This story is about how a proud tribe of North-East India, became probably one of the greatest storytellers of the world. This story is about Khasi people and how have they passed on their wisdom and practices without writing it down for generations after generations.
Like many different regions of North-East India, the Khasi were introduced to the Roman script in the early 1940s by Thomas Jones, a Welsh Presbyterian missionary. However, prior to that, they were by no means savages or uncivilised. Long before the English landed on Indian soil, the Khasi had developed a civilisation that worshipped God through respect for man and Nature. They passed on their teachings through storytelling and a deeper study of their legends and myths will show you how deep rooted is their connection with their society and Nature. One of the most interesting legends about this storytelling tribe is the story of how they evolved into storytellers.
The Khasi, which includes all the seven tribes of Meghalaya – Khynriam, Pnar, Bhoi, War, Maram, Lyngngam and Diko, are known to be the world’s best storytelling people.
The Story of How It All Began
The great storytelling tradition of the Khasis goes back to the time of their creation myths. One of these myths tells us about how one of the ancestors had lost a manuscript, made of a very delicate material and containing their philosophical and religious teachings, as well as the script used to record these teachings. The man was returning from a communion with God at the summit of a very tall mountain. Here, he was familiarised with the history of his race and initiated into certain religious rites and moral principles which were to govern the spiritual, moral and even daily activities of his community. With him was a representative of the people from the plains of Surma. Both were carrying with them precious manuscripts bestowed by God, to make the propagation of God’s teachings easier. But as they were approaching home, they encountered an overwhelming hurdle in the form of a wide, raging river. The man from Surma, used to swimming in the turbulent water, attached his document to a tuft of hair on his pate and contrived to swim across safely.
The Khasi, not wanting to be left behind, took his document between his teeth, and against his better judgment, attempted to cross the river too. But being a Hillman, he was not accustomed to swimming in surging torrents, and soon he found himself floundering midstream, with his head bobbing in and out of the water. In trying to save himself and gulping air through his mouth, he accidentally swallowed his document, which by then had been reduced to a pulpy mass. After a desperate struggle, he finally managed to save himself, but the manuscript was lost.
On reaching home empty-handed, the errant ambassador recounted everything to his people. All was not lost, however. He assured his people that everything revealed to him by God was still fresh in his mind. The teachings and the wisdom could still be passed on orally. Therefore, a council of all members of the Khasi tribe was convened, wherein the man instructed each person on the teachings of God and his divine laws.
And thus the tradition of storytelling among the Khasis was believed to have taken birth.
I’ve collected many stories from my travels, but this story of storytellers is definitely one of the most interesting ones I’ve come across. What are yours?
(I’m thankful to Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih for his unmatched work in studying Khasi people and their culture and sharing their stories with the world.)