Kongthong: The Indian village where your name is a song

Inside the one-room hut with a sloping thatched roof, we sat cross-legged on the wooden floor. In a corner, Khongsit and her husband Bring Khongjee were busy lighting the fire. Between pushing wood towards the fire by blowing air through a long pipe, Khongsit spoke about her four children and sang their names to me – each 14-18 seconds long and distinctly distinct. one of the other. “These are the longer, original versions that we sing in the fields, when we need to call someone across the hills and valleys,” she explained.

In the past, melodies were used to find one’s bearings in the forest while hunting, and also “to ward off evil spirits”. “We believe that the evil spirits that dwell in the forests cannot distinguish our tunes from each other or from animal calls. Therefore, no harm occurs to you when you are called by your tunes into the sky. forest, ”Khongsit said. She explained that there is also a shorter version, a snippet of the long melody that is akin to a nickname, which is sung when its wearer is closer within earshot, say at home or in the backyard. break. When heard from afar, the tunes sound like whistles, which is why Kongthong has been nicknamed the “Whistling Village”.

BBC trip · Each Kongthong newborn is assigned a distinct melody at birth by their mother

As Khongsit handed me a hot cup of red tea, served without milk and with a generous portion of sugar, I asked her about the origin of this practice. “No one can say for sure when it started, but most agree that it has been around since Kongthong was established,” she replied. “Kongthong himself was here even before the kingdom of Sohra was established by our people and those of other villages in the region.”

Considering that the Kingdom of Sohra was founded near Cherrapunji, famous for being once the wettest place on Earth, in the early 16th century, this places the age of the village – and by extension, the origin of practice – over 500 years. Yet during all this time the custom has never been documented, until recently.

Dr Piyashi Dutta was born and raised in Shillong and is currently an Assistant Professor at the Amity School of Communication in Noida, near Delhi. She discovered Kongthong while researching the subject of matriliny for her doctorate. “The Meghalaya is a matrilineal society, where matrilineal principles, ethics, traditions and customs are deeply rooted in the system and passed down orally from generation to generation,” she said. “Kongthong is no exception. Here, the practice of tunes or songs as names is rooted in their cultural ethic and transmitted orally. It is also a manifestation of their matriliny.”

Christina A. Kroll