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By HH Mohrmen
The legend of the Tiger Man is one of the articles published by the Shillong Times which has given me maximum numbers of feedbacks, and the responses to the write-up have poured in from all over the world. Apart from the local readers whose response also contributed to the work that I have done so far, there are two emails from abroad which also goes to show how widely read the Shillong Times is. I never knew there was so much interest in the subject until the article was published and I was not prepared for the kind of queries that were lobbed at me. The emails are from researchers, one of whom is an Indigo scholar from Italy and the other a folklorist and student of PhD from a University in Estonia. Both researchers wanted to get more information about the legends of the were-tiger ( as in were-wolves) in Jaintia Hills. So in this article I decided to include some information contributed by the local readers of the Shillong Times themselves and some more of my own collections.
Few days after the article appeared in the editorial pages of the Shillong Times, L. Nampui an officer in the DC’s office Jowai shared a legend that abounds among the Biate tribe in the Saipung area of Jaintia Hills. The Biates believe that the Thianglai Nampui clan of the tribe have a special relationship with the tiger since time immemorial. It is believed that whenever any man from the clan ventures into the forest there will always be a tiger around to escort the person from the Thianglai Nampui clan to protect him from any precarious eventuality. The Biates who live in the Saipung reserved forest close to the Narpuh reserved forest also believe that whenever anyone from the Ngamlai clan dies there will be a tiger who will guard the hut where the body of the dead Ngamlai is kept and the people of the area claimed that this still happens.
Cassian A Suchiang a secondary school teacher in Jowai who was born and brought up in Moochrot a small hamlet on the banks of the river Myntang shared another information. He said that in his village there is a locality called Moo-liang-khla. Moo in Pnar dialect is rock or stone, liang means ‘to lick’ and khla is tiger, hence the name of the locality literarily translated means ‘a rock that is licked and turns into a tiger’. There is a rock in the village and legend has it that in the days of yore people who could transform themselves to tigers licked the stone and instantly changed themselves to tigers.
There are quite a few families in Amlari village in the elaka Satpator of Amlarem sub division of Jaintia hills near Muktapur who are originally from Sutnga village. The story has it that out of fear for a tiger which has caused panic in the entire village these families fled from Sutnga in search of a safe haven a long; long time ago. The Tiger caused such a hue and cry that the people have no other option but to run away from the village and it was from this incident that the people of Sutnga are often called ‘ki Sutnga dait-khla’ or the Sutnga bitten by a tiger. This particular tiger has caused havoc in the entire elaka and legends have it that people of Sutnga who in panic fled from the place in hordes finally found refuge in many places; some settled in Jowai while others found shelter somewhere else in the District and even outside the district. And a section of the community that had escaped the wrath of the killer tigers of Sutnga reached Amlari village and settled there on the India-Bangladesh border. The people of Sutnga-origin who live in the village are believed to be the descendants of a section of the Sutnga population which escaped the fury of the were-tiger who went berserk.
The were-tiger of Sutnga was the last known tiger man in the Pnar folklore, precisely because the people of the area still have many things to associate the legend with such as the label that the people of Sutnga earned as Sutnga-daitkhla and the story about the people of Sutnga-origin who live in Amlari village are elements of the lore that still linger in the legend told from a long time ago.
Legend has it that a man (some believe belonged to the Phyrngap clan) from the Nongkhlieh elaka married a woman who lived in Sutnga village. The couple was loved and respected by their neighbours because the husband was a shaman and they lived a happy married live. The primary occupation of the husband is that of a farmer but he practiced traditional medicine just to help friends and neighbours who were in need of his help from the divine powers he possessed. By tradition traditional medicine practitioners are not expected to charge any money from their patients; in fact it is a taboo for a true spiritual healer to name a price (in any form) for the service provided. But people who came to seek their help more often than not offer a token of gratitude to the healer and the offering could either be in cash or in kind. The power to practice shamanism is believed to be divinely instilled in the person to enable one to help others; hence the Khasi Pnar shamans have other primary occupations to support themselves. I still remember a healer known to my late father who would not even touch the money given to him for providing medicine till he reached home.
Coming back to the story, the legend also has it that the wife of the shaman on knowing that her husband possessed the power to transform himself to a tiger, asked him to prove it to her and transform himself to a tiger before her eyes. The husband had categorically said that he could not do that for it is forbidden. He tried to convince her and make her see the reason that it is a taboo to even tell anyone about the special power bestowed on the person; but his wife kept on pestering him every night and day to compel him to do what she wanted him to do; finally he succumbed to her pressure. But before starting the process of transforming himself to a tiger, he gave her strict instructions to stay on top of the wooden beam of their house till he was re-transformed to human and never to come down; come what may. He put her on the beam and then started to lick the magic stone which would transmogrify him to a tiger. No sooner was he transformed to a tiger when he began sniffing around and saw a human on the beam of the house. The tiger jumped several times to get hold of the woman and the woman out of shocked of what she saw fell down from the beam to the floor of the house. The tiger man mauled the defenceless woman till she died. When the tiger man re-transformed himself to a human he realized what had happened and out of anger licked the stone again and transformed himself to a tiger again only this time it was out of rage for what had happened. The tiger man went haywire and ransacked every hut in the village. People panicked and fled the village empty handed in the dead of night.
No one knows what happened to the man who transformed himself to a tiger but the legend of the were- tiger of Sutnga is still alive among the Pnars of Jaintia hills and the people of Sutnga till date are called “ki Sutnga daitkhla” or the people of Sutnga who were bitten by the tiger.
(The writer is a researcher and an environmental activist)