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´╗┐Title: Folk-Tales of the Khasis
Author: Rafy, K. U.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Folk-Tales of the Khasis" ***

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                        FOLK-TALES OF THE KHASIS

                                   By

                               Mrs. RAFY



                              Illustrated

                       Macmillan and Co., Limited
                      St. Martin's Street, London
                                  1920



FOREWORD


Without any apology I offer to the public this imperfect collection
of the quaint and fascinating Folk-Tales of the Khasis, believing that
the perusal of them cannot fail to cheer and to give pleasure to many.

Of some of the stories there are several versions current in the
country,--sometimes conflicting versions,--but this in no way
diminishes their charm. In such cases I have selected the version
which appeared to me the most unique and graceful, and seemed to throw
the truest light on the habits and the character of this genial and
interesting Hill race.

Several of these tales have been published by me from time to time
in The Statesman of Calcutta, by whose courtesy I am permitted to
reproduce them in this volume.

I shall consider the book amply rewarded if it bears the fruit I
anticipate, by rendering more cheerful an hour or two in the life of
its readers during these busy and strenuous times.


K. U. R.

August 10, 1918.



CONTENTS


                                                       Page
     1. What makes the Eclipse                            1
     2. The Legend of Mount Sophet Bneng                  8
     3. How the Peacock got his Beautiful Feathers       10
     4. The Goddess who came to live with Mankind        18
     5. The Formation of the Earth                       24
     6. U Raitong (The Khasi Orpheus)                    26
     7. The Tiger and the Monkeys                        37
     8. The Legend of the Iei Tree                       43
     9. Hunting the Stag Lapalang                        49
    10. The Goddesses Ka Ngot and Ka Iam                 52
    11. U Biskurom                                       55
    12. U Thlen                                          58
    13. How the Dog came to live with Man                68
    14. The Origin of Betel and Tobacco                  75
    15. The Stag and the Snail                           81
    16. The Leap of Ka Likai                             85
    17. The Shadows on the Moon                          89
    18. U Ksuid Tynjang                                  92
    19. What makes the Lightning                         97
    20. The Prohibited Food                             100
    21. The Cooing of the Doves                         104
    22. How the Colour of the Monkey became Grey        106
    23. Ka Panshandi, the Lazy Tortoise                 108
    24. The Idiot and the Hyndet Bread                  111
    25. U Ramhah                                        116
    26. How the Cat came to live with Man               120
    27. How the Fox got his White Breast                123
    28. How the Tiger got his Strength                  128
    29. How the Goat came to live with Man              131
    30. How the Ox came to be the Servant of Man        134
    31. The Lost Book                                   137
    32. The Blessing of the Mendicant                   140



ILLUSTRATIONS


    In the Neighbourhood of the Mountain
        of the Iei Tree                        Frontispiece

                                                       Page
    Khasi Peasants                                        3
    At the Foot of Mount Shillong                        19
    At the Foot of the Mountain of the Iei Tree          44
    A Khasi Waterfall in the Neighbourhood of the
        Mountain of the Iei Tree                         45
    The Haunt of Ka Kma Kharai                           60
    Sacred Grove and Monoliths                           63
    At the Foot of the Shillong Mountains                69
    A View in the reputed Region where U Ramhah the
        Giant committed his Atrocities                   76
    The Leap of Ka Likai                                 86
    The reputed Haunt of U Ksuid Tynjang                 93
    A Khasi Industry--Frying Fish in the Open Air       141



I

WHAT MAKES THE ECLIPSE


Very early in the history of the world a beautiful female child, whom
the parents called Ka Nam, was born to a humble family who lived in a
village on the borders of one of the great Khasi forests. She was such
a beautiful child that her mother constantly expressed her fears lest
some stranger passing that way might kidnap her or cast an "evil eye"
upon her, so she desired to bring her up in as much seclusion as their
poor circumstances would permit. To this the father would not agree;
he told his wife not to harbour foolish notions, but to bring up the
child naturally like other people's children, and teach her to work and
to make herself useful. So Ka Nam was brought up like other children,
and taught to work and to make herself useful.

One day, as she was taking her pitcher to the well, a big tiger came
out of the forest and carried her to his lair. She was terrified
almost to death, for she knew that the tigers were the most cruel
of all beasts. The name of this tiger was U Khla, and his purpose
in carrying off the maiden was to eat her, but when he saw how young
and small she was, and that she would not suffice for one full meal
for him, he decided to keep her in his lair until she grew bigger.

He took great care of her and brought home to her many delicacies
which her parents had never been able to afford, and as she never
suspected the cruel designs of the tiger, she soon grew to feel quite
at home and contented in the wild beast's den, and she grew up to be
a maiden of unparalleled loveliness.

The tiger was only waiting his opportunity, and when he saw that
she had grown up he determined to kill her, for he was longing to
eat the beautiful damsel whom he had fed with such care. One day,
as he busied himself about his lair, he began to mutter to himself:
"Now the time has come when I can repay myself for all my trouble in
feeding this human child; to-morrow I will invite all my fellow-tigers
here and we will feast upon the maiden."

It happened that a little mouse was foraging near the den at that
time and she overheard the tiger muttering to himself. She was very
sorry for the maiden, for she knew that she was alone and friendless
and entirely at the mercy of the tiger; so the little mouse went
and told the maiden that the tigers were going to kill her and eat
her on the following day. Ka Nam was in great distress and wept very
bitterly. She begged of the mouse to help her to escape, and the mouse,
having a tender heart, gave her what aid was in her power.

In the first place she told the maiden to go out of the den and to
seek the cave of the magician, U Hynroh, the Giant Toad, to whom
the realm was under tribute. He was a peevish and exacting monster
from whom every one recoiled, and Ka Nam would have been terrified
to approach him under ordinary conditions, but the peril which faced
her gave her courage, and under the guidance of the mouse she went
to the toad's cave. When he saw her and beheld how fair she was,
and learned how she had been the captive of his old rival the tiger,
he readily consented to give her his protection; so he clothed her in
a toadskin, warning her not to divest herself of it in the presence
of others on pain of death. This he did in order to keep the maiden
in his own custody and to make her his slave.

When the mouse saw that her beautiful friend had been transformed
into the likeness of a hideous toad she was very sorrowful, and
regretted having sent her to seek the protection of U Hynroh, for
she knew that as long as she remained in the jungle Ka Nam would be
henceforth forced to live with the toads and to be their slave. So
she led her away secretly and brought her to the magic tree which was
in that jungle, and told the maiden to climb into the tree that she
might be transported to the sky, where she would be safe from harm
for ever. So the maid climbed into the magic tree and spoke the magic
words taught her by the mouse: "Grow tall, dear tree, the sky is near,
expand and grow." Upon which the tree began to expand upwards till
its branches touched the sky, and then the maiden alighted in the
Blue Realm and the tree immediately dwindled to its former size.

By and by the tiger and his friends arrived at the den, ravenous
for their feast, and when he found that his prey had disappeared
his disappointment and anger knew no bounds and were terrible to
witness. He uttered loud threats for vengeance on whoever had connived
at the escape of his captive, and his roars were so loud that the
animals in the jungle trembled with fear. His fellow-tigers also became
enraged when they understood that they had been deprived of their
feast, and they turned on U Khla and in their fury tore him to death.

Meanwhile Ka Nam wandered homeless in the Blue Realm, clothed in the
toadskin. Every one there lived in palaces and splendour, and they
refused to admit the loathsome, venomous-looking toad within their
portals, while she, mindful of the warning of U Hynroh, the magician,
feared to uncover herself. At last she appeared before the palace
of Ka Sngi, the Sun, who, ever gracious and tender, took pity on her
and permitted her to live in a small outhouse near the palace.

One day, thinking herself to be unobserved, the maid put aside her
covering of toadskin and sat to rest awhile in her small room, but
before going abroad she carefully wrapped herself in the skin as
before. She was accidentally seen by the son of Ka Sngi, who was a
very noble youth. He was astonished beyond words to find a maiden of
such rare beauty hiding herself beneath a hideous toadskin and living
in his mother's outhouse, and he marvelled what evil spell had caused
her to assume such a loathsome covering. Her beauty enthralled him
and he fell deeply in love with her.

He hastened to make his strange discovery known to his mother, and
entreated her to lodge the maiden without delay in the palace and to
let her become his wife. Ka Sngi, having the experience and foresight
of age, determined to wait before acceding to the request of her
young and impetuous son until she herself had ascertained whether a
maid such as her son described really existed beneath the toadskin,
or he had been deluded by some evil enchantment into imagining that
he had seen a maiden in the outhouse.

So Ka Sngi set herself to watch the movements of the toad in the
outhouse, and one day, to her surprise and satisfaction, she beheld
the maiden uncovered, and was astonished at her marvellous beauty
and pleasing appearance. But she did not want her son to rush into an
alliance with an enchanted maiden, so she gave him a command that he
should not go near or speak to the maid until the toadskin had been
destroyed and the evil spell upon her broken. Once again Ka Sngi set
herself to watch the movements of the toad, and one day her vigilance
was rewarded by discovering Ka Nam asleep with the toadskin cast
aside. Ka Sngi crept stealthily and seized the toadskin and burned
it to ashes. Henceforth the maiden appeared in her own natural form,
and lived very happily as the wife of Ka Sngi's son, released for
ever from the spell of the Giant Toad.

There was an old feud between U Hynroh and Ka Sngi because she
refused to pay him tribute, and when he learned that she had wilfully
destroyed the magic skin in which he had wrapped the maiden, his anger
was kindled against Ka Sngi, and he climbed up to the Blue Realm to
devour her. She bravely withstood him, and a fierce struggle ensued
which was witnessed by the whole universe.

When mankind saw the conflict they became silent, subdued
with apprehension lest the cruel monster should conquer their
benefactress. They uttered loud cries and began to beat mournfully
on their drums till the world was full of sound and clamour.

Like all bullies, U Hynroh was a real coward at heart, and when he
heard the noise of drums and shouting on the earth, his heart melted
within him with fear, for he thought it was the tramp of an advancing
army coming to give him battle. He quickly released his hold upon Ka
Sngi and retreated with all speed from the Blue Realm. Thus mankind
were the unconscious deliverers of their noble benefactress from the
hand of her cruel oppressor.

U Hynroh continues to make periodical attacks on the sun to this day,
and in many countries people call the attacks "Eclipses," but the
Ancient Khasis, who saw the great conflict, knew it to be the Giant
Toad, the great cannibal, trying to devour Ka Sngi. He endeavours to
launch his attacks when the death of some great personage in the world
is impending, hoping to catch mankind too preoccupied to come to the
rescue. Throughout the whole of Khasi-land to this day it is the custom
to beat drums and to raise a loud din whenever there is an eclipse.



II

THE LEGEND OF MOUNT SOPHET BNENG


Sophet Bneng is a bare dome-like hill, about thirteen miles to the
north of Shillong, and not far from the Shillong-Gauhati highroad to
the East, from which it is plainly visible. Its name signifies the
centre of heaven.

From the time of the creation of the world a tall tree, reaching to the
sky, grew on the top of this hill, and was used by the heavenly beings
as a ladder to ascend and descend between heaven and earth. At that
time the earth was uninhabited, but all manner of trees and flowers
grew in abundance, so that it was a very beautiful and desirable
place, and they of heaven frequently came down to roam and to take
their pleasure upon it.

When they found that the land in the neighbourhood of Sophet Bneng
was fertile and goodly, they began to cultivate it for profit, but
they never stayed overnight on the earth; they ascended to heaven,
according to the decree. Altogether sixteen families followed the
pastime of cultivating the land upon the earth.

Among the heavenly beings there was one who greatly coveted power,
and was unwilling to remain the subject of his Creator, and aspired
to rule over his brethren. He was constantly seeking for opportunities
whereby to realise his ambitions.

One day it happened that seven families only of the cultivators
chose to descend to the earth, the other nine remaining in heaven
that day. When they were busy at work in their fields, the ambitious
one covertly left his brethren, and, taking his axe secretly, he cut
down the tree of communication, so that the seven families could not
return to their heavenly home.

Thus it was that mankind came to live on the earth, and it is from
these seven families--called by the Khasis "Ki Hinniew Skum" (the
seven nests, or the seven roots)--who descended from heaven on that
fatal day that all the nations of the earth have sprung.



III

HOW THE PEACOCK GOT HIS BEAUTIFUL FEATHERS


When the world was young and when all the animals spoke the language
of mankind, the peacock, U Klew, was but an ordinary grey-feathered
bird without any pretensions to beauty. But, even in those days,
he was much given to pride and vanity, and strutted about with all
the majesty of royalty, just because his tuft was more erect than the
tuft of other birds and because his tail was longer and was carried
with more grace than the tails of any of his companions.

He was a very unaccommodating neighbour. His tail was so big and
unwieldy that he could not enter the houses of the more lowly birds,
so he always attended the courts of the great, and was entertained
by one or other of the wealthy birds at times of festivals in the
jungle. This increased his high opinion of himself and added to his
self-importance. He became so haughty and overbearing that he was
cordially disliked by his neighbours, who endeavoured to repay him
by playing many a jest at his expense.

They used to flatter him, pretending that they held him in very high
esteem, simply for the amusement of seeing him swelling his chest and
hearing him boast. One day they pretended that a great Durbar of the
birds had been held to select an ambassador to carry the greetings
of the jungle birds to the beautiful maiden Ka Sngi, who ruled in the
Blue Realm and poured her bright light so generously on their world,
and that U Klew had been chosen for this great honour.

The peacock was very elated and became more swaggering than ever,
and talked of his coming visit with great boastings, saying that not
only was he going as the ambassador from the birds, but he was going
in his own interests as well, and that he would woo and win the royal
maiden for his wife and live with her in the Blue Realm.

The birds enjoyed much secret fun at his expense, none of them dreaming
that he would be foolish enough to make the attempt to fly so far,
for he was such a heavy-bodied bird and had never flown higher than
a tree-top.

But much to the surprise of every one, the peacock expressed his
intention of starting to the Blue Realm and bade his friends good-bye,
they laughing among themselves, thinking how ridiculous he was making
himself, and how angry he would be when he found how he had been
duped. Contrary to their expectations, however, U Klew continued his
flight upwards till they lost sight of him, and they marvelled and
became afraid, not knowing to what danger their jest might drive him.

Strong on the wing, U Klew soared higher and higher, never halting
till he reached the sky and alighted at the palace of Ka Sngi, the
most beautiful of all maidens and the most good.

Now Ka Sngi was destined to live alone in her grand palace, and her
heart often yearned for companionship. When she saw that a stranger
had alighted at her gates she rejoiced greatly, and hastened to
receive him with courtesy and welcome. When she learned the errand
upon which he had come, she was still happier, for she thought, "I
shall never pine for companionship again, for this noble bird will
always live with me"; and she smiled upon the world and was glad.

When U Klew left the earth and entered the realm of light and sunshine,
he did not cast from him his selfish and conceited nature, but rather
his selfishness and conceit grew more pronounced as his comforts and
luxuries increased. Seeing the eager welcome extended to him by the
beautiful maiden, he became more uplifted and exacting than ever and
demanded all sorts of services at her hands; he grew surly and cross
unless she was always in attendance upon him. Ka Sngi, on the other
hand, was noble and generous and delighted to render kindnesses to
others. She loved to shine upon the world and to see it responding to
her warmth and her smiles. To her mate, U Klew, she gave unstinted
attention and waited upon him with unparalleled love and devotion,
which he received with cold indifference, considering that all this
attention was due to his own personal greatness, rather than to the
gracious and unselfish devotion of his consort.

In former times Ka Sngi had found one of the chief outlets for her
munificence in shedding her warm rays upon the earth; but after the
coming of U Klew her time became so absorbed by him that she was no
longer able to leave her palace, so the earth became cold and dreary,
and the birds in the jungle became cheerless, their feathers drooped,
and their songs ceased. U Slap, the rain, came and pelted their
cosy nests without mercy, causing their young ones to die; U Lyoh,
the mist, brought his dark clouds and hung them over the rice fields
so that no grain ripened; and Ka Eriong, the storm, shook the trees,
destroying all the fruit, so that the birds wandered about homeless
and without food.

In their great misery they sought counsel of mankind, whom they knew
to be wiser than any of the animals. By means of divinations mankind
ascertained that all these misfortunes were due to the presence of U
Klew in the Blue Realm, for his selfish disposition prevented Ka Sngi
from bestowing her light and her smiles upon the world as in former
times; and there was no hope for prosperity until U Klew could be
lured back to jungle-land.

In those days there lived in the jungle a cunning woman whose name
was Ka Sabuit. Acting on the advice of mankind, the birds invoked her
aid to encompass the return of the peacock from the Blue Realm. At
that time Ka Sabuit was very destitute, owing to the great famine;
she had nothing to eat except some wild roots and no seed to sow in
her garden except one gourdful of mustard seeds--the cheapest and
most common of all seeds--and even this she was afraid to sow lest the
hungry birds should come and devour it and leave her without a grain.

When the birds came to seek counsel of her she was very pleased,
hoping that she could by some design force them to promise not to
rob her garden. After they had explained to her their trouble, she
undertook to bring U Klew back to the jungle within thirteen moons
on two conditions: one, that the birds should refrain from picking
the seeds from her garden; the other, that they should torment the
animals if they came to eat her crops or to trample on her land. These
appeared such easy terms that the birds readily agreed to them.

The garden of the cunning woman was in an open part of the jungle and
could be seen from many of the hill-tops around, and in past days the
sun used to shine upon it from morning till night. Thither Ka Sabuit
wended her way after the interview with the birds, and she began to
dig the ground with great care and patience, bestowing much more time
upon it than she had ever been known to do. Her neighbours laughed
and playfully asked her if she expected a crop of precious stones to
grow from her mustard seed that year that she spent so much labour
upon the garden, but the elderly dame took no heed. She worked on
patiently and kept her own counsel while the birds waited and watched.

She shaped her mustard bed like unto the form of a woman; this provoked
the mirth of her neighbours still more and incited many questions
from them, but Ka Sabuit took no heed. She worked patiently on and
kept her own counsel while the birds waited and watched.

By and by the seeds sprouted and the plot of land shaped like a
woman became covered with glistening green leaves, while the birds
continued to watch and to keep the animals at bay, and the cunning
woman watered and tended her garden, keeping her own counsel.

In time small yellow flowers appeared on all the mustard plants, so
that the plot of land shaped like a woman looked in the distance like a
beautiful maiden wearing a mantle of gold that dazzled the eyes. When
the neighbours saw it they wondered at the beauty of it and admired
the skill of the cunning woman; but no one could understand or guess
at her reason for the strange freak and Ka Sabuit threw no light on
the matter. She still patiently worked on and kept her own counsel.

Up in the Blue Realm U Klew continued his despotic and arrogant sway,
while his gentle and noble wife spared no pains to gratify his every
wish. Like all pampered people who are given all their desires, the
peacock became fretful and more and more difficult to please, tiring
of every diversion, and ever seeking some new source of indulgence,
till at last nothing seemed to satisfy him; even the splendours and
magnificence of the palace of Ka Sngi began to pall.

Now and then memories of his old home and old associates came to
disturb his mind, and he often wondered to himself what had been the
fate of his old playmates in jungle-land. One day he wandered forth
from the precincts of the palace to view his old haunts, and as he
recognised one familiar landmark after another his eye was suddenly
arrested by the sight of (as it seemed to him) a lovely maiden dressed
all in gold lying asleep in a garden in the middle of the forest
where he himself had once lived. At sight of her his heart melted
like water within him for the love of her. He forgot the allegiance
due to his beautiful and high-born wife, Ka Sngi; he could only think
of the maiden dressed all in gold, lying asleep in a jungle garden,
guarded by all the birds.

After this U Klew was reluctant to remain in the Blue Realm. His whole
being yearned for the maiden he had seen lying asleep on the earth,
and one day, to his wife's sorrow, he communicated his determination
to return to his native land to seek the object of his new love. Ka
Sngi became a sorrowful wife, for there is no pang so piercing to the
heart of a constant woman as the pang inflicted by being forsaken
by her husband. With all manner of inducements and persuasions and
charms she tried to prevail upon him to keep faithful to his marriage
vows, but he was heartless and obdurate; and, unmindful of all ties,
he took his departure. As he went away Ka Sngi followed him, weeping,
and as she wept her tears bedewed his feathers, transforming them into
all the colours of the rainbow. Some large drops falling on his long
tail as he flew away were turned into brilliant-hued spots, which
are called "Ummat Ka Sngi" (the Sun's tears) by the Khasis to this
day. Ka Sngi told him that they were given for a sign that wherever
he might be and on whomsoever his affections might be bestowed, he
would never be able to forget her, Ka Sngi, the most beautiful and
the most devoted of wives.

Thus U Klew, the peacock, came back to the jungle. The birds,
when they saw his beautiful feathers, greeted him with wonder and
admiration. When he informed them that he had come in quest of a lovely
maiden dressed all in gold, they began to laugh, and it now became
clear to them what had been the object of the cunning woman when she
shaped her mustard bed like unto the shape of a woman. They invited
U Klew to come and be introduced to the object of his love, and they
led him forth with great ceremony to the garden of Ka Sabuit, where he
beheld, not a beautiful maiden as he had imagined, but a bed of common
mustard cunningly shaped. His shame and humiliation were pitiful to
behold; he tried to fly back to the Blue Realm, but he was no longer
able to take a long flight; so, uttering the most sad and plaintive
cries, he had to resign himself to the life of the jungle for ever.

Every morning, it is said, the peacock can be seen stretching forth
his neck towards the sky and flapping his wings to greet the coming
of Ka Sngi; and the only happiness left to him is to spread his lovely
feathers to catch the beams which she once more sheds upon the earth.



IV

THE GODDESS WHO CAME TO LIVE WITH MANKIND

(A LEGEND OF THE SHILLONG PEAK)


Shillong Peak is the highest mountain in the Khasi Hills, and although
it bears such a prosaic name in our days, the mountain was a place of
renown in the days of the Ancient Khasis, full of romance and mystery,
sacred to the spirits and to the gods. In those days the mountain
itself, and the whole country to the north of it, was one vast forest,
where dwelt demons and dragons, who cast evil spells and caused dire
sickness to fall upon any unfortunate person who happened to spend
a night in that wild forest.

In the mountain there lived a god. At first the Ancients had no clear
revelation about this deity; they were vaguely aware of his existence,
but there was no decree that sacrifices should be offered to him. After
a time there arose among the Khasis a very wise man of the name
of U Shillong who was endowed with great insight to understand the
mysteries, and he discovered that the god of the mountain was great
and powerful, and sacrifice and reverence should be offered to him,
and he taught his neighbours how to perform the rites acceptably. The
name of the deity was not revealed, so the people began to call him "U
'Lei Shillong" (the god of U Shillong) after the name of the man who
first paid him homage. Then gradually he came to be called "the god
Shillong," and in time the mountain itself was called the mountain
of Shillong, and from this is derived the name of the present town
of Shillong.

Possibly the god Shillong was, and remains, one of the best-known
and most generally reverenced of all the Khasi gods, for even on
the far hill-tops of Jaintia altars have been raised to his service
and honour. Although sacrifices are being offered to him at distant
shrines, the abode of the god is in the Shillong mountain, more
especially in the sacred grove on the summit of the peak itself,
which is such a familiar landmark in the country.

Judging from tradition, this deity was regarded as a benign and
benevolent being, forbearing in his attitude towards mankind, who were
privileged to hunt in his forests unhindered by dangers and sicknesses,
and the dances of mankind were acceptable in his sight. He frequently
assisted them in their misfortunes and helped them to overcome the
oppression of demons. It was he who endowed U Suidnoh with wisdom
to fight and to conquer U Thlen, the great snake-god and vampire
from Cherrapoonjee, and it was by his intervention that Ka Thei and
her sister were delivered from the grasp of the merciless demon,
U Ksuid Tynjang.

Tradition also points out that this famous deity had a wife and
family, and three at least of his daughters are renowned in Khasi
folk-lore. One of them transformed herself into the likeness of
a Khasi maiden and came to live with mankind, where she became
the ancestress of a race of chiefs. Two other daughters, out of
playfulness, transformed themselves into two rivers, and are with us
in that form to this day. This is the story of the goddess who came
to live with mankind:

Many hundreds of years ago, near the place now known as Pomlakrai,
there was a cave called the Cave of Marai, near to which stood a
high perpendicular rock around which the youthful cow-herds of the
time used to play. They gathered there from different directions,
and passed the time merrily, practising archery and playing on their
flutes, while keeping an eye on their herds. The rock was too high
for them to attempt to climb it, and it was always spoken of as
"the rock on which the foot of man never trod."

On a certain day, when the lads came as usual to the familiar
rendezvous, they were surprised to see, sitting on the top of the
rock, a fair young girl watching them silently and wistfully. The
children, being superstitious, took fright at sight of her and ran
in terror to Mylliem, their village, leaving the cattle to shift
for themselves. When they told their news, the whole village was
roused and men quickly gathered to the public meeting-place to hold
a consultation. They decided to go and see for themselves if the
apparition seen by the children was a real live child, or if they
had been deluded by some spell or enchantment. Under the guidance of
the lads, they hurried to the place on the hill where the rock stood,
and there, as the boys had stated, sat a fair and beautiful child.

The clothes worn by the little girl were far richer than any worn
by their own women-folk, so they judged that she belonged to some
rich family, and she was altogether so lovely that the men gazed
open-mouthed at her, dazzled by her beauty. Their sense of chivalry
soon asserted itself, however, and they began to devise plans to
rescue the maiden from her perilous position. To climb up the face
of that steep rock was an impossible feat; so they called to her,
but she would not answer; they made signs for her to descend, but
she did not stir, and the men felt baffled and perplexed.

Chief among the rescuers was a man called U Mylliem Ngap, who was
remarkable for his sagacity and courage. When he saw that the child
refused to be coaxed, he attributed it to her fear to venture unaided
down that steep and slippery rock. So he sent some of his comrades
to the jungle to cut down some bamboos, which he joined together and
made into a pole long enough to reach the top of the rock. Then he
beckoned to the child to take hold of it, but she sat on unmoved.

By this time the day was beginning to wane, yet the child did not stir
and the rescuers were growing desperate. To leave her to her fate on
that impregnable rock would be little less than cold-blooded murder,
for nothing but death awaited her. They began to lament loudly, as
people lament when mourning for their dead, but the child sat on in
the same indifferent attitude.

Just then U Mylliem Ngap noticed a tuft of wild flowers growing near
the cave, and he quickly gathered a bunch and fastened it to the end
of the long pole and held it up to the maiden's view. The moment she
saw the flowers, she gave a cry of delight and held out her hand to
take them. U Mylliem Ngap promptly lowered the pole and the child
moved towards it, but before she could grasp the flowers the pole was
again lowered; so, little by little, step by step, as the men watched
with bated breath, the little maid reached the ground in safety.

U Mylliem Ngap, with general consent, constituted himself her
champion. He called her "Pah Syntiew," which means "Lured by Flowers,"
for her name and her origin were unknown. He took her to his own home
and adopted her as his own daughter, cherishing her with fondness
and affection, which the child fully requited.

Ka Pah Syntiew, as she grew up, fulfilled all the promises of her
childhood and developed into a woman of incomparable beauty and her
fame went abroad throughout the country. She was also gifted and wise
beyond all the maidens of the neighbourhood, and was the chosen leader
at all the Khasi dances and festivals. She taught the Khasi girls to
dance and to sing, and it was she who instituted the Virgins' Dance,
which remains popular to this day among the Khasis. Her foster-father,
seeing she possessed so much discretion and wisdom, used to consult her
in all his perplexities and seek her advice in all matters pertaining
to the ruling of the village. She displayed such tact and judgement
that people from other villages brought their disputes to her to be
settled, and she was acknowledged to be wiser and more just than
any ruler in the country, and they began to call her "Ka Siem"
(the Chiefess, or the Queen).

When she came of age, U Mylliem Ngap gave her in marriage to a man
of prowess and worth, who is mentioned in Khasi lore as "U Kongor
Nongjri." She became the mother of many sons and daughters, who were
all noble and comely.

After her children had grown up, Ka Pah Syntiew called them all to
her one day and revealed to them the secret of her birth. She was
the daughter of U 'Lei Shillong, the mountain god, permitted by her
father to dwell for a period among mankind, and at last the time was
at hand for her to return to her native element.

Not long after this Ka Pah Syntiew walked away in the direction of the
cave of Marai, and no one dared to accompany her, for it was realised
that her hour of departure had come. From that day she disappeared
from mortal ken. Her descendants are known to this day as two of the
leading families of Khasi chiefs, or Siems, and in common parlance
these two families, those of Khairim and Mylliem, are still called
"the Siems (the Chiefs) of Shillong," or "the Siems of the god."



V

THE FORMATION OF THE EARTH


When the earth was created, it was one great plain, full of vast
forests and smooth rivers. Then it happened that the mother of the
three goddesses, Ka Ding, Ka Um, and Ka Sngi, died while wandering
abroad one day on the earth. These goddesses are Fire, Water, and
the Sun. It became necessary for the daughters to discover some means
whereby their mother's body could be put away out of their sight and
not be left exposed on the face of the earth.

According to the decree, it was decided that Ka Sngi, being the
youngest, should perform the rites of destroying the body; so Ka Sngi
went out in all her strength, and put forth great heat till the rivers
were dried up and all the leaves of the forest and the grass withered,
but the body of the mother was not consumed. So Ka Sngi returned
to her sisters and said, "I have exhausted all my powers, but our
mother's body still lies on the face of the earth in our sight."

After this the next sister, Ka Um, undertook to perform the rites, and
she went forth with a great company of clouds, and poured incessant
rain upon the earth till the rivers and pools were all flooded, but
her mother's body was not destroyed. So Ka Um also returned to her
sisters and said, "I have exhausted all my powers, but the body of
our mother still lies on the face of the earth in our sight."

Thus it remained for the elder sister, Ka Ding, to undertake to do
the necessary rites, and she spread forth great flames which swept
over the forests and caused the earth to burn and to crumble till the
vast plain lost its contour and the body of the mother was consumed.

Ever since then the earth has remained as the fire left it, full of
mountains and valleys and gorges. It became a much more beautiful
place, and in time mankind came here from heaven to dwell.



VI

THE LEGEND OF U RAITONG, THE KHASI ORPHEUS


A few miles to the north of Shillong, the chief town of the Province
of Assam, there is a fertile and pleasant hill known as the Hill of
Raitong, which is one of the most famous spots in ancient folk-lore,
and for which is claimed the distinction of being the place where
the custom of suttee--wife-sacrifice of the Hindus--originated. The
legend runs as follows:

Many ages ago there lived a great Siem (Chief) who ruled over
large territories and whose sceptre swayed many tribes and clans of
people. As befitted such a great Siem, his consort, the Mahadei, was
a woman of great beauty: her figure was erect and lissom and all her
movements easy and graceful as the motion of the palms in the summer
breeze; her hair was long and flowing, enfolding her like a wreathing
cloud; her teeth were even as the rims of a cowrie; her lips were red
as the precious coral and fragrant as the flower of Lasubon; and her
face was fair like unto the face of a goddess. Strange to relate,
the names of this famous royal couple have not been transmitted
to posterity.

It came to pass that affairs of the State necessitated the absence of
the Siem from home for a protracted period. He appointed deputies to
govern the village and to control his household during the interval,
while the Mahadei, who was unto him as the apple of his eye, was placed
under the joint guardianship of her own and his own family. When he
had made all satisfactory arrangements he took his departure and went
on his long journey accompanied by the good wishes of his people.

Among the subjects of the Siem was a poor beggar lad, who was looked
upon as being half-witted, for he spent his days roaming about the
village clothed in filthy rags, his head and face covered with ashes
like a wandering fakir. He never conversed with any of the villagers,
but kept muttering to himself incessantly, lamenting his own forlorn
and friendless condition.

His name was U Raitong. Formerly he had been a happy and well-cared-for
lad, surrounded and loved by many relatives and kindred, until a
terrible epidemic swept through the village and carried away all
his family and left him orphaned and alone, without sustenance and
without a relative to stand by his bedside in time of sickness or to
perform the funeral rites over his body when he died. Overwhelmed
by grief and sorrow, U Raitong vowed a rash vow that all the days
of his life should be spent in mourning the death of his kindred;
thus it was that he walked about the village lamenting to himself and
wearing ragged clothes. His neighbours, not knowing about the vow,
thought that sorrow had turned his head, so they treated him as an
idiot and pitied him and gave him alms.

His condition was so wretched and his clothes so tattered that he
became a proverb in the country, and to this day, when the Khasis
wish to describe one fallen into extreme poverty and wretchedness,
they say, "as poor as U Raitong."

At night time, however, U Raitong considered himself free from the
obligations of his rash vow, and when he retired to his rickety cabin
on the outskirts of the village he divested himself of his rags and
arrayed himself in fine garments, and would play for hours on his
sharati (flute), a bamboo instrument much in vogue among the Khasis
to this day. He was a born musician, and constant practice had made
him an accomplished player, and never did flute give forth sweeter
and richer music than did the sharati of U Raitong as he played by
stealth in the hours of the night when all the village was asleep.

The melodies he composed were so enthralling that he often became
oblivious to all his surroundings and abandoned himself to the charms
of his own subtle music. His body swayed and trembled with pure joy
and delight as he gave forth strain after strain from his sharati;
yet so cautious was he that none of his neighbours suspected that he
possessed any gifts, for he feared to let it be known lest it should
interfere with the performance of his vow.

It happened one night that the Mahadei was restless and unable to
sleep, and as she lay awake she heard the faint strains of the most
sweet music wafted on the air. She imagined that it was coming from
the fairies who were said to inhabit certain parts of the forest,
and she listened enraptured until the sounds ceased. When it stopped,
a feeling of great loneliness came over her, so overawing that she
could not summon enough courage to speak about the strange music she
had heard. She went about her household duties with her thoughts far
away and longing for the night to come in the hope that the music
would be wafted to her again.

The following night, and for many successive nights, the Mahadei lay
awake to listen, and was always rewarded by hearing the soft sweet
strains of some musical instrument floating on the air till she
imagined the room to be full of some beautiful beings singing the
sweetest melodies that human ears ever heard. When it ceased, as it
always did before daybreak, the feeling of desolation was intense, till
her whole mind became absorbed with thoughts of the mysterious music.

The fascination grew until at last it became overpowering and she could
no longer resist the desire to know whence the sounds proceeded. She
crept stealthily from her room one night, and following the direction
of the strains, she walked through the village and was surprised to
find that the music emerged from the dilapidated hut of U Raitong.

The heart of the Mahadei was touched, for she thought that the fairies
in tenderness and pity came to cheer and to comfort the poor idiot
with their music, and she stood there to listen. The strains which
she could hear but faintly in her own room now broke upon her in all
their fulness and richness till her whole being was ravished by them.

Before dawn the sounds suddenly ceased, and the Mahadei retraced her
steps stealthily and crept back to her room without being observed by
any one. After this she stole out of her house every night and went
to listen to what she believed to be fairy-music outside the hut of
U Raitong.

One night, when the power of the music was stronger than usual, the
Mahadei drew near and peeped through a crevice in the door, and to her
astonishment, instead of the fairies she had pictured, she saw that
it was U Raitong, the supposed idiot, who was playing on his sharati,
but a Raitong so changed from the one she had been accustomed to see
about the village that she could scarcely believe her own eyes. He
was well and tastefully dressed and his face was alight with joy,
while his body moved with graceful motions as he swayed with rapture
in harmony with the rhythm of his wild music. She stood spellbound, as
much moved by the sight that met her eyes as she had been by the charm
of the music, and, forgetful of her marriage vows and her duty to her
absent husband, she fell deeply and irrevocably in love with U Raitong.

Time passed, and the Mahadei continued to visit the hut of U Raitong
by stealth, drawn by her passionate love for him even more than by
the fascination of his sharati. At first U Raitong was unaware that he
was being spied upon, but when he discovered the Mahadei in his hut,
he was greatly troubled, and tried to reason with her against coming
with as much sternness as was becoming in one of his class to show to
one so much above him in rank. But she overruled all his scruples,
and before long the intensity of her love for him and the beauty of
her person awoke similar feelings in him and he fell a victim to her
wicked and unbridled passion.

The months rolled on and the time for the return of the Siem
was advancing apace. People began to discuss the preparations for
celebrating his return, and every one evinced the most lively interest
except the Mahadei. It was noticed that she, the most interested
person of all, appeared the most unconcerned, and people marvelled
to see her so cold and indifferent; but one day the reason became
clear when it was announced that a son had been born to the Mahadei
and that her guardians had locked her up in one of the rooms of the
court, pending the arrival of the Siem. She offered no resistance and
put forward no justification, but when questioned as to the identity
of her child's father she remained resolutely silent.

When the Siem arrived and heard of his wife's infidelity he was bowed
down with shame and grief, and vowed that he would enforce the extreme
penalty of the law on the man who had sullied her honour, but neither
persuasion nor coercion could extract from the Mahadei his name.

It was necessary for the well-being of the State, as well as for the
satisfaction of the Siem, that the culprit should be found; so the
Siem sent a mandate throughout his territory calling upon all the
male population, on penalty of death, to attend a great State Durbar,
when the Siem and his ministers would sit in judgement to discover
the father of the child of the faithless Mahadei.

Never in the history of Durbars was seen such a multitude gathered
together as was seen on that day when all the men, both young and
old, appeared before the Siem to pass through the test laid down by
him. When all had assembled, the Siem ordered a mat to be brought
and placed in the centre and the babe laid upon it; after which he
commanded every man to walk round the mat in procession and, as he
passed, to offer a plantain to the child, inasmuch as it was believed
that the instincts of the babe would lead him to accept a plantain
from the hand of his own father and from no other.

The long procession filed past one by one, but the babe gave no sign,
and the Siem and his ministers were baffled and perplexed. They
demanded to know what man had absented himself, but when the roll
was called the number was complete. Some one in the throng shouted
the name of U Raitong, at which many laughed, for no one deemed him
to be sane; other voices said mockingly, "Send for him"; others said
"Why trouble about such a witless creature? He is but as a dog or a
rat." Thus the Durbar was divided, but the ministers, unwilling to
pass over even the most hapless, decided to send for him and to put
him through the test like the other men.

When the Siem's messengers arrived at the hut they found U Raitong
just as usual, dressed in filthy rags and muttering to himself,
his face covered with ashes. He arose immediately and followed the
men to the place of Durbar, and as he came people pitied him, for he
looked so sad and forlorn and defenceless that it seemed a shame to
put such an one through the test. A plantain was put into his hand
and he was told to walk past the mat. As soon as the babe saw him he
began to crow with delight and held out his hands for the plantain,
but he took no notice of the well-dressed people who crowded round.

There was a loud commotion when the secret was discovered, and the
Siem looked ashamed and humiliated to find that one so unseemly and
poor was proved to be the lover of his beautiful wife. The assembly
were awed at the spectacle, and many of them raised their voices in
thanksgiving to the deity whom they considered to have directed the
course of events and brought the guilty to judgement.

The Siem commanded his ministers to pronounce judgement, and they with
one accord proclaimed that he should be burned to death, without the
performance of any rites and that no hand should gather his bones for
burial. In this decision all the throng acquiesced, for such was the
law and the decree.

U Raitong received the verdict with indifference as one who had
long known and become reconciled to his fate, but he asked one boon,
and that was permission to build his own pyre and play a dirge for
himself. The Siem and the people were astonished to hear him speak in
clear tones instead of the blubbering manner in which he had always
been known to speak. Nobody raised an objection to his request, so
he received permission to build his own pyre and to play his own dirge.

Accordingly on the morrow U Raitong arose early and gathered a great
pile of dry firewood and laid it carefully till the pyre was larger
than the pyres built for the cremation of Siems and the great ones
of the land. After finishing the pyre he returned to his lonely hut
and divested himself of his filthy rags and arrayed himself in the
fine garments which he used to wear in the hours of the night when he
abandoned himself to music; he then took his sharati in his hand and
sallied forth to his terrible doom. As he marched towards the pyre
he played on his sharati, and the sound of his dirge was carried by
the air to every dwelling in the village, and so beautiful was it and
so enchanting, so full of wild pathos and woe, that it stirred every
heart. People flocked after him, wondering at the changed appearance
of U Raitong and fascinated by the marvellous and mysterious music such
as they had never before heard, which arrested and charmed every ear.

When the procession reached the pyre, U Raitong stooped and lighted
the dry logs without a shudder or a delay. Then once more he began
to play on his sharati and marched three times around the pyre, and
as he marched he played such doleful and mournful melodies that his
hearers raised their voices in a loud wail in sympathy, so that the
wailing and the mourning at the pyre of the unfortunate U Raitong was
more sincere and impressive than the mourning made for the greatest
men in the country.

At the end of his third round U Raitong suddenly stopped his music,
planted his sharati point downward in the earth, and leaped upon the
burning pyre and perished.

While these events were taking place outside, the Mahadei remained
a close prisoner in her room, and no whisper of what was transpiring
was allowed to reach her. But her heart was heavy with apprehension
for her lover, and when she heard the notes of a sharati she knew
it could be none other than U Raitong, and that the secret had been
discovered and that he was being sent to his doom.

As before, the notes of the sharati seemed to call her irresistibly,
and with almost superhuman strength she burst open the door of her
prison. Great as was her excitement and her desire to get away, she
took precautions to cover her escape. Seeing a string of cowries with
which her child had been playing, she hastily fastened them to the
feet of a kitten that was in the room, so that whenever the kitten
moved the noise of the cowries jingling on the floor of the room
would lead those outside to think that it was the Mahadei herself
still moving about; then she sped forth to the hill in the direction
of the sound of the sharati and the wailing. When she arrived at
the pyre, U Raitong had just taken his fatal leap. She pushed her
way resolutely through the dense and wailing crowd, and before any
one could anticipate her action she too had leaped into the flaming
furnace to die by the side of her lover.

The Siem alone of all the people in the village had withstood the
fascination of the dirge. He sat in his chamber morose and outraged,
brooding on his calamity. Just when the Mahadei was leaping into the
flames a strange thing happened in the Siem's chamber--the head-cloth
(tapmoh) of his wife was blown in a mysterious manner so that it fell
at his feet although there was not enough breeze to cause a leaf to
rustle. When the Siem saw it he said, "By this token my wife must be
dead." Still hearing sounds coming from her room, he tried to take
no heed of the omen. The foreboding, however, grew so strong that he
got up to investigate, and when he opened the door of the room where
the Mahadei had been imprisoned he found it empty, save for a kitten
with a string of cowries fastened to its feet.

He knew instinctively whither she had gone, and in the hope of averting
further scandal he hurried in her wake towards the pyre on the hill,
but he was too late. When he arrived on the scene he found only her
charred remains.

The news of the unparalleled devotion of the Mahadei to her lover
spread abroad throughout the land and stirred the minds of men and
women in all countries. The chaste wives of India, when they heard
of it, said one to another, "We must not allow the unholy passion
of an unchaste woman to become more famous than the sacred love of
holy matrimony. Henceforth we will offer our bodies on the altar
of death, on the pyre of our husbands, to prove our devotion and
fidelity." Thus originated the custom of suttee (wife-sacrifice)
in many parts of India.

The Khasis were so impressed by the suitability of the sharati to
express sorrow and grief that they have adopted that instrument ever
since to play their dirges at times of cremation.

The sharati of U Raitong, which he planted in the earth as he was
about to leap to his doom, took root, and a clump of bamboos grew from
it, distinguishable from all other bamboos by having their branches
forking downwards. It is commonly maintained to this day that there
are clumps of bamboos forking downwards to be found in plenty on the
Hill of Raitong.



VII

THE TIGER AND THE MONKEYS


At the beginning of time the animals were free and living wild and
unruly lives, but there were so many disputes and quarrels that
they convened a council to choose a king to reign over them. With
one accord they nominated the tiger to be king, not for any special
wisdom or merit which he possessed, but because of his great strength,
by which he would be able to subdue the turbulent beasts.

Although he possessed greater strength than any of his kindred, the
tiger was more ignorant of the ways and habits of his subjects than
any of the animals. He was so self-absorbed that he never troubled
himself to study the ways of others, and this caused him to act very
foolishly at times and to make himself ridiculous, for the animals were
tempted to take advantage of his great ignorance and to play tricks
upon him whenever they thought they could do so undetected. This tale
relates how the monkeys played a cunning trick on their king which
caused mortal enmity to spring up between him and them for ever.

One hot day the tiger walked abroad to take an airing, but, the
sun being so hot, he turned aside to shelter under some leafy
trees and there he fell asleep. Presently he awoke, and on awaking
he heard coming from overhead very melodious singing to which he
listened enraptured. It was the little insect, Shalymmen, chirping
on a leaf, but she was so small the tiger could not see her, and,
being so ignorant, he had no idea whose voice it was. He peered to
the branches right and left trying to discover the singer, but he
only saw a company of monkeys at play in the trees, so he began to
question them who it was that was singing above him.

Now the monkeys and all the jungle animals were perfectly familiar
with the singing of Shalymmen and recognised the voice from afar. They
thought it very contemptible in the king to be more ignorant than
themselves, and one audacious young monkey, in a spirit of mischief,
answered that the singer was their youngest sister.

The other monkeys were perturbed when they heard their brother giving
such an impudent answer, thinking that the tiger would be offended
and would punish them with his great strength. They were preparing
to run away when, to their amazement, they heard the tiger replying
to their rash young brother in a gentle voice and with most affable
manners and saying to him, "You are my brother-in-law. Your sister
has the most beautiful voice in the jungle; I will make her my wife."

If the predicament of the monkeys was bad at the beginning, it
was doubly so now, for they felt that, things having taken such an
unexpected turn, it would be impossible to conceal from the knowledge
of the tiger their brother's offence. They determined, however, not to
desert the young culprit, and if possible to try and rescue him, so
they approached the tiger, and with much seeming courtesy and honour
they put forward the excuse that their sister was very young and not
yet of marriageable age. This excuse made no impression on the king,
for he said:

"So much the better. As she is young, I can mould her to my own ways,
and bring her up according to my own views, which would not be so
easy if she were fully matured."

To which the monkeys replied, "Our sister is not amenable to
instruction. She is indolent and fond of her own will."

The tiger, however, was so lovesick that no argument had weight
with him. He thought the brothers were severe in their judgement,
and expressed his conviction that she could not be as slothful as
they said, for she was forgoing her midday repose for the sake of
making music to cheer the animals. He ordered them to come down from
the trees and to lead their sister to him.

After this the monkeys feared to argue further, so they pretended
to agree to his commands; but they craved a boon from him, and asked
for a little time to make preparations, as it would not be becoming
for one of such a high degree to join himself with a poor family like
theirs without their showing him adequate honour such as was due to his
rank. This request the tiger granted, and it was arranged between them
that he was to come and claim his bride at the time of the full moon,
a week from that day, and so the tiger departed with evident goodwill.

As soon as they found themselves alone the monkeys began to think
out some plans by which they could meet the situation and escape
exposure. They decided to call together a council of the whole tribe
of monkeys, for they well foresaw that the whole tribe would be in
peril if the tiger found out what they had done. So the monkeys came
to hold a council, and in that council it was decided that they must
continue to keep up the duplicity begun, and in order to hoodwink
the tiger still further they planned to make a clay image after the
fashion of a woman and to present her to the tiger as his bride. So
they made preparations for a great feast, but they did not invite
anybody except their own tribe to attend.

During the succeeding days the monkeys busied themselves collecting
clay and moulding it into an image, which they propped against a
tree. They were unable to make the head of one piece with the body,
so they moulded the head separately, and when it was finished they
placed it loosely on the body of the image. They then proceeded
to dress the image in all the finery they could procure, and they
carefully covered the head and face with a veil so as to hide it from
the eyes of the bridegroom.

The night of the full moon arrived, and all the monkey family were
assembled at the appointed place, where with much clatter and seeming
joy they awaited the arrival of the tiger, though they were really
very anxious about the consequences. Everything was in readiness,
and the place laid out with many kinds of food, so as to lead the
tiger to think that they were sincere in their welcome.

He came early, very gorgeously arrayed, and carrying over his shoulder
a net full of betel nut and pan leaves, and was received with loud
acclamation by his prospective relatives. But the tiger hardly deigned
to give them a greeting, so impatient was he to meet his bride, and
he demanded to be taken to her immediately. The monkeys led him with
great ceremony to the clay image, but their hearts were beating fast
with fear lest he should discover their fraud.

When they reached the image they said, "This is our sister. Take her
and may she be worthy of the great honour you have conferred upon
her." Thereupon they retired to a safe distance.

When the tiger saw how finely dressed she was and how modestly she
had veiled herself, he felt a little timid, for she was so much finer
than the little grey monkey he had been picturing to himself. He came
up to her and said deferentially, as he slung the net of betel nut
round her neck:

"You are the chief person at this feast, take the pan and the betel
nut and divide them among the company according to custom."

The bride, however, remained motionless and mute, seeing which, the
tiger asked the monkeys in a displeased voice, "Why doth not your
sister answer me nor obey my commands?"

"She is very young," they replied, "perhaps she has fallen asleep
while waiting for you; pull the string of the net and she will awaken."

Upon this the tiger gave the string a sharp tug, and the loose
head of the image rolled on to the floor, whereupon the monkeys,
uttering the most piercing shrieks, pounced upon the tiger in a mob,
declaring that he had killed their sister, and that he had only made
a pretence of marrying her in order to get hold of her to kill her. A
fierce and bloody fight ensued in which the tiger was nearly killed,
and ever since then the tiger has feared the monkeys, and they are the
only animals in the jungle that dare challenge him to fight. He never
discovered their duplicity, but he learned one very effective lesson,
for he has never committed the indiscretion of proposing marriage
with an unknown bride since that unfortunate affair with the monkeys;
while the monkeys are rejoicing in the cunning by which they saved
their brother and their tribe from punishment.



VIII

THE LEGEND OF THE IEI TREE


Some eight or ten miles to the west of the town of Shillong is seen a
prominent hill range, a place much renowned in Khasi folk-lore. It is
known as the Mountain of the Iei Tree, and is a very romantic spot even
in the present day, although divested of its former reputed glory. Its
slopes are studded with thriving villages and cultivated fields, which
appear from a distance like a bit of British landscape. At its foot the
river Umiam (the wailing river) curves its dolorous way to the plains,
at times leaping wildly over rugged precipices, scattering its spray
in the sunshine, at other times lying almost motionless in the bosom
of a valley, reflecting the beauty of myriad trees in its clear depths.

According to tradition, this hill, and the land around it, was the
most fertile land in the world; broad acres lay under cultivation
and its forests yielded the largest and most valuable timber. It was
also famous for the grandeur of its scenery; fairies and nymphs were
said to have their haunts in its green glades, birds of lovely hues
lived there and made their nests amid flowers of sweetest scent;
there happy maidens loved to roam, and there young lovers met and
plighted their troth. Such was the Mountain of the Iei Tree in the
days of the Ancients.

On the summit of the mountain there grew a tree of fabulous
dimensions--the Iei Tree--which dwarfed even the largest trees in
forests. It was of a species unique, such as mankind had never known;
its thick outspreading branches were so clustered with leaves that
the light of the sun could not penetrate through and the earth beneath
its shadow became barren and unfruitful.

The fame of the tree spread abroad and people from many lands came
to see it, but there were none who dared to cut a twig or to scratch
its bark, as it was commonly believed that the tree was the abode of
some unknown and powerful god, to offend whom would bring destruction.

The Iei Tree continued to grow through many ages, and year by year
its malevolent shadow spread further and further, and the area of
the barren land increased season by season until at last it became
a serious menace to the world, and the very existence of mankind was
at stake. People could no longer live on the slopes of the mountain,
cultivation became impossible for many miles around, and the one-time
prosperous families had to wander abroad as homeless fugitives, fleeing
from the ever-pursuing, ever-threatening shadow. The pathways and
pleasant nooks whence of old had echoed the merry voices and laughter
of children were now become the lurking-places of dragons and the
prowling-grounds of savage beasts whither no man ventured to roam.

A Durbar of all mankind was summoned to consider the situation and
to devise some plan to save the world from its impending doom. After
long and solemn deliberations, it was resolved to mobilise a party of
the bravest and most skilled wood-cutters to go into the mountain to
hew down the Iei Tree so as to admit the sunlight once more to the
earth. In the course of time the wood-cutters came and entered the
mountain, defying all danger and risking the possible wrath of the
unknown god whom they believed to haunt the tree.

When they reached the Iei Tree, they plied their axes with skill and
toiled vigorously till night came on, but the wood was so hard and
so tough they only succeeded in cutting a little below the bark that
day. They consoled themselves, however, by reflecting that so far
there had appeared no signs of anger from the unknown god forasmuch
as no misfortunes had befallen them; so they retired to rest, sanguine
that by perseverance their gigantic task would in time be accomplished.

Next morning they returned early to their work, but, to their
consternation, they saw that the incisions made by them the day before
at the cost of so much labour were obliterated, leaving the trunk of
the tree as solid and unscathed as before. Many of the wood-cutters
were so superstitious that they feared to approach the tree again, for
they were now confirmed in their fear that the place was enchanted; but
when their more stoical comrades reminded them of the great peril in
which mankind stood, they plucked up courage, and for another day they
toiled laboriously, only to find their work obliterated next morning.

As no personal harm had befallen any of them, the wood-cutters
determined to continue their attack, but no matter how patiently they
worked during the day, the tree would be healed up in the night. They
grew more and more mystified and discouraged, and the strain of living
in that weird region was becoming intolerable. At last they decided
to return to their fellow-men, preferring to endure the foreseen doom
of the shadowed world rather than face the unknown and mysterious
terrors of the land of the Iei Tree.

As they sat, gloomy and disconsolate, brooding on their defeat,
a little grey bird--Ka Phreit, the Khasi wren--came, chirruping
and twittering, close to the wood-cutters, and she began to talk
to them, urging them to keep up their courage, as she had come to
help them. Now, in spite of their spiritless condition, the woodsmen
could not help laughing to hear Ka Phreit--the smallest of all the
birds--so impudently offering to help them--the picked wood-cutters of
the world--to cut down a tree. But when the wren saw them laughing,
she chirruped and twittered still louder, and drew still nearer,
and with great excitement she said, "No doubt you are great and wise,
for you have been chosen for a great task. You are unable to perform
it, yet when I come to offer assistance, you laugh at me. It is true
that I am the smallest of all the birds, but that has not hindered me
from learning the secrets of this forest, which you must also learn
before you can cut down the Iei Tree."

On hearing the sage words of the wren, the woodmen felt ashamed for
having laughed at her, seeing that she meant nothing but goodwill
towards them; so they got up and saluted her, and begged her
pardon, and asked her to teach them the secret of the forest. Thus
mollified, Ka Phreit informed them that the tree was not healed by
any supernatural agency as they had supposed, but that it was U Khla,
the big tiger, who came every night to lick the tree and to heal it,
for he did not want it to be cut down, as its shadow made it possible
for him to prowl for prey in safety.

This news cheered the wood-cutters' hearts and they lost no time
in beginning another attack on the Iei Tree, and when night fell,
instead of carrying their axes home as before, they planted them in
the tree edge outward.

When the tiger came to lick the tree that night (all unconscious that
the wren had disclosed the secret to the men), the sharp blades cut
his tongue, and he fled in terror, bleeding and howling, and never
more returned to hinder the work of the wood-cutters, who, now that
they were able to carry on their task undisturbed, succeeded in time
in cutting down the Iei Tree.

Thus Ka Phreit, the smallest of all the birds, helped mankind to
bring back sunshine and prosperity to the world.



IX

HUNTING THE STAG LAPALANG


Once upon a time there lived with its dam on the Plains of Sylhet
a young deer whose fame has come down through the ages in Khasi
folk-lore. The story of the Stag Lapalang, as he was called, continues
to fascinate generation after generation of Khasi youths, and the
merry cowboys, as they sit in groups on the wild hill-sides watching
their flocks, love to relate the oft-told tale and to describe what
they consider the most famous hunt in history.

The Stag Lapalang was the noblest young animal of his race that
had ever been seen in the forest and was the pride of his mother's
heart. She watched over him with a love not surpassed by the love of
a human mother, keeping him jealously at her side, guarding him from
all harm.

As he grew older the young stag, conscious of his own matchless grace
and splendid strength, began to feel dissatisfied with the narrow
confines and limited scope of the forest where they lived and to
weary of his mother's constant warnings and counsels. He longed to
explore the world and to put his mettle to the test.

His mother had been very indulgent to him all his life and had allowed
him to have much of his own way, so there was no restraining him when
he expressed his determination to go up to the Khasi Hills to seek
begonia leaves to eat. His mother entreated and warned him, but all
in vain. He insisted on going, and she watched him sorrowfully as
with stately strides and lifted head he went away from his forest home.

Matters went well with the Stag Lapalang at first; he found on the
hills plenty of begonia leaves and delicious grass to eat, and he
revelled in the freedom of the cool heights. But one day he was seen
by some village boys, who immediately gave the alarm, and men soon
hurried to the chase: the hunting-cry rang from village to village
and echoed from crag to crag. The hunting instincts of the Khasis
were roused and men poured forth from every village and hamlet. Oxen
were forgotten at the plough; loads were thrown down and scattered;
nothing mattered for the moment but the wild exciting chase over
hill and valley. Louder sounded the hunting cry, farther it echoed
from crag to crag, still wilder grew the chase. From hill to hill
and from glen to glen came the hunters, with arrows and spears and
staves and swords, hot in pursuit of the Stag Lapalang. He was swift,
he was young, he was strong--for days he eluded his pursuers and kept
them at bay; but he was only one unarmed creature against a thousand
armed men. His fall was inevitable, and one day on the slopes of the
Shillong mountain he was surrounded, and after a brave and desperate
struggle for his life, the noble young animal died with a thousand
arrows quivering in his body.

The lonely mother on the Plains of Sylhet became uneasy at the delay
of the return of the Stag Lapalang, and when she heard the echoes
of the hunting-cry from the hills her anxiety became more than she
could endure. Full of dread misgivings, she set out in quest of her
wanderer, but when she reached the Khasi hills, she was told that
he had been hunted to death on the slopes of Shillong, and the news
broke her heart.

Staggering under the weight of her sorrow, she traversed the rugged
paths through the wildwoods, seeking her dead offspring, and as she
went her loud heartrending cries were heard throughout the country,
arresting every ear. Women, sitting on their hearths, heard it and
swooned from the pain of it, and the children hid their faces in
dismay; men at work in the fields heard it and bowed their heads and
writhed with the anguish of it. Not a shout was raised for a signal
at sight of that stricken mother, not a hand was lifted to molest her,
and when the huntsmen on the slopes of Shillong heard that bitter cry
their shouts of triumph froze upon their lips, and they broke their
arrows in shivers.

Never before was heard a lamentation so mournful, so plaintive, so full
of sorrow and anguish and misery, as the lament of the mother of the
Stag Lapalang as she sought him in death on the slopes of Shillong. The
Ancient Khasis were so impressed by this demonstration of deep love and
devotion that they felt their own manner of mourning for their dead
to be very inferior and orderless, and without meaning. Henceforth
they resolved that they also would mourn their departed ones in this
devotional way, and many of the formulas used in Khasi lamentations
in the present day are those attributed to the mother of the Stag
Lapalang when she found him hunted to death on the slopes of Shillong
hundreds and hundreds of years ago.



X

THE GODDESSES KA NGOT AND KA IAM

(A LEGEND OF SHILLONG PEAK)


Ka Iam and Ka Ngot, the twin daughters of the god of Shillong, were
two very beautiful beings; they were lively and frolicsome, and were
indulged and given much freedom by the family. Like all twins they
were never happy if long separated. One day the two climbed to the
top of the Shillong mountain to survey the country. In the distance
they saw the woody plains of Sylhet, and they playfully challenged
one another to run a race to see who would reach the plains first.

Ka Ngot was more retiring and timid than her sister, and was half
afraid to begin the race; Ka Iam, on the other hand, was venturesome
and fearless, and had been called Ka Iam because of her noisy and
turbulent disposition. Before the race she spoke very confidently of
her own victory, and teased her sister on account of her timidity.

After a little preparation for the journey the twins transformed
themselves into two rivers and started to run their race. Ka Ngot,
searching for smooth and easy places, meandered slowly, taking long
circuits, and came in time to Sylhet; but not finding her sister there,
she went forward to Chhatak, and on slowly towards Dewara. Seeing
no sign yet of her sister, she became very anxious and turned back
to seek her; and, in turning, she took a long curve which looked in
the brilliant sunshine like a curved silver chain, and the Khasis
living on the hill-tops, when they saw it, exclaimed with wonder:
"Rupatylli, Rupatylli!" (A silver necklace, a silver necklace!) and
to this day that part of the river is known as "Rupatylli."

Ka Iam, full of vigour and ambition, did not linger to look for easy
passages, but with a noisy rush she plunged straight in the direction
of Shella, the shortest cut she could find. She soon found, however,
that the road she had chosen was far more difficult to travel than
she had anticipated. Large rocks impeded her path at many points,
and she was obliged to spend much time in boring her way through; but
she pitted her young strength against all obstacles, and in time she
reached Shella and came in view of the plains, where, to her chagrin,
she saw that her sister had reached the goal before her, and was coming
back leisurely to meet her. It was a great humiliation, for she had
boasted of her victory before the race began, but, hoping to conceal
her defeat from the world, she divided herself into five streams,
and in that way entered the plains, and joined her sister. The rivers
are called after the two goddesses to this day, and are known as
"Ka Um Ngot" and "Ka Um Iam" (the river Ngot and the river Iam).

Ever since Ka Ngot won the great race she has been recognised as the
greater of the two twins, and more reverence has been paid to her as
a goddess. Even in the present day there are many Khasis and Syntengs
who will not venture to cross the "Um Ngot" without first sacrificing
to the goddess; and when, on their journeys, they happen to catch a
glimpse of its waters, they salute and give a greeting of "Khublei"
to the goddess Ka Ngot who won the great race.



XI

U BISKUROM


In the beginning of time mankind were very ignorant and did their
work with great trouble and labour, for they had no tools and did not
understand the way to make them. The Great God saw their difficulty
from heaven, and He sent one of the heavenly beings down to the earth,
in the likeness of a young man, to teach them. The name of this young
man was U Biskurom. He was very noble to look at, and none of the sons
of mankind could compare with him; he was also very gentle and good.

He taught mankind many useful crafts. From him they learned to know
the value of metals and the way to smelt iron and to make tools, but
mankind were very slow to learn, and liked better to muddle in their
own old way than to follow the directions given them by U Biskurom,
so he had to stay such a long time on the earth that he forgot the
way back to heaven. He was, however, so patient and painstaking that
at last they learned to make good tools and to use them.

Seeing that U Biskurom excelled them in finishing his instruments, and
that he could do double their work in a day, mankind took advantage
of his gentleness. They used him to save trouble to themselves, and
often demanded work from him that it was impossible for him to do,
and when he failed to satisfy them they grew angry and abusive.

One day they made a clay image and called upon U Biskurom to make it
alive; when he told them that he had not learnt how to produce life,
they abused him and threatened to imprison him until he complied
with their request. When U Biskurom saw that they would not listen to
reason, he told them that if they wanted him to impart life to their
images they must let him go back to heaven to gain the necessary
knowledge. Upon this mankind took counsel together what to do. Some
feared that if they let him go away he would never return. Others (the
majority, however) thought that as the knowledge of how to impart life
would be so valuable, it was worth risking a good deal to obtain it;
so mankind decided to release U Biskurom.

As he had forgotten the road along which he came to the earth, it was
necessary for U Biskurom to invent some means whereby he could go up
to heaven; so he told mankind to twine a long piece of string and to
make a strong kite on which he could ascend to the sky. So mankind
twined a long string and made a strong kite, and U Biskurom rode upon
it to the sky. When they said, "Perhaps if we let you go you will
not come back," he told them not to let go of the string, so that if
he was not allowed to come back, he could write the knowledge on the
kite and send it down to them. This satisfied them and they let him go.

When U Biskurom reached heaven the Great God told him that he could not
go back to the earth because He had seen how mankind had ill-treated
him, and because of their ingratitude and their unholy ambition to
impart life. So U Biskurom wrote upon the kite and sent it down to
the earth.

When mankind saw the kite descending a great throng came together to
read the directions for imparting life, but to their chagrin there
was not one among them able to decipher the writing. They consulted
together what to do, for they were very angry with U Biskurom, and
they decided to send a great shout to heaven, which would cause such
a volley that the concussion would kill U Biskurom.

U Biskurom laughed when he saw their folly, and in order to make them
still more foolish, he caused some drops of blood to fall down from
heaven, and when mankind saw these drops of blood they concluded that
he had been killed by the force of their great shout.

Because of their ingratitude and their uplifted pride mankind have
remained in great ignorance, and all the knowledge they possess is
very imperfect and gained at great labour and expense.



XII

U THLEN, THE SNAKE-VAMPIRE


U Thlen is one of the legendary Khasi gods, whose worship is limited to
a few clans and families. From participation in it all right-thinking
Khasis recoil with loathing and horror, inasmuch as it involves
the perpetration of crimes, for this god can only be propitiated by
offerings of human sacrifices, with many revolting and barbaric rites.

The clans who are reputed to be the devotees and worshippers of the
Thlen are regarded with aversion and fear throughout the country, and
to them are attributed many kinds of atrocities, such as the kidnapping
of children, murders and attempted murders, and many are the tales of
hair-breadth escapes from the clutches of these miscreants, who are
known as Nongshohnohs. Within quite recent times murders have been
committed which are still shrouded in mystery, but which are said
to have indications that the victims were killed for the purpose of
Thlen sacrifice.

The following folk-tale purports to give an account of the origin
and propagation of U Thlen, the most remorseless and cruel of all
the Khasi deities.

According to tradition the Hima (state) of Cherra was, in olden times,
the haunt of many famous Bleis (gods) who dominated the lives of
men. These deities were said to dwell in certain localities, which
in consequence came to be recognised as sacred places, and frequently
to be called after the names of the Bleis. Foremost among these gods
was U Mawlong Siem, and the hill where he was supposed to dwell is
called after his name to the present day, and the inhabitants of
certain villages still offer sacrifices to him.

In common with mankind, U Mawlong Siem is described as having a
family, who, also in common with mankind, took pleasure in dancing
and festivity. It is said that people sometimes hear the sound of
revelry and the beating of drums within the mountain, supposed to
be the drums of U Mawlong Siem beaten to the accompaniment of the
dancing of his children, the sound of which invariably portends the
death of a Siem or some great personage.

The only one of his family whose name and history have been
transmitted was a daughter called Ka Kma Kharai, which signifies one
that roams about in trenches or hidden nooks. She was well known in
the Blei-world, and she possessed the power of assuming whatever form
she pleased. She often assumed the form of a woman and mingled with
mankind without anybody suspecting her identity. Many of the Bleis
sought her in marriage, but U Mawlong Siem, her father, would never
give his consent, lest his prestige be lowered among the Bleis.

There was one suitor whom Ka Kma Kharai specially favoured. He was
the god of Umwai, but her father forbade the union so sternly as
to dispel all the hopes of the lovers. This so angered the young
goddess that henceforth she rebelled openly against her father, and
by way of retaliation she encouraged the attentions of strange and
undesirable lovers.

When it was discovered that she was with child, she fled from her home,
fearing the wrath of her father, and put herself under the protection
of her maternal uncle, who lived in the Pomdoloi cave, and was one
of the famous dragons, or Yak Jakors of the country. In this cave a
son was born to her, who proved to be a monster of hideous aspect,
having the form of a snake and the characteristics of a vampire,
who could be appeased only when fed with human blood. This monster
they called U Thlen.

Unlike his mother, U Thlen could not transform himself into any
likeness but that of a snake, but he had power to diminish or to
enlarge his size at will. Sometimes he appeared so small as to be
no bigger than a string of fine thread, at other times he expanded
himself to such dimensions that he could swallow a man bodily.

In those days there was much intercourse between the Bleis and
mankind. The latter were privileged to attend the Iew-blei--the fair of
the Bleis--at Lynghingkhongkhen, the way to which passed the Pomdoloi
cave, and many unwary and unprotected travellers fell a prey to the
greed of U Thlen and his associates.

The commonest mode by which these poor unfortunates were lured to their
doom was through the blandishments of Ka Kma Kharai, who approached
them in the form of a woman merchant, and dazzled them with the
brilliancy of the jewelry she offered for sale. She refrained from
killing her captives on occasions, but induced them by promises of
riches and immunity to pledge themselves to the services of U Thlen,
her son. To such as these she gave a magic ring, known in ancient lore
as the Yngkuid Ring (Sati Yngkuid) which was believed to possess magic
that enabled the owners of the ring to obtain all the desires of their
hearts, but this magic was dormant until the owners fulfilled their
obligations to U Thlen and brought him human victims to feed upon.

The method by which U Yak Jakor captured his victims was to waylay
lonely travellers and to club them to death. U Thlen himself, when
he grew old enough, also hunted men to death, so that between the
three murderers the ravages made upon mankind were becoming grievous
and intolerable.

Mankind sought divinations and offered sacrifices to the gods for the
cessation of these atrocities, upon which a Durbar of the Bleis was
called. U Mawlong Siem, who was a powerful Blei and a blood-relation
of the murderers, overruled the Durbar, declaring that no authority
could deprive the Bleis, or the demons, of any power they possessed,
be it for good or for evil; but to mitigate the distress of mankind
a decree was issued, restricting the number of people to be devoured
to half the number of captives. If U Thlen captured two victims, one
was to be released, if he captured ten, five were to be released. It
transpired, however, that this decree helped but little to allay the
sufferings of mankind, for murders continued at an appalling rate.

Mankind again sought divination and took counsel together, and it was
made evident that the only one who could successfully help them was U
Suidnoh (the fleeting demon), an erratic and insignificant being who
haunted the forest of Lait-rngew to the north of Cherra. The Khasis
hitherto had never recognised him as worthy of homage, but they went
to offer him sacrifices then, according to the divinations. U Suidnoh
volunteered to rescue them, but affirmed that the Snake could never be
overcome without the sanction of a Blei, and inasmuch as the Bleis of
the Cherra Hima had already refused their aid, he urged them to go and
sacrifice to U 'Lei Shillong--the god of the Shillong mountain--and to
invoke his aid and win his favour. So mankind offered sacrifices to U
'Lei Shillong, and received his sanction to wage war against U Thlen.

U Suidnoh, equipped in all his strength, went forth to Pomdoloi and
ordered the Khasis to bring to him many fat pigs and goats. These
he killed and carried regularly to feed the Thlen in the cave, and
this was the manner in which he made his offering. He bored a large
hole in a rock roofing the cave, so that the carcases might be passed
down without being seen by U Thlen, and so he would not discover that
they were not human bodies. He assumed the voice and manner of a Thlen
worshipper and called out: "My uncle, I have brought my tribute, open
your mouth that I may feed you." U Thlen is described as being slothful
and sleepy, never rousing himself except to seek food. When he heard
the call from above he would shake himself and expand to a great size,
and open wide his jaws, into which the meat offering was thrust. In
this way mankind had respite for a time, and the hunting of men ceased.

It was evident, however, that they must resort to some other measures,
for it was impossible to continue to keep up the supply of fat
animals. The Khasis began to grumble at the extravagant proceedings of
U Suidnoh, but he always replied to their complaints with the words,
"Koit, koit," signifying that all was well. After a time he told them
to hire the services of U Ramhah, the giant, to assist him in his
final struggle against the vampire. When U Ramhah came he bade him
build a smelting-house near the cave, and to make a pair of giant
tongs, and such was the strength of U Ramhah that it only took him
one day to build the smelting-house and to make the giant tongs. Next
day U Suidnoh told him to heat a large piece of iron, and to bring
it when it was red-hot in the big tongs to the rock on the top of the
cave. When this was done U Suidnoh called out according to his custom:
"My uncle, I have brought my tribute, open your mouth that I may feed
you"; so the Thlen shook himself and expanded his body to a gigantic
size, and opened his jaws for the offering, whereupon the red-hot iron
was thrust in. Upon this there followed the most terrible contortions
of the Thlen's body, as he tossed about, writhing in his death agony,
till the earth shook so violently that U Suidnoh and U Ramhah swooned
from the concussion. When the disturbance subsided, and they had
revived, they looked into the cave and found U Thlen lying dead.

U Suidnoh sounded a big drum to summon the people together, and great
jubilation and dancing took place when it was announced that their
enemy was dead. From that time the Khasis have offered sacrifices to
U Suidnoh, and he is held in great honour.

The people held a council to consider how to dispose of the body of
the Thlen, and it was decided that to make their triumph complete
it was better to prepare a feast and to eat the body of U Thlen,
so the carcase was dragged out of the cave and was divided on a flat
rock into two portions. One portion was given to the people of the
plains from the East, to be cooked after their manner, the other was
given to the Khasis from the hills and the West to be cooked after
their manner. The marks of the axe are said to be seen on the rock
to this day, and the place is called Dain Thlen (the cutting of the
Thlen). The hole which was bored by U Suidnoh in the top of the cave
is also said to be visible to this day.

It happened that more people came to the feast from the plains than
from the hills; moreover, they were accustomed to eat eels and snakes,
so they considered the Thlen meat very palatable and savoury. They
ate the whole of their portion and departed to their villages happily,
and they were never afterwards troubled by Thlens. On the other hand
the Khasis were unused to the flesh of reptiles, and they found the
Thlen meat very unsavoury and strange-flavoured, so that when their
feasting was done, a great portion of the meat remained uneaten.

This caused no little perplexity, for it was deemed possible for the
Thlen to come and reanimate the unconsumed portions of his body, so
they kindled a big fire to burn all the fragments of meat to ashes,
after which they gave a glad shout, believing themselves for ever
safe from the ravages of U Thlen.

A certain woman, whose son had neglected his duties and stayed away
from the feast, was sorely troubled in her mind, fearing that some ill
luck might befall him, and a curse come on the family, because her son
had wilfully disregarded the feast of conquest. While helping to gather
the fragments of meat for burning, she surreptitiously hid a piece in
the fold of her dress to take home to her son. When she reached her
house she put the meat away in a covered vessel pending her son's
arrival. When the son returned he brought news of many misfortunes
which he had met that day, and particularly of the loss of much money,
which loss he attributed to his neglect of the important feast;
but when his mother told him how she had contrived to bring him a
little of the Thlen meat, he was somewhat cheered, hoping that by this
participation he might be helped to retrieve his fallen fortunes. To
their dismay, when they uncovered the vessel, there was no meat left,
only a tiny live snake wriggling about. They were preparing to destroy
it when the little snake began to speak to them in their own tongue,
beseeching them not to kill him. He said he was U Thlen come back to
life, and that he was there by the decrees of the Bleis to bring them
good fortune for as long as they gave him harbour and tribute.

It was a great temptation, coming as it did, when they had met
with great losses, so, without thinking much of the consequences,
they allowed the Thlen to live, harbouring it in secret without the
knowledge of outsiders.

When U Thlen had fully regained his vitality, he demanded human
sacrifices from them, which made them shudder with horror. But U
Thlen was relentless, and threatened to devour them as a family, if
they did not comply with his request, and when they saw one member of
the family after another beginning to languish, fear for their lives
drove them to hunt their fellow-men and to murder them, to propitiate U
Thlen and to keep his good favour. Gradually U Thlen cast his sway over
other families also, and won them to give him tribute. As his devotees
increased he reproduced himself mysteriously, so that in place of one
Thlen living in a cave where everybody knew him to be, there arose
many Thlens, living concealed in the houses of the Nongshohnohs who,
to preserve their own safety and the goodwill of U Thlen, have become
men-hunters and murderers, of whom the Khasis live in deadly fear to
this day.



XIII

HOW THE DOG CAME TO LIVE WITH MAN


In the happy olden days, when the animals lived together at peace in
the forest, they used to hold fairs and markets after the manner of
mankind. The most important fair of all was called "Ka Iew Luri Lura"
(the Fair of Luri Lura), which was held at stated intervals in the Bhoi
(forest) country. Thither gathered all the animals, each one bringing
some article of merchandise, according to the decree which demanded
that every animal that came to the fair should bring something to
sell. No matter whether he was young or old, rich or poor, no one
was to come empty-handed, for they wanted to enhance the popularity
of the market. U Khla, the tiger, was appointed governor of the fair.

Man was excluded from these fairs as he was looked upon as an enemy. He
used to hunt the animals with his bow and arrows, so they had ceased to
fraternise with him and kept out of his way. But one day the dog left
his own kindred in the jungle, and became the attendant of Man. The
following story tells how that came to pass.

One day U Ksew, the dog, walked abroad in search of goods to sell
at the fair. The other animals were thrifty and industrious, they
worked to produce their merchandise, but the dog, being of an indolent
nature, did not like to work, though he was very desirous to go to the
fair. So, to avoid the censure of his neighbours and the punishment of
the governor of the fair, he set out in search of something he could
get without much labour to himself. He trudged about the country all
day, inquiring at many villages, but when evening-time came he had not
succeeded in purchasing any suitable goods, and he began to fear that
he would have to forgo the pleasure of attending the fair after all.

Just as the sun was setting he found himself on the outskirts of
Saddew village, on the slopes of the Shillong Mountain, and as he
sniffed the air he became aware of a strong and peculiar odour, which
he guessed came from some cooked food. Being hungry after his long
tramp, he pushed his way forward, following the scent till he came to
a house right in the middle of the village, where he saw the family
at dinner, which he noticed they were eating with evident relish. The
dinner consisted of fermented Khasi beans, known as ktung rymbai,
from which the strong smell emanated.

The Khasis are naturally a very cordial and hospitable people, and
when the good wife of the house saw the dog standing outside looking
wistfully at them she invited him to partake of what food there was
left in the pot. U Ksew thankfully accepted, and by reason of his
great hunger he ate heartily, regardless of the strange flavour and
smell of the food, and he considered the ktung rymbai very palatable.

It dawned on him that here, quite by accident, he had found a novel
and marketable produce to take to the fair; and it happened that the
kindly family who had entertained him had a quantity of the stuff for
sale which they kept in earthen jars, sealed with clay to retain its
flavour. After a little palaver according to custom, a bargain was
struck, and U Ksew became the owner of one good-sized jar of ktung
rymbai, which he cheerfully took on his back. He made his way across
the hills to Luri Lura fair, chuckling to himself as he anticipated
the sensation he would create and the profits he would gain, and the
praise he would win for being so enterprising.

On the way he encountered many of the animals who like himself were
all going to Luri Lura, and carrying merchandise on their backs to
sell at the fair: to them U Ksew boasted of the wonderful food he had
discovered and was bringing with him to the market in the earthen jar
under the clay seal. He talked so much about it that the contents of
the earthen jar became the general topic of conversation between the
animals, for never had such an article been known at Luri Lura.

When he arrived at the fair the dog walked in with great consequence,
and installed himself and his earthen jar in the most central place
with much clatter and ostentation. Then he began to shout at the
top of his voice, "Come and buy my good food," and what with his
boastings on the road and the noise he made at the fair, a very large
company gathered round him, stretching their necks to have a glimpse
at the strange-looking jar, and burning with curiosity to see the
much-advertised contents.

U Ksew, with great importance, proceeded to uncover the jar; but
as soon as he broke the clay seal a puff of the most unsavoury and
foetid odour issued forth and drove all the animals scrambling to a
safe distance, much to the dog's discomfiture and the merriment of
the crowd. They hooted and jeered, and made all sorts of disparaging
remarks till U Ksew felt himself covered with shame.

The stag pushed forward, and to show his disdain he contemptuously
kicked the earthen jar till it broke. This increased the laughter and
the jeering, and more of the animals came forward, and they began
to trample the ktung rymbai in the mud, taking no notice of the
protestations of U Ksew, who felt himself very unjustly treated. He
went to U Khla, the governor of the fair, to ask for redress, but here
again he was met with ridicule and scorn, and told that he deserved
all the treatment he had received for filling the market-place with
such a stench.

At last U Ksew's patience wore out, he grew snappish and angry,
and with loud barks and snarls he began to curse the animals with
many curses, threatening to be avenged upon them all some day. At
the time no one heeded his curses and threats, for the dog was but
a contemptible animal in their estimation, and it was not thought
possible for him to work much harm. Yet even on that day a part of
his curse came true, for the animals found to their dismay that the
smell of the ktung rymbai clung to their paws and their hoofs, and
could not be obliterated; so the laughter was not all on their side.

Humiliated and angry, the dog determined to leave the fair and the
forest and his own tribe, and to seek more congenial surroundings;
so he went away from Luri Lura, never to return, and came once more
to Saddew village, to the house of the family from whom he had bought
the offending food. When the master of the house heard the story of
the ill-treatment he had suffered from the animals, he pitied U Ksew,
and he also considered that the insults touched himself as well as
the dog, inasmuch as it was he who had prepared and sold the ktung
rymbai. So he spoke consolingly to U Ksew and patted his head and told
him to remain in the village with him, and that he would protect him
and help him to avenge his wrongs upon the animals.

After the coming of the dog, Man became a very successful hunter,
for the dog, who always accompanied him when he went out to hunt,
was able to follow the trail of the animals by the smell of the ktung
rymbai, which adhered to their feet. Thus the animals lived to rue the
day when they played their foolish pranks on U Ksew and his earthen
jar at the fair of Luri Lura.

Man, having other occupations, could not always go abroad to the
jungle to hunt; so in order to secure a supply of meat for himself
during the non-hunting seasons he tamed pigs and kept them at hand in
the village. When the dog came he shared the dwelling and the meals
of the pig, U Sniang; they spent their days in idleness, living on
the bounty of Man.

One evening, as Man was returning from his field, tired with the day's
toil, he noticed the two idle animals and he said to himself--"It
is very foolish of me to do all the hard work myself while these two
well-fed creatures are lying idle. They ought to take a turn at doing
some work for their food."

The following morning Man commanded the two animals to go to the field
to plough in his stead. When they arrived there U Sniang, in obedience
to his master's orders, began to dig with his snout, and by nightfall
had managed to furrow quite a large patch of the field; but U Ksew,
according to his indolent habits, did no work at all. He lay in the
shade all day, or amused himself by snapping at the flies. In the
evening, when it was time to go home, he would start running backwards
and forwards over the furrows, much to the annoyance of the pig.

The same thing happened for many days in succession, till the patience
of the pig was exhausted, and on their return from the field one
evening he went and informed their master of the conduct of the dog,
how he was idling the whole day and leaving all the work for him to do.

The master was loth to believe these charges against U Ksew, whom he
had found such an active and willing helper in the chase: he therefore
determined to go and examine the field. When he came there he found
only a few of the footprints of the pig, while those of the dog were
all over the furrows. He at once concluded that U Sniang had falsely
charged his friend, and he was exceedingly wroth with him.

When he came home, Man called the two animals to him, and he spoke
very angrily to U Sniang, and told him that henceforth he would have to
live in a little sty by himself, and to eat only the refuse from Man's
table and other common food, as a punishment for making false charges
against his friend; but the dog would be privileged to live in the
house with his master, and to share the food of his master's family.

Thus it was that the dog came to live with Man.



XIV

THE ORIGIN OF BETEL AND TOBACCO


Long, long ago two boys lived in a village on the slopes of the hills,
who were very fond of one another and were inseparable companions. The
name of one was U Riwbha; he was the son of one of the wealthiest
men in the country. The other was called U Baduk, who belonged to
one of the lowly families; but the difference in station was no
barrier to the affection of the children for one another. Every day
they sought one another out, and together they roamed abroad in the
fields and the forests, learning to know the birds and the flowers;
together they learned to swim in the rivers, together they learned
to use the bow and arrow, and to play on the flute. They loved the
same pastimes and knew the same friends.

As they grew up they were not able to spend so much time together. U
Riwbha had to overlook his father's property, which involved many days'
absence from the village; while U Baduk went every day to labour in
the fields to earn his own rice and to help his parents, who were
poor. But the old friendship remained as firm as ever between the
two young men, they trusted one another fully, and the one kept no
secrets from the other.

In the course of time they took to themselves wives and became the
heads of families. U Riwbha's wife, like himself, belonged to one of
the wealthy families, so that by his marriage his influence in the
village increased, and he became very rich and prosperous. U Baduk
also married into his own class and went to live in a distant village,
but he never gathered riches like his friend; nevertheless he was
very happy. He had a good and thrifty wife, and side by side they
daily toiled in the fields to supply their simple wants as a family.

Thus circumstances kept the two friends apart, for they seldom
met. The old regard was not in the least abated by absence, rather
the bond seemed to be drawn closer and closer as the years went
by. Occasionally U Baduk journeyed to his native village to see his
people and friends, and on these occasions nowhere was he made more
welcome than in the house of his friend U Riwbha, who insisted upon
his spending the greater part of his time with him, and partaking of
many sumptuous meals at his house. Thus the two old comrades renewed
their intimacy and affection.

On his return home from one such visit U Baduk's wife told him that
their neighbours had been talking a great deal and making disparaging
remarks about the intimacy between them and their wealthy friend,
hinting that no such friendship existed, that it was only U Baduk's
boast that he had rich friends in his own village. If there were such
an intimacy as he pretended, why had his rich friend never come to
see them when U Baduk was constantly going to visit him? He was vexed
to hear this, not so much because they condemned him, but because
they were casting aspersions on his best friend, so he determined to
invite his friend to pay them a visit.

When U Baduk paid his next visit to his village, and had as usual
accepted the hospitality of his friend, he ventured to say, "I am
always coming to see you and partaking of your hospitality, but you
have not been to see me once since I got married."

To this U Riwbha replied, "Very true, my dear friend, very true, but
do not take it amiss that I never thought of this before. You know
that I have much business on my hands, and have no leisure like many
people to take my pleasures; but I have been too remiss towards you,
and I must make haste to remedy my fault. Give my greeting to your
wife, and tell her that I will start from here to-morrow to come to
pay you both a visit, and to give myself the pleasure of tasting a
dish of her curry and rice."

Highly gratified and pleased, U Baduk hastened home to tell his wife
of his friend's projected visit, and urged her to rouse herself and
to cook the most savoury meal she was capable of. She too was very
pleased to hear that the man they respected and loved so much was
coming to see them; but she said, "It has come very suddenly, when
I am not prepared; we have neither fish nor rice in the house."

"That is indeed unfortunate," said the husband, "but we have kind
neighbours from whom we have never asked a favour before. You must
go out and borrow what is wanted from them, for it would be too great
a disgrace not to have food to place before our friend when he comes."

The wife went out as requested by her husband, but although she walked
the whole length of the village there was no one who could spare her
any rice or fish, and she returned home gloomy and disheartened and
told her husband of her ill-success. When U Baduk heard this bad
news he was extremely troubled and said, "What sort of a world is
this to live in, where a morsel of food cannot be obtained to offer
hospitality to a friend? It is better to die than to live." Whereupon
he seized a knife and stabbed himself to death.

When the wife saw that her good husband was dead, she was smitten
with inconsolable grief, and she cried out, "What is there for me to
live for now? It is better that I also should die." Thereupon she in
her turn seized the knife and stabbed herself to death.

It happened that a notorious robber called U Nongtuh was wandering
through the village that night, and, as it was cold, he bethought
himself of sneaking into one of the houses where the family had
gone to sleep, to warm himself. He saw that a fire was burning in U
Baduk's house, and that it was very silent within. He determined to
enter. "They are hard-working people," said he to himself, "and will
sleep soundly; I can safely sit and warm myself without their knowing
anything about me." So he squatted down comfortably on the hearth,
not knowing that the two dead bodies lay on the floor close to him.

Before long the warmth made him drowsy, and without thinking U Nongtuh
fell asleep, and did not awake until the day was dawning; he jumped
up hastily, hoping to escape before the village was astir, but he
saw the two dead bodies and was greatly terrified. A great trembling
took him, and he began to mutter wildly, "What an unfortunate man I
am to have entered this house! The neighbours will say that I killed
these people; it will be useless for me to deny it, for I have such
an evil reputation nobody will believe me. It is better for me to
die by my own hand here than to be caught by the villagers, and be
put to death like a murderer." Whereupon he seized the knife and
stabbed himself to death; so there were three victims on the floor,
lying dead side by side, all because there was no food in the house
to offer hospitality to a friend.

The morning advanced, and when the neighbours noticed that no one
stirred abroad from U Baduk's house they flocked there to find out
what was the matter. When they saw the three dead bodies they were
filled with sadness and compunction, for they remembered how they had
refused to lend them food the night before, to prepare entertainment
for their friend.

In the course of the day U Riwbha arrived according to the promise made
to his friend, and when he was told of the terrible tragedy his sorrow
knew no bounds; he sat wailing and mourning by the body of the friend
that he loved best, and would not be comforted. "Alas!" he wailed,
"that a man should lose such a true friend because the world is become
so hard for the poor that to entertain a friend is a greater burden
than they can bear."

For many hours he wept and sorrowed, praying to the Great God to show
a way of keeping up the customs of hospitality without the poor having
to suffer and be crushed, as his own good friend had been crushed.

Just about that time the Great God walked abroad to look on the
universe, and he saw the sorrow of U Riwbha, and took pity on his
tears, and made known that from henceforth He would cause to grow
three valuable plants, which were to be used by mankind in future
as the means of entertainment, whereby the poor as well as the
rich could indulge in the entertainment of friends without being
burdened. Immediately three trees which had never been known to mankind
before were seen springing up from the ground where the dead bodies
lay. They were the Betel, the Pan, and the Tobacco.

From that time it became a point of etiquette in Khasi households,
rich and poor alike, to offer betel nut and pan or a whiff of tobacco
from the hookah to friends when they make calls.



XV

THE STAG AND THE SNAIL


On the day of the animals' fair at Luri Lura, the stag and the snail
met. It was a very hot day, and the animals as they travelled to
the fair eagerly sought the shelter of the trees. There was a large
Rubber grove in the forest, and thither many of the animals hasted,
panting from the great heat, and there laid down their burdens for
a while and rested in the cool shades.

It was a familiar rendezvous, and many of the animals turned there,
as much from habit as from fatigue, glad to meet old acquaintances. On
the day which concerns this story there was an unusually large throng,
and they chatted together sociably about the different events of
their lives and the circumstances of their neighbours.

In one corner a group were noisily comparing notes with one
another about the length of time it had taken them to travel
certain distances. In this group was the stag, who monopolised the
conversation, and boasted of his own speed, and the buffalo, trying to
be affable, said that they were bound to admit that the stag was now
the swiftest animal in the jungle, since the dog had run away to Man,
and the entire company nodded in agreement.

There was, however, a little grey snail in the grass with her shell on
her back, who was very disgusted with the boastings of the animals,
especially of the stag, as if swiftness was the only virtue to which
an animal ought to aspire. In order to put a stop to their talk,
she called out mockingly for them to look at the lather that covered
their bodies from over-exertion, and to compare her own cool skin,
which had not perspired at all in spite of the journey; consequently,
she claimed the honours for good travelling for herself.

This was received with much displeasure by the animals, who felt that
their dignity had been flouted, for the snail was an insect in their
estimation, not fit to be admitted to their august company. The stag
began to canter gracefully round the grove to prove his superiority,
his fellow animals applauding admiringly; but the little snail was
not to be silenced, and to show her contempt she challenged the stag
to run a long race with her, declaring that she would beat him.

Many of the animals urged the stag not to heed the challenge of the
snail, as it was only given to affront him, but he said that unless
he would run she would always insult him and call him a coward who
had shown fear of a snail. So it was settled that the stag and the
snail should run a long race, from the Rubber grove to the top of
Mount Shillong, on the animals' return from Luri Lura.

The name of this little grey snail was Ka Mattah. As soon as the
animals left the grove she summoned together all her tribe to consider
how to proceed so as to beat the stag in the long race. Many of the
snail family found fault with her for her foolish challenge, but they
were all prepared to help her out of her difficulty, and to save her
from the disgrace of defeat. It was decided in the family council
that the snails should form themselves into a long line edging the
path all the way from the Rubber grove to Mount Shillong, and hide
themselves in the grass, so as not to be discovered by the stag. So
the snails dispersed and formed themselves into a long line on the
edge of the path.

As soon as they had sold their wares, the animals hastened to the
grove, laughing among themselves as they walked at the foolishness of
Ka Mattah in setting herself up against the swiftest of the animals,
and they planned how to make her the general laughing-stock of the
jungle for her audacity. When they reached the Rubber grove they found
Ka Mattah ready for the race, having discarded her cumbersome shell
and put herself into a racing attitude on the path, which caused them
no little amusement. As soon as the signal was given she dived into
the grass and was lost to sight, while the stag cantered towards the
mountains. After going some distance, he stopped, thinking that there
would be no need to run further, as he imagined that the snail was
far behind and likely to have given up the race; so he called out,
"Heigh, Mattah, art thou coming?"

To his surprise, the voice of the snail answered close beside him
saying, "I am here, I am here." Thereupon he ran on more swiftly, but
after running several miles he stopped again and called out as before,
"Heigh, Mattah, art thou coming?" And again the voice answered close
to his heels, "I am here, I am here"; upon which the stag tore off
at a terrific pace through the forest, only stopping at intervals
to call out to the snail. As often as he called, the voice answered
close to his feet, "I am here, I am here," which set him racing
with ever-increasing speed. When he reached the Iei Tree Mountain,
he was panting and quivering from his great exertions and longed
to lie down to rest, but he saw before him the goal to which he was
bound, and spurred himself to a last effort. He was so exhausted as
he climbed up the slopes of Shillong that he was giddy and faint,
and could scarcely move his wearied limbs, and, to his dismay, before
he reached the summit, he heard the tormenting voice of the snail
calling out from the goal, "I have won, I have won."

Exhausted and defeated, the stag threw himself full length on
the ground, and his disappointment and the sickness due to the
terrible strain he had put on himself caused him to spit out his
gall-bladder. To this day no gall-bladder is to be found in the anatomy
of the stag; so he carries in his body the token of the great defeat
he sustained through the wiles of Ka Mattah, the little grey snail,
and the pathetic look has never gone out of his eyes.



XVI

THE LEAP OF KA LIKAI


"The Leap of Ka Likai" is the name given to a beautiful waterfall on
the Khasi Hills, a few miles to the west of Cherrapoonjee, which, at
certain points, is visible from great distances, while the roar and
the echoes of its waters are to be heard for miles. The view is one
of exceptional beauty, and many visitors are attracted to see it. The
clear chattering stream is seen emerging from its wild mountain home,
dashing over the high precipice into the shadows of a deep gorge,
flinging upwards, as it falls, clouds of tremulous spray, which wreathe
and coil around majestic rocks, creating countless small rainbows which
dance and quiver in a maze of palms and ferns and blossoming shrubs.

The place is so remote and so still, as if every sound had been
awed into a hush, except the thunderous boom of the torrent with its
distant echoes moaning and shrieking like a spirit in anguish, that
the whole locality seems weird and uncanny, suggestive of terrible
possibilities. This, probably, accounts for the gruesome tradition
amongst the Khasis which has been associated with this waterfall from
time immemorial. It runs as follows:

Once upon a time there lived a young married woman called Ka Likai,
in the village of Rangjirteh, on the hill above the Falls. She and her
husband lived very happily together and rejoiced in the possession of
a baby girl of great beauty. The young husband died when the child
was still a babe, and from that time Ka Likai's whole heart became
wrapped up in the child.

She found it very hard to earn enough money to maintain them both,
so she was persuaded to marry again, thinking to have her own burden
lightened, and to obtain more comforts for her child.

The new husband was a selfish and a somewhat brutal man; he was
exceedingly jealous of his little step-daughter, because his wife paid
her so much attention, and when he found that he had been accepted
as a husband by Ka Likai merely for the benefit of the child, he
was so mortified that he grew to hate her and determined to do her
some mischief.

He became sulky in the home and refused to go out to work, but he
forced his wife to go every day, and during her absence he bullied and
ill-treated the child. One day Ka Likai had to go on a long journey
to carry iron ore, and this gave the cruel stepfather the opportunity
he sought to carry out his evil purpose, and he killed the child. So
depraved had he become and so demoniacal was his hatred, that he
determined to inflict even a worse horror upon his wife; he took
portions of the body and cooked them against the mother's return,
and waited in silence for her coming.

When Ka Likai reached her home in the evening, she was surprised
to find her husband in a seemingly kinder mood than he had shown
for a long time, having cooked her supper and set it ready for her,
with unusual consideration. She noticed the absence of the child,
and immediately asked where she was, but the man's plausible answer
that she had just gone out to play dispelled every misgiving, and
she sat down to eat without a suspicion of evil.

After finishing her supper, she drew forward the betel-nut basket to
prepare betel and pan to chew, according to custom after a meal. It
happened that one of the hands of the murdered girl had been left
by the stepfather in this basket, and the mother at once saw and
recognised it. She wildly demanded the meaning of the awful discovery,
whereupon the man confessed his crime, and also told her how she
herself had eaten of the flesh of her own child.

The terrible and overwhelming revelation took away the mother's
reason. She rose distractedly, and, running to the edge of the
precipice, threw herself into the abyss. Ever since then the Falls
have been called "The Leap of Ka Likai," and the doleful moans of
their echoes are said to be the echoes of Ka Likai's anguished cries.

To this day, when widows with children are contemplating second
marriages, they are cautioned to be careful and to use judgement,
with the warning, "Remember Ka Likai."



XVII

WHAT CAUSED THE SHADOWS ON THE MOON


In the early ages there lived a family of deities, consisting of a
mother and four children--three daughters and one son. They lived
very happily for many long years, the children showing great respect
to their mother and to one another. Their names were Ka Um (Water),
Ka Ding (Fire), and Ka Sngi (the Sun), and the boy was called U Bnai
(the Moon). They were all very noble and beautiful to look upon,
as became their high destiny, but it was universally agreed that
Ka Sngi and U Bnai, the two youngest, possessed greater beauty and
loveliness than the two elder sisters. In those days the moon was
equal to the sun in brightness and splendour.

When U Bnai grew up he began to show somewhat wayward tendencies;
he came and went at his own will, without consulting his mother
or his sisters, and consorted with companions far beneath him in
rank. Sometimes he would absent himself from home for many days,
and none of his family knew whither he wandered. His mother often
remonstrated with him, as is right for every mother to do, and she
and his sisters endeavoured to guide him into more decorous habits,
but he was wilful and self-indulgent, thinking that he had a right to
more liberty than his women-folk allowed him. By degrees he abandoned
himself to a life of pleasure and wild pursuits, paying no heed to
the advice and warnings of his elders.

Once he followed some of his low associates into the nether regions and
spent a long time in that land of goblins and vice. After a while his
thoughts came back to his family and his erstwhile radiant home, and
a longing to see them came over him, so he quitted the nether regions,
and left his evil companions, and returned to his home and his kindred.

He had gazed so long on the hideous faces of the inhabitants of the
dark world, that he was dazzled by the beauty of his sister Ka Sngi,
who came to meet him with smiles and joy for his return. He had
also lost the right perception of duty and honour, and, instead of
greeting her as his sister, he went to his mother and with unbrotherly
wantonness demanded the hand of Ka Sngi in marriage, saying that he
had travelled throughout many worlds, and had seen the sons of all
nations, but there was no suitor to be found in the whole universe
whose beauty could match that of Ka Sngi, except himself. Consequently
he said that it behoved his mother to give countenance to his suit
and to arrange the marriage.

This caused the mother much grief, and she dismissed her son from
her presence in dishonour. Ka Sngi, when she heard of his design,
was enraged because of his unchaste proposal, and in anger she went
forth to seek her brother. When she found him she forgot her usual
dignity and decorum, and, lifting a handful of hot ashes, she threw
it into U Bnai's face. The ashes scorched his flesh so deeply that
the marks have remained on his face to this day. Ever since then the
light of the moon has been pale, marred by dark shadows, and that is
the reason he does not show his face in the day-time.



XVIII

U KSUID TYNJANG


The Ancient Khasis were wont to people all their beautiful hills and
forests with innumerable supernatural beings, who were supposed to
be working in the world either for good or for evil, and dominating
all the events of men's lives. There were Bleis (gods) of all grades,
and Ksuids (demons or goblins) without number, and Puris (sprites or
fairies), visible and invisible, to be encountered everywhere. The
religious observances of the Khasis are mainly intended to fulfil
obligations supposed to be imposed upon them by these imaginary beings,
who are described as quick to take offence and difficult to appease;
hence the many and complicated ceremonies which the Khasi religion
demands.

One of the most familiar names in ancient lore is that of U Ksuid
Tynjang, a deformed and lame demon who haunted the forests and
tormented mankind, and for his misdeeds had been doomed to suffer
from an incurable and loathsome itching disease, which could only be
allayed by the touch of a human hand. All the stories related of this
repulsive demon are concerned with his forbidding personality and the
tortures he inflicted on the victims he captured purposely to force
them to rub his body and relieve the terrible itching to which he
had been doomed. He used to tickle them to death with his deformed
and claw-like hands if they tried to desist from their sickening task.

To lure people into his grasp, he used to imitate the human voice and
to shout "Kaw-hoit, Kaw-hoit!" the common signal-cry of people who lose
their companions or their way--a cry to which all humane travellers
quickly respond, for it is considered equivalent to murder to ignore
the signal-cry without going to the rescue. In this way U Ksuid Tynjang
was able to locate the whereabouts of lonely wanderers, and thither
he would direct his unsteady steps, skipping and hobbling through
the jungle, until he came up to them and made them his captives.

In those days a great fair was periodically held at the foot of the
Hills, and to this the Khasis from all over the country were wont
to resort, especially the younger folk, who were fond of pleasure
and liked to see the show of fine cloths brought there for sale. It
happened that two young sisters from the Hills, Ka Thei and Ka Duh,
with their brother, attended one of these fairs in the company of some
of their neighbours. It was their first visit to a fair, and they were
so taken up with the wonders of it that they forgot all about the time,
and walked to and fro, gazing at the strange people and wares, until
unconsciously they drifted away from their friends. It was now growing
late, and Ka Thei, the eldest sister, anxiously bade the others cling
to her that they might retrace their steps and if possible find their
companions; but although they walked from one end of the fair to the
other, they met nobody they knew. By this they were in great dismay,
and they determined to start for home as fast as they could, hoping
to overtake their friends on the way. Evidently every one was far
ahead, for though they walked very fast and called out at intervals,
they saw no signs of a friend and heard no response, and by the time
they reached the Shillong forests, when they were yet some miles from
home, night closed upon them, and they lost their way in the dense dark
jungle. It was hopeless to try and proceed further, for the path could
not be traced in the darkness, so the three timid young travellers
sat down, footsore and forlorn, crushed down with foreboding and fear.

Just then they heard a loud cry in the distance, Kaw-hoit! and they
all thought it was the cry of one of their friends signalling to them,
and the three shouted back in chorus Kaw-hoit! and waited expectantly
for some one to appear. To their horror they saw approaching, not a
friend as they had expected, but the deformed and diseased figure of
a hideous Ksuid, upon which they realised that they had responded to
the mimic-cry of U Ksuid Tynjang, whom they had often heard described,
and against answering whose call they had often been warned.

In a few moments he was with them, and peremptorily he ordered them
to rub his itching body with their hands. Although they sickened at
the contact, they knew better than to disobey, for U Ksuid Tynjang
was known to be very cruel, tickling to death those who dared to
disobey him.

It happened that the young brother escaped being seen by the demon,
a fact which Ka Thei hoped might turn to their advantage, for she
had an alert and a resourceful mind. She motioned to him to squat
down on the ground, and she hastily took off the knup (leaf umbrella)
hanging from her shoulders, and covered him with it.

Soothed by the touch of the young maidens' hands, the Ksuid began to
dose. With a little contrivance, Ka Thei succeeded in approaching her
brother, quickly stuck some shrubs in the knup, to make it look like
the surrounding jungle, and whispered to him to crawl away as soon as
the dawn broke, and seek the path to their village to carry the news
of their fate to their parents, and bid them offer sacrifices to the
god of Shillong, in whose territory they had been captured, for their
deliverance. With the help of the shrub-covered knup the boy got away
at dawn unobserved, and reached his home, whereupon his parents offered
sacrifices to U 'Lei Shillong for the deliverance of their daughters.

Whenever the Ksuid fell asleep the sisters were able to take turns at
their unpleasant task. In order to lighten their lot somewhat, they
planned to kindle a fire for the following night, and they collected
dry sticks and made ready; when night fell they kindled the fire and
felt less afraid. During the night, Ka Duh, in putting some fresh
wood on the fire, found a large, heavy dao--an axe-knife--of iron
which she showed to her sister, who at once took it as an augury that
deliverance was forthcoming, and that the god of Shillong was working
for them. She at once began to think of a plan whereby the dao might
be useful to break the spell of the demon and to free her sister and
herself from his power. She heated the thick blade red-hot while the
Ksuid slumbered, and, taking it by the handle, she seared his body
with the hot iron, so that he died.

Such, however, is the tenacity of all Ksuids that, even when they
are killed and die, they do not go out of existence. U Ksuid Tynjang
could no longer resume the form of a demon as he had formerly done,
but he could assume some other form and remain in his old haunts. The
form he chose was that of a jirmi--a creeper of a tough and tenacious
nature which entangles the feet of hunters when they run in the
chase, and saps the life out of the forest trees, and destroys the
plants cultivated by mankind. This plant is known to this day as the
Tynjang creeper.



XIX

WHAT MAKES THE LIGHTNING


In the early days of the world, when the animals fraternised with
mankind, they tried to emulate the manners and customs of men, and
they spoke their language.

Mankind held a great festival every thirteen moons, where the strongest
men and the handsomest youths danced "sword dances" and contested in
archery and other noble games, such as befitted their race and their
tribe as men of the Hills and the Forests--the oldest and the noblest
of all the tribes.

The animals used to attend these festivals and enjoyed watching the
games and the dances. Some of the younger and more enterprising among
them even clamoured for a similar carnival for the animals, to which,
after a time, the elders agreed; so it was decided that the animals
should appoint a day to hold a great feast.

After a period of practising dances and learning games, U Pyrthat,
the thunder giant, was sent out with his big drum to summon all the
world to the festival. The drum of U Pyrthat was the biggest and the
loudest of all drums, and could be heard from the most remote corner
of the forest; consequently a very large multitude came together,
such as had never before been seen at any festival.

The animals were all very smartly arrayed, each one after his or her
own taste and fashion, and each one carrying some weapon of warfare
or a musical instrument, according to the part he intended to play
in the festival. There was much amusement when the squirrel came up,
beating on a little drum as he marched; in his wake came the little
bird Shakyllia, playing on a flute, followed by the porcupine marching
to the rhythm of a pair of small cymbals.

Every one was exceedingly merry--they joked and poked fun at one
another, in great glee: some of the animals laughed so much on that
feast day that they have never been able to laugh since. The mole was
there, and on looking up he saw the owl trying to dance, swaying as if
she were drunk, and tumbling against all sorts of obstacles, as she
could not see where she was going, at which he laughed so heartily
that his eyes became narrow slits and have remained so to this day.

When the merriment was at its height U Kui, the lynx, arrived on the
scene, displaying a very handsome silver sword which he had procured at
great expense to make a show at the festival. When he began to dance
and to brandish the silver sword, everybody applauded. He really
danced very gracefully, but so much approbation turned his head,
and he became very uplifted, and began to think himself better than
all his neighbours.

Just then U Pyrthat, the thunder giant, happened to look round, and he
saw the performance of the lynx and admired the beauty of the silver
sword, and he asked to have the handling of it for a short time,
as a favour, saying that he would like to dance a little, but had
brought no instrument except his big drum. This was not at all to
U Kui's liking, for he did not want any one but himself to handle
his fine weapon; but all the animals began to shout as if with one
voice, saying "Shame!" for showing such discourtesy to a guest, and
especially to the guest by whose kindly offices the assembly had been
summoned together; so U Kui was driven to yield up his silver sword.

As soon as U Pyrthat got possession of the sword he began to wield
it with such rapidity and force that it flashed like leaping flame,
till all eyes were dazzled almost to blindness, and at the same time he
started to beat on his big drum with such violence that the earth shook
and trembled and the animals fled in terror to hide in the jungle.

During the confusion U Pyrthat leaped to the sky, taking the lynx's
silver sword with him, and he is frequently seen brandishing it wildly
there and beating loudly on his drum. In many countries people call
these manifestations "thunder" and "lightning," but the Ancient Khasis
who were present at the festival knew them to be the stolen sword of
the lynx.

U Kui was very disconsolate, and has never grown reconciled to his
loss. It is said of him that he has never wandered far from home
since then, in order to live near a mound he is trying to raise,
which he hopes will one day reach the sky. He hopes to climb to the
top of it, to overtake the giant U Pyrthat, and to seize once more
his silver sword.



XX

THE PROHIBITED FOOD


When mankind first came to live upon the earth, the Great God saw
fit to walk abroad in their midst frequently, and permitted them
to hold converse with Him on matters pertaining to their duties
and their welfare. At one time the discourse turned on the terrible
consequences of disobedience, which caused punishment to fall, not
only on the transgressor himself, but upon the entire human race also.

The man could not comprehend the mystery and sought for enlightenment
from God, and in order to help him to understand, the Great God
said unto him, "Do thou retire for seven days to meditate upon this
matter; at the end of the seven days I will again visit the earth;
seek me then and we will discourse further. In the meantime go into
the forest and hew down the giant tree which I point out to thee,
and on thy peril beware of cutting down any other trees." And He
pointed out a large tree in the middle of the forest.

Thereupon the Great God ascended into heaven, and the man went forth
to meditate and to cut down the giant tree, as he had been commanded.

At the expiration of seven days the man came to the appointed place
and the Great God came to him. He questioned him minutely about his
work and his meditations during the week of retirement, but the man
had gained no further knowledge nor received any new light. So the
Great God, to help him, began to question him. Their discourse was
after this manner:

"Hast thou cut down the tree as thou wert commanded?"

"Behold, its place is empty, I have cut it down."

"Didst thou observe the command in all things? Didst thou abstain
from cutting down any of the other trees?"

"I abstained from cutting down any other trees; only the one that
was pointed out to me have I cut down."

"What are all these trees and shrubs that I see scattered about?"

"These were broken and uprooted by the weight of the great tree as
it fell."

"Behold, here are some trees that have been cut down with an axe;
how did this happen?"

"The jungle was so thick I could not reach the giant tree without
first cutting a path for myself."

"That is true; therefore learn from this parable, man is so great that,
if he falls into transgression, others must suffer with him."

But the man still marvelled, and his mind remained dark. The Great God,
in His long-sufferance, told him to ponder further upon the parable
of the giant tree. So the Great God walked abroad for a time and man
was left alone to ponder. When He returned He found the man still
puzzled and unable to comprehend; and once again He questioned him.

"What took place in My absence?"

"Nothing of importance that I can think of."

"Why didst thou cry out as if in pain?"

"It was for a very trivial cause; an ant bit me in my heel."

"And what didst thou do?"

"I took a stone and killed the ant and the whole nest of ants."

"This also is a parable; because one ant bit thee the whole nest was
destroyed. Man is the ant; if man transgresseth he and all his race
must suffer."

Yet the man comprehended not: whereupon the Great God granted him
another seven days to retire and to meditate upon the parables of
the giant tree and the ant.

Again the man came to the appointed place at the end of seven days'
seeking to receive fuller knowledge and understanding. The Great God
had not yet appeared, so the man took a walk in the forest to await His
coming. As he wandered aimlessly about, he met a stranger carrying a
small net in his hand out of which he was eating some food. Now this
stranger was a demon, but the man did not know it.

"Where art thou going?" asked the stranger affably after the manner
of the country.

"Just to walk for my pleasure," replied the man; "what food art
thou eating?"

"Only some cakes of bread which I find very tasty; take some and
eat." And he passed the net to him.

"Thy offer is kindly made, but do not take it amiss that I refuse to
accept thy bread, for it is decreed that we shall live on rice alone."

"Even so, but surely to take a morsel to taste would not be wrong."

This time the man did not resist, but accepted a cake of bread and
ate it with enjoyment, after which the stranger departed, taking his
bag of cakes with him.

The man had scarcely swallowed the strange food when he heard the
voice of the Great God calling unto him from the skies, saying:

"What hast thou done, oh man? Thou knowest the decree that rice was
provided to be thy food, yet thou hast unmindfully transgressed and
partaken of the strange food of the tempter. Henceforth thou and thy
race shall be tormented by the strange being whose food thou hast
eaten. By eating his food thou hast given him dominion over thee and
over thy race, and to escape from his torments thou and thy race must
give of thy substance to appease him and to avert his wrath."

Thus, too late, the man began to understand, and ever since then
the days of men have been full of sorrow because man yielded to the
tempter's voice instead of submitting to the decrees of the Great God.



XXI

THE COOING OF THE DOVES


Of all the birds there are none that keep themselves more separate
than the doves. They do not peck at other birds as the crows and the
vultures do, but, on restless foot and wing, they quickly withdraw
themselves from every presuming neighbour.

The Ancient Khasis say that at one time the doves sang like other
birds, and the following story tells how they ceased their singing
and came to express their feelings in the plaintive "Coo-oo" for
which they are noted throughout the world.

Once a family of doves lived very happily in the forest, and its
youngest member was a beautiful female called Ka Paro. Her parents and
all the family were very indulgent to her, and never permitted her
to risk the danger of the grain-fields until they had ascertained
that there were no hunters or wild beasts likely to attack her;
so Ka Paro used to stay in the shelter of her home until they gave
a signal that the land was safe and clear.

One day, while waiting for the signal, she happened to go up into
a tall tree on which there were clusters of luscious red berries
growing. As the doves usually subsisted on grain, Ka Paro did not
pay much attention to the berries; she sat on a branch, preening her
feathers and watching other birds who came to pick them.

By and by there came a smart young Jylleit (a jungle bird with gorgeous
green and gold feathers) who perched to pick berries upon the very
branch on which Ka Paro sat. She had never seen such a beautiful bird,
and to please him she sang to him one of her sweetest songs. U Jylleit
was quickly attracted by the sweet voice and the gentle manners of
the dove, and a pleasant intimacy grew between the two. Ka Paro came
to that tree to preen her feathers and to sing every day, while the
Jylleit admired her and picked the berries.

After a time U Jylleit sent to the dove's parents to ask her in
marriage. Although their young daughter pressed them hard to give
their consent, the parents were wise, and did not want to trust
the happiness of their pet child to a stranger until they had time
to test his worth; they knew too that marriages between alien tribes
were scarcely ever a success. So, to test the constancy of the young
suitor, they postponed the marriage till the winter, and with that
the lovers had to be content. The parents remembered that the berries
would be over by the winter, and it remained to be seen whether the
Jylleit would be willing to forgo his luxuries and to share the frugal
food of the doves, or whether he would fly away to some other forests
where berries were to be found. Ka Paro was so much in love that she
was very confident of the fidelity of her suitor, but to her sorrow,
as soon as the berries were finished, U Jylleit flitted away without
even a word of farewell, and she never saw him again.

From that time Ka Paro ceased to sing. She could only utter the
longing and sorrow that was in her heart in sad and plaintive notes,
so the doves are cooing sadly even in their happiest moments.



XXII

HOW THE MONKEY'S COLOUR BECAME GREY


In olden times the monkeys had long hair of different colours covering
their bodies, and they were much more handsome than they are in the
present day. They were very inquisitive animals and liked to meddle
in the affairs of other people, and they caused a lot of trouble in
the world.

One day a monkey wandering on the plains met Ram, the god of the
Hindus, searching for the goddess Sita. Ram, thinking that the monkey
by his inquisitiveness and audacity might help to find her, bribed
him to come to his service.

After making enquiries far and near, the monkey heard at last that Ka
Sita was confined in a fort in the island of Ceylon, so he went and
told the god Ram. Thereupon Ram gathered together a great host to go
and fight the king of the island of Ceylon, but they found the place
infested with dragons and goblins of the most hostile disposition,
so that they dared not venture to land.

The hosts of Ram then held a consultation, and they decided that,
as the monkey had been the cause of their coming there, he must find
out a way for them to land without being destroyed by the dragons. The
monkey, not knowing what to say, suggested that they should burn down
the forests of Ceylon so that the dragons could have no place to hide.

Upon this the hosts of Ram declared that the monkey himself must
go over to put his plan into execution. So they dipped a long piece
of cloth in oil and tied one end of it to the monkey's tail and set
fire to the other end of it, and the monkey went over to the island
and ran hither and thither dragging the flaming cloth behind him and
setting the forests on fire everywhere he went, until all the forests
of Ceylon were in flames.

Before he could get back to his companions he saw with dismay that
the cloth was nearly burnt out, and the heat from the fire behind him
began to singe his long hair; whereupon, fearing to be burnt alive,
he plunged into the sea and the flames were extinguished. From that
time the monkey's hair has been grey and short as a sign that he once
set the forests of Ceylon on fire.



XXIII

THE LEGEND OF KA PANSHANDI, THE LAZY TORTOISE


Once upon a time there lived a young tortoise near a large pool. She
was very ill-favoured and ugly in appearance and very foolish,
as well as being of a lazy disposition, and, like all lazy people,
she was slovenly and dirty in her habits. Her name was Ka Panshandi.

The pool near which she lived being very clear, the stars and other
heavenly bodies often gazed into it to behold their own images. At
times the reflection of countless shining, blinking stars would
be visible in the placid waters till the pool looked like a little
part of the sky. At such times Ka Panshandi took immense delight in
plunging into the pool, darting backwards and forwards and twirling
round the bright silvery spots with great glee and contentment.

Among those who came frequently to gaze at themselves in the pool was
U Lurmangkhara, the brightest of all the stars; he began to notice
the playful gambols of Ka Panshandi in the water and to admire her
twirling motions. He lived so far away that he could not see her
ugliness, nor could he know that she was lazy and foolish. All he
knew was that she exposed herself nightly to the chilly waters of
the pool in order (as he thought) to have the pleasure of being near
the images of the stars, which was very flattering to his vanity. If
she was so strongly attracted by their images, he thought to himself,
how much more would she adore the real live stars if she were brought
into contact with them.

U Lurmangkhara fell deeply in love with her, and determined to go
down to the earth to marry her and to endow her with all his wealth,
for he was very rich and had always lived in great splendour.

When his relations and friends heard of his purpose, they were much
disturbed, and they came to remonstrate with him against what they
considered to be a very rash and risky step--to go to a foreign land
to make his home and to mate with an unknown consort whose habits and
outlook on life might be altogether alien to him. But U Lurmangkhara
would listen to no counsel. Persons in love never take heed of other
people's advice. Down to the earth he came, and there married Ka
Panshandi and endowed her with all his wealth.

When Ka Panshandi found herself a rich wife, having unexpectedly won
one of the noblest husbands in the world, her vanity knew no bounds,
and she grew more indolent and idle than ever. Her house was squalid,
and she minded not when even her own body was daubed with mud, and
she felt no shame to see her husband's meals served off unscoured
platters. U Lurmangkhara was very disappointed; being patient and
gentle, he tried by kind words to teach his wife to amend her ways,
but it was of no avail. Gradually he grew discontented and spoke
angrily to her, but she remained as callous and as indifferent as
ever, for it is easier to turn even a thief from stealing than to
induce a sluggard to renounce his sloth. He threatened to leave her,
her neighbours also repeatedly warned her that she would lose her good
husband unless she altered her ways, but she remained as unconcerned
as ever. At last, driven to despair, U Lurmangkhara gathered together
all his wealth and went back to his home in the sky.

Ka Panshandi was filled with remorse and grief when she found that
her husband had departed. She called piteously after him, promising
to reform if he would only return, but it was too late. He never came
back, and she was left to her squalor and her shame.

To this day Ka Panshandi is still hoping to see U Lurmangkhara coming
back to the earth, and she is seen crawling about mournfully, with
her neck outstretched towards the sky in expectation of his coming,
but there is no sign of his return, and her life is dull and joyless.

After these events Ka Panshandi's name became a mockery and a proverb
in the land; ballads were sung setting forth her fate as a warning
to lazy and thriftless wives. To the present day a forsaken wife who
entertains hope of her husband's return is likened by the Khasis to
Ka Panshandi in her expectant attitude with her head lifted above
her shell: "Ka Panshandi dem-lor-khah."



XXIV

THE IDIOT AND THE HYNDET BREAD


Long, long ago there lived on the Khasi Hills a certain widow with her
only son, a lad possessed of great personal beauty, who was mentally
deficient, and was known in the village as "U Bieit" (the idiot).

The mother, being very poor and having neither kith nor kin to help
her, was obliged to go out to work every day to support herself and
her hapless child, so he was left to his own devices, roaming at
large in the village. In this way he grew up to be very troublesome
to his neighbours, for he often broke into their houses to forage
for something to eat and caused much damage and loss.

Like most people of weak intellect, U Bieit showed wonderful cunning
in some directions, especially in the matter of procuring some good
thing to eat, and the way he succeeded in duping some of his more
sagacious comrades in order to obtain some dainty tit-bits of food
was a matter of much amusement and merriment. But there were so many
unpleasant incidents that people could not safely leave their houses,
and matters at last became so serious that the widow was ordered to
leave the village on his account.

She sought admission into many of the surrounding villages, but the
fame of U Bieit had travelled before him and no one was willing to
let them dwell in their midst. So in great distress she took him down
to the plains, where there was a big river along which many boats
used to sail. Here she mournfully determined to abandon him, hoping
that some of the wealthy merchants who often passed that way might
be attracted by his good looks and take him into their company. She
gave him some rice cakes to eat when he should be hungry, and told
him to be a good boy and stay by the river-side, and she would bring
him more cakes next day.

The boy thoroughly appreciated the promise of more cakes, so was quite
willing to be left by the river, but he felt lonely and uncomfortable
in his strange surroundings after his mother had gone, and whenever
a boat came in sight he ran into the thickets to hide. By and by
a large boat was seen approaching with great white sails, which
frightened him greatly and sent him running into a thicket with all
his might. It happened that a wealthy merchant was returning from
a journey, and landed to take food close to the hiding-place of U
Bieit. The servants were going backward and forward into the boat
while preparing their master's food, and, fearing lest some of them
might tamper with his chest of gold nuggets, he ordered them to carry
it ashore, and buried it in the sands close to where he sat.

Just as he finished his repast a heavy shower came on, and the
merchant hurried to the shelter of his boat; in his haste he forgot
all about the chest of gold buried in the sands, and the boat sailed
away without it.

All this time the idiot boy was watching the proceedings with great
curiosity and a longing to share the tempting meal, but fear of
the boat with white sails kept him from showing himself. However,
as soon as the boat was out of sight, he came out of the thicket and
began to unearth the buried chest. When he saw the gold nuggets he
thought they were some kind of cakes, and, putting one in his mouth,
he tried to eat it. Finding it so hard, he decided that it must have
been unbaked, and his poor marred mind flew at once to his mother,
who always baked food for him at home, and, taking the heavy chest on
his back, he started through the forest to seek her, and his instinct,
like that of a homing pigeon, brought him safely to his mother's door.

It was quite dark when he reached the village, so that nobody saw him,
but his mother was awake crying and lamenting her own hard fate which
had driven her to desert her unfortunate child. As she cried she
kept saying to herself that if only she possessed money she could
have obtained the goodwill of her neighbours and been permitted to
live with her boy in the village. She was surprised to hear sounds of
shuffling at her door resembling the shuffling of her forsaken boy;
she got up hurriedly to see who it was, and was relieved and joyful
to find him come back to her alive.

She marvelled when she saw him carrying a heavy chest on his shoulders,
and she could get but little light from his incoherent speech as to
how he had obtained possession of it, but her eyes glittered with
delight when she saw that it was full of gold nuggets. She allowed the
lad to keep his delusion that they were cakes, and to pacify him she
took some rice and made some savoury cakes for him, pretending that
she was baking the strange cakes from the chest. After eating these,
he went to sleep satisfied and happy.

Now the widow had been longing for gold all her life long, saying that
she wanted it to provide better comforts for the son who could not look
after himself, but the moment the gold came into her possession her
heart was filled with greed. Not only was she not willing to part with
any of the nuggets to obtain the favour of the villagers for her son,
but she was planning to send him abroad again to search for more gold,
regardless of the perils to which he would be exposed. She called
him up before daybreak, and, giving him some rice cakes in a bag,
she told him to go again to the river-side and to bring home more
boxes of cakes for her to bake.

So the boy started out on his fruitless errand, but soon lost his
way in the jungle; he could find the path neither to the river nor
to his mother's house, so he wandered about disconsolate and hungry
in the dense woods, searching for hidden chests and unbaked cakes.

In that forest many fairies had their haunts, but they were invisible
to mankind. They knew all about the idiot boy and his sad history,
and a great pity welled up in their hearts when they saw how the lust
for gold had so corrupted his mother's feelings that she sent him alone
and unprotected into the dangers of that great forest. They determined
to try and induce him to accompany them to the land of the fairies,
where he would be guarded from all harm and where willing hands would
minister to all his wants.

So seven of the fairies transformed themselves into the likeness
of mankind and put on strong wings like the wings of great eagles,
and came to meet U Bieit in the jungle. By this time he had become
exhausted with want of food, and as soon as he saw the fairies he
called out eagerly to ask if they had any food, to which they replied
that they had only some Hyndet bread (kpu Hyndet) which had been
baked by the fairies in heaven; and when they gave him some of it,
he ate it ravenously and held out his hand for more. This was just
what the fairies wanted, for no human being can be taken to fairyland
except of his own free will. So they said that they had no more to
give in that place, but if he liked to come with them to the land of
the fairies beyond the Blue Realm, he could have abundance of choice
food and Hyndet cakes. He expressed his readiness to go at once,
and asked them how he should get there. They told him to take hold of
their wings, to cling firmly, and not to talk on the way; so he took
hold of the wings of the fairies and the ascent to fairyland began.

Now as they flew upwards there were many beautiful sights which gave
the fairies great delight as they passed. They saw the glories of
the highest mountains, and the endless expanse of forest and waters,
and the fleeting shadows of the clouds, and the brilliant colours
of the rainbow, dazzling in their transient beauty. But the idiot
boy saw nothing of these things; his simple mind was absorbed in the
one thought--food. When they had ascended to a great height and the
borders of fairyland came into view, U Bieit could no longer repress
his curiosity, and, forgetting all about the caution not to speak,
he asked the fairies eagerly, "Will the Hyndet cakes be big?" As soon
as he uttered the words he lost his hold on the fairies' wings and,
falling to the earth with great velocity, he died.

The Khasis relate this story mainly as a warning not to impose
responsible duties on persons incapable of performing them, and not
to raise people into high positions which they are not fitted to fill.



XXV

U RAMHAH


Where is the country without its giant-story?

All through the ages the world has revelled in tales of the
incomparable prowess and the unrivalled strength and stature of great
and distinguished men whom we have learned to call giants. We trace
them from the days of Samson and Goliath, past the Knights of Arthur in
the "Island of the Mighty" and the great warriors of ancient Greece,
down to the mythland of our nursery days, where the exploits of the
famous "Jack" and his confederates filled us with wonder and awe. Our
world has been a world full of mighty men to whom all the nations
pay tribute, and the Khasis in their small corner are not behind the
rest of the world in this respect, for they also have on record the
exploits of a giant whose fate was as strange as that of any famous
giant in history.

The name of the Khasi giant was U Ramhah. He lived in a dark age,
and his vision was limited, but according to his lights and the
requirements of his country and his generation, he performed great
and wonderful feats, such as are performed by all orthodox giants all
the world over. He lifted great boulders, he erected huge pillars, he
uprooted large trees, he fought wild beasts, he trampled on dragons,
he overcame armed hosts single-handed, he championed the cause of
the defenceless, and won for himself praise and renown.

When his fame was at its height he smirched his reputation by his bad
actions. After the great victory over U Thlen in the cave of Pomdoloi,
he became very uplifted and proud, and considered himself entitled to
the possessions of the Khasis. So instead of helping and defending
his neighbours as of yore, he began to oppress and to plunder them,
and came to be regarded as a notorious highwayman, to be avoided and
dreaded, who committed thefts and crimes wherever he went.

At this period he is described as a very tall and powerful man whose
stature reached "half way to the sky," and he always carried a soop
(a large basket of plaited bamboo) on his back, into which he put all
his spoils, which were generally some articles of food or clothing. He
broke into houses, looted the markets and waylaid travellers. The
plundered people used to run after him, clinging to his big soop, but
he used to beat them and sometimes kill them, and by reason of his
great strength and long strides he always got away with his booty,
leaving havoc and devastation behind him. He was so strong and so
terrible that no one could check his crimes or impose any punishments.

There lived in the village of Cherra in those days a wealthy woman
called Ka Bthuh, who had suffered much and often at the hands of U
Ramhah, and whose anger against him burnt red-hot. She had pleaded
urgently with the men of her village to rise in a body to avenge her
wrongs, but they always said that it was useless. Whenever she met U
Ramhah she insulted him by pointing and shaking her finger at him,
saying, "You may conquer the strength of a man, but beware of the
cunning of a woman." For this saying U Ramhah hated her, for it showed
that he had not been able to overawe her as everybody else had been
overawed by him, and he raided her godowns more frequently than ever,
not dreaming that she was scheming to defeat him.

One day Ka Bthuh made a great feast; she sent invitations to many
villages far and near, for she wanted it to be as publicly known as
possible in order to lure U Ramhah to attend. It was one of his rude
habits to go uninvited to feasts and to gobble up all the eatables
before the invited guests had been helped.

The day of Ka Bthuh's feast came and many guests arrived, but before
the rice had been distributed there was a loud cry that U Ramhah
was marching towards the village. Everybody considered this very
annoying, but Ka Bthuh, the hostess, pretended not to be disturbed,
and told the people to let the giant eat as much as he liked first,
and she would see that they were all helped later on. At this U
Ramhah laughed, thinking that she was beginning to be afraid of him,
and he helped himself freely to the cooked rice and curry that was
at hand. He always ate large mouthfuls, but at feast times he used
to put an even greater quantity of rice into his mouth, just to make
an impression and a show. Ka Bthuh had anticipated all this, and she
stealthily put into the rice some sharp steel blades which the giant
swallowed unsuspectingly.

When he had eaten to his full content U Ramhah took his departure,
and when he had gone out of earshot Ka Bthuh told the people what
she had done. They marvelled much at her cunning, and they all said
it was a just deed to punish one whose crimes were so numerous and so
flagrant, but who escaped penalty by reason of his great strength. From
that time Ka Bthuh won great praise and became famous.

U Ramhah never reached his home from that feast. The sharp blades he
had swallowed cut his intestines and he died on the hill-side alone
and unattended, as the wild animals die, and there was no one to
regret his death.

When the members of his clan heard of his death they came in a great
company to perform rites and to cremate his body, but the body was
so big that it could not be cremated, and so they decided to leave
it till the flesh rotted, and to come again to gather together his
bones. After a long time they came to gather the bones, but it was
found that there was no urn large enough to contain them, so they
piled them together on the hill-side until a large urn could be made.

While the making of the large urn was in progress there arose a great
storm, and a wild hurricane blew from the north, which carried away
the bleached bones of U Ramhah, and scattered them all over the south
borders of the Khasi Hills, where they remain to this day in the
form of lime-rocks, the many winding caves and crevices of which are
said to be the cavities in the marrowless bones of the giant. Thus
U Ramhah, who injured and plundered the Khasis in his life-time,
became the source of inestimable wealth to them after his death.

His name is heard on every hearth, used as a proverb to describe
objects of abnormal size or people of abnormal strength.



XXVI

HOW THE CAT CAME TO LIVE WITH MAN


In olden times Ka Miaw, the cat, lived in the jungle with her brother
the tiger, who was king of the jungle. She was very proud of her
high pedigree and anxious to display the family greatness, and to
live luxuriously according to the manner of families of high degree;
but the tiger, although he was very famous abroad, was not at all
mindful of the well-being and condition of his family, and allowed
them to be often in want. He himself, by his skill and great prowess,
obtained the most delicate morsels for his own consumption, but as it
involved trouble to bring booty home for his household, he preferred
to leave what he did not want himself to rot on the roadside, or to
be eaten by any chance scavenger. Therefore, the royal larder was
often very bare and empty.

Thus the cat was reduced to great privations, but so jealous was she
for the honour and good name of her house that, to hide her poverty
from her friends and neighbours, she used to sneak out at night-time,
when nobody could see her, in order to catch mice and frogs and other
common vermin for food.

Once she ventured to speak to her brother on the matter, asking him
what glory there was in being king if his family were obliged to
work and to fare like common folks. The tiger was so angered that she
never dared to approach the subject again, and she continued to live
her hard life and to shield the family honour.

One day the tiger was unwell, and a number of his neighbours came to
enquire after his health. Desiring to entertain them with tobacco,
according to custom, he shouted to his sister to light the hookah
and to serve it round to the company. Now, even in the most ordinary
household, it is very contrary to good breeding to order the daughter
of the house to serve the hookah, and Ka Miaw felt the disgrace keenly,
and, hoping to excuse herself, she answered that there was no fire
left by which to light the hookah. This answer displeased the tiger
greatly, for he felt that his authority was being flouted before
his friends. He ordered his sister angrily to go to the dwelling of
mankind to fetch a firebrand with which to light the hookah, and,
fearing to be punished if she disobeyed, the cat ran off as she was
bidden and came to the dwelling of mankind.

Some little children were playing in the village, and when they saw
Ka Miaw they began to speak gently to her and to stroke her fur. This
was so pleasant to her feelings after the harsh treatment from her
brother that she forgot all about the firebrand and stayed to play
with the children, purring to show her pleasure.

Meanwhile the tiger and his friends sat waiting impatiently for
the hookah that never came. It was considered a great privilege to
draw a whiff from the royal hookah; but seeing that the cat delayed
her return, the visitors took their departure, and showed a little
sullenness at not receiving any mark of hospitality in their king's
house.

The tiger's anger against his sister was very violent, and, regardless
of his ill-health, he went out in search of her. Ka Miaw heard him
coming, and knew from his growl that he was angry; she suddenly
remembered her forgotten errand, and, hastily snatching a firebrand
from the hearth, she started for home.

Her brother met her on the way and began to abuse her, threatening to
beat her, upon which she threw down the firebrand at his feet in her
fright and ran back to the abode of mankind, where she has remained
ever since, supporting herself as of old by catching frogs and mice,
and purring to the touch of little children.



XXVII

HOW THE FOX GOT HIS WHITE BREAST


Once a fox, whose name was U Myrsiang, lived in a cave near the
residence of a Siem (Chief). This fox was a very shameless marauder,
and had the impudence to conduct his raids right into the Siem's
private barn-yard, and to devour the best of his flocks, causing him
much annoyance and loss.

The Siem gave his servants orders to catch U Myrsiang, but though they
laid many traps and snares in his way he was so wily and so full of
cunning that he managed to evade every pitfall, and to continue his
raids on the Siem's flocks.

One of the servants, more ingenious than his fellows, suggested that
they should bring out the iron cage in which the Siem was wont to lock
up state criminals, and try and wheedle the fox into entering it. So
they brought out the iron cage and set it open near the entrance to
the barn-yard, with a man on guard to watch.

By and by, U Myrsiang came walking by very cautiously, sniffing the
air guardedly to try and discover if any hidden dangers lay in his
path. He soon reached the cage, but it aroused no suspicion in him,
for it was so large and so unlike every trap he was familiar with
that he entered it without a thought of peril, and ere he was aware
of his error, the man on guard had bolted the door behind him and
made him a prisoner.

There was great jubilation in the Siem's household when the capture
of the fox was made known. The Siem himself was so pleased that he
commanded his servants to prepare a feast on the following day as a
reward for their vigilance and ingenuity. He also gave orders not to
kill the fox till the next day, and that he should be brought out of
the cage after the feast and executed in a public place as a warning
to other thieves and robbers. So U Myrsiang was left to pine in his
prison for that night.

The fox was very unhappy, as all people in confinement must be. He
explored the cage from end to end but found no passage of egress. He
thought out many plans of escape, but not one of them could be put
into execution, and he was driven to face the doom of certain death. He
whined in his misery and despair, and roamed about the cage all night.

Some time towards morning he was disturbed by the sounds of footsteps
outside his cage, and, thinking that the Siem's men had come to kill
him, he lay very still, hardly venturing to breathe. To his relief
the new-comer turned out to be a belated traveller, who, upon seeing
a cage, sat down, leaning his weary body against the bars, while
U Myrsiang kept very still, not wishing to disclose his presence
until he found out something more about his unexpected companion,
and hoping also to turn his coming to some good account.

The traveller was an outlaw driven away from a neighbouring state for
some offence, and was in great perplexity how to procure the permission
of the Siem (into whose state he had now wandered) to dwell there and
be allowed to cultivate the land. Thinking that he was quite alone,
he began to talk to himself, not knowing that a wily fox was listening
attentively to all that he was saying.

"I am a most unfortunate individual," said the stranger. "I have been
driven away from my home and people, I have no money and no friends,
and no belongings except this little polished mirror which no one is
likely to buy. I am so exhausted that if they drive me out of this
State again I shall die of starvation on the roadside. If I could
only find a friend who could help me to win the favour of the Siem,
so that I may be permitted to live here unmolested for a time, till
my trouble blows over!"

U Myrsiang's heart was beating very fast with renewed hope when he
heard these words, and he tried to think of some way to delude the
stranger to imagine that he was some one who had influence with the
Siem, and to get the man to open the cage and let him out. So with
all the cunning he was capable of, he accosted the man in his most
affable and courteous manner:

"Friend and brother," he said, "do not despair. I think I can put
you in the way, not only to win the Siem's favour, but to become a
member of his family."

The outlaw was greatly embarrassed when he discovered that some one
had overheard him talking. It was such a dark night he could not
see the fox, but thought that it was a fellow-man who had accosted
him. Fearing to commit himself further if he talked about himself,
he tried to divert the conversation away from himself, and asked his
companion who he was and what he was doing alone in the cage at night.

The fox, nothing loth to monopolise the conversation, gave a most
plausible account of his misfortunes, and his tale seemed so sincere
and apparently true that it convinced the man on the instant.

"There is great trouble in this State," said U Myrsiang. "The only
daughter of the Siem is sick, and according to the divinations she
is likely to die unless she can be wedded before sunset to-morrow,
and her bridegroom must be a native of some other State. The time was
too short to send envoys to any of the neighbouring States to arrange
for the marriage, and as I happened to pass this way on a journey, the
Siem's men forcibly detained me, on finding that I was a foreigner, and
to-morrow they will compel me to marry the Siem's daughter, which is
much against my will. If you open the door of this cage and let me out,
you may become the Siem's son-in-law by taking my place in the cage."

"What manner of man are you," asked the outlaw, "that you should
disdain the honour of marrying the daughter of a Siem?"

"You are mistaken to think that I disdain the honour," said the
fox. "If I had been single I should have rejoiced in the privilege,
but I am married already, and have a wife and family in my own village
far from here, and my desire is to be released so that I may return
to them."

"In that case," replied the man, "I think you are right to refuse,
but as for me it will be a most desirable union, and I shall be only
too glad to exchange places with you."

Thereupon he opened the door of the cage and went in, while U Myrsiang
slipped out, and bolted the door behind him.

The man was so pleased with his seeming good fortune that at parting
he took off his polished mirror which was suspended round his neck by
a silver chain, and begged his companion to accept it in remembrance
of their short but strange encounter. As he was handing it to U
Myrsiang, his hand came into contact with the fox's thick fur, and he
realised then that he had been duped, and had, owing to his credulity,
released the most thieving rogue in the forest. Regrets were vain. He
was firmly imprisoned within the cage, while he heard the laughter
of U Myrsiang echoing in the distance as he hurried away to safety,
taking the polished mirror with him.

The fox was well aware that it was unsafe for him to remain any longer
in that locality, so, after fastening the mirror firmly round his neck,
he hastened away with all speed, and did not halt till he came to a
remote and secluded part of the jungle, where he stopped to take his
breath and to rest.

Unknown to U Myrsiang, a big tiger was lying in wait for prey in that
part of the jungle, and, upon seeing the fox, made ready to spring
upon him. But the fox, hearing some noise, turned round suddenly,
and by that movement the polished mirror came right in front of the
tiger's face. The tiger saw in it the reflection of his own big jaws
and flaming eyes, from which he slunk away in terror, thinking that U
Myrsiang was some great tiger-demon haunting the jungle in the shape
of a fox, and from that time the tiger has never been known to attack
the fox.

One day, when hotly pursued by hunters, the fox plunged into a deep
river. As he swam across, the flood carried away his polished mirror,
but the stamp of it remains to this day on his breast in the form of
a patch of white fur.



XXVIII

HOW THE TIGER GOT HIS STRENGTH


After the animals were created they were sent to live in the jungle,
but they were so foolish that they got into one another's way and
interfered one with another and caused much inconvenience in the
world. In order to produce better order, the Bleis (gods) called
together a Durbar to decide on the different qualities with which it
would be well to endow the animals, so as to make them intelligent
and able to live in harmony with one another. After this, mankind
and all the animals were summoned to the presence of the Bleis,
and each one was given such intelligence and sense as seemed best to
suit his might and disposition: the man received beauty and wisdom,
and to the tiger were given craftiness and the power to walk silently.

When the man returned to his kindred, and his mother beheld him, her
heart was lifted with pride, for she knew that the Bleis had given to
him the best of their gifts, and that henceforth all the animals would
be inferior to him in beauty and intelligence. Realising with regret
that he had not received physical strength equal to the beauty of his
person, and that consequently his life would be always in danger, she
told her son to go back to the Bleis to ask for the gift of strength.

The man went back to the Bleis according to the command of his
mother, but it was so late when he arrived that the Bleis were about
to retire. Seeing that he was comelier than any of the animals and
possessed more wisdom, which made him worthy of the gift of strength,
they told him to come on the morrow and they would bestow upon him
the desired gift. The man was dismissed till the following day, but
he went away happy in his mind, knowing that the Bleis would not go
back on their word.

Now it happened that the tiger was roaming about in that vicinity,
and by reason of his silent tread he managed to come unobserved
near enough to hear the Bleis and the man talking about the gift of
strength. He determined to forestall the man on the morrow, and to
obtain the gift of strength for himself; soon he slunk away lest it
should be discovered that he had been listening.

Early on the following morning, before the Bleis had come forth
from their retirement, the tiger went to their abode and sent in
a messenger to say that he had come according to their command to
obtain the gift of strength, upon which the Bleis endowed him with
strength twelve times greater than what he had before possessed,
thinking that they were bestowing it upon the man.

The tiger felt himself growing strong, and as soon as he left the
abode of the Bleis, he leaped forward twelve strides, and twelve
strides upward, and so strong was he that it was unto him but as one
short stride. Then he knew that he had truly forestalled the man, and
had obtained the gift of strength, and could overcome men in battle.

Later in the day, in accordance with the command he had received,
the man set out for the abode of the Bleis, but on the way the
tiger met him and challenged him to fight, and began to leap and
bound upwards and forwards to show how strong he was, and said that
he had received the "twelve strengths" and no one would be able to
withstand him. He was just about to spring when the man evaded him,
and ran away towards the abode of the Bleis. When he came there and
presented himself before them, they asked him angrily, "Why dost
thou come again to trouble us? We have already given thee the gift
of strength." Then the man knew that the tiger's boast was true,
and he told the Bleis of his encounter with the tiger on the way,
and of his boast that he had obtained the gift of strength. They were
greatly annoyed that deception had been practised on them, but there
is no decree by which to recall a gift when once it has been bestowed
by the Bleis. They looked upon the man with pity, and said that one
so beautiful and full of wisdom should not be left defenceless at
the mercy of the inferior animals. So they gave unto him a bow and an
arrow, and told him, "When the tiger attacks thee with his strength,
shoot, and the arrow will pierce his body and kill him. Behold, we
have given to thee the gift of skill to make and to use weapons of
warfare whereby thou wilt be able to combat the lower animals."

Thus the tiger received strength, and man received the gift of
skill. The mother of mankind, when she saw it, told her sons to
abstain from using their weapons against one another, but to turn
them against the animals only, according to the decree of the Bleis.



XXIX

WHY THE GOAT LIVES WITH MANKIND


In early times the goat lived in the jungle, leading a free and
independent life, like all the other animals. The following story
gives an account of her flight from the animals to make her dwelling
with Man.

One fine spring day, when the young leaves were sprouting on the forest
trees, Ka Blang, the goat, went out in search of food. Her appetite was
sharpened by the delicious smell of the spring, which filled the air
and the forest, so, not being satisfied with grass, she began to pluck
the green leaves from a bush. While she was busy plucking and eating,
she was startled to hear the deep growl of the tiger close beside her.

The tiger asked her angrily, "What art thou doing there?"

Ka Blang was so upset by this sudden interruption, and in such fear
of the big and ferocious beast, that she began to tremble from head
to foot, so that even her beard shook violently, and she hardly knew
what she was doing or saying. In her fright she quavered:

"I am eating khla" (a tiger), instead of saying, "I am eating sla"
(leaves).

The tiger took this answer for insolence and became very angry. He
was preparing to spring upon her when he caught sight of her shaking
beard, which appeared to him like the tuft of hair on a warrior's
lance when it is lifted against an enemy. He thought that Ka Blang
must be some powerful and savage beast able to attack him, and he
ran away from her in terror.

Now Ka Blang, having an ungrateful heart, instead of being thankful
for her deliverance, grew discontented with her lot, and began to
grumble because she had not been endowed with the strength attributed
to her by the tiger, and she went about bewailing her inferiority.

One day, in her wanderings, she climbed to the top of an overhanging
cliff, and there she lay down to chew the cud, and, as usual, to dwell
on her grievances. It happened that the tiger was again prowling in the
same vicinity, but when he saw the goat approaching he fled in fear,
and hid himself under the very cliff on to which she had climbed. There
he lay very still, for fear of betraying his presence to the goat,
for he was still under the delusion that she was a formidable and
mighty animal. Ka Blang, all unconscious of his presence, began to
grumble aloud, saying:

"I am the poorest and the weakest of all the beasts, without any means
of defence or strength to withstand an attack. I have neither tusks
nor claws to make an enemy fear me. It is true that the tiger once ran
away from me because he mistook my beard for a sign of strength; but
if he had only known the truth he would have killed me on the instant,
for even a small dog could kill me if he clutched me by the throat."

The tiger, beneath the rock, was listening to every word, and,
as he listened, his wrath was greatly kindled to find that he had
disgraced himself by running away from such a contemptible creature,
and he determined now to avenge himself for that humiliation. He
crept stealthily from his hiding-place, and, ere she was aware of
his approach, Ka Blang was clutched by the throat and killed.

In order to restore his prestige, the tiger proclaimed far and wide
how he had captured and killed the goat, and after that other tigers
and savage beasts began to hunt the goats, and there followed such
a general slaughter of goats that they were nearly exterminated.

Driven to great extremity, the few remaining goats held a tribal
council to consider how to save themselves from the onslaughts of the
tigers, but, finding themselves powerless to offer any resistance,
they determined to apply to mankind for protection. When they came to
him, Man said that he could not come to the jungle to defend them,
but they must come and live in his village if they wished to be
protected by him. So the goats ran away from the jungle for ever,
and came to live with mankind.



XXX

HOW THE OX CAME TO BE THE SERVANT OF MAN


When mankind first came to live upon the earth, they committed many
blunders, for they were ignorant and wasteful, not knowing how to
shift for themselves, and having no one to teach them. The Deity who
was watching their destinies saw their misfortunes and pitied them,
for he saw that unless their wastefulness ceased they would perish
of want when they multiplied and became numerous in the world. So
the Deity called to him the ox, who was a strong and patient animal,
and sent him as a messenger to mankind, to bless them, and to show
them how to prosper.

The ox had to travel a long way in the heat, and was much worried by
the flies that swarmed round his path and the small insects that clung
to his body and sucked his blood. Then a crow alighted on his back
and began to peck at the insects, upon which it loved to feed; this
eased the ox greatly, and he was very pleased to see the crow, and he
told her where he was going, as a messenger from the Deity to mankind.

The crow was very interested when she heard this, and questioned him
minutely about the message he had been sent to deliver, and the ox
told her all that he had been commanded to say to mankind--how he was
to give them the blessing of the Deity and to warn them not to waste
the products of the earth lest they died of want. They must learn to
be thrifty and careful so that they might live to be old and wise,
and they were to boil only sufficient rice for each meal, so as not
to waste their food.

When the crow heard this she was much disturbed, for she saw that
there would be no leavings for the crows if mankind followed these
injunctions. So she said to the ox, "Will you repay my kindness to you
in destroying the insects that worry you by giving a message like that
to mankind to deprive me of my accustomed spoil?" She begged of him to
teach mankind to cook much rice always, and to ordain many ceremonies
to honour their dead ancestors by offering rice to the gods, so that
the crows and the other birds might have abundance to eat. Thus,
because she had eased his torments, the ox listened to her words,
and when he came to mankind he delivered only part of the message of
the Deity, and part of the message of the crow.

When the time came for the ox to return, a great fear overcame
him as he approached the abode of the Deity, for he saw that he had
greatly trespassed and that the Deity would be wrathful. In the hope of
obtaining forgiveness, he at once confessed his wrong-doing, how he had
been tempted by the crow, and had delivered the wrong message. This
confession did not mitigate the anger of the Deity, for he arose,
and, with great fury, he struck the ox such a blow on the mouth that
all his upper teeth fell out, and another blow behind the ribs which
made a great hollow there, and he drove the disobedient animal from
his presence, to seek pasture and shelter wherever he could find them.

After this the ox came back sorrowfully to mankind, and for food and
for shelter he offered to become their servant; and, because he was
strong and patient, mankind allowed him to become their servant.

Ever since he was struck by the Deity the ox has had no teeth in
the upper jaw, and the hollow behind his ribs remains to this day;
it can never be filled up, however much grass and grain he eats,
for it is the mark of the fist of the Deity.



XXXI

THE LOST BOOK


After mankind began to multiply on the earth and had become numerous,
and scattered into many regions, they lost much of their knowledge of
the laws of God, and in their ignorance they committed many mistakes
in their mode of worship, each one worshipping in his own way after
his own fancy, without regard to what was proper and acceptable in
the sight of God.

In order to restore their knowledge and to reform their mode of
worship, the Great God commanded a Khasi man and a foreigner to appear
before Him on a certain day, upon a certain mountain, the name of
which is not known, that they might learn His laws and statutes.

So the Khasi and the foreigner went into the mountain and appeared
before God. They remained with Him three days and three nights,
and He revealed unto them the mode of worship.

The Great God wrote His laws in books, and at the end of the third
day He gave unto each man a book of the holy law, and said unto them:
"This is sufficient unto you; return unto your own people; behold,
I have written all that is needful for you to know in this book. Take
it, and read it, and teach it to your kindred that they may learn
how to be wise and holy and happy for ever." The two men took their
books and departed as they were commanded.

Between the mountain and their homeland there lay a wide river. On
their way thither they had waded through it without any difficulty,
for the water was low, but on their return journey they found the river
in flood and the water so deep that they had to swim across. They
were sorely perplexed how to keep their sacred books safe and dry;
being devoid of clothing, the men found it difficult to protect them
or to cover them safely. The foreigner had long hair, and he took his
book and wrapped it in his long hair, which he twisted firmly on the
top of his head; but the hair of the Khasi was short, so he could
not follow the example of the foreigner, and, not able to think of
a better plan, he took the book between his teeth.

The foreigner swam across safely, with his book undamaged, and he
went home to his kindred joyfully and taught them wisdom and the mode
of worship.

The Khasi, after swimming part of the way, began to flounder, for
the current was strong, and his breathing was impeded by the book in
his mouth. His head went under water, and the book was reduced to a
worthless pulp. He was in great trouble when he saw that the book
was destroyed. He determined to return to the mountain to ask the
Great God for a new book, so he swam back across the wide river and
climbed again to the mountain; but when he reached the place where
he had before met God, he found that He had ascended into heaven,
and he had to return empty-handed.

When he reached his own country, he summoned together all his kindred
and told them all that had happened. They were very sad when they heard
that the book was lost, and bewildered because they had no means of
enlightenment. They resolved to call a Durbar of all the Khasis to
consider how they could carry on their worship in a becoming way and
with some uniformity, so as to secure for themselves the three great
blessings of humanity--health, wealth, and families.

Since that day the Khasis have depended for their knowledge of sacred
worship on the traditions that have come down from one generation
to the other from their ancestors who sat in the great Durbar after
the sacred book was lost, while the foreigners learn how to worship
from books.



XXXII

THE BLESSING OF THE MENDICANT


PART I

Once there lived a very poor family, consisting of a father, mother,
an only son, and his wife. They were poorer than any of their
neighbours, and were never free from want; they seldom got a full
meal, and sometimes they had to go without food for a whole day,
while their clothes but barely covered their bodies. No matter how
hard they worked, or where they went to cultivate, their crops never
succeeded like the crops of their fellow-cultivators in the same
locality. But they were good people, and never grumbled or blamed
the gods, neither did they ask alms of any one, but continued to
work season after season, contented with their poor fare and their
half-empty cooking-pots.

One day an aged mendicant belonging to a foreign tribe wandered into
their village, begging for food at every house and for a night's
shelter. But nobody pitied him or gave him food. Last of all, he
came to the dwelling of the poor family, where, as usual, they had
not enough food to satisfy their own need, yet when they saw the
aged beggar standing outside in the cold, their hearts were filled
with pity. They invited him to enter, and they shared their scanty
meal with him. "Come," they said, "we have but little to give you,
it is true, but it is not right to leave a fellow-man outside to
starve to death." So he lodged with them that night.

It happened that the daughter-in-law was absent that night, so that
the stranger saw only the parents and their son.

Next morning, when he was preparing to depart, the mendicant spoke many
words of peace and goodwill to the family, and blessed them solemnly,
expressing his sympathy with them in their poverty and privation. "You
have good hearts," he said, "and have not hesitated to entertain a
stranger, and have shared with the poor what you yourselves stood
in need of. If you wish, I will show you a way by which you may grow
rich and prosperous."

They were very glad to hear this, for their long struggle with poverty
was becoming harder and harder to bear, and they responded eagerly,
saying, "Show us the way."

Upon this the mendicant opened a small sack which he carried, and took
from it a small live coney, which he handed tenderly to the housewife,
saying, "This little animal was given to me years ago by a holy man,
who told me that if I killed it and cooked its meat for my food I
should grow rich. But by keeping the animal alive for many days I
became so fond of it that I could not kill it. Now I am old and weak,
the day of my death cannot be far off; at my death perhaps the coney
may fall into the hands of unscrupulous persons, so I give it to you
who are worthy. Do not keep it alive as I did, otherwise you will not
be able to kill it and so will never reap the fruits of the virtue it
possesses. When wealth comes to you, beware of its many temptations
and continue to live virtuously as at present."

He also warned them not to divulge the secret to any one outside the
family, or to let any outsiders taste of the magic meat.

When they were alone, the family began to discuss with wonder the
words spoken by the mysterious stranger about the strange animal
that had been left in their possession. They determined to act on the
advice of their late guest, and to kill the coney on that very day,
and that the mother should stay at home from her work in the fields
to cook the meat against the return of the men in the evening.

Left to herself, the housewife began to paint glowing pictures of the
future, when the family would cease to be in want, and would have
no need to labour for their food, but would possess abundance of
luxuries, and be the envy of all their neighbours. As she abandoned
herself to these idle dreams, the evil spirit of avarice entered her
heart unknown to her, and changed her into a hard and pitiless woman,
destroying all the generous impulses which had sustained her in all
their years of poverty and made her a contented and amiable neighbour.

Some time in the afternoon the daughter-in-law returned home, and,
noticing a very savoury smell coming from the cooking-pot, she asked
her mother-in-law pleasantly what good luck had befallen them, that
she had such a good dinner in preparation. To her surprise, instead
of a kind and gentle answer such as she had always received from her
mother-in-law, she was answered by a torrent of abuse and told that
she was not to consider herself a member of the family, or to expect
a share of the dinner, which a holy man had provided for them.

This unmerited unkindness hurt and vexed the younger woman, but,
as it is not right to contradict a mother-in-law, she refrained from
making any reply, and sat meekly by the fire, and in silence watched
the process of cooking going on. She was very hungry, having come from
a long journey, and, knowing that there was no other food in the house
except that which her mother-in-law was cooking, she determined to try
and obtain a little of it unobserved. When the elder woman left the
house for a moment she snatched a handful of meat from the pan and ate
it quickly, but her mother-in-law caught her chewing, and charged her
with having eaten the meat. As she did not deny it, her mother-in-law
began to beat her unmercifully, and turned her out of doors in anger.

The ill-treated woman crawled along the path by which her husband
was expected to arrive, and sat on the ground, weeping, to await his
coming. When he arrived he marvelled to see his wife crying on the
roadside, and asked her the reason for it. She was too upset to answer
him for a long time, but when at last she was able to make herself
articulate, she told him all that his mother had done to her. He became
very wroth, and said, "If my mother thinks more of gaining wealth than
of respecting my wife, I will leave my mother's house for ever," and he
strode away, taking only a brass lota (water vessel) for his journey.



PART II

The husband and wife wandered about in the jungle for many days,
living on any wild herbs or roots that they could pick up on their
way, but all those days they did not see a village or a sign of a
human habitation.

One day they happened to come to a very dry and barren hill, where they
could get no water, and they began to suffer from thirst. In this arid
place a son was born to them, and the young mother seemed likely to
die for want of water. The husband roamed in every direction, but saw
no water anywhere, until he climbed to the top of a tall tree in order
to survey the country, and to his joy saw in the distance a pool of
clear water. He hastened down and fetched his lota, and proceeded in
the direction of the pool. The jungle was so dense that he was afraid
of losing his way, so in order to improvise some sort of landmark,
he tore his dottie (loin-cloth) into narrow strips which he hung on
the bushes as he went.

After a long time he reached the pool, where he quenched his thirst
and was refreshed. Then he filled his lota to return to his languishing
wife, but was tempted to take a plunge in the cool water of the pool,
for he was hot and dusty from his toilsome walk. Putting his lota on
the ground and laying his clothes beside it, he plunged into the water,
intending to stay only a few minutes.

Now it happened that a great dragon, called U Yak Jakor, lived in
the pool, and he rose to the surface upon seeing the man, dragged
him down to the bottom, and devoured him.

The anxious wife, parched with thirst, waited expectantly for the
return of her husband, but, seeing no sign of him, she determined to
go in search of him. So, folding her babe in a cloth, which she tied
on her back, she began to trace the path along which she had seen her
husband going, and by the help of the strips of cloth on the bushes,
she came at last to the spot where her husband's lota and his clothes
had been left.

At sight of these she was filled with misgivings, and, failing to
see her husband anywhere, she began to call out his name, searching
for him in all directions. There were no more strips of cloth, so
she knew that he had not gone farther.

When U Yak Jakor heard the woman calling, he came up to the surface
of the pool, and seeing she was a woman, and alone, he drew near,
intending to force her into the water, for the dragon who was the
most powerful of all the dragons inside the pool lost his strength
whenever he stood on dry land, and could then do no harm to any one.

In her confusion and fear on account of her husband, the woman did not
take much notice of U Yak Jakor when he came, but shouted to him to
ask if he had not seen a man passing that way; to which he replied
that a man had come, who had been taken to the palace of the king
beneath the pool. When she heard this she knew that they had come to
the pool of U Yak Jakor, and, looking more closely at the being that
had approached her, she saw that he was a dragon. She knew also that
U Yak Jakor had no strength on dry land, and she lifted her arm with
a threatening gesture, upon which he dived into the pool.

By these tokens the woman understood that her husband had been killed
by the dragon. Taking up the lota and his clothes, she hurried from
the fatal spot and beyond the precincts of the dragon's pool, and,
after coming to a safe and distant part of the jungle, she threw
herself down on the ground in an abandonment of grief. She cried
so loud and so bitterly that her babe awoke and cried in sympathy;
to her astonishment she saw that his tears turned into lumps of gold
as they fell. She knew this to be a token that the blessing of the
mendicant, of which her husband had spoken, had rested upon her boy
by virtue of the meat she had eaten.

This knowledge cheered and comforted her greatly, for she felt
less defenceless and lonely in the dreary forest. After refreshing
herself with water from the lota, she set out in search of some
human habitation, and after a weary search she came at last to a
large village, where the Siem (Chief) of that region lived, who,
seeing that she possessed much gold, permitted her to dwell there.



PART III

The boy was named U Babam Doh, because of the meat which his mother
had eaten. The two lived very happily in this village, the mother
leading an industrious life, for she did not wish to depend for their
living on the gold gained at the expense of her son's tears. Neither
did she desire it to become known that he possessed the magic power
to convert his tears into gold, so she instructed her boy never to
weep in public, and on every occasion when he might be driven to
cry, she told him to go into some secret place where nobody could
witness the golden tears. And so anxious was she not to give him any
avoidable cause of grief that she concealed from him the story of her
past sufferings and his father's tragic fate, and hid from sight the
brass lota and the clothes she had found by the dragon's pool.

U Babam Doh grew up a fine and comely boy, in whom his mother's
heart delighted; he was strong of body and quick of intellect,
so that none of the village lads could compete with him, either
at work or at play. Among his companions was the Heir-apparent of
the State, a young lad about his own age, who, by reason of the
many accomplishments of U Babam Doh, showed him great friendliness
and favour, so that the widow's son was frequently invited to the
Siem's house, and was privileged to attend many of the great State
functions and Durbars. Thus he unconsciously became familiar with
State questions, and gleaned much knowledge and wisdom, so that he
grew up enlightened and discreet beyond many of his comrades.

One day, during the Duali (Hindu gambling festival), his friend the
Heir-apparent teased him to join in the game. He had no desire to
indulge in any games of luck, and he was ignorant of the rules of
all such games, but he did not like to offend his friend by refusing,
so he went with him to the gambling field and joined in the play.

At first the Heir-apparent, who was initiating him into the game,
played for very small stakes, but, to their mutual surprise, U Babam
Doh the novice won at every turn. The Heir-apparent was annoyed at the
continual success of his friend, for he himself had been looked upon
as the champion player at previous festivals, so, thinking to daunt
the spirit of U Babam Doh, he challenged him to risk higher stakes,
which, contrary to his expectation, were accepted, and again U Babam
Doh won. They played on until at last the Heir-apparent had staked
and lost all his possessions; he grew so reckless that in the end he
staked his own right of succession to the throne, and lost.

There was great excitement and commotion when it became known that
the Heir-apparent had gambled away his birthright; people left their
own games, and from all parts of the field they flocked to where the
two young men stood. When the Heir-apparent saw that the people were
unanimous in blaming him for so recklessly throwing away what they
considered his divine endowment, he tried to retrieve his character by
abusing his opponent, taunting him with being ignorant of his father's
name, and calling him the unlawful son of U Yak Jakor, saying that
it was by the dragon's aid he had won all the bets on that day.

This was a cruel and terrible charge from which U Babam Doh recoiled,
but as his mother had never revealed to him her history, he was
helpless in face of the taunt, to which he had no answer to give. He
stood mute and stunned before the crowd, who, when they saw his
dismay, at once concluded that the Heir-apparent's charges were well
founded. They dragged U Babam Doh before the Durbar, and accused him
of witchcraft before the Siem and his ministers.

U Babam Doh, being naturally courageous and resourceful, soon
recovered himself, and having absolute confidence in the justice of
his cause, he appealed to the Durbar for time to procure proofs,
saying that he would give himself up to die at their hands if he
failed to substantiate his claim to honour and respectability, and
stating that this charge was fabricated by his opponent, who hoped
to recover by perfidy what he had lost in fair game.

The Durbar were perplexed by these conflicting charges, but they were
impressed by the temperate and respectful demeanour of the young
stranger, in comparison with the flustered and rash conduct of the
descendant of their own royal house, so they granted a number of days
during which U Babam Doh must procure proofs of his innocence or die.

U Babam Doh left the place of Durbar, burning with shame and
humiliation for the stigma that had been cast upon him and upon his
mother, and came sadly to his house. When his mother saw his livid
face she knew that some great calamity had befallen him, and pressed
him to tell her about it, but the only reply he would give to all
her questions was, "Give me a mat, oh my mother, give me a mat to lie
upon"; whereupon she spread a mat for him on the floor, on which he
threw himself down in an abandonment of grief. He wept like one that
could never be consoled, and as he wept his tears turned into gold,
till the mat on which he lay was covered with lumps of gold, such as
could not be counted for their number.

Although the mother saw this inexhaustible wealth at her feet she
could feel no pleasure in it, owing to her anxiety for her son,
who seemed likely to die of grief. After a time she succeeded in
calming him, and gradually she drew forth from him the tale of the
attack made upon their honour by the Heir-apparent. She began to
upbraid herself bitterly for withholding from him their history,
and hastily she went to fetch her husband's clothes and the brass
lota which she had concealed for so many years, and, bringing them to
her son, she told him all that had happened to her and to his father,
from the day on which the foreign mendicant visited their hut to the
time of their coming to their present abode.

U Babam Doh listened with wonder and pity for the mother who had so
bravely borne so many sorrows, concealing all her woes in order to
spare him all unnecessary pangs. When the mother finished her tale
U Babam Doh stood up and shook himself, and, taking his bow and his
quiver, he said, "I must go and kill U Yak Jakor, and so avenge my
father's death, and vindicate my mother's honour."

The mother's heart was heavy when she saw him depart, but she knew that
the day had arrived for him to fulfil his duty to his father's memory,
so she made no attempt to detain him, but gave him minute directions
about the locality, and the path leading to the dragon's haunts.



PART IV

After a long journey U Babam Doh arrived at the pool, on the shores
of which he found a large wooden chest, which he rightly guessed had
belonged to some unfortunate traveller who had fallen a victim to
the dragon. Upon opening the chest he found it full of fine clothes
and precious stones, such as are worn only by great princes; these
he took and made into a bundle to bring home.

Remembering his mother's instructions not to venture into the pool,
he did not leave the dry land, although he was hot and tired and
longed to bathe in order to refresh himself. He began to call out
with a loud voice as if hallooing to some lost companions, and this
immediately attracted to the surface U Yak Jakor, who, after waiting
a while to see if the man would not come to bathe in the pool, came
ashore, thinking to lure his prey into the water. But U Babam Doh was
on his guard, and did not stir from his place, and when the dragon
came within reach he attacked him suddenly and captured him alive. He
then bound him with rattan and confined him in the wooden chest.

Fortified by his success, and rejoicing in his victory, U Babam
Doh took the chest on his shoulders and brought the dragon home
alive. Being wishful to enhance the sensation, when the day came for
him to make his revelations public in the Durbar, he did not inform
his mother that he had U Yak Jakor confined in the wooden chest, and
when she questioned him about the contents of the chest he was silent,
promising to let her see it some day. In the meantime he forbade her
to open it, on pain of offending him, but he showed her the bundle
of silken clothes.

The news soon spread through the village that U Babam Doh had come
back, and when the people saw him walking with lifted head and
steadfast look, the rumour got abroad that he had been successful
in his quest for proofs. This rumour caused the Heir-apparent to
tremble for his own safety, and hoping to baulk U Babam Doh once more,
he persuaded the Siem to postpone the date of the Durbar time after
time. Thus U Yak Jakor remained for many days undiscovered, confined
in the chest.

Now U Babam Don's mother, being a woman, was burning with curiosity
to know the secret of that wooden chest which her son had brought
home and around which there appeared so much mystery. One day, when
her son was absent, she determined to peep into it to see what was
hidden there. U Yak Jakor had overheard all that the mother and son
had said to one another, and he knew that the woman was not aware
of his identity. As soon as he heard her approaching the chest he
quickly transformed himself into the likeness of her dead husband,
though he was powerless to break the rattan.

The woman was startled beyond speech when she saw (as she thought)
her husband alive and almost unchanged, whom she had mourned as
dead for so many long years. When she could control her joy she
requested him to come out, to partake of food and betel nut, but he
replied that although he had by the help of their son escaped from the
dragon's stronghold, he was under certain vows which would have to be
fulfilled before he could come out, for if he left the chest before the
fulfilment of his vow he would fall again into the power of the dragon.

The mother began to find fault with her son for having concealed the
fact of her husband's rescue from her, but the dragon said that if
the son had disclosed the fact to anybody before the fulfilment of
the vows it would have committed him into U Yak Jakor's hands. She
must beware of letting U Babam Doh know that she had discovered the
secret, or both her son and her husband would be lost to her for ever,
while by judicious help she might bring about his release.

Upon hearing this the woman implored him to show her in what way she
could assist, and so quicken his release. The wily dragon hoped in this
way to bring about the death of U Babam Doh, so he replied that his
vow involved drinking a seer of tigress' milk, and that he who obtained
the milk must not know for whom or for what purpose it was obtained.

This was sad news for the woman, for it seemed to her quite impossible
to procure tigress' milk on any condition. She was even less likely
to find any one willing to risk his life to get it, without knowing
for whom and for what purpose, and she wept bitterly. After a time
she called to mind the many exploits of her son as a hunter, and she
conceived a sudden plan by which she hoped to obtain tigress' milk.

By and by she heard the footsteps of her son outside, and she
hurriedly closed the lid of the chest, and lay on the ground, and
feigned sickness, writhing as if in great agony. U Babam Doh was
much concerned when he saw his mother, and bent over her with great
solicitude. He tried many remedies, but she seemed to grow worse
and worse, and he cried out in sorrow, saying, "Tell me, my mother,
what remedy will cure you, and I will get it or die."

"It is written in my nusip (book of fate) that I shall die of this
sickness, unless I drink a seer of tigress' milk," said the mother.

"I will obtain for you some tigress' milk," said the youth, "or die";
and, taking his bow and quiver and his father's lota, he went into
the forest, asking some neighbours to come and sit with his mother
during his absence.

When he had been gone some time his mother said she felt better, and
requested the neighbours to return to their homes, as she wished to
sleep; but as soon as they were out of earshot she got up and prepared
a savoury meal for him whom she thought her husband.



PART V

U Babam Doh, eager to see his mother healed, walked without halting
till he came to a dense and uninhabited part of the forest which
he thought might be the haunt of wild beasts, but he could see no
trail of tigers. He was about to return home after a fruitless hunt,
as he feared to be absent too long from his mother, when he heard
loud moans from behind a near thicket. He immediately directed his
steps towards the sound, prepared to render what assistance he could
to whoever was suffering. To his surprise he found some young tiger
cubs, one of whom had swallowed a bone, which had stuck in his throat,
and was choking him. U Babam Doh quickly made a pair of pincers from
a piece of bamboo, and soon had the bone removed. The cubs were very
thankful for the recovery of their brother, and showed their gratitude
by purring and licking U Babam Doh's hand, while the cub from whose
throat the bone was extracted crouched at his feet, declaring that
he would be his attendant for ever.

U Babam Doh took up his lota and his bow and prepared to depart, but
the cubs entreated him to stay until their mother returned, so as to
get her permission for the young tiger to follow him. So U Babam Doh
stayed with the cubs to await the return of the tigress.

Before long the muffled sound of her tread was heard approaching. As
she drew near, she sniffed the air suspiciously, and soon detected
the presence of a man in her lair. Putting herself in a fighting
attitude, she began to growl loudly, saying, "Human flesh, human
flesh"; but the cubs ran to meet her, and told her how a kind man had
saved their brother from death. Whereupon she stopped her growling,
and, like her cubs, she showed her gratitude to U Babam Doh by purring
and licking his hands.

The tigress asked him many questions, for it was a rare occurrence
for a man to wander so far into the jungle alone. On being told that
he had come in search of tigress' milk to save his mother's life, she
exclaimed eagerly that she knew of a way to give him what he wanted,
by which she could in some measure repay him for saving her cub, and
she bade him bring his lota and fill it with milk from her dugs. U
Babam Doh did as she told him, and obtained abundance of tigress'
milk, with which he hastened home to his mother, accompanied by the
tiger cub.



PART VI

U Babam Doh found his mother, on his return, in just the same condition
as when he left her; so as soon as he arrived he put the lota of milk
into her hand, and said, "Drink, oh my mother. I have obtained for you
some tigress' milk, drink and live." She made a pretence of drinking,
but as soon as her son left the house she hurried to the wooden chest,
and, handing in the lota, she said, "Drink, oh my husband. Our son hath
obtained the tigress' milk, drink and be free from the dragon's power."

U Yak Jakor was vexed to find that U Babam Doh had returned unharmed,
and began to think how he could send him on another perilous venture,
and he answered the woman plaintively, "To drink tigress' milk is only
a part of my vow; before I can be released from the dragon's power I
must anoint my body with fresh bear's grease, and he who obtains it
for me must not know for whom or for what purpose it is obtained."

The woman was very troubled to hear this, for she feared to send her
son into yet another danger, but, believing that there was no other
way to secure her husband's release, she again feigned sickness, and
when her son asked her why the tigress' milk had not effected a cure,
she replied:

"It is written in my nusip that I must die of this sickness unless
I anoint my body with fresh bear's grease."

"I will obtain the fresh bear's grease for you, oh my mother, or die,"
answered the youth impetuously; and once more he started to the forest,
taking his bow and quiver, and his father's lota, which he had filled
with honey.

As he was starting off, the tiger cub began to follow him, but U Babam
Doh commanded him to stop at home to guard the house, and went alone
to the forest. After travelling far he saw the footprints of bears,
whereupon he cut some green plaintain leaves and spread them on
the ground and poured the honey upon them, and went to hide in the
thicket. Soon a big bear came and began to eat the honey greedily,
and while it was busy feasting, U Babam Doh, from behind the thicket,
threw a thong round its throat and captured it alive. Upon this
a fierce struggle began; but the bear, finding that the more he
struggled the tighter the grip on his throat became, was soon subdued,
and was led a safe, though unwilling captive by U Babam Doh out of
the jungle. Thus once again the son brought to his mother the remedy
which was supposed to be written in her nusip.

When he came in sight of his home, leading the bear by the thong,
the tiger cub, on seeing his master, ran to meet him, with the good
news that his mother had recovered and had been cooking savoury meals
for a guest who was staying in the house. This news cheered U Babam
Doh greatly, and, fastening the bear to a tree, he hastened to the
house to greet his mother, but to his disappointment he found her ill
and seemingly in as much pain as ever. Without delay he took a knife
and went out to kill the bear, and, filling the lota with grease,
he brought it to his mother, saying:

"Anoint yourself, oh my mother, I have obtained for you the bear's
grease; anoint yourself and live."

He then went out to seek the tiger cub and punish him for deceiving
him about his mother's condition, but the cub declared on oath that
he had spoken only the truth, and that his mother had really been
entertaining a guest during her son's absence, and seemed to have
been in good health, going about her work, and cooking savoury meals.

U Babam Doh was greatly mystified; he was loth to believe his mother
could be capable of any duplicity, and yet the tiger cub seemed to
speak the truth. He determined not to say anything to his mother
about the matter, but to keep a watch on her movements for a few days.

When her son left the house after giving her the bear's grease,
the woman rose quickly, and lifting the lid of the chest, she said:

"Anoint yourself, oh my husband. Our son hath obtained the bear's
grease; anoint yourself and be free from the dragon's power."

As before, the dragon was again very chagrined to find that U Babam
Doh had come back alive and uninjured, so he thought of yet another
plan by which he could send him into a still greater danger, and he
answered the woman: "Anointing my body with bear's grease is only a
part of my vow; before I can be released from the dragon's power I
must be covered for one whole night with the undried skin of a python,
and he who obtains the skin for me must not know for what purpose or
for whom it is obtained."

The woman wept bitterly when she heard of this vow, for she feared to
send her son among the reptiles. U Yak Jakor, seeing her hesitation,
began to coax her, and to persuade her to feign sickness once
again, and she, longing to see her husband released, yielded to his
coaxing. When her son came in he found her seemingly worse than he
had seen her before, and once more he knelt by her side and begged
of her to tell him what he could do for her that would ease her pain.

She replied, "It is written in my nusip that I must die of this
sickness unless I am covered for a whole night with the undried skin
of a python"; and as before U Babam Doh answered and said that he
would obtain for her whatever was written in her nusip; but he did
not say that he would bring a python skin.

Taking his bow and quiver, he left the house, as on former occasions,
and walked in the direction of the jungle, but this time he did not
proceed far. He returned home unobserved, and, climbing to the roof
of the house, he quietly removed some of the thatch, which enabled
him to see all that was going on inside the house, while he himself
was unseen.

Very soon he saw his mother getting up, as if in her usual health,
and preparing to cook a savoury meal, which, to his amazement, when
it had been cooked, she took to the wooden chest where he knew the
dragon to be confined. As he looked, he saw the figure of a man lying
in the chest, and he knew then that U Yak Jakor had transformed himself
into another likeness in order to dupe his mother. He listened, and
soon he understood from their conversation that the dragon had taken
the form of his own dead father, and by that means had succeeded in
making his mother a tool against her own son. He now blamed himself
for not having confided to his mother the secret of the chest, and
determined to undeceive her without further delay.

He entered the house quickly, before his mother had time to close
the lid of the chest. She stood before him flustered and confused,
thinking that by her indiscretion she had irrevocably committed her
husband to the power of the dragon; but when U Babam Doh informed her
of the deception played upon her by U Yak Jakor she was overwhelmed
with terror, to think how she had been duped into sending her brave
son into such grave perils, and abetting the dragon in his evil
designs on his life.

When U Yak Jakor saw that there was no further advantage to be
gained by keeping the man's form he assumed his own shape, and,
thinking to prevent them from approaching near enough to harm him,
he emitted the most foul stench from his scaly body. But U Babam Doh,
who had borne so much, was not to be thwarted, and without any more
lingering he took the chest on his shoulders and carried it to the
place of Durbar. There, before the Siem and his ministers and the
whole populace, he recounted the strange story of his own adventures
and his parents' history. At the end of the tale he opened the wooden
chest and exhibited the great monster, who had been such a terror to
travellers for many generations, and in the presence of the Durbar,
amid loud cheers, he slew U Yak Jakor, and so avenged his father's
death and vindicated his mother's honour.

The Siem and the Durbar unanimously appointed him the Heir-apparent,
and when in the course of time he succeeded to the throne he proved
himself a wise and much-loved ruler, who befriended the poor and the
down-trodden and gave shelter to the stranger and the homeless. He
always maintained that his own high estate was bestowed upon him
in consequence of his family's generosity to a lonely and unknown
mendicant, whose blessing descended upon them and raised them from
a state of want and poverty to the highest position in the land.





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