“My experience has shown that when you deal with culturally sensitive issues, you have no choice but to be as careful and as patient as possible. Every concern should be addressed properly. Otherwise, greater problems emerge at later times, when nothing can be done” Farzaneh Davari
Wearing black too often is not a good thing to do. It implies inviting sadness and miseries, as black attracts negative energy. It is strictly prohibited to visit someone who is not keeping well right after a bereavement/funeral. If you were mistakenly hit/touched by a broom, you are supposed to step on it thrice to avoid any omen. If a certain family member dies in an accident, the dead body is not supposed to be taken inside the house as similar incidents may occur to other members of the family. Teenagers too are discouraged to go to such occasions to avoid any unpleasant happening. In case of any dead in the family, the main door of the house should not be closed for three days – three nights, as the spirit of the deceased may visit any time during that period. During a marriage, the uncle(s) has a significant role to play, especially when it comes to speaking on behalf of the family/clan of the groom and the bride. While cooking, if a bamboo bursts along with the firewood, it implies that some visitor will be coming later that day. While dropping the groom to his wife’s residence, only the uncles, male members of his family and male friends should accompany him. If you take a safety pin from someone, they are not supposed to give directly but rather have to pin it to a cloth. While borrowing chillies or while giving chillies to someone, one has to give money (any amount), as taking or giving it for free of cost may cause unpleasant arguments amongst them. Heavy rain during funerals reflects sadness and sunshine reflects the happiness of the deceased. Amongst the children, if the daughter resembles the father or any of his relatives, the family will prosper in all aspects. Similarly for the son, if he resembles his mother or any of his mother’s relatives. Likewise, if the son resembles his father – the father will either die early or re-marry. This is the same case if the daughter resembles her mother. If a lady’s scarf (jain-kyrshah) falls off, it implies someone close to that person is remembering her. The above is a list of tribal beliefs and practices. The list can go on . . . and it is exhaustive.
It would require good research, documentation and time to list them. The list of such practices and beliefs will multiply if we are to go places in search of elders with clear and sound knowledge in our rural interiors in the State. The crafting of such beliefs is based on logic, significance, happenings of the past and explanation of why we ought to practice them. In most rural areas, they are religiously followed till date. Whether such beliefs and practices have any psychological connotation is something that can be researched. In a tribal setting, where respecting the elders is a must, we would listen and believe, by and by the things that are told to us by our elders and follow them accordingly. However, when one sits back to ponder on all such beliefs and practices, it makes one question if it would be right to ridicule all such practices? Maybe not!
The ancestors of any tribe in the past would have had enormous knowledge to prohibit certain things from being done and vice versa, making certain practices mandatory to be followed without fail. On many occasions, such beliefs and practices seem to come into direct conflict with the tribals who are converted to Christianity or who are born into Christian families. We are then left with not knowing which to believe and which not to. Or as in many cases, we practice both and or leave it to our instincts depending on the circumstances. While many of the tribal beliefs and practices are being forgotten, not given importance to, or in most cases, done away with because of the tag that they are mere superstitions, one would agree that the rationale behind all of what has been stated and told cannot be completely ignored. At such times, I do feel, we need to educate ourselves from the elders who are still in our communities and who could explain to us the significance of such practices and why following certain beliefs and practices are required. It would then be advisable to take full advantage of our elders in the family, our native/community to be able to document and preserve such knowledge.
According to the 2011 Census, in Meghalaya, 86 per cent of the total population belongs to the Scheduled Tribes (STs), among which more than 84 per cent are now Christians. The process of conversion of these tribes, which began in the early decades of the twentieth century and picked up pace after Independence, is an ongoing process. The share of Christians in Meghalaya’s ST population has been rising every decade (Swarajya, 2016). The rise in the share of Christians among the Garos has been relatively high, with Christians forming about 83 per cent of the Garo population in the 1991 census. The percentage increased to 96 per cent. The figures would have certainly increased as of the current year.
Interestingly, although the Christian population is high, the cultural beliefs and practices are something that is still intact and is always looked at as something very precious. Such knowledge of the wise elders holds weightage as they are being passed on from one generation to another. Being a tribal myself, I have been raised and brought up in an environment, whereby I have been strictly told about many do’s and don’ts and the ramifications if a certain thing is done which is not according to these beliefs and practices. In this context, as tribals, we are required to be aware of them, yet at the same time, be able to draw a line between being a tribal and being a Christian / a non-believer and or being both. While modernisation has facilitated this planet to be a ‘global village’, where one is familiar with everyone else, knowing our origin and sticking to one’s roots is equally important and necessary.
The richly diverse religious practices of the people of the State like the Songsarek of the Garo, the Niam Khasi, the pre-Christian Khasi religion of the Khasis and the Jaintias has survived for numerous centuries and in them lies potential a pool of cultural and religious knowledge. They are informative and can educate the Khasi people’s closeness to nature, and that God is omnipresent in every element of nature. Similarly, the religions of Garo and Jaintia tribes are also monotheistic in nature. While it has become almost impossible for the modern man to follow everything in toto because of external factors entering the belief system and style of living, yet the wisdom bestowed upon the tribals by our forefathers is something that cannot be ignored and tagged as mere superstitions. They carry with them societal prescribed norms of culture, traditions, lineage, folklore, marriage, death and everything else surrounding mankind and his existence on this planet.
Tribal beliefs and practices, sadly, are fading away because of lack of knowledge about them or because at certain phases of our lives, we have started questioning and rationalising the need to still follow them. For those which seemed logical, relevant and applicable to our day-to-day lives, we would believe them and continue to do so, while for some, those that do not really seem too obvious, we would choose to ignore and let go. At a larger picture, the word of mouth has done the trick of educating the young ones, while for the most part, when the giver is not certain about the facts; it is just being told and portrayed as some fairy tale – a thing of the past.