[1909] THE NONGKREM PUJA IN THE KHASI HILLS by Fr. C E Becker

One of the first ethnographic accounts of Ka Shad and Pomblang of Hima Khyrim was by  Fr. Christoph E Becker SDS who served as the Apostolic Prefect of the Catholic Mission of German Salvatorian missionaries in Assam. Published in German in Anthropos, Vol. IV (1909), 892-902, it was a description of the rituals held in 1906. Illustrated by photographs by Fr. P. Frumenus Stegmüller, SDS, the account surprisingly (mostly) stayed clear of missionary clichés. While publishing this translation by Elizabeth Knight, we have let all the spellings, notes and photographic numbering intact.

THE NONGKREM PUJA IN THE KHASI HILLS(ASSAM) / DIE NONGKREM-PUJA IN DEN KHASI-BERGEN (ASSAM)1

About five English miles to the east of Shillong, the chief town of the Khasi Mountains, lies the town of Nongkrem. It is the seat of the king (u S’iem) who governs the state Nongkrem of Khyrim, the largest of the 25 Khasi little states and which is partly independent (semi-independent) of the English government. Nongkrem is best known for the great sacrifice, simply called Nongkrem Puja or also ka Pom blang-u-S’iem Nongkrem (Slaying the goat of the S’iem of Nongkrem) which takes place there annually. This festivity offers, as little else does, an instructive insight into the religious and social views and customs of this interesting mountain people and should therefore be given a concise description, which may be divided into three parts:

  1. The Preparations for the Sacrificial Feast.
  2. The Sacrificial Feast.
  3. The Celebration that Follows.
The Sacrifice (Nongkrem Pooja) among the Khasi

The Preparations for the Sacrificial Feast

Just as matriarchy prevails in the family among the Khasi so a similar arrangement has been kept in the management of the Khasi state, Nongkrem. In the state the S’iem is not the actual head but a high priestess, called ka S’iem sad. Sad means the divinity which watches over the royal races. The temporal government is transferred by the S’iem sad to the S’iem: he acts as her authorized agent although independent in his decisions, working with his advisers, whose advice he must obtain in matters of importance. The moneys of the kingdom are kept by the S’iem sad. Everything that comes in, such as taxes, market contributions, or that which comes in through the administration of justice must be given to her. She may dispose of it as she sees best, while the S’iem receives from her the money necessary for paying the costs of the government.

The S’iem sad is the sole authority in matters of religion. She must watch over the religious sacrifices and determine the time and place for them; the state sacrifices are held in her house or in front of her house, and they must be performed in her presence. The actual S’iem is her son or nephew or even more distant male relative, who is chosen by the “state council,” the Mentris.

After the death of the S’iem sad, this office passes to her oldest living daughter, and lacking such to the eldest daughter of her eldest daughter, and lacking such granddaughters to the oldest daughter, and so forth. In case there are no daughters or granddaughters, the oldest living sister takes the office; if there are no sisters, then the oldest daughter of the oldest sister of the mother of the deceased S’iem sad is the successor, and so it goes further. In this way the office always remains within the royal lineage.

In the house of the S’iem sad (called ka-iing sad), which is one of the largest and most attractive in the Khasi Hills, there is a post in the middle which reaches from the floor to the ridge of the roof. It is called u rishot Blei (post, pillar of god) and serves at the same time as the altar before which many sacrifices are performed. The pillar is nothing other than the trunk of the Khasi oak (ka dieng sning; botanical name: castanopsis sp.), which is holy to the Khasi. If the house of the S’iem sad burns down, or if it is built up anew, a new pillar must be brought. Only certain families (jaid) have the privilege of cutting down the trees for this purpose. As soon as it is cut down, dancing and music begins; the trunk is covered with a cloth and carried away on a carrying frame. Hundreds of persons participate in this. As long as the pillar is not set up, it is guarded night and day. If a person or an animal might jump over it and that would be sang (= taboo): the trunk would be defiled and another tree would have to be cut down. If something dreadful happens in the kingdom, or if a danger threatens, the S’iem sad goes with six official sacrificial priests of the kingdom Nongkrem before the post and offers sacrifice there in order to avert the evil.

Fig 7: S’iem sad and S’iem of Nongkrem

The foregoing had to be mentioned in order to give a better understanding of the following.

The Nongkrem Puja usually takes place in the month of May. One month before the celebration rice liquor is poured into a hollowed out gourd bottle in the house of the S’iem sad and offered before the rishot Blei as a ‘suit’ (sacrifice of drink). This is done in order to inform the u Suidnia long S’iem (the spirit of the first great-uncle on the maternal side who was the first king), the ka Blei long S’iem (the divinity who makes kings kings) and the u Blei Shillong (the god Shillong), that preparations are now being made for the Puja and that they might help with them.

The u Blei Shillong plays the chief part in the whole ceremony. He enjoys great reverence among the Khasi, especially in the kingdom Nongkrem and Mylliem. Not far from Nongkrem a mountain peak rises 6,450 feet above the sea. It is the highest peak in the Khasi Mountains; its name is “Shillong Peak.” Here is the seat of the god Shillong. The story goes that a man appeared here once, who said he 894 had not been born but came of himself (shu long). He also told the people that they would receive the kings, S’iem. So the god who lives here was called u Shu long (he who is out of himself), from which the Europeans gradually made the word Shillong and also gave this name to the splendid mountain station in the heart of the Khasi Mountains.

After the S’iem sad has determined exactly the day of the ceremonies, the news of this is sent out two weeks prior to the ceremony to the village elders (Rangbah shnong). This is done on the day of the large market (jew duh), which takes place every eighth day. Two weeks after is the pom blang, also on the day of the large market, which is discussed below.

The way in which the invitation is issued is interesting. A number of chains are made of bamboo rings. These are called kyrwoh. One of these is sent to the oldest man of each village. Since the Khasi formerly had no script, this bamboo chain always served as a sign of invitation or summons to the S’iem for ceremonies, or of danger of war, or of court matters and such. The degree of urgency was shown by the form of the links; in the case of great haste the form was longish and flat, otherwise correspondingly rounder. The sending of the kyrwoh to the village elders serves now as a sign of invitation for the whole village to appear at the ceremonies and at the same time as a demand to gather together the prescribed sacrificial gifts. Each of the six districts, into which the kingdom Nongkrem is divided, must furnish a goat; each individual hut must pay a tax (called pynshok) of one rupee and four anna as in addition. Very poor people only have to pay one anna or even only a half. The sacrificial gifts, such as rice, various sacrificial animals, fish, brandy and such are bought with these contributions; the balance, as with other money, is handed over to the S’iem sad for management.

Until the approach of the actual festival, the fish sacrifice (suit-dohkha) takes places on the day called jeu pomthiah, on which all who appear are fed with dried fish and brandy. This is supposed to be a further announcement to the u Blei Shillong, u Suidnia long Siem and ka Blei long S’iem of the imminent Puja. Twelve different kinds of drums (ksing) are beaten.

Then the drum, ksing shad tyngkoh, is beaten three times, and the first sacrificial priest (Soh Blei) and a flute player dance. The dance, tyngkoh, will be described in more detail below. After it is finished, the ksing kynthei (women drums) have a turn, to the sound of which the S’iem and the flute player (duhalia) dance three times. Usually only women dance to this drum. About the method of dancing it is sufficient to remark that in a Khasi dance the dancing persons do not touch each other, and each carries out the motions independent of the others. After the women drums are beaten, then the sword dance drum (ksing mastieh) and the large drum (nakra) are beaten. Torches are carried around and shouts of joy uttered nine times. Various drums, flute music, and clashes of cymbals follow, while dancing takes place. At the end the S’iem dances alone, while the drums and flutes are not silent the whole night through. Fig. 2 shows several Khasi drums, a flute, and cymbals which are never missing from a dance.

Fig 2 Drums, flutes and cymbals of the Khasi

The day of the large market, on which the actual ceremony begins, approaches meanwhile. On the day before — ka sngi umni— the roads are swept and the place for the sacrifice of the goat put in order. As a sign of joy as to what will happen, drums are beaten again and flutes (tangmuri) played. In front of the house of the S’iem sad, the S’iem and other men perform a sword dance. Although interesting, this dance is not very artistic. Hopping and skipping from one foot to the other, the men, one behind the other, move slowly in a circle on the open place. (cf. Fig. 6). They hold a bunch of goat hair in one hand and a sword in the other. A shout of joy is uttered from time to time, then they stop again, jump at each other two by two, and hit each other with quick blows of their swords. Each one quickly draws back again and moves in a circle again as before. In this way the dance continues.

Fig 3 Sacrificial knives and ka wait of the Khasi

After it has become dark a hen is sacrificed in front of the house of the S’iem sad: to the ka S’iem synshar (the queen who rules the world) and to the Biskurom, the god who instructs in the playing of flutes and other instruments. Then various drums are beaten.

Then everyone goes inside the iing sad. The S’iem sad hands the Soh Blei, the first sacrificial priest, who is from the family (jaid) Rumnong, a hollowed-out gourd bottle (u skaw) with rice liquor. The Soh Blei pours out the contents in front of the rishot Blei in honor of the goddess of the markets (ka Blei ieu lei hat) so that the markets will be good, remunerative, and successful; so that the roads will be good and safe and everything will be blessed; so that the kingdom itself will progress and develop. It must be remembered here that the market system is very marked among the Khasi and is the chief source of their income. After this ‘suit’ the same sacrificial drink is offered to the Ka Blei long S’iem, in order to receive her blessings, so that the kings will be good and may make progress. Music and dancing then lasts until daybreak.

The Sacrificial Feast

The actual ceremony begins on the day of the large market. This day itself is called pom blang (goat heads). The S’iem sad may not eat rice for three days, only a kind of bread, which is made from rice flour. On the large open place in front of the iing sad the men hold their sword dance (shad wait) and guns are shot off until the S’iem sad, the S’iem and the Rangbah (elders) come out of the iing sad. Following the S’iem sad, is her slave-girl (mrau), who carries the utensils and sacrificial gifts. These are arranged by the S’iem sad herself and consist of a banana leaf, of which however only the upper part is taken (ka sla kait), five betel nut leaves (tympew), five portions of betel nuts, as much as is usually put in the mouth at one time (kwai), a kind of bread made of rice flour (kpu), for which the rice is first put in water, then taken out, dried, and pounded into flour; then rynsi bread, which is also baked with pounded rice or corn, mixed with sugar and rolled into the shape of bullets; some uncooked, shelled rice (u khaw), a gourd bottle with rice liquor (u klong) and several leaves of the Khasi oak tree. The following utensils are used: a golden or silver water container (u luta), a silver dishlike plate (ka pliang rupa). All these are now given by the S’iem sad to the Soh Blei and in addition a rooster and a white he-goat are brought to the place of sacrifice.

Fig 4 Sacrificial dress of the Soh Blei

The spectators now go to the side, the S’iem and the Rangbahs come down to the place of sacrifice, while the Soh Blei receives the utensils and the sacrificial gifts and spreads them out in order on the ground. Then he takes the rooster in both hands and calls on the god Shillong with these words; “O god Shillong, thou who hast been seated since time immemorial! (ko Blei Shillong kumba la buh u long shwa!)” With a deep bow he then offers the sacrifice five times. Rooster and goat are sprinkled with water, rice, and the flour from kpu and rynsi, and are then beheaded. Then the examination of the entrails (dykhot) takes place in order to see if the sacrifice was acceptable. The way of doing that will be given below.

Fig 5: Khasi Men Dancers in front of iing sadAfter the end of the sacrifice the Soh Blei and a flute player lead the sword dance; after them the S’iem and the other dancers follow in turn. Various drums are beaten alternately and flutes are played through the whole night. When night falls the goats of the S’iem and those of the various districts of the kingdom of Nongkrem are brought for the sacrifice of the next day.

Fig 6: Sword Dance of the Khasi

The day following the great market is called ka sngi Lyngka. It is the center point and climax of the whole ceremony. From early in the morning the crowds pour in from all sides of the Khasi Mountains.

Early in the morning an unmarried girl of the royal lineage (ka S’iem ba dang khynraw) dances in the house of the S’iem sad before the rishot Blei. Usually a granddaughter or nearer relative of the S’iem sad is chosen for this. Two men then take the girl in their arms and carry her with a rocking motion to the large open place in front of iing sad.

Then the great folk dance begins. In the middle of the place musicians squat on the ground and play the drums and flutes, and strike the cymbals. The music is quite without art, only a repetition of the same monotonous tones.

Fig 8: The girls in the dance in front of iing sad, of which only the front part may be seen above in the picture on the right

The women dancers move in a rather narrow circle around the musicians. Only the unmarried girls dance. The clothes they wear for it are very rich and frequently very valuable. Fine cloths, usually of red, yellow, or blue silk are draped over their bodies; the upper body and arms are covered by a satin jacket. Their hair is bound together in a bun behind their heads; a string hangs down from the bun which usually ends in three tassels.

Fig 9: The girls in the dance in front of iing sad

The head is covered by a golden or silver crown of fine chased work, which is topped by a bunch of feathers or a bunch of artificial flowers. Around their necks they wear chains of gold or silver and several in various sizes made of real corals. Their ear lobes are decorated with heavy earrings; shoes and stockings are not worn. Around their arms and wrists are massive silver rings or hoops, the latter being quite wide and in the same shape as cuffs. Fig. 10 shows the ornaments in detail. The very grand women dancers usually have a servant carrying an opened umbrella behind them.

Fig. 10 : Khasi ornaments

The Khasi dance does not have the exciting and lively motions that are characteristic of our dances. Each woman dancer with her arms hanging down at her sides and her eyes cast modestly to the ground could be considered a model of modesty. Each completes her motions alone and completely independent of the others. She continuously makes a circle around the musicians, moving sideways, forwards, or backwards. At the same time the feet are kept close together and are moved seemingly so little that the motion is scarcely visible. When a woman dancer is tired she withdraws in order to rest a bit, and then enters again into the rows of the other dancers.

Figs. 8 and 9 illustrate the above description of the Khasi woman dancers. Fig. 8 shows the girls in the dance in front of iing sad, of which only the front part may be seen above in the picture on the right.

At a proper distance from the girls the men dance in a wider circle around the place. They also have special clothing. Over the usual white cloth that covers the lower part of the body they wear a shirt, and over it a silk coat embroidered with many colors without sleeves which ends in a long fringe. Cf. Fig. 9 for this. A tail or train of animal hair hangs down over the back. Costly coral chains decorate the breast. A bunch of artificial flowers (thuia) about 18 inches long or of black and white rooster feathers is placed in the silk turban, while the right hand holds a bunch of goat hair. The modern shoes and stockings which are now worn by many go very badly with the otherwise pretty costume.

The motions of the men are more lively than those of the dancing girls, but still quite relaxed. In a dawdling manner they hop from one leg to another in a childish way, without lifting their legs very much. In this way they move forward, describing a circle; at the same time they wave the bunch of hair around in the air. From time to time they stop and as a group make a bow towards the middle of the circle with a loud rejoicing shout of pleasure, while they swing the bunch of hair downwards at the same time (cf. Fig. 5).

Thus the dance continues for hours at a time amidst the noise of the music. Thousands of spectators who do not seem to get tired throng around the great place. In the afternoon, at about three o’clock 898 the dance, which plays a large part in all the religious festivities is ended.

Then preparations are made for the large sacrifice. In front of the house of the S’iem sad several boards are placed in a row beside each other, and in front of them at certain intervals twelve little heaps of loam are made. Music now plays inside of iing sad. All the sacrificial gifts are given to the S’iem sad in front of the rishot Blei and then distributed to the sacrificers by her. These then go out of the hut to the place of the sacrifice. There are twelve of them, namely the six official sacrificial priests of the kingdom and several lyngdohs from the villages; the Soh Blei is at their head, wearing a special sacrificial coat (cf. Fig. 4), while the others wear everyday clothes. Each one carries a dish in his hand with some rice, pounded flour for kpu and rynsi, betel nuts and the pepper leaf that belongs with them, a small young hen, a water container, leaves of the Khasi oak tree, as well as a small gourd bottle with rice liquor. The dish and the water container of the sacrificial priests are of ornamented brass, those of the Soh Blei of silver — all clean and polished until gleaming.

The spectators are arranged to the right and the left of the sacrificers, so that there is a wide alleyway open through the middle of the place to the gate of the board fence which surrounds the place and the[unknown] iing s[unknown] ad. Several men are constantly busy keeping the crowd within these bounds. No one may come in through the gate during the whole ceremony, because the god enters here during the sacrifice-therefore the broad path must be left open. If anyone should chance to wish to come in through the gate during the performance of the sacrifice, he is driven back with loud shouts. If he dared to come in anyway, in earlier times he would have been a child of death; now the fear of the English government might protect him to a certain extent, although this could hardly be an absolute guaranty of his life because of the religious excitement of the people.

The twelve now squat down on the boards placed in front of iing sad, the Soh Blei in the middle. Behind them the S’iem sad sits alone on the steps which lead from iing sad to the place of the sacrifice. Somewhat further back sits the S’iem surrounded by his Mentris and relatives (cf. Fig 7). The Soh Blei sets the example in all that follows; the others watch him and copy him. While each of the sacrificers slaughters only a small hen or a goat, the Soh Blei has [Page 9] the right to kill two of them, since he sacrifices to the ka Blei long S’iem and to the u Blei Shillong at the same time.

Each one places the little liquor bottle on the little pile of earth in front of him. This also represents the altar. Then they take pepper leaves and oak leaves and place them in a certain pattern beside and on top of each other; pieces of betel nuts are placed on them, and the whole is strewn with rice, kpu flour and rynsi flour, while short prayers are murmured (cf. Fig. 1). Then follows the sacrifice of the little hens. The sacrificers each take one between both hands, murmuring soft prayers, then 899 the head of the little animal is sprinkled with water and strewn with rice, kpu flour, and rynsi flour. Each one dips a kind of pocket knife in the water and then cuts through the throat of the chicken. The freshly flowing blood is allowed to drip on the altar — the little pile of earth with the bottle of liquor and the leaves. Then the entrails are taken out of the animals in order to see whether god is favorable to them or is angry with them because of the sins and wickedness of men. The sacrificers hold them up high with their right hands and look at them carefully. A joyful “u bha! (it is good)” escapes their lips and spreads through the circle of spectators.

This observing of entrails (dykhot) occurs at all the sacrifices. Although there are many kinds of such auguries, the following are more or less the usual ones. The gullet of chicken is about in the middle between the neck and the stomach and shaped like a fork. The right prong is called u Blei (god), the left one u briu (man). First the rectum is looked at to see if it is empty or shows any symptoms of sickness or spots; in these cases the hen is not suitable for sacrifice. But even when everything is faultless, better signs are wanted. The forking mentioned above is looked at and the sacrificer, holding the intestines in his hand, begins the ceremony with the question: “Nga kylli nga byrthen da ka shat ka khan, ieng rangbah u bri u, dem u Blei? (I ask and seek through the strewing and the oracle, does the man rise and god bow?)” With his other hand he throws a little rice on the forking of the gullet, and because of the convulsive twitching actually one part or the other does rise. If the “man” rises, it is a good sign since the opposite branching, the “god” then bows or stays still as a sign of agreement.

If the omens are unfavorable, then it must be determined by throwing /perhaps a misprint — Einwerfen instead of Eierwerfen – egg throwing: tr./, why the god is angry and which sacrifice would be pleasing to him. Then the sacrifice begins again until the omens reveal that the god is reconciled and propitiated.

Let us return to our Nongkrem Puja. After the observing of the entrails of the hens is completed with good results, the main part of the ceremony begins. Goats are brought out of the inside of iing sad and one is placed behind each of the sacrificers. This moment is captured in Fig. 1. The hens that have already been sacrificed and the other sacrificial objects that have been mentioned can be seen lying in front of the Soh Blei and the other sacrificial priests on the ground. The Soh Blei now takes a long knife (ka wait) between both flat outstretched hands and squatting speaks a prayer with bowed head. Fig. 3 shows various kinds of such knives; the smaller folding ones are the ones mentioned above in describing the killing of the hens.

Meanwhile a kind of looping plant is thrown around the neck of one of the goats; one the the people present pulls it into the middle of the place where it /facing p. 898. Fig. 8. Dance of the Khasi Girls in front of iing sad. Two photographs by P. Frum. Stegmiller, S.D.S. Fig. 9. Women Khasi Dancers. Two photographs by P. Frum. Stegmiller, S.D.S./ 900 is held fast by a rope. The Soh Blei gets up, walks up to the animal with the ka wait in his hand and waits for the instant when it holds still. With one blow the head lies on the ground. It is at once picked up and placed beside the gourd bottle standing on the little pile of earth. The twitching rump is dragged in front of iing sad. Thus it continues until five goats are beheaded.

Now the S’iem comes down to the sacrificial place. He takes the slaughtering knife in his hand, squats down in the place of the head priest, and observes as the latter had done the same ceremonies. Then he gets up and strides into the middle of the place in full costume with raised head and a self-conscious dignity. A goat has already been lead out there. One blow and its head also rolls on the ground. He sacrifices the first goat to the divinity which made him king; afterwards the four others are sacrificed to the u Blei Shillong. A salvo of guns and a loud shout of joy accompanies each blow of the S’iem.

The slaughter is now continued by others in endless turns. Sixty, eighty and more goats must lose their lives. The poor victims are not always lucky enough to be killed with one blow. The animal might move at the last minute or an unskilled hand may lack a certain firmness. Then the goat is only lightly wounded and crying seeks to escape. The sacrificer throws the knife away in order to disappear hastily among the spectators; some pick up earth and throw it at him with reproachful cries, while others seize the poor animal, throw it on the ground and saw the head off with the knife. That is a horrible sight. It is considered an unfavorable sign when the goat is not [Page 11] beheaded with one blow. If it happens to one of the first twelve goats, the man concerned must inquire through new sacrifices why his sacrifice was not pleasing to god.

The observing of the entrails is only done with the twelve first goats decapitated by the S’iem and the sacrificial priests. As in the case of pigs, it is only observed whether the liver, lungs, spleen and gall bladder are healthy and without spots, in which case the sacrifice is a good one and pleasing to god; otherwise through egg throwing (Eierwerfen)and new sacrifices a more favorable result must be brought about.

During the night a pig is sacrificed to the honor of the u Suidnia long S’iem and he is informed thereby that Puja has now taken place and that it will take place once annually to the honor of the u Blei Shillong so that the kings will be lucky and healthy, the markets will enjoy progress and good results, and the children of the kingdom will be happy. This closes with the address to the Suidnia long S’iem: “Bring it about that the augury turns out well, and if the god Shillong should still not be satisfied, then reveal it to us through the augury.”

The Soh Blei now takes a chicken in his hand, sprinkles it with water, rice, flour of kpu and rynsi and speaks: “Now thou art sprinkled in order to lose thy life by having thy neck cut so that I can see the good or the evil (La pynsum pynsleh ban duh ka mynsiem ban dykut u ryndang; ba ngan khmih ia ka bha ka sniw).” Then 901 the animal’s neck is cut, the blood, as mentioned above, is allowed to drip on the leaves and the gourd bottle, and the entrails are taken out. After the augury has turned out favorably, a white he-goat is brought in and the Soh Blei speaks: “O god Shillong, this prayer is for thee, this sacrifice of the goat, of the hen, of the kpu and rynsi, of the utensils of preparation are for thee which thou hast given the royal family so that once annually the Puja may be celebrated in thy name, so that we may live happily, be healthy and increase, so that kings will arise so that their honor and that of the kingdom will grow and increase and the children of the kingdom will spread out to increase thy name and thy honor. O god Shillong, when thou hast received the sacrifice, bring it about that the heart, the lungs, the spleen, the gall bladder and the other parts are good.”

Meanwhile dancers are arranged on both sides; they swing the sword (ka wait) and the bunch (u symphiah) around in the air and utter shouts of joy. As mentioned above, the goat is now strewn three times with the various sacrificial gifts, and guns are shot off three times and shouts of joy uttered. Then the S’iem gets up, takes the ka wait in his hand and sits down on the place of sacrifice. He takes [Page 12] off his turban (ka jain spong) and thanks god three times in a quiet voice; then he hands over the ka wait to the Soh Blei who does the same and then gives the knife to the sacrificer from the jaid Nongkseh, this one hands it on to the one from the jaid Thangkieu, and this one finally gives it to the one from the jaid Niangnong. Only one from these three families may undertake the beheading. When this has taken place, the head is placed on the leaves in front of the gourd bottle, and the entrails are taken from the body in order to read the omens. If these come out right, the dance of joy is set in motion. All members of the kingdom are invited to the feast, which consists of rice, sacrificial meat, and rice liquor and which lasts until early in the morning.

The Celebration that Follows

On the evening of the following day — called mied Maulong — a special meeting of the council takes place, which is called Dorbar sla in order to announce that all the sacrifices are now past. The S’iem has mats spread out inside the house and in the front room for the people to sit on; he himself takes his place on a palong, a raised seat, in the front room. Goat meat and pork is distributed to all those present, while the person who is designated as the speaker in the Dorbar and the first of the flute players receive betel nuts. The S’iem sends to the village and has it announced three times that as long as the Dorbar lasts nobody may leave his hut.

Then he takes his turban off, raises both hands and offers thanks in the name of the lord and creator (ha ka kyrteng u trai u nongthau), who made him king, gave him subjects as well as the districts of the kingdom, the markets and the roads leading thither and prays that he will ever give strength, growth and progress and prosperity to the fields. Then he cries out: “O god, lord and creator, give me, the S’iem, happiness and prosperity also, so that my thanks and submission to thee may become ever greater (Ah Blei, trai kynrad u nongthau u nongbuh to ai bha ai roi ia nga I S’iem ban nongkhrau ka nguh ka dem).” Then he steps back.

The one who has been made the speaker now follows from the jaid Rynjah. He thanks the S’iem three times and then says: “O lord, thou who hast created heaven and earth, thou hast seated the king that we may be children of his kingdom; thou hast given the sun and the moon for reckoning the year, so that we can have Puja once in every year, so that the king appears, the children of the valleys increase and thrive, the children of the Khasi 2 , the children of the  Bhoi 3, the children of the War, so that the sacrificial gifts will increase before the face of thy altar (Ko trai ba thau ia ka bneng ka khyndew uba pynlong i S’iem i kynrad ba long ma ngi ki khun ki hajar kumba phi buh ka sngi ban khein ia u bnai, phi buh u bnai ban khein ka snem ban long ka puja shi sien shi snem ban im ban roi i S’iem ban roi ki khun dykhar, khun Bhoi, khun Bhoi, khun Khasi, khun War ban khrau u blang u bhet ha khmat ka duwan jong phi).”

Then the drum of joy (ksing risa) is beaten and everybody is given rice liquor, as much as he wants. The S’iem and the S’iem sad eat of the inner parts of the entrails observed the day before. Music and dancing last the whole night long until early the next moming when the participants in the festival return again to their villages and their huts.

 

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Fr. Dr. C E Becker Written by:

Fr. Christoph E Becker SDS, served as the Apostolic Prefect of the Catholic Mission of German Salvatorian missionaries in Assam from 1905 to 1915. Christoph Becker SDS was highly learned in the cultural anthropology, linguistics, geography and botany of India, especially its northeastern regions. His work The Catholic Church in Northeast India 1890-1915 is an invaluable source of information on the history and culture of the native people of Assam.

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