Have you ever wondered how and if people addressed each other prior to the concept of names? Weird thought, right? What if we told you that there exists a place, right in our very own country, where people do not call each other by names, but by musical tunes?
Tucked away in a far corner of Meghalaya, between the Sohra and Pynursla ridges, lies the Kongthong village. Kongthong is one among the 12 villages of the Khatar Shnong area of Meghalaya and is inhabited by the Khasi tribe. If you visit the dreamy village of Kongthong, you will be amazed by the fact that people here call each other by humming a musical tune!
Every individual in Kongthong is gifted a tune by their mothers at the time of their birth. This tune is called ‘Jingrwai Lawbei.’
Explaining this tradition further, Ever E F Sancley, a Ph.D. scholar at the Department of English of North Eastern Hill University, states:
“When a woman is pregnant, she thinks of a particular tune, sometimes a bird call, which becomes the name of the newborn. After the birth of the child, adults around it constantly hum that tune so that it identifies with the sound. This is an age-old tradition the origin of which is as distant as the region itself. It is particularly useful during hunting expeditions. When a group goes hunting, they use these sounds to alert fellow members without arousing the curiosity of another group that may be after the same prey.”
Mothers compose these tunes for their little ones drawing on various sounds of nature, and they have to keep in mind that no two tunes are alike. After all, no two people can have the same tune.
Interestingly enough, a tune dies with a person. When an individual dies, his tune goes with him. No one takes up another’s tune even after his/her death. The tunes define them.
Babu Priyak, a resident of Kongthong village maintains:
“It is a mark of our identity. Among ourselves, we would never use our official names. So, if I meet a fellow villager from Kongthong, I would sing that particular tune, and he would identify which family I am from. Even from the pitch of the tune, one can understand whether it is a distress call or just a greeting.”
You must be thinking how do they write their names? In tunes?
Actually, the villagers use the tunes to address their fellow men when they have to converse with each other. For the situations where they have to write their name, they use their Khasi names just like the rest of us do, for instance, Jipson, Barailang, and Rothelle.
Home to the Living Root Bridge
The picturesque village is very popular for its honey production. Here, you can witness the natural marvel – the Living Root Bridge. With lots of patience and time, nature has carved out this beautiful bridge in which roots of two trees intertwine to form a pathway above the Phyllad river.
If you want to escape from the chaos of city life, Kongthong is the place to be. It is the perfect place to lose yourself, only to reinvent yourself with the music of nature.