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Literature and education among the Khasis: Excerpt from E. Weston Dkhar

The following are two excerpts from the introduction of the book Primary Education in the Khasi and Jaiñtia Hills: Its Socio-Cultural Roots and Early History (1993) written by E. Weston Dkhar and published by Sevenhut S. Enterprise, Shillong.

Regarding the education of the people we have but one traditional version explaining why the ancient Khasis failed to possess a written literature. According to tradition, the Khasis had a book or literature. While crossing the river to meet God for instruction in certain rites and duties, the man of the Plains or U Dkhar (as the Khasis generally call him), tied the book on the crown of his head, while the Khasis swallowed it to preserve it in his belly and that was the simple reason why he did not have a written literature. This version has close resemblance and similarity to the traditional version of the Tribes of Rwong and Lisu inhabiting the North-Eastern part of Indo-Burma, adjacent to the Red Chinese, who had long been isolated from the rest of the world by mountain barriers and thick forests. In explaining why they failed to possess a written literature, they too relate that long ago they had had in possession a book written on cow-hide; but it was eaten up by a hungry dog while an old man, the custodian, was drying it in the sun: and that explains why they failed to have any literature at all.

Some writers assume that this entire absence of literature clearly suggest a long period of isolation from more civilized races. The statement in all probability holds little truth: for, the Khasis since time immemorial had intermingled with other civilized races of India either through commercial activities or political contacts. The absence is absolutely due to the fact that the Khasis believed wholeheartedly that it was just the same thing for him to have the book in his belly as in his hand. Moreover, our forefathers had a peculiar belief that "We Khasis are a special people: others must read to understand, while we have an infallible guidance from within.'' They went also to the extent that “We Khasis need no education, as we have 'Swallowed' all knowledge.”

The Khasis had for a long long time acquainted themselves with the knowledge of many different branches of arts and sciences. with the handicap of not knowing about the art of writing and reading they yet marvellously advanced in the science of astronomy, medicine and metallurgy. Regarding astronomy, the Khasis of yore created a number of interesting stories about the stars and heavenly bodies like the sun and the moon. The story of the Sun and Moon and their subjugation to periodical eclipse, is one of the most interesting. Naming of some stars was also attempted at, for example, U Lur Mangkara - Pole Star, U Lur Step - Morning star, U Lurdihduma - Comet, U Lur Ruhsyiar - The Great Bear, Ka Lynti Phan - Milky Way, U Lur Tynriew - Little Bear etc. Sometimes they forecast the weather with the help of some stars as their barometer. In the field of medicine they discovered many wild herbs and natural substances which cured many kind of diseases. Besides, they knew the art of weaving and spinning, and the art of erecting monuments, monoliths, memorial stones and cromlechs.

Since time immemorial the Khasis were highly advanced in monographic literature. One can witness the monographic pictures on the rock at Dainthlen Falls where the Khasis are believed to have killed a huge demoniac python long time ago which had created a great havoc in the history of the Khasi race. At the Durbar (Assembly) at Synrang Jyrteh, believed to be the meeting place of, many nations and nationalities, it was decided to cut the python into pieces and each one would eat his allotted share of the python's flesh so that the creature instantly died according to an oracle. To celebrate the victory they carved on the rock pictures of that grand occasion, which remains intact even today.

Continuing with the story of how the Khasis lost their script, here are excerpts from the introduction of the book Primary Education in the Khasi and Jaiñtia Hills: Its Socio-Cultural Roots and Early History (1993) written by E. Weston Dkhar and published by Sevenhut S. Enterprise, Shillong.
The excerpts discusses the significance of the story of the lost script and the innate knowledge and wisdom of the Khasis, with monographic pictures appearing on the rock at Daiñ Thlen Falls, Sohra.
E. Weston Dkhar is a prolific author of several books focussing on Khasi folklore and history.

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