Karbis Of Assam

Ethnology on the Karbis also Known as Mikirs

Archive for February, 2008

UNDERSTANDING THE KARBI FOLK RELIGION

Posted by Administrator on February 26, 2008

 

 

 

Understanding Karbi Folk religion

Dharamsing Teron

Diphu, Karbi Anglong

Abstract:

Hi:ì and Arnam — roughly translated to mean ‘demon’ and ‘deity’ — enjoy equal status in Karbi folk rituals. The presence of dozens of deities and their ‘negative counterparts’ in Karbi rituals reveal the inherent duality and unity in the folk religion of the tribe. The expression ‘Hi:ì-Arnam’ is a phrase coined by the Karbi ancestors and it is never juxtaposed or uttered in reverse. Hi:ì therefore is not  the parallel of the ‘demon’ of the established religions. The unity and duality of the ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ forces and the ‘balance’ between them are what constitute the philosophical basis of the Karbi folk religion. Ancestors are worshipped and Karbi souls travel through predestined paths back to the ‘village of the ancestors’, which neither is hell nor heaven. Karbi funerary ritual is a celebration of death as much as it is a celebration of life.

Object of the Paper:

This paper is an attempt to give a brief insight into Karbi religious beliefs, which are basically animist in nature, fused with elements of shamanist ‘mysticism’, ancestor worship and a good many sacrifices to the unseen and territorial deities. The basic argument is derived from the varied and fascinating world of Karbi folklore, cosmologic tales and ritual practices that still continue to dominate the Karbi ‘religious’ traditions under the shadows of the mighty world religions.

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The orphan and the vulture’s feather

Posted by Administrator on February 26, 2008

Once there was a poor jāng:resó who lived with his old mother. When he grew up to be a young man, he got himself a wife. But trouble started, as the two women would always pick up a quarrel at the slightest pretext, which made his life increasingly unbearable. The mother-in-law would hit her daughter-in-law in her legs with beleng while husking paddy; and likewise the daughter-in-law would also not hesitate to hit her mother-in-law on her back with the wooden pestle.

Thus jāng:resó would always be burdened with thoughts: if he let go his old mother, there would be no one to look after her; and it was not possible to let go his wife since they were married for once and ever. With troubled thoughts in his mind, the jāng:resó one day sat all by himself in a deep wood far away from his house and the quarrelsome women.

Seeing the darkened face of the jāng:resó, the takun-recho approached him and wanted to know what burdened him. The jāng:resó replied— ‘Ever since I got married, my mother and wife would always quarrel and engage in fights. I can neither leave my mother nor my wife. I am at a loss what to do with my life!’ The takun-recho then pulled out a feather from his wings and offered it to the jāng:resó and asked him to go back home and look through it.

The jāng:resó returned home and as advised by the takun-recho, quietly took out the feather and looked through it at the two women husking paddy. To his utter dismay, he found his mother was actually a pig and his wife a deer! The pig would burrow the deer’s legs while the deer would also kick at the pig— and so the two ‘animals’ would not go together! The mother was of a pig ‘character’ while the wife was of a deer’s!

So, one day, the jāng:resó hid himself in a distance and started watching through the takun-recho’s feather at the many travelers frequenting the road and lo— what he saw were hordes of cattle and goats and buffalows instead of the beautiful people he saw with his naked eyes! He continued with his experiments looking through the takun-feather and without it to find a real human being. Towards the end of the day, when the sun was cooling down, he saw a young woman traveler whom he found to be a real human being with or without the takun-feather. He tried several times looking at the young woman through the takun-feather, but she was a real human being though she was not very beautiful. The jāng:resó then caught hold of the young woman’s hand and explained to her his woes and requested her to help him out by accepting to be his wife. The young woman, being a real human being, understood the woes of the jāng:resó and agreed to marry him if it helped restore a life and a family.

When the jāng:resó reached home, he gave his former wife the options to either leave or continue to stay with him as he now had brought a new wife. The former wife left for her parent’s house. The new wife adjusted well with her mother-in-law and there were no quarrels again in the family.

(This Karbi folk-story is a translation from the 1973 collection of Dr. Karl Heinz Grüßner.) 


Jāng:resó– an orphan

Beleng– bamboo winnowing tray

takun-recho – vulture-king or king of vulture

 

 

HOW THE DRONGO GOT ITS RACKET-TAIL?

When the earth was young, the drongo had rat-like tail and the rat the racket tail. One day, in a chance meeting, the drongo saw the rat with its pair of beautiful racket-tails that swept the floor so unceremoniously. The drongo started praising the rat for being so proud an owner of the pair of racket-tails and proposed if he could try them on himself for some time! The rat thought over it and agreed to a temporary exchange. The drongo offered his tail to the rat first. The drongo complemented the rat for being such a wonderful match with the new tail! It was the drongo’s turn and when the rat offered his racket-tails, the drongo jumped with joy and flew away into the sky after the exchange. From the sky, as he flew, the drongo praised the rat how nice the tail looked on him. But the drongo never descended to the ground to return back the pair of racket-tails to its original owner. The poor rat could only scream and curse at the betrayal of the drongo who never seemed to care.

Several days had passed and one day, the rat planned to get back his racket-tails from the drongo— with the help of his best friend, the snake! According to the plan, the snake would lie in wait in a tree trunk frequented by the drongo for the swarming ants. The drongo appeared in the appointed location unmindful of the trap and happily chomped at the swarming ants. The snake then suddenly snapped at the legs of the drongo and would not let go so that his friend colud snatch back his rightful possession. But it wouldn’t be so to the misfortune of the poor rat. A vast swarm of doves emerged from nowhere in such quick succession that frightened the poor snake and forced him to loosen his grip over the drongo. The drongo, being clever, had anticipated such an unforeseen danger from the rat and had befriended the doves long before. The drongo was rescued and ever since, he got the racket-tail from the rat, permanently. And in return of the doves’ help, the drongo promised that he would never imitate their voice! To this day, drongo, known for its excellent capability of imitating other birds, has refrained from doing so with the doves.

However, the animosity between the rat and the racket-tailed drongo has continued to this day. If a chance arose anywhere, the rat would never let go an opportunity to pounce upon the drongo and destroy him.

The Karbis revere the drongo as the king of birds and appropriately decorate it on top of the ceremonial emblem of the tribe called ‘Jambili Athon’, used during the funerary Chomkan (or thī:karhi) festival. The racket-tails of the drongo are a prized possession in Karbi tradition as essential decorative headgear for males in important rituals. The racket-tails are therefore stored securely in the house inside a dried segment of bamboo hung from the roof with a pair of cords. It is conventional to store the racket-tails of the drongo in this fashion in a Karbi house, since this is believed to secure them from the attacks of rats. Because, to this day, rats have not forgotten the betrayal of the drongo*!

(As narrated by Hemari Rongpi-75, Kāt Dera-78 and Longsing Hansé-65 of Jirikindeng, West KA. *Drongo, Racket-tailed Drongo Dicrurus paradiseus. Locally called Bhimraj. Vo-jaru in Karbi. )

 

 

 

A Granny and A Pig

One day, an old granny got a rupee. She thought to herself— Ah! What good use would I put this money to? Granny thought and thought, and thought of buying a pig with the money. And lo! There’s the pig. Granny and the pig, on their return home, were to clear the stair to the hemthengsong. Granny ordered her pig to climb the stairs. But the pig refused to budge and replied, ‘No, I shall not climb the stairs!’

Granny was startled at the pig’s refusal and kept on going till she met with a dog. She asked the dog to bite the pig, because the pig refused to climb the stairs and so she cannot reach her home.

Dog replied, ‘No, I shall not bite the pig!’

Granny went on.
She met with a piece of dry wood and asked it to beat the dog, because the dog refused to bite the pig, because the pig refused to climb the stairs and so she cannot reach her home.

Dry wood replied, ‘No, I shall not beat the dog!’

But again, the old granny went on until she met with a fire burning.
She asked the ‘fire’ to burn up the dry wood, because it refused to beat the dog, because the dog refused to bite the pig, because the pig refused go climb the stairs and so she cannot reach her home.

Fire replied, ‘No, I shall not burn the dry wood!’

The old granny went on until she met with water.
She asked the ‘water’ to douse the fire, because it refused to burn up the dry wood, because the dry wood refused to beat the dog, because the dog refused to bite the pig, because the pig refused to climb the stairs and so she cannot reach her home.

Water replied, ‘No I shall not douse the fire!’

Then granny went on until she met with a bullock.
And she asked him to guzzle the water because the water refused to douse the fire, because the fire refused to burn up the dry wood, because the dry wood refused to beat the dog, because the dog refused to bite the pig, because the pig refused to climb the stairs and so she cannot reach her home.

The bullock replied, ‘No, I shall not drink up the water!’
Granny went on and she met with a butcher.
She asked her to butcher the bullock, because he refused to drink up the water, because water refused to douse the fire, because fire refused to burn up the dry wood, because the dry wood refused to beat the dog, because the dog refused to bite the pig, because the pig refused to climb the stairs and so she cannot reach her home.

The butcher replied, ‘No, I shall not cut up the bullock!’

Granny went on until she met with a rope.
She asked the rope to hang the butcher, because he refused to cut up the bullock, because the bullock refused to drink up the water, because water refused to douse the fire, because the fire refused to burn up the dry wood, because the dry wood refused to beat the dog, because the dog refused to bite the pig, because the pig refused to climb the stairs and so she cannot reach her home.

The rope replied, ‘No, I shall not hang the butcher!’

Granny went on until she met with a rat. And she asked the rat to cut the rope into pieces, because the rope refused to hang the butcher, because he refused to cut up the bullock, because the bullock refused to drink up the water, because water refused to douse the fire, because the fire refused to burn up the dry wood, because the dry wood refused to beat the dog, because the dog refused to bite the pig, because the pig refused to climb the stairs and so she cannot reach her home.

The rat thought for a moment and replied, ‘Ok, give me a piece of milk-dough and I shall do as you command!’

Granny brought a milk-dough and gave it to the rat. The rat began to cut the rope. The rope began to prepare to hang the butcher. The butcher began to prepare to cut up the bullock. The bullock began to prepare to drink up the water. The water began to douse the fire. The fire began to burn up the dry wood. The dry wood began to beat the pig. And then, the pig began to climb the stairs. And finally, the old granny reached her home.

Hemthengsong is a stilt house where Karbis lived traditionally. This folktale is reproduced from the Karbi text originally appearing in ‘Tomo Puru’, a compilation of folk-tales published by William Ralph Hutton for the American Baptist Mission, Gauhati, Assam, and printed at the Christian Literature Society’s Press, Madras—1930.
* This write-up was published in the Souvenir to commemorate the 1st ever ‘Diphu Book Fair’ held from 31st Jan to 5th Feb 08.

 

 

A Tale of Two Orphans   

Once, there lived two brothers, whose father and mother having died. The orphaned brothers inherited only a cow and a warm pé ingki. The elder brother then advised his younger brother—‘Bòng, look, our father had left behind only a cow and a pé ingki, now how shall we share them? Let me devise it this way—You use the pé ingki during the day while I use it at night.’ The younger brother had no option but to agree to the proposal. The elder brother went on— ‘The cow, let us demarcate it in the middle, the head portion to you and the anus portion to me, so that provisions required for the head shall be taken care of by you while for the anus, it shall be my responsibility! Whatever is borne of the head shall be your property and that of the anus shall accordingly be mine!’ Since the cow is eating from its mouth of the head portion, the younger brother had to feed it all the time. And when the cow bore a cub, it was through the anus portion, which the elder brother had claimed as per the term of agreement.

 

            One day, the younger brother with the pé ingki worn around him, visited an old widowed woman. He took a seat in the courtyard while his cow was left nearby to graze. The old widow said—‘Grandson, why are you wearing this warm cloth in so hot sun?’ ‘Oh grandma, my elder brother advised that the cow and this pé ingki left behind by our father and mother, he shall wear the cloth at night and I lay bare shivering and I suffer a lot. I can only wear it during day.’ The widow then advised—‘Tonight, in the guise of having accidentally fallen, wet the cloth and later you shall share the cloth.’ And with regard to the cow, the widow advised, ‘Tomorrow, before you take it to grazing, hit it on its head with a stick. This shall cause your elder brother to retort at you and then you simply reply— your cow is the anus portion, not the head and I am not hitting yours. I shall kill my cow, because it is not bearing any cub. Ko, I cannot always graze it.’

 

            The younger brother returned home satisfied and did exactly as was advised by the old widow. The elder brother then realized his mistakes. If his younger brother kills the ‘head’, the cow shall die anyway. And as predicted by the widow, the younger brother got his due share— wearing the pé ingki together at night and taking care of the cow equally in turns.   (This folk tale is translated version of the original Karbi text appearing in ‘Arleng Alam: Die Sprache Der Mikir’—1978 by Dr. Karl-Heinz Grüßner, published by the University of Heidelberg, Germany.) 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         


         

Pé Ingki in Karbi is  =cloth, ingki=worm, made of endi.

Bòng is a term used to address a younger brother or anyone younger of both sexes by an elder.

is a very informal term used to address among Karbi males.

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