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.