Version classiqueVersion mobile

Tales of Darkness and Light

 | 
Soso Tham

11. Ka Meirilung–Gentle Motherland

Texte intégral

1In the plaintive lyrical opening of this section Soso Tham asks that most human of questions — Where do we come from? For the Khasi the answer still lies in conjecture. Meanwhile they suffer the humiliation of forced identities which are at best perplexing, and at worst humiliating. It is from these that Tham steers us gently away. Once again he sees the natural world as a source from which to draw upon for moral strength. He lists the forethought and ingenuity of those who led before — “Dimly they glimmer, one or two”, he describes the codes of warfare, and most importantly he names the luminaries who fought with pride and integrity. It is in the last verse that Tham highlights what is or should be the lasting legacy of our forebears, a principle which we would be foolish to ignore: “Boundaries defined, rights respected… Welfare and woe of common concern” — a message relevant to a troubled world.

Gentle Motherland

Tell me children of the breaking dawn
Mother-kite, mother-crow,
You who circle round the world
Where the soil from which we sprang?
For if I could, like you I’d drift
Down the ends of twelve-year roads!

  • 1 The original phrase (Ri u Soh u Pai) translates into “Land of fruit and sugarcane”. I have chosen t (...)
  • 2 A mythical beast, half-lion half-bear.

O Wind who lifts those seeds of Pine
Where grows that ancient rugged Tree?
Migrant from a Land of Plenty
1
Perhaps that same That Faraway Land?
Or did our infant homeland crawl
From the lair of tiger
khung2

So that like them our blood will course
Beating red in tendon vein
(Where Silver Strings stir into life
And I can pluck the
Duitara)
But as we have such hardy souls
Home must have been a den of bears

The pine who grows from wind-borne seeds
Drifting in from alien lands
Though oftentimes consumed by fire
His crown is spared, remains un-scorched
His roots hold firm beneath the rock
No storm can do its wrenching worst!

In other ways once more we’ll climb
With other races mingle meet
Though cast as followers, why should we fear
Have not others led before?
Vivid the signs they left behind
Resin-rich the ancient pine

  • 3 The Tangmuri and Sharati are traditional wind instruments.
  • 4 The Uncle, the Father.

On hills and in forests
Our ancients thought deeply
The
Tangmuri sang
The
Sharati wept3
Standing Stones sprang throughout the land
To remember forever “
U Kñi, U Kpa”4

  • 5 Ka Thadlaskeiñ is a lake in the Jaiñtia Hills. Not wishing to shed the innocent blood of his own pe (...)

For the sun-beaten traveller weary and spent
Boulders were hewn into seats of rest
And bridges spanned rivers linking far banks,
As long as the sun and moon remain
Forever endures
Ka Thadlaskein5
Genius and strength of our ancient ones

Today in your waters O Thadlaskein
Only waterfowl swim and splash with joy
But in my dreams at night I see
Orchards and gardens encircling your banks
When such a Host has gone before
We can never be infants left far behind

In Jaiñtiapur mansions built to last
Water tanks sunk throughout the land
Signposting a future that is only envisioned
By an eye that is clear, an ear that can hear
If our homeland today is to scale great heights
Then like once they were, so should we be

“Tigers of the Sword”, “Noble Bearers of Honour”
Toughened by trials through Fire and Water
Their pageantry and colour, their bearing, their pride
To behold their demeanour was to fall back in awe
Revered Ancestress, Creator Father
Will you tell us where they fell asleep?

  • 6 Legendary characters famed for their superhuman strength. U Puhshilum was one who could turn over a (...)
  • 7 A reference to the legend which explains how the Khasis lost their script during a great flood. See (...)

Their name and their fame
Not mere legend or tale
U Puhshilum, U Khwai Shynreh6
Was untold wealth their only concern?
Was all, you think, just swallowed whole
When we grappled and battled with the rage of the river?
7

  • 8 The names of Khasi chieftains.
  • 9 Soso Tham was familiar with Kipling’s Recessional and his use of this line is deeply ironic as we k (...)

Just one or two stars in heaven appear
One or two names remembered, survive
Sajar Laskor, Mailong Raja,
U Mangkathiang, U Syiem Kongka,
8
Dimly they glimmer one or two
“Lest we forget! Lest we forget!”
9

Kings they were of fearsome mien
Of them why should we be ashamed
They were not mere “Collectors of Heads”
But “Children of the Sword and Shield”
If ever we forget that they once lived
As orphans we doom ourselves to live

  • 10 Cotton and rubber trees. See p. 59, n. 3 for a reference to a legend in which these trees play a pa (...)
  • 11 Translating part of this sentence “Shynrang ka Wait” was problematic for the original implies that (...)

From under cover of cotton and rubber10
The resolute call to war rang out
Protectress of the Portal, Guardian Divine
Had kept tireless watch both day and night
With one accord the Tigers arose
The sword she lies still, but if war is to cease
The man in the sword must be unsheathed
11

Swift they sped through forests deep
The tiger cowered, the
Thlen retreats
Though slashed and torn by lightning sabres
Their sleep at night always quiet sound
Because they died to live again
Beings such as they can never age!

And so came forth these fabled warriors
Sword against sword come victory or loss
Thus ended combats of long ago
Thus did two kingdoms reconcile
“Collectors of Heads” of them you say?
Are they not “Sons of Sword and Shield”?

Oft we search for gold that’s pure
Yet here we find a gold that’s rare
From times now gone and times now lost
God chose those who could endure
To safeguard the frontiers of this our land
“Drenched in the blood of
U Kñi U Kpa”

  • 12 Mother Earth.

Once again will forests roar
And stones long still shake to the core
Days new unknown will surely dawn
And our homeland ripen as never before
If we are willing to listen to ponder upon
The words that are spoken by
Ka Mei Ramew12

Once Great Minds did wrestle with thought
To strengthen the will, to toughen the nerve
Once too in parables they spoke they taught
In public durbar or round the family hearth
In search of a king, a being in whom
The hopes of all souls could blossom and fruit

  • 13 A kingdom.

Together as one in a circle they gathered
Learning to steer the affairs of the state
They founded a “
Hima”13
Which they vowed to protect
They laid down their lives soaked the land with their blood
Thus lives on their name, enduring their fame

It matters not greatly who wears the crown
Only the power to shackle belongs to the king
Rich and poor, privileged and lowly
Marigold petals arranged in a circle
Resplendent gathering ordered decorous
Smoothly flow Durbar proceedings

  • 14 The concept of community land (“Ri Raid” — common land) was once enshrined in Khasi traditional Law (...)

Gateways and highways under the king’ s control
Tethering thongs he holds in his hands,
Though given the power to tax and to fine
No tax from land flows into his coffers
For land is common, land bequeathed
The subjects, you see, are the lords of the land
14

Boundaries defined, rights respected
Trespass a taboo remaining unbroken
Equal all trade, fairness maintained
Comings and goings in sympathy in step
Welfare and woe of common concern
Concord’s dominion on the face of the earth.

Listen to an audio recording of the poem at
https://doi.org/​10.11647/​OBP.0137.23

Notes

1 The original phrase (Ri u Soh u Pai) translates into “Land of fruit and sugarcane”. I have chosen to use “Land of Plenty” to maintain the regularity of the rhythm, and also because the expression “Land of fruit and sugarcane” is often used to indicate abundance.

2 A mythical beast, half-lion half-bear.

3 The Tangmuri and Sharati are traditional wind instruments.

4 The Uncle, the Father.

5 Ka Thadlaskeiñ is a lake in the Jaiñtia Hills. Not wishing to shed the innocent blood of his own people by declaring war on his own king, the ruler of Jaiñtiapur, Sajar Nangli chose exile. But before leaving their homeland he and his band of rebel warriors used the ends of their bows to dig this lake.

6 Legendary characters famed for their superhuman strength. U Puhshilum was one who could turn over a whole hill with one thrust of his spade; U Khwai Shynreh used buffaloes as fish-bait.

7 A reference to the legend which explains how the Khasis lost their script during a great flood. See p. 24, n. 4.

8 The names of Khasi chieftains.

9 Soso Tham was familiar with Kipling’s Recessional and his use of this line is deeply ironic as we know the poet’s pride in the achievements of his people, “those lesser breeds without the Law.”

10 Cotton and rubber trees. See p. 59, n. 3 for a reference to a legend in which these trees play a part.

11 Translating part of this sentence “Shynrang ka Wait” was problematic for the original implies that the Sword (“Ka Wait”), which is female, as denoted by “ka”, has to become a man — “shynrang”. As the sword is genderless in English I have had to add “The sword she lies still” in order to communicate the change from female to male.

12 Mother Earth.

13 A kingdom.

14 The concept of community land (“Ri Raid” — common land) was once enshrined in Khasi traditional Law to ensure that the poor never remained landless and always had the means of producing their own food. Sadly this idea of “Ri Raid” is fast becoming a myth and land has now been bought and sold for private use. This is reminiscent of the Acts of Enclosure (1809–1820) the consequences of which tore apart the soul of the English poet John Clare.

Acheter

Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search