Thursday, October 14, 2010
SUPERSTITION BEHIND HUMAN SACRIFICE IN NORTHEASTERN INDIAN TRIBES
"The tradition is that there was once in a cave near Cherrapunji a gigantic snake, or thlen, who committed great havoc among men and animals. At last one man, bolder than his fellows, took with him a herd of goats and set himself down by the cave and offered them one by one to the thlen. By degrees the monster became friendly and learnt to open his mouth at a word from the man to receive the lump of flesh which was then thrown in. When confidence was thoroughly established, the man, acting under the advice of a god called U Suid-Noh (who has as his abode a grove near Sohrarim), having heated a lump of iron red-hot in a furnace, induced the snake, at the usual signal, to open his mouth, and then threw in the red-hot lump and so killed him. He proceeded to cut up the body and sent pieces in every direction with orders that the people were to eat them. Wherever the order was obeyed, the country became free of the thlen, but one small piece remained which no one could eat, and from this sprang a multitude of thlens, which infest the residents of Cherra and its neighbourhood. When a thlen takes up its abode in a family there is no means of getting rid of it, though it occasionally leaves of its own accord and often follows family property that is given away or sold. The thlen attaches itself to property and brings prosperity and wealth to the owners, but on the condition that it is supplied with blood. Its craving comes on at uncertain intervals and manifests itself by sickness, by misadventure or by increasing poverty befalling the family that owns the property. It can only be appeased by the murder of a human being. The murderer cuts off the tips of the hair of the victim with silver scissors, also the finger nails, and extracts from the nostril a little blood caught in a bamboo tube, and offers these to the thlen. The murderer, who is called u nongshohnoh, literally 'the beater', before he sets out on his unholy mission, drinks a special kind of liquor called, ka 'iad tang-shi-snem (literally, liquor which has been kept for a year). This liquor, it is thought, gives the murderer courage and the power of selecting suitable victims for the thlen. The nongshohnoh then sets out armed with a short club, with which to slay the victim; hence his name nong-shohnoh i.e. one who beats; for it is forbidden to kill a victim on these occasions with any weapon made of iron, inasmuch as iron was the metal which proved fatal to the thlen. He also takes the pair of silver scissors above mentioned, a silver lancet to pierce the inside of the nostrils of the deceased, and a small bamboo or cylinder to receive the blood drawn there from. The nongshohnoh also provides himself with rice called u khaw tyndep' , i.e. rice mixed with turmeric after certain incantations have taken place. The murderer throws a little of this rice over his intended victim, the effect of which is to stupefy the latter, who then falls an easy prey to the nongshohnoh. It is not, however, always possible to kill the victim outright for various reasons, and then the nongshohnoh resorts to the following subterfuge. He cuts off a little of the hair or the hem on the garments of a victim, and offers these up to the thlen. The effect of cutting off the hair or the hem of the garment of a person by a nongshohnoh to offer up to the thlen is disastrous to the unfortunate victim, who soon falls ill and gradually wastes away and dies. The nongshohnoh also sometimes contents himself with merely throwing stones at the victim or with knocking at the door of his house at night, and then returns home, and, after invoking the thlen, informs the monster that he has tried his best to secure him a prey but has been unsuccessful. This is enough to appease the thlen for a time, but the demon does not remain inactive long and soon manifests his displeasure for the failure of his keeper to supply him with human blood, by causing one of the latter's family to fall sick. The thlen has the power of reducing himself to the size of a thread, which renders it convenient for the nong-ri-thlen, or thlen-keeper, to place him for safety in an earthen pot or in a basket which is kept in some secure place in the house. When the time for making an offering to the thlen comes, an hour is selected generally at dead of night, costly clothes are spread on the floor of the house of the thlen-keeper, all the doors are opened, and a brass plate is laid down on the ground in which is deposited the blood, or the hair, or a piece of the cloth of the victim. All the family then gathers round and an elderly member commences to beat a small drum, and invokes the thlen, saying, 'ko kni ko kpa (Oh, Maternal Uncle Father), come out, here is some food for you: we have done every thing we could to satisfy you and now we have been successful; give us thy blessing that we may attain health and prosperity.' The thlen then crawls out from its hiding-place and commences to expand, and when it has attained its full serpent shape, it comes near the plate and remains expectant. The spirit of the victim then appears and stands on the plate, laughing. The thlen begins to swallow the figure, commencing at its feet, the victim laughing the while. By degrees the whole figure is disposed of by the boa constrictor. If the spirit be that of a person from whom the hair or a piece of his or her cloth has been cut, directly after the thlen has swallowed the spirit, the person expires. Many families in these hills are known, or suspected, to be keepers of a thlen and are dreaded or avoided in consequence. This superstition is deep-rooted amongst these people, and even nowadays, in places like Shillong or Cherrapunji, Khasis are afraid to walk alone after dark for fear of being attacked by a nongshohnoh. In order to drive away the thlen from a house or family, all the money, ornaments and property of that house or family must be thrown away, as is the case with persons possessed by the demon Ka Taroh, in the Jaintia Hills. None dare touch any of the property, for fear that the thlen should follow it. It is believed that a thlen can never enter the Siem's or Chief's clan, or the Siem's house; it follows, therefore, that the property of the thlen keeper can be appropriated by the Siem. A Mohammedan servant, not long ago in Shillong, fell a victim to the charms of a Khasi girl and went to live with her. He told the following story to one of his fellow-servants, which may be set down here to show that the thlen superstition is by no means dying out. 'In the course of his married life he came to know that the mother of his Khasi wife kept in the house what he called a bhut (devil). He asked his wife many many times to allow him to see the bhut, but she was obdurate; after a long time, however, and after extracting many promises from him not to tell, she confided to him the secret and took him to the corner of the house and showed him a little box in which was coiled a tiny snake, like the hair spring of a watch. She passed her hand over it and it grew in size till at last it became a huge cobra with hood erected. The husband, terrified, begged his wife to lay the spirit. She passed her hands down its body and it gradually shrank within its box."