the Pnars in Jaintia Hills only sacrifice animals such as rooster, goat and pig. People seldom use bull for sacrifice.

The last time the sacrifice was performed was in the year 1987.

Talking about how the unique practice of bull sacrifice began, Ma Boimi Mulieh secretary Kyntu Niamtre of Sein Raij Ialong said as per oral tradition handed down from generation to generation, Ialong village was hit by a plague that had almost wiped away the entire village. Villagers, who had the resources and energy to run away from the village, did so and those remaining in the village were too sick to do anything but pray.

They prayed to their gods known as ki 30 Ryngkaw, who dwelled around the village and were their sole protectors from invaders and evil-doers and even diseases. The Ryngkaw were unable to help the villagers, making them seek the help of U 'lei Sohpetbneng, one of the gods of the khynriam (Khasi pantheon of gods). U 'lei Sohpetbneng came to their rescue and saved the village from the plague. Since then the people of Ialong village have been performing this sacrifice as a token of thankfulness to U 'lei Sohpetbneng.

In the tradition of the Pnars in Jaintia Hills, cow is highly revered although they do not go to the extent of worshiping it like the Hindus. Among the Pnars who still follow the traditional religion -- the Niamtre, slaughter of cow is prohibited and partake of its meat is a taboo. People seldom eat beef and if one consumes beef deliberately or by accident, it is believed that evil will befall oneself or one's kith and kin. The taboo against consuming beef is a unique tradition followed by the khon ka (children) of the niamtre in all the raij and elakas of the district.

The Bull Sacrifice is one unique tradition among the Pnar people of Jaintia hills.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tiger Festival of Nongtalang Village

Nongtalang is a border Village on the Southern slope of the Country’s bordering with Bangladesh and by radius the village will be less than 2 K.M. from the international border. It is also one of the oldest villages in the War Jaintia region of Jaintia Hills District and the village is about 33 K.M. away from Jowai the District Headquarter. The War Jaintias (as the people who lived in this area are commonly known) apart from being a sub tribe of Khasi Jaintia people of Meghalaya, they also have their own distinct dialect (also called War) that neither the Pnar of Jaintia of the Khasi can understand. Scholars in the Khasi of Khasi language are of the opinion that the War Jaintia dialect of Amwi area is the mother or the origin of the Khasi language..
Nongtalang Village, which has a population of not less than 10000 according to the 2001 census, is predominantly Niamtynrai (traditional Khasi religion) population. Even the Headman of the village has a dual role to play that of a Lyngdoh (Religious head or High Priest of the Niamtynrai) and the Village Chieftain. Therefore it is mandatory that he should be from the Lyngdoh Rad Clan because he has a religious role to play and his tenure of Office depends as long as he enjoy the confident of the Dorbar Kor or the grand council of the Village.
Nobody can tell as to when the Rong Khla, which means tiger festival, started, but some are of the opinion that the Tiger festival has its origin in the inter tribal battle in which the victor carries home the trophies or the heads of the vanquished, which gradually gave way to the more sensible use of Tiger head instead.
Legends have it that the First Settlers of Nongtalang village was u Shitang Rymbai and his wife, a lady from the Talang clan. Being a Matrilineal Society, the Talang became the (Brahmins) Priest Clan of the village that performs all the religious aspect of the whole community in the village and the Priesthood in the village can only pass from the mother to a son and even the village was called Nongtalang which literarily means the village of the Talangs. Those who came to settle at Nongtalang along with the Rymbui clan of Shitang and the Talang were the Pohsnem (Lamin in Nongtalang), Myrchiang, Bareh and Pohti. These are the earliest settlers of the Village and were known as the “5 Thwui 6 kur”.
The tradition has it that whenever any of from the 6 Clan or any villagers in the village caught a tiger, certain rituals has to be performed to appease the “Kpong” the hunting deity, which in fact is the beginning of the Religious part of the Festival. So if it was member of the Pohsnem Clan who caught a tiger, after performing the required rituals at the clan level, “u Kni” the Maternal Uncle of the Pohsnem clan informed the Lyndoh who summoned the Dorbar to discuss and decide on the date of the Festival. The tradition is that one month before the festival begins, the village drummers as a part of preparation for the coming of the Festival beat their drums in the whole village for a month together.
After the Tiger is killed, it was kept in the outskirt of the village till the required rituals are completed.
The festival began with the ritual of entering the tiger on the first day when men folks of the village gathered at the Rymmusan ground, which is the center of the village. Under the leadership of the Doloi of the Elaka, the Lyngdoh and the Myntris of the Niamtynrai of the village performed a ritual paying homage to the creator. The entire village then marched towards the place where the Tiger was kept and brought the dead tiger to the village with the villagers dancing to the tune of the drums and the tangmuri. The Tiger was kept at Rymmusan and male members of the village dance till dawn to keep the tiger company. In fact the entry or the ushering of the dead Tiger to the villages is in itself the beginning of the Festival.

In the evening of the next day, it is the turn of the young ladies, damsels of the village appears in their best of fineries and “Kaelang” perform their dance accompanying by the traditional drums, flute till the next day. While the damsel of the village was dancing, the village folk would pin money on their jain sem as a token of appreciation gesture of …

The next day was a ‘D’ day and the climax of the Festival. Young men of the village dressed in their best of fineries and their Traditional Warrior Attire collected at their respective localities and then moved to Rymmusan Play ground with the music of drums and flute to meet the other groups. At Rymmusan the youths in the garb of a warrior; dance to the beat of the drums and the sound of the Tangmuri. The Warriors led by the Shaman who carried the Leopard, moved to the host clan to perform some religious ceremonies. After the rituals were completed, the Warriors with “Shuri” a Sword on one of their hand and Symphiah on the other performed “Mastieh” Warrior Dance fighting each other in a duel. The Warrior again led by the Shaman carry the Leopard to the residence of the Priest’s and the seat of the Niamtynrai. Similar ceremony was also conducted here with the Warriors giving a final touch of the ceremony by performing their Warrior Dance again. After the ceremony at the Priest House, the procession then moved to the “Phlong Amlariang” the eastern tip of the village here too a ritual was performed followed by the Warrior Dance performed by the Youths. The last part of the Religious Ceremony of the Festival was conducted at the “Phlong Shep shngai” Western tip of the village. On reaching the Phlong, the Warrior again presented their dance, which is the last of their presentation in the festival. Then the Elders of the Niamtynrai at Nongtalang gave devotion to appease the gods and seek their guidance and blessings, after that the maternal uncle of the host clan then cut the tiger’s head. The severed Leopard’s head was then put on a stick and was erected at the Phlong to rid off evil spirit. The severed body was then thrown away and the dried meat was distributed to any one who wish to part take it.

If the day belongs to the men, the night was the women show. Just after the Sun set over the plains of Bangladesh, Women particularly girls, assembled at Rymmusan at as soon as the Nongput Tangmuri” blew his Tangmuri the girls took to the ground and performed their “Kaelang” Dance. Girls in their ceremonial dresses and best of their ornaments moved in a slow pace to the melodic tune of the Tangmuri. As the girls’ dances, well wishers pin money on the gown of the girls that hang from shoulder to back. The money is a token of love and affection and also a sign of appreciating for their splendid performance. The night also witnesses the Tangmuri blowing competition in which professional tangmuri blower from the whole region took part.

It is interesting to note that though the festival has to do with killing a tiger and that may not be music to the ears of the Environmentalist and the Animals right protection group, in fact it is the otherwise. It is said that no body can kill tiger in the village at his whims and fancy, because if he do so, he will have to perform the rituals and ultimately the Festival, and the tradition is that only one festival can be celebrated in a year. So anybody who by chance encountered with a tiger will have to let it go and he can kill it only by chance he encountered against it at the right time. The festival is therefore not only worshipping the Tiger but it is in one-way of conserving the tiger population, because it prohibits drastic killing of Tigers.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Unitarianism In The Khasi Jaintia Hills an Indigenous Religion

Unlike other Christian denomination, Unitarianism in Khasi Jaintia hills and Karbi Anglong district of Assam was not started by the missionaries. It was started by our own son of the soil Hajom Kissor Singh Nongbri along with three of his followers. Like in any other place HKS too was a disenchanted Christian looking for an alternative religion. He realized that the holy trinity was unscriptural and looks for a church which worships one God similar to what the ancestors had taught and practiced. He was introduced to an American Unitarian in Calcutta and through him managed to get the famous William Ellery Channing sermon Unitarian Christianity. After reading the tracks and scripture HKS found his spiritual home and held a first Unitarian worship on the 18 of September 1887 in Jowai.

Unitarianism in the Khasi Jaintia and Karbi Anglong claimed to be an indigenous religion is not based merely on the fact that it was started by a native person, but Unitarian church is an indigenous religion because the faith draws immense inspiration from the basic thoughts and philosophy of the tribal people.

To understand the Khasi hills where the Unitarian during HK Singh’s life time, one must understand that from a religious point of view, there are two main divisions in the area, the Christians block and the Indigenous religion which comprises of the Khasi who still uphold the Khasi traditional religion as practice by our ancestors. I use to say the Unitarian is a middle path of the two traditions. It it’s a liberal religion based on the liberal Christian tradition but with strong roots on the basic Khasi values, philosophy, belief and understanding.

After reading Channing and many other Unitarian scripture that CHA Dahl sends to HKS, he was convinced that Unitarianism is what he was looking for. So, on September 18, 1887, Singh held the first service for Unitarians in Northeast India in the town of Jowai. His genius in incorporating the best of the teachings of the missionaries with the indigenous faith of his people, including a belief in One Creative Power that is formless and manifest in nature and everywhere, continues to be the unique character Unitarianism in North East India.

In 1888 the Unitarians adopted a statement of faith. It read: We believe in the unity of God; the fatherhood and motherhood of God; in the brotherhood of Man; in love, union, worship, and faith; and in Immortality.

This in fact it sums up the basic belief of the Unitarians in the North East India. The first hyms in the Khasi hymn book composed by Hajom Kissor Singh himslef is on this basic principle and we call it “Ki jor tynrai ka niam U Blei” The essence of the church of God. In the four stanza hymn, in the second stanza HKS described God as the Father and mother by which he mean as I was given to understand it, God in spirit or God beyond gender. God the creator and the lord of all things whom the Khasi has known from time immemorial. Though the Khasi has been using the word Lord, it does not necessarily connote the western concept of the meaning as in the Second person of God. For the Khasi since time immemorial whenever they invoke the name of God they tend to use the two names God and Lord simultaneously. The Unitarian does the same till these days.

In the third stanza he was talking about the brotherhood and sisterhood of human in spirit. Or in other words; in spirit, the entire human race is one big family.

The fourth stanza is interesting because here he was talking about the life of the spirit, that the spirit never dies, the spirit lives on. To understand this concept, one must also understand the Khasi tribe’s own understanding of life after dead and to understand that one must also know the genesis of the Khasi people. The Khasi Mythologies have it that originally there were a 16 huts in heaven, 7 came down to the earth to farm by day and return to heaven by night through a tree on hill called the navel of heaven. The devil was able to convince the 7 huts to cut the tree and cut their connection with God and the 9 huts above. To cut the long story short the 7 became the first settlers on earth and the 9 remain with God in heaven. When some one dies; the Khasi says that he will go eat bettlenut in the corridor of God’s house along with the 9 huts. To understand the important of bettlenut in the Khasi tradition one need to know another story, a story of how bettlenut became the first gesture of hospitality that any Khasi family will bestow on its guest. But from the many hymns that he had composed HKS define the place where the spirit will go after it parted ways with the body as the Kingdom of the spirit “Ka ri ki mynsiem.”

Though HKS statement of faith still hold good to this day in the Unitarian Union, the church also teaches me to be open and respect other belief. The Khasi traditional wisdom is a very rich, hence as a Unitarian I draw immense inspiration from our ancestral wisdom and it indeed enriches me spiritually.

The Khasi’s traditional wisdom and understanding of the nature is not only unique but it is also proves that the Khasi’s understanding of the nature is both profound and relevant. Before the world has even start talking about the equality of human being not to mention the interdependent web of existence, the Khasi’s already has it in their myths and legends that all creations are equal. The Khasi traditionally believed that in the day of the yore, the golden era of the Khasi or the virgin age, human and animals were not only talking to each other, but they even lived as one equal creation of God.

The Khasi belief that during the golden era the whole creation live as one big family, they talk to each other as they understand each other, they shop from a same market. One day in the market of chaos (Iew Lurilura), a Dog brought fermented beans to sell in the market. It has a foul smell and fellow animals condemned Dog of selling its excretion, they teased the Dog and kicked and trampled on the Dog’s fermented beans. Since then out of anger the Dog decide to stay with human and become human’s companion. But the market episode has given the dog a special ability. Because the whole animals has kick and tramapled on the dog’s fermented beans, the smells remain in their feet, so till now Dogs can smell animal scent where ever they are.

Most of our stories are woven around the mystery of life as encountered by our ancestors, so we have stories like the one earlier, which answer to our ancestor understanding, the question where does human come from? And where do they go after they die? And we a story provide an answer to a question why did the rooster crow in the morning? What are the marks on the moon?
The Mythology of the moon, the sun and the rooster is one example. The story have it that long long time ago; it came to pass one day, that the moon who is the younger brother of the sun, fell in love with his own beautiful sister, this is not only an incest but by Khasi culture and tradition; it is a taboo. The angered sun shower ashes on the moon and then out of embarrassment went to hide in the pitch dark cave known as ‘krem lamet, krem latang.’ The world was in complete darkness because the sun rises no more and there was complete chaos everywhere because the whole creation was literarily left in the dark. A grand council of the whole creation was summoned to find out ways and means to request the sun to comeback again. The council send the ryngkoh-kit-knor; the hornbill to woo the sun back, instead the sun hit him on his beak because he too was trying to seduce this beautiful damsel. Finally the grand council of all creation agreed to send the rooster a humble animal who humbly agreed to the proposal of the council. The rooster was able to convince the sun to come shine again on the earth but with one condition, that the rooster will have to crow three times every day for the sun to come back again. Since then the rooster has earned itself the right to be the mediator, the interlocutor for the people not only with the sun but even with the creator.
The inter-dependent web of existence in the Khasi context is not only among earthly creation namely animals; but it is even inter-planetary. The other folk story of the Khasi with a similar inter-planetary connection is the tragic love story of the sun and the peacock and how the tear drops of the sun crying for her loved one became the beautiful mark and patterns in the peacock’s feather. The story of how the thunder was attracted by the glittering sword of one animal a Lynx (Kui) in the warrior dance organized by both human and animals that he came down and asked kui to let him hold and sword and dance with it for few moment, but the Thunder while dancing and holding the dazzling sword upright like any warrior dancer, he flew to the sky and took along the Kui sword with him to the sky. So the lightning and the thunder that follows is the Thunder performing his warrior dance in the sky.
The two major Khasi Pnar Royal families also has a divine origin, the story of the Jaintia monarch begin with Lo Ryndi caught a fish from the river Waikhyrwi, by divine intervention he forgot to cook the fish and left it on the tier over his hearth where people traditionally dried their food so that it won’t get spoiled. As time goes the fish became a beautiful woman to whom he married and the children of the fish-turned-human became the first royal family of Jaintia Kingdom. The royal family of the Khyriem and Mylliem state of the Khasi hills is also believed to have a divine origin, the legends have it that u Lei Shillong or Shillong god has three children, ka Ngot, ka Iew and ka Pahsyntiew, the two elder sister become river and are known as Umngot and Umiew, while the youngest sister became a beautiful girl and lived all by herself in the Marai cave and she is known as ka Pahsyntiew. Pahsyntiew or court by using flowers became the great grand mother of the Royal family of Shillong. The Khasi believed that the rivers are not mere rivers but they too have a persona, the story of the Lukha river, the Lunar and the Lynju river that they were sisters like any human being is one example of this fundamental believe. The Passah of Jaintia hills till now would not cross the Kupli without giving the river some offering because the Kupli is the great great grandmother of the Passah clan and Yale Kupli’s husband who was represented by a beautiful waterfall that was lost forever in the Kupli hydro project is their great great grand father. In the Jaintia hills, the Myntdu and Myntang river not only have personality but in the case of Myntdu which flow around Jowai, the river was worship as the guardian angel and sacrifice was offered to the goddess every now and then and it is a taboo for anybody to defecate or pass urine in the river. The Khasi also believe that water is divine (umksiar um rupa) which is God’s gift and all the rivers are sacred.
Sacred groves, is another illustration of the Khasi Pnar’s respect and reverence for the nature, sacred forest as the name implies are considered sacred in the sense that the entire area is protected and the forest is kept untouched by any human hands. The sacred groves in many cases are believed to be the places where the god u Ryngkew u Basa dwells. Traditionally the Khasi Pnar would not cut any tree at random or at one’s own whims and fancy, before cutting a tree Khasi Pnar use to pray paying obeisance to God and asking forgiveness for cutting the tree for his own needs.
I’m proud of my roots and like I say Unitarianism in the Khasi hills is the middle path of the two traditions, hence it is like taking the good things from both the tradition to grow spiritually as an individual and as a denomination.