The Future We Want: A Farmer’s Perspective

By H H Mohrmen

Moosakhia is a village of 94 households under the Amlarem sub division of West Jaintia Hills District. This small hamlet is now on the list of the only village in the both East and West Jaintia hills district selected by North East Slow Food and Agro-biodiversity Society (NESFAS) to host foreign delegates. Moosakhia which is about 14 KM from Jowai will be visited by some of the international delegates who will attend the International Terra Madre (ITM) or the International Mei-Ramew festival on November 6, 2015.

NESFAS and Society for Urban and Rural Empowerment (SURE) which will help facilitate the community to host the delegates had conducted meetings, awareness and studies to prepare the villagers for the event. But the very important study entitled ‘Understanding Indigenous Concepts of Happiness and Well-being’ was conducted by NESFAS at Moosakhia village on behalf of the Indigenous Partnership for Agro-biodiversity and Food Sovereignty (IPFAS). The study led by Pius Ranee and Merrysha Nongrum used participatory digital story telling workshop designed to reach community consensus about a framework for happiness and wellbeing.

The objective of the study commissioned by IPFAS is to look for answers to questions like what are the modern indigenous pathways to well-being. How is this pathway similar and different to existing global narratives about human well-being? Is happiness and wellbeing a valid barometer of how indigenous communities around the world are faring? The study was conducted to for the residents of the two villages of Moosakhia and Samynnong.

The key finding of the study was the description given by people of the area about wellbeing and happiness as ‘ka bha ka miat.’ When there is ‘ka bha ka miat’ everything is well and good. It is also interesting to note that the wellbeing that the people are talking about is at the community level rather than at an individual level. When the people speak of wellbeing in the Khasi-Pnar context, very often it is in the context of the community ‘ka bha ka miat uba bun balang’ or ‘ka bhalang.’ In the Khasi-Pnar concept of wellbeing, each and every individual contributes to the wellbeing of the community and the ultimate goal is to achieve the wellbeing of the community.

According to the study there are nine factors that contribute to ‘ka bha ka miat’ in the community. They are unity and cooperation, agriculture, education which includes moral education at the family level, tradition and culture, land, sacred forests, environment, governance, market. The community considers unity and cooperation as the most important factor to achieve well being and happiness and the study also established that they totally depend on land and agriculture for their livelihoods. Another important finding is that the village still has community land and even in cases where land is privately owned, the community has a tradition where the land owners allow members of the community to use their land.

When the residents of the village who are mostly farmers were asked what is it that they are proud about their village for? Or why would people choose to visit their village? Ma Loren Pakshang one of the elders of the village boldly said, ‘My village is the most beautiful place in the world and it is situated in a very unique location.’ He also said ‘he is proud of his village because clean air still blows around their hills and he is happy that he could still breathe in fresh air every moment. He is also glad that pure and crystal clear waters still flow from the streams and in the river Umlane of the village. He is proud of his village because Moosakhia is located on the top of the hill from where one can see the range of East Khasi hills to the west and the hills of both East Khasi and West Jaintia is divided by a deep gorge from where the river Umngot flows to Bangladesh.

He then proudly narrated the story of the village, how their ancestors had migrated from Pamchadong area in the War Jaintia and crossed Amwi (river Thlumuwi) and settled at a place called Raij Umlane. They lived in the area and farmed the land using jhum cultivation. Their main crops were rice, millet and sesame seeds (nei-iong and nei-lieh) till an epidemic attack drove them in hoards from Umlane and they went in search of a better place to live.

The first migration settled in the place now called Moosakhia and those who left Umlane later went to settle in a place now called Samynnong adjacent to Moosakhia. The village derives its name from the monolith in the middle of the hamlet and it is believed that the standing stone was raised using dry cucumber stalks as a rope. Hence the name ‘Moo’ which means Stone or rock and ‘Sakhia’ which mean cucumber. Ma Loren also proudly told us that the sacred groves lum Syrpad to the north and lum Jyllieh to west are the ‘u Ryngkew u Basa’ or the divinities which protect the village. The story has it that it was Jyllieh who had warned the people of the epidemic which had struck their former village in the past.

Ma Realsing Muksor is proud that they still continue with the farming activities and majority of the villagers are involves in rice and vegetables cultivation as well as keeping livestock and bees. Broom stick cultivation is also a popular activity now, although people of the area are beginning to experience the impact of the activity on land, forest and the environment.

When asked what is the kind of future they want for their village, all the village elders interviewed were proud of their village and they were prouder still because they are now an open defecation free (ODF) village. Since the beginning of this year they have been able to maintain cleanliness in the village because it is also a criteria set by NESFAS for host villages. They are proud of the green hills around them; of their springs, rivulets and rivers and crystal clear water that is running down the hills; they are proud of their paddy fields and their farmlands. They wish that in the future fresh and clean air will keep blowing on the hills and over the valleys. They also wish pure and crystal clear waters would continue to flow on their streams and rivers. They hope they would be able to farm on their land and enhance their production and continue to take care of their livestock to improve their livelihood.

On the next question of what they want for their children, one of them said that he sent his grandson to study in Jowai and at the same time during vacation he took him to the fields and showed him the tricks of the trade of different farming activities. In fact ma Loren is pleased that his grandson had very recently called him to plan how they are going to spend the coming Durga puja vacation. Ma Realsing also has a son who is currently studying in Jowai. He too wants his son to come back to the village and hopes that he makes the best use of what he had learned from the school and college to improve farming activities, enhance production and improve the economy of the family.

This is the story of a typical village in Meghalaya and I think it depicts the story of an ordinary villager who is proud of his land and what he is doing. It is a story of an indigenous person who loves the hills and vales around him, who lives and plays in the streams and rivers. It is a story of one who knows the stories of all hills and forests around him and also a person who knows every animal, plant, fish and insect in his area by their names. It is a story of a person who lives in the nature and the nature lives in him, and one who continues to learns his lesson from the greatest book in the world- Nature.

The story also represents the hopes and aspiration of thousands of Meghalayans living in thousands of villages in the state. It is about a villager whose wishes his primary needs are fulfilled and most importantly to have clean water and fresh air. It is about people who want better education for their children and who want their children to come back to the village after their studies. It is a story of people who know the kind of future they want for their children and the village they live in. The fate of the farmer and state are entwined and their future lies not on extractive mining but agriculture Mr Chief Minister.

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