Apropos R. Wallang,’s letter, captioned, ‘Misreading of u Soso Tham’s verses’, (ST Sep 28, 2016), written in response to Toki Blah’s article, ‘Hostage to Tradition’, (ST Sep 27, 2016), I would like to contribute further to the issue. U Soso Tham, in his introduction to his poems, ‘Ki Sngi Barim U Hynñiew Trep’ in 1935, said, “Ïa ngi kiba tang shitroh, lada ngim kyndit bynriew kan sa tyllep ka umsaw , bad ngin sa long nong-Gebion ban thoh dieng and tong um ïano re!” These words had been widely used, or rather misused, by many. U Soso Tham was a devout follower of the Christian faith, and an ardent reader of the Bible. In writing these words, u Soso Tham has read the Book of Joshua, chapter 9, verses 1 to 26, where it is written, that fearing the Israelites’ process of territorial expansion, the Hivites, who inhabited the city of Gibeon tricked the Israelites into swearing an oath of peace treaty with them. They told the Israelites that they were people of a very distant country. But three days later, the Israelites found that the Hivites were neighbours living near them, in the cities of Gibeon, Kephirah, Beeroth and Kiriath Jearim. Joshua said to the whole assembly of fighters, “Let us not attack them, because we have sworn an oath to them by the Lord, the God of Israel. This is what we will do to them: we will let them live, so that wrath will not fall on us for breaking the oath we swore to them. Let them live, but let them be woodcutters and water carriers for the entire community.” Verse 26 concludes, “And that is what they are to this day.”
U Soso Tham wrote these words when the Khasi and Jaiñtia Hills were under British rule and he believed, as anyone else who lives in the system of a particular era would believe, that the system would last forever. Neither the colonists nor u Soso Tham had ever dreamt that the mighty British Empire would recede to oblivion. So, he urged his countrymen to arm themselves with thick shells of tradition so that the tribe would be able to survive with identity and dignity in the midst of such a system. Today, we are totally free to live the way we like or the position we aspire to. We have only to enhance our capacity in the general means of living, not necessarily by thickening the shell of tradition.
Traditions evolved, became established and modified from generation to generation to serve the emerging needs of the people of the tribe, not for the people of the tribe to be slaves to traditions. Traditions must not be frozen for the glory of the past, or for the benefit of the few who derive direct control over land and authority from such frozen traditions, but they must evolve to meet the present needs of the people of the tribe. Our ancestors were able to maintain this tribe not because they stuck to customs and tradition like unto a goddess, but because they were wise enough to amend or modify customs and traditions from time to time, to make the tribe alive and kicking, and fit to challenge the new circumstances of life emerging from generation to generation. U Soso Tham was clear in his mind when he said, “Ngim ïaid shuh tang ha ka jingshai u kseh kum kiba rim, hynrei hakhmat ka Sngi” (we no are no longer led by a firebrand like our ancestors, but by the light of the sun). The light of the sun is modern knowledge and understanding which we have all availed today. I agree with Toki Blah that if our immediate ancestors had remained blindly loyal and steadfast to obsolete practices and habits of yore, today most of us would exactly be condemned to be hewers of wood and drawers of water for someone else.
Dr Fabian Lyngdoh,