History has a habit of informing but not teaching and it is on this premise that many judge the worth or the worthlessness of history. Anything that does not teach must essentially be discarded as a costly and superfluous luxury for the simple reason that we are still in want of the necessities of life and superfluous things are antagonistic to that which are a necessity. However we still need history, but quite differently from what the universities use it for, no matter how proudly they might stand and stare in mockery at our necessity of it.
We need history for life and action, not as a convenient way to avoid life and action, or as an alternative to a life lived by the sweat of one’s brow, which is as base as base can get. Anything, for that matter, deserves honour only so far as it serves life but to study something and to value its study beyond a certain point actually degrades life instead of uplifting it. And that is what we can learn from the history of the religious invaders of Kiangs’ days and the Political Invaders these days. Today everyone permits himself the expression of his wish and his dearest thoughts hence I too shall say what I wish from myself on the invaders then and now.
There is a feeling that comes to mind when one writes on those that sacrificed themselves for what we have today and so it is with the greatest pleasure that I write on a historical subject in praise of a martyr from among the Khasi-Pnar people – in praise of Kiang Nangbah and to draw a present day lesson from the threats and the experiences that stare us, Khasis and Pnars, in the face even today.
As a Christian, to do justice to Kiang in an essay as short as this, I have to suffer the fate of a sore betrayer – why do I judge myself so harshly? Because he died fighting the Christian invaders who imposed a tax on what he got from his own land and as if to add insult to injury usurped his sacred grounds and built their church on it instead. That was too much for him.
Does anyone really believe that I, as a born Christian, could easily bring up my heaviest argument against those that brought this faith to these hills? Everything decisive in this matter I withhold as much as I can; I know the flaws of my faith and to which it aspires or rather that to which its proponents aspire. This is the dilemma I face; there’s only one justification. The natural calling in the basest and the highest of men is the instinct to promote their moral values – the invaders did it in the name of God.
It is a well known fact that as a community’s power decreases, it takes transgressions more seriously. There may be those that have had the same thoughts and feelings as I do regarding Kiang, and so what I express might fall short of how they would have wanted to express themselves. To them my justification is that perhaps I do not feel it as elementally enough as they do, and cannot express myself as fruitfully as they would. On the other hand there may be those that share what I am about to express, to them I offer a thousand salutations.
Kiang had no doubts that the invaders desired nothing more than to conquer and decimate the culture and religion of his people. This fact is worthy of narration year after year – generation to generation; and especially now as we will discover in the following paragraphs. Perhaps it was his nature to fight and decimate anything that opposed his culture, perhaps he never believed he would die at the hands of these invaders, but if he did entertain that thought, it must have stirred up his fierceness ever stronger, knowing that death is painless.
I have read brief accounts (by the invader race) of the battles he fought and a common characteristic they shared was that “this was no ordinary man they were fighting against.” He was a man with “an awesome quintessence of a lofty morality”– and the invaders made that perfectly clear when they captured, tried and sentenced him in less than 24 hours. They were condemning themselves in this summary trial and sentence and they wanted as little publicity as possible – it must have nauseated them to admit that they were pathologically inferior to this “lofty independent individual,” and his race.
I would be doing his name a great injustice if I did not mention his prophetic last testimony translated.
“If my face turns westward, my motherland and my people will be enslaved for eternity. If it turns eastward, we will be liberated within a hundred years.”
His limp head turned eastward. And his motherland was liberated as prophesied. Death for the sake of the preservation of the race is an inexorable and an unconquerable instinct that everyone is bestowed with but only a few respond to its call and in Kiang we find a perfect example of a man who responded.
As a race, in the olden days, it was easy enough for us to divide ourselves using the myopic lens of good and bad, kind and cruel, useful and harmful, when dealing amongst ourselves, but when it came to our race versus another race in any large scale accounting, we put aside these petty divisions and immediately abandoned them. In the face of others who may seek to harm or destroy our people we change and that was exactly what happened to Kiang…from being a calm quiet farmer focusing his energy on the procurement of food and fuel for his family, he changed when faced with the threat that his people would be overcome, that his way of worship and work in general would be systematically overwhelmed and revised by the invaders.
Deep within himself and perhaps unknown to him at that point in time, Kiang nurtured instincts without which the Pnars would have long become feeble and weak and maybe extinct. But, in hindsight, that was not to be, because this hatred and anger for the invaders, which in peaceful times would have just been a fierce display at his neighbours and even perhaps a delight at the misfortunes of others, turned into a terrible rage when his race was at stake.
The soul that Kiang possessed manifested itself in the most heroic aspect – a patriot and a martyr and because of which the race continues to thrive in every aspect of their culture to this day. He didn’t know that the preservation of the race would only come at the cost of a blood sacrifice, his blood. The preservation of any race always comes at a high price; even the squandering of life. There are those who regard this approach as extremely foolish, but not him and his followers; theirs was a higher calling. And now we can see that he has proven his detractors wrong and proven himself right…the race has been preserved in every respect of the word.
As things stand at present, I do not know if my fellow men and neighbours are desirous of living in a way that would damage our race, but considering the neglect they have shown towards their duty as leaders of the State their actions have been unreasonable and bad of late. The invaders that could have harmed our way of life and our religion may have vanished once and for all and become extinct long ago from these beautiful hills, and may by now be one of those things that are not possible even if God were to deem it so. But we can still be a threat to ourselves if we follow the course that the new invaders seek to impose on the men and women that hold dearly onto the belief of our ancestors.
I will refrain from elaborating what we have to face and do now in order to preserve our race because everything seems blurred and resorting to the ways of Kiang are no longer an option in this civilization and democracy that has become our way of life. People seek to demonstrate their power through their actions – Kiang through his, our politicians through theirs. For Kiang it was a necessity, for the latter it was merely a beautiful luxury. Politics and greed is the new invader.
In this altered world, politicians must realise that they are called upon to make things good again for the people and not finish us like an enemy from within. They must not for a single minute think that they have been elected by God or some other power…we elected them and it us they must serve. They are the ones that must now serve the interest of the Khasi-Pnar culture and the religion: Kiang did his part – greed can be its undoing. My dear politicians you must make life worth living for us because it is possible; it is there in front of us to see just as it was there on the 30th December 1862.
Let us conclude. Good and bad have been engaged in an endless battle since Eden, and though the latter value has certainly been dominant for a long time, there are still places where it is as yet undecided…our fate is still in our hands.