By HH Mohrmen
In a recently held national seminar; a wise professor of history rued the scanty literature on the life of u Kiang Nangbah. Professor David Reade Syiemlieh further said that U Kiang Nangbah is yet to find his biographer. It is indeed tempting to try to create the life history of this great Jaintia hero who had hoodwinked the British till the last and this is a small contribution to the attempt. Surely this will not be sufficient but I hope many will further contribute to create a complete biography of u Kiang Nangbah.
Before I proceed any further, I must admit that I am not a historian but simply a person who is interested in writing especially on folk subjects and environment. I barely scratch the surface and realize that there is not much material to create the life history of U Kiang Nangbah, and in the absence of historical evidence like many folk heroes, with the passage of time the story of u Kiang Nangbah got intertwined with myths and legends that people have created and passed on orally from one generation to another.
The recorded correspondence between the British administrators, the military leaders and the power that was in Calcutta and in Cherrapunjee does not provide us with material about the personal life of u Kiang Nangbah. U Kiang to the British was an enemy on the run and a leader of the rebellion they wished crush, and also a person they wished to capture but whose identity they barely know except his name. It was from the local oral tradition that we know that his mother’s name was ka Rimai Nangbah, the only record that we have about his father is again from the British records which Dr. Shoban Lamare has salvaged from the archive and published in his book. Kiang Nangbah’s father’s name, U Phet was mentioned in the information recorded when Kiang was arrested and that too the British only recorded his name and not his clan name so we don’t really have the full identity of u Kiang Nangbah’s father too.
We don’t know when Kiang Nangbah was born, Dr. Omarlin Kyndian in his write-up said that u Kiang Nangbah was a child when the Jaintia Kingdom was annexed by the British in 1835. In the Pnar tradition u khynnah will be somebody in the age group of 4/5 to 10 and after 10 they are then called khynnah khynroo for boys and khynnah khyllood for girls, and after the age of 17 or 18 they are called khynroo or khyllood till they get married and a married man or woman is called u waheh and ka kynthai or ka manbei for female. A child is a khonboo from birth till they can barely walk so u Kiang will be between 0 – 3 years old in 1835, hence if we take this into consideration u Kiang must have been born in the year between 1832 and 34.
U Kiang’s story is similar to of Jesus’ at least on three counts. They both rose to fame when they were about 30 years old and both died in their early thirties after fighting for the cause that was dear to their hearts for about 3 years. They were both believed to have some divine origin; Jesus’ origin was traced to King David and u Kiang was also believed to be from the Soo kpoh khad-ar wyrnai clan, a clan which was started by the four progenitors ka Bon, ka Tein, ka Wet and ka Doh, the founding female deities and the first settlers of Jwai who are partly human and partly divine.
The claim that u Kiang Nangbah belonged to the Soo kpoh khaddar wyrnai clan is because the Kur ‘Nangbah’ is part of the grand Sookpoh khaddar wyrnai clan and it is the sub-kur of the kur Syngkon which originated from ka Bon one of the four progenitors (Yawbei/Seinjeit) of the clan.
Another legend doing the rounds is that u Kiang Nangbah is from the Laskor clan and his forbearer really came from Nangbah village and hence their neighbours in Jwai call them ‘ki yong Nangbah.’ It was a tradition practiced by the people then that if a Lamare family came to Jwai from Sutnga; the neighbours will call them ‘ki yong Sutnga,’ because they come from Sutnga, similarly the ‘yong War’ because the family came to Jwai from War Jaintia. There is certain Laloo family in Jowai which are called ki ‘yong Nartiang’ because their foremothers came to Jwai from Nartiang.
Traditionally the family can also be given a name or named using their father’s or grandfather’s village of origin to name the kur. So the Nangbah can be from the Sookpoh clan but were called by the name of their father’s village of origin most probably Nangbah; hence they are called ki ‘yong Nangbah’ because their father was originally from Nangbah village. Although this tradition of calling the family by the name of the village from which their father originated is dying; we still have remnants of such cases in Jwai.
But these theories are too farfetched, because it was proved beyond doubt that U Kiang Nangbah was from Jwai and he belongs to one of the Kur in the sookpoh clan; this claim is further enhanced because as per folk stories u Kiang Nangbah’s finale rites of passages was performed by somebody from the Sookpoh clan, which proves beyond doubt that he is from the Sookpoh clan. But the question remains as to why a family from the Kur Syngkon is called ‘ki yong Nangbah?’
Only the place where he grew and most probably was born is certain. U Kiang Nangbah lived in a locality we now called Tpep-pale and Kiang Nangbah’s family’s hut must be on the hill top across the valley between the two hills where Yawmusiang and Tpep-pale stand. The valley between Yawmusiang and Tpep-paple derived its name from the Nangbah family’s name and the valley is till this day called ‘wah Nangbah’ which literarily means the valley below the Nangbah’s place or hut. The place where the Nangbah family’s hut once stood is now owned by one Passah family in the Tpep-pale locality.
Legends have it that U Kiang Nangbah was a well built young man and of a moderate stature by Khasi Pnar standards. It is said that his height must be a little more than 5 feet. The story abounds then that U Kiang Nangbah was a strong man and because the strength of a man is based on how much he can plough, he is said to possess extra ordinary strength and in a day can plough double of what any young man of his age can.
Regarding Kiang’ war tactics and the kind of weapons he used, my earlier impression was u Kiang like any native hero would use traditional weapons and gorilla-warfare tactics to fight against the British. I was very much influenced by the famous Pnar folk song; a song which is like a war cry; a call to all the people of the Jaintia Kingdom to stand united and fight against the foreign powers The song is called ‘oo kyndei nakaladei.’ The first stanza of the folk song says ‘chut ki weit hawa nep hawa nep/ hawa biang ki cher ki soom/ pi yong i u lai i kattu yow pyndem beit ha’u mynder ri/’ Sharpen your swords folks/ prepare your spikes and lances/ let us march together to defeat the foreigners/. From this song I got the impression that the Jaintia rebels used the traditional weapons to fight against the British which included swords and shields, bows and arrows, spikes and lances et al. But when u Kiang was arrested in Mynser village, it was reported that the British soldiers also confiscated three guns from him. The last thing he did when he realized that he was surrounded by the British soldiers was to fire at the betrayer who helped identify him to the British soldier. U Long was lucky the gun gut stuck and failed to fire and he was saved. This implies that u Kiang used guns more than anything else to fight against the British soldiers.
There are also reports that u Kiang was married when he was arrested and his wife is from the kur Challam and they had two sons out of the wedlock. But sadly we are yet to trace Kiang Nangbah’s family. Hopefully much work will be done on the life of this great Jaintia hero.