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  • Writer's pictureSpeak Your Roots


How do I explain the word? "Ka ktien".

Say it. Out loud. Ka ktien. The first, a short, sharp thrust of air from the back of your throat. The second, a lift of the tongue and a delicate tangle of tip and teeth.

For I mean not what's bound by paper. Once printed, the word is feeble and carries little power. It wrestles with ink and typography and margins, struggling to be what it was originally. Spoken. Unwritten, unrecorded. Old, they say, as the first fire. Free to roam the mountains, circle the heath, and fall as rain.

We, who had no letters with which to etch our history, have married our words to music, to mantras, that we repeat until lines grow old and wither and fade away. Until they are forgotten and there is silence.

How do I explain something untraceable? The perfect weapon for a crime. Light as pine dust. Echoing with alibis. Conjuring out of thin air, the ugly, the beautiful, the terrifying.

Eventually, like all things, it is unfathomable. So, how do I explain?

Perhaps it's best, as they did in the old days, to tell a story.


I was asked recently, what's your favourite word in Khasi? Usually, I find "favourite" questions very difficult--favourite book, song, movie. So many, I reply helplessly, it's impossible to pick just one. But not this time. It came to me easily, immediately, and while there are many delicious words in Khasi (rympei, the hearth; 'lap praw praw, rain on a tin roof), this one is closest to my heart.


To remember.

And not merely because of its rich and resonant meaning, but also because of its etymology. For the longest time, the people of these hills nourished an oral culture--one replete with song and story--and while there were attempts to "give" the languages here a script (using the Bengali alphabet), it was the British missionaries who succeeded. In particular a missionary named Thomas Jones, who travelled to Sohra in 1841, at a time when conversion to Christianity was at its slow beginning. What would help was to disseminate the word of God through the Bible--except how to publish an edition in a scriptless language?

Today, in Meghalaya, is Thomas Jones Day. And so we remember him. For his diligence and good deeds, of which there were many--how complicated are our colonial histories!--but I choose to remember also how the languages here, at heart, are languages of the wind, the

mountains, and waterfalls and forests. How they once sprung from land and tongue and remained untethered to page and pen and ink.

How did we remember? Through song and story, of course, and stone. We computed our histories through stone--choosing to raise monoliths to mark lives and events and relationships. And so even our word for remember-kynmaw--means to "carry like stone". Here, remembering is not taken lightly. It is borne on our backs like stone--unwavering even in the face of (colonial) beliefs that the oral is light and frivolous and inauthentic. The spoken is as much true as the written. When we have no preservatory documents, remembering, to kynmaw, becomes all the more pressing, more important. The spoken does not forget."

Khublei Shibun @janicepariat for your beautiful and profound thoughts! 🤗❤️🙏
The era of the spoken word and of Khasi orality is vast, moving in the many sunrises and sunsets of history. This history which is our heritage pleads to be preserved as we move forward.
As it is the course of things, we were given the Khasi alphabet by Welsh missionary, Rev. Thomas Jones. The Khasi alphabet has brought us to another chapter in Khasi orality, as our stories, teachings and values are transcribed onto paper. Yet as Janice Pariat has asserted, ban kynmaw ka long kaba kongsan, ban kynmaw ka long kaba kumba ngi dei ban long, namar ïa ka ktien la thaw, la shon nyngkong ha ki jylliew ka pyrkhat ka pyrdaiñ; la thaw la shon ïa ka ktien ha ki tyllun u thylliej bad ka shyntur. Kumba ki ong ki longshuwa, ka ktien kaba tam. Ka ktien ka long kaba maïan, ka ktien ka long kaba nylla!
📸 All photos are from @janicepariat 🙏

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