By: Rev. Yangkahao Vashum
The fact that indigenous people see themselves as interrelated in all their life totality to the whole creation can be seen from the creation myth and other practices and beliefs. I have identified three tribal traditions of the Northeast India for our purpose. The first one is a Tangkhul Naga creation myth which tells the story of the great assembly of all the creatures. It goes like this.
The great assembly of all creatures was convened by Kasa Akhava (God) to determine the duration of day and night. Kasa Akhava invited the opinions of the creatures. After a spell of silence the mole came out with a suggestion that day and night should each be one year in length. This suggestion was rejected by all due to its impracticality. The discussion continued, but no acceptable proposal was forthcoming. The rooster was then left with the responsibility to determine the length of day and night. The rooster should crow when he is exhausted and needed rest. This would signal the end of the day. Again the rooster should crow after he had sufficiently rested by night, heralding the dawning of the day.
The rooster, hence became the timekeeper for the world. Soon a scene was created by a hungry flying fox who disturbed the peaceful sleep of his fellow creatures at night. He was seated on a tree enjoying a walnut. By mistake the walnut fell from his hands and hit the crab lying below. The crab, filled with fury, destroyed the nest of the giant ants, who in turn stung a sleeping wild boar. The agonized bear went wild and destroyed a banana tree. This disturbed the tiny bat sleeping peacefully on a banana leaf. The angry bat sped about wildly and landed in the nostrils of a sleeping elephant.
The agitated elephant then went wild resulting in the death of a man. Kasa Akhava called all the creatures for an explanation and found that the flying fox was responsible for the unruly scene which ended in the death of a man. The flying fox was punished by having one of his legs amputated and given to the magpie, who was considered to be the eldest among the creatures. (1*)
The second story comes from the Khasis of Meghalaya. The Khasis believed that their ancestors descended from heaven/sky world. According to the Khasi origin story, God created sixteen families in heaven and allowed them to live with Him in heaven.(2*) God also gave them the freedom to move between heaven and earth through a golden ladder. On one such occasion, seven families decided to settle down on earth leaving behind the nine families in heaven. “These seven families came to be known as Ki Hynniew Ha Tbin (The Seven Below) and those who remained in heaven as Ki Khyndai Ha jrong (The Nine Above).”(3*)
The Khasis claim they are the descendents of these seven families. Then there is the log-drum of the Wanchos of Tirap district of Arunachal Pradesh. Log-drum constitutes as one of the finest symbols of the Wancho people’s culture. It is a drum curved out of a huge tree. In the past, log-drum is used for a number of purposes and occasions ranging from organizing defense mechanism, announcing natural calamities to heralding the beginning of community festivities and celebrations.
A number of different beats symbolized different meanings to the villagers. Construction of such huge drums involves series of sacred and secular activities. But when this is dragged to the village from the distant forest the Wanchos sang songs through which they beg pardon from each and every creature of the forest expressing how inevitable that tree was to them for which they had to cut and disturb their habitat. (4*)
All these stories speak for themselves. The creation myth explicitly brings out all that is concerned with our lives, our human relationship with Kasa Akhava and with non-human creation. Kasa Akhava is in the profoundest way asserted as the creator and sustainer of the universe. The Kasa Akhava is seen as respecting the creations and their roles in shaping and caring the created world.
Indigenous PeoplesThe whole creation is depicted as a family with Kasa Akhava as its head. In tribal society one most prominent practice is that important decisions are taken by the family sitting around the hearth-fire. This is indicative of the universal family which requires the participation and cooperation of all family members in decision making and carrying out the given responsibilities. The whole creation is depicted as co-workers – responsible partners – in caring for Kasa Akhava’s created world.
While the second story unravels how from the very beginning God and human family are connected to each other, the third story brings out how human and nature maintain their interdependent living relationship, especially humans towards the nature. The tribals have a sober view of anthropology. There is no myth, legend or belief which teaches that human beings are superior to other created beings.
Human beings are seen as co-workers with other creatures. Hence, the human relationship with the whole creation is characterized by mutual respect and mutual dependence. Further, their relationship is accentuated by the common responsibility they share in caring for God’s created world.
1) R. Luikham, Folktales and Tales of the Nagas (Delhi: Immanuel publishers, 1983), 77ff; Cf. Yangkahao Vashum, “A Tangkhul Creation Myth: Implication for a Holistic View of Human Rights,” in The Tribal Worldview and Ecology, Tribal Study Series no.2, eds. A. Wati Longchar and Yangkahao Vashum (Jorhat: Tribal Study Centre, 1998), 34-40.
2) R. Tokin Roy Rymbai, “Evolution of Modern Khasi Society (Babu Jeebon Roy),” in J. N. Chowdhury, ed. The Khasi Canvas: A Cultural and Political History (Shillong: Srimati Jaya Chowdhury, 1978), 415.
4) Sarit K. Chauduri, “Folk Belief and Resource Conservations: Reflections from Arunachal Pradesh,” in Indian Folklife: A Quarterly Newsletter from National Folklore Support Centre, Serial No. 28, January 2008, 5. Of course, log-drum is not unique to the Wanchos alone; it is a cultural symbol of most the tribals in the region.