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Tales of Darkness and Light

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Soso Tham

12. Lum Lamare–Lamare Peak

Texte intégral

1This section is a dreamlike meandering through memory, myth, reflection and the immediacy of experience found in the simple pleasures of daily life. It is an account alive with movement marked by telling image and detail. Tham names flowers, waterfalls and rivers not only because he delights in them or because of the stories they tell, but to also underline the imaginative rapport that exists between the people and the wonders gracing their land, all of which make him finally pose the question “Which gods have made your slopes their home?”

Lamare Peak

O land of mine! When will the high Himalaya
Turn their gaze away from you?
Wind which moves to cool the hills
Will your freshness ever fade?
Yet looking back as here I stand
Was it all a passing dream?

  • 1 The glow of both ripe orange and betel nut.

Slow from you the flight of darkness
Well-watered tender grows your face
Orange glow in ripening groves
1
Your granaries brim with gathered grain
Perchance in time I then can dream
Of flowering gardens everywhere

  • 2 Ja is rice in its cooked form. So important a staple is rice in Khasi culture that the word for a m (...)

The land forever tilled and living
They toil from dawn till dusk drifts in
Seeds dropped by chance unnoticed scattered
Nurture raise O Mother Earth.
Plants wild with zest our people eat
Unrivalled the taste of
Ja on the hills2

  • 3 This head strap is called u star — also mentioned a few lines further down below — and it is used i (...)

Did they ever know cold? Did they ever feel heat?
Were there any tomorrows? Did night ever exist?
With burdens braced, swift, swift they raced
The whistling soared as the head strap pressed
3
With firm support from joints robust
Thus seldom work was left undone

  • 4 Like many indigenous peoples Khasis once worked with the land. Only trees of a certain girth were f (...)
  • 5 Khasis were able to hire people from lands beyond their own kingdoms — most probably the plains of (...)

Girth of trees first measured then felled4
“Slaves from the lowlands” brought in to work
5
Groves of maturing
kwai and fruit
Flocks on hillsides multiplied
Clean fresh skies above a land
Where baskets brimmed, were ranged in rows

  • 6 This is not a tall story. I have seen this done — knowing how hard a betel nut is, splitting it on (...)
  • 7 “Job’s tears”: Coix-lachryma jobi — belonging to the family of Grasses.
  • 8 A prah is a round flat woven tray usually used for winnowing grain. Wheelchairs are relatively new (...)

Betel-nut split on knee-caps hard6
Sohriew
soaked, simmered and strained7
Milk was shunned, butter unknown
Their choice a broth of boiled beef bones
Supple-limbed, movement lithe
Deserving of ease upon a
prah8

  • 9 The knup is the Khasi farmer’s rainshield and is made of palm leaves stretched and held in shape by (...)

Ka knup, ka khoh, u star they wove9
(In forge of stone they smelted iron
Furnace-tempered knife sword axe
Fine-tipped tweezers for the offending barb)
They wandered by rivers to drink the wind
Placing baskets and snares to net a catch

  • 10 Rapleng Peak lies east of a village called Nongkrem in the Khasi Hills but is clearly visible from (...)

United they were, agreement prevailed
(Unbroken respect for
U Kñi andU Kpa)
Those were the days when maidens and men
Ploughed, sowed, weeded, hoed
So tell me then O
Lum Rapleng10
Did Heaven have borders and where did they end!

  • 11 Primula denticulata.
  • 12 Khasi Ferns: Dryopteris filix, Osmunda regalis. Ferns are referred to as flowers (tiew) because of (...)
  • 13 “Flower with the face of a cat” — an orchid: Dendrobium chrysanthum.

Over hillside and forest profusion abounds
Vast the array of names they bestowed
U Tiew Japang on sheer cliff sides11
On river banks
U Tiew Tyrkhang12
The light of genius now all but snuffed
Today who would know
U Tiew Khmat Miaw?13

  • 14 Golden fronted chloropsis. A songbird par excellence, able to imitate the songs other birds.
  • 15 An orchid: Dendrobium densiflorum.

Birdsong rises from the thicket
Moans the bee within his hive
The
Jalyeit sings inside his cage14
While flowers in their gardens bloom
When
U Tiew Lyngskaw is with turban crowned15
We gaze and gaze till all longing is spent

  • 16 The two rival teams were identified by the colour of their arrow-feathers, were either black or whi (...)

Their bowstrings drawn archers dance in a circle
Quiet the eye trained true on the target, steady the hand that rests on the ear,
On that soaring spray of black and white
On the
Sohpdung or the wagers at stake,16
Couplets are chanted in mockery playful,
The ceremony of banter declares its intent

  • 17 A scattering of small cumulus clouds. This expression comes from the sight of puffed rice (i. e. bo (...)
  • 18 Markets in the Khasi Hills were places where people from surrounding areas converged to buy and sel (...)

Under skies with a dusting of puffed-rice-clouds17 Applause breaks out again and again
When victory is won by a village entire
They dance in a circle on the Great Market Hill
18
Back in those days which forever belong
To Sohra’s young women and Sohra’s young men

  • 19 The skins were usually made of cow hide.

Soil-soaked stained throughout the day
At night they rest on beds of skin
19
Days in the forest setting dogs on the scent Nights spent courting away from home
Mindful to leave by the first cockcrow
Not a moment is wasted as they tear away home

  • 20 Riwar: the land of a distinct group of Khasis who call themselves Wars or War Jaiñtia. It resides i (...)

At break of day they descend to Riwar20
At nightfall sweat wiped clean away
By day they follow the honeybee
Convivial the nights made light with their banter
Unending the splutter of pot-roasted maize
Unforgettable the taste of honey-spread yam

  • 21 See p. 43, n. 2. The nongshohnoh is the henchman of families who worship the man-eating serpent, th (...)

O Moon who blooms for fourteen nights
O Night whose arms hold safe the stars,
The owl alights upon a branch
U Nongshohnoh — he lurks close by21
But under a sheet of coarse cotton or silk
The tired rest easy round a slow-burning fire

  • 22 Precious stones.

Varied the tales that they then told
Some raised laughter, others tears
Ki Moin Manik, Ki Lar Morti22
Lent their brilliance to another time
To a place some called “a savage forest”
A home to monkey langur wild!

And so they told in fable tale
Of heroes and their immortal fame
Of gardens in bloom, orchards with fruit
Lands where people lived in peace
How a pure and righteous Age
Secures accord for one and all

Kynting-ting-ting through the quiet night
The
Marynthing goads the tiger to dance
Laughter joy piping strumming
Together beneath a smoke-shafted roof
Kynting-ting-ting until the dawn
Vivid pathways of colour to enchantment beyond

  • 23 This refers to a practice in the past, commemorated in a folktale, when young men from the plains w (...)
  • 24 Waterfalls east of Sohra. Their names are evocative — [the waterfall at] “the threshold” and “the r (...)

U Tiew Japang with turban brocade
Captured by kings to wed royal daughters,
23
Fish, Palm, Turtle, Egg
Leitmotifs familiar from ancient chants
Ka Mawtyngkong, Ka Wahrisa24
Poised they pose at the head of the gorge

  • 25 Jealous of the Lynx’s ability to wield his silver sword during a dance, the God (U Pyrthat) asked t (...)
  • 26 Hedychium gardnerianum. A Khasi legend tells the story of Ka Lalyngngi, a beautiful maiden who arri (...)
  • 27 Syntuksiar means the golden flower (of the Jaiñtia Hills) referencing the golden paddy fields along (...)
  • 28 Ka Umngot is a river that rises in the Khasi hills and ends her journey in the plains of Bangladesh (...)
  • 29 The legendary forests in Narpuh, Jaiñtia Hills. See p. 47, n. 12.

The Lynx slings Thunder’s sabre across his chest25
Ka Lalyngngi
still combs her hair on precipitous cliffs26
Ka Syntuksiar
drapes herself in silk27
Ka Umngot
will snatch victory from her sister28
Now tell us then
Bah-Bo-Bah-Kong29
Which gods have made
your slopes their home?

Listen to an audio recording of the poem at
https://doi.org/​10.11647/​OBP.0137.24

Living root bridges of Nongriat village in East Khasi Hills district (2014).

Photo by PJeganathan, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/​wiki/​File:Living_root_bridges_of_Nongriat_village_in_East_Khasi_Hills_district,_Meghalaya_JEG7363.jpg

Notes

1 The glow of both ripe orange and betel nut.

2 Ja is rice in its cooked form. So important a staple is rice in Khasi culture that the word for a meal is simply “Ja”. To have a meal, whatever the accompaniments, is to “eat ja” — “bam ja”. A meal without ja, no matter how nutritious and filing, is not worthy of the name! And the deliciousness of “Ja on the hills” (“Ja ha lum”) a meal eaten out in the fresh hill air — is truly a pleasure that must be tried. Soso Tham is of course specifically referring to simple rural delights.

3 This head strap is called u star — also mentioned a few lines further down below — and it is used in conjunction with a tapering basket called a khoh carried on the back (see p. 53, n. 10).

4 Like many indigenous peoples Khasis once worked with the land. Only trees of a certain girth were felled — i.e. those whose trunks could be encircled by the entire length of a head strap (star) without any evidence of slack. Alas today that is no longer the case. Commercial gain is now the sole consideration.

5 Khasis were able to hire people from lands beyond their own kingdoms — most probably the plains of present-day Bangladesh.

6 This is not a tall story. I have seen this done — knowing how hard a betel nut is, splitting it on the knee cap indicates that the bone used as a “chopping board” is rock-hard.

7 “Job’s tears”: Coix-lachryma jobi — belonging to the family of Grasses.

8 A prah is a round flat woven tray usually used for winnowing grain. Wheelchairs are relatively new to the region and the old, infirm and immobile were lowered onto a prah on which they sat either indoors or out in the warm sunshine. My great-grandmother lived so long that she reigned in state over her family in this manner. To live a long life is an achievement and the old are respected and cared for accordingly.

9 The knup is the Khasi farmer’s rainshield and is made of palm leaves stretched and held in shape by a framework of bamboo cane strips. When viewed on the wearer’s back its shape is, appropriately enough, reminiscent of a shield beetle. The knup protects the head and body and leaves both hands free to carry out all the tasks in the field. There is also a smaller knup which functions as a parasol during hot sunny days.

10 Rapleng Peak lies east of a village called Nongkrem in the Khasi Hills but is clearly visible from the Jaiñtia Hills where Soso Tham worked as a teacher.

11 Primula denticulata.

12 Khasi Ferns: Dryopteris filix, Osmunda regalis. Ferns are referred to as flowers (tiew) because of their subtle perfume.

13 “Flower with the face of a cat” — an orchid: Dendrobium chrysanthum.

14 Golden fronted chloropsis. A songbird par excellence, able to imitate the songs other birds.

15 An orchid: Dendrobium densiflorum.

16 The two rival teams were identified by the colour of their arrow-feathers, were either black or white. Sohpdung — the big tubercular root of a certain plant used as a target during archery matches.

17 A scattering of small cumulus clouds. This expression comes from the sight of puffed rice (i. e. boiled rice mixed with yeast to make rice wine) scattered on the floor after the cat has knocked the pot over.

18 Markets in the Khasi Hills were places where people from surrounding areas converged to buy and sell and were held in different villages on different days of the week. The Great Market at Sohra (former Cherrapunjee) was one of the better-known.

19 The skins were usually made of cow hide.

20 Riwar: the land of a distinct group of Khasis who call themselves Wars or War Jaiñtia. It resides in the region south of the Jaiñtia Hills.

21 See p. 43, n. 2. The nongshohnoh is the henchman of families who worship the man-eating serpent, the Thlen.

22 Precious stones.

23 This refers to a practice in the past, commemorated in a folktale, when young men from the plains were taken captive by Khasi rulers as husbands for their daughters.

24 Waterfalls east of Sohra. Their names are evocative — [the waterfall at] “the threshold” and “the river’s applause”.

25 Jealous of the Lynx’s ability to wield his silver sword during a dance, the God (U Pyrthat) asked to borrow the weapon, saying he wished to try the same moves himself. The Lynx happily handed the sword over and the God immediately leapt into the sky leaving the Lynx without his prized sword. The flashes of lightning seen when thunder rumbles during a storm come from the Thunder God brandishing the sword he stole from the Lynx. The Lynx’s habit of leaving his droppings in a mound is supposed to be his attempt to build a mountain that will enable him to climb to heaven and retrieve his beloved sword.

26 Hedychium gardnerianum. A Khasi legend tells the story of Ka Lalyngngi, a beautiful maiden who arrived late for The Dance of the Flowers because she spent far too long getting herself ready. Filled with shame that all her efforts to be the belle of the ball had been in vain, she flung herself off a cliff hoping she would die at the bottom of the gorge. But she was stranded midway and transformed into a flower that now bears her name.

27 Syntuksiar means the golden flower (of the Jaiñtia Hills) referencing the golden paddy fields along the Myntdu river valley.

28 Ka Umngot is a river that rises in the Khasi hills and ends her journey in the plains of Bangladesh. The meandering course of the Umngot gave rise to a legend centring on a race between two sisters. Though infinitely more powerful, the older sister — Ka Iam — loses. Puffed with conceit Ka Iam had taken her time to start and found that her hard-working sister (Ka Umngot) had long reached the finishing line.

29 The legendary forests in Narpuh, Jaiñtia Hills. See p. 47, n. 12.

Table des illustrations

Légende Living root bridges of Nongriat village in East Khasi Hills district (2014).
Crédits Photo by PJeganathan, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/​wiki/​File:Living_root_bridges_of_Nongriat_village_in_East_Khasi_Hills_district,_Meghalaya_JEG7363.jpg
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/5952/img-1.jpg
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