Cleanliness and Khasi-Pnar Society
By H H Mohrmen
Indigenous communities are by tradition hygienic. They keep the surroundings clean because they believe that nature is sacred. But it is rather heart-rending that with time our hills which were once green and clean are gradually losing their fame and shine. The reason is we have mercilessly littered our front yards and backyard, and garbage has accumulated in our villages, towns, and cities. It is rather unbecoming for indigenous people to mistreat Mother Nature by littering all over the place. The most important reason for this change of heart and change of mind amongst the tribal people is because they have distanced themselves from nature and we have forgotten our culture and tradition.
People were able to maintain cleanliness in the past because they lived a simple life that is also close to nature. The traditional way of life of the indigenous involves generating very less waste. Even the waste produced is biodegradable and has no negative impact on nature. Non-perishable waste as we know it today like plastics originated very recently. Forty or fifty years ago, almost all the waste generated was biodegradable, but everything changed once plastic came into the picture. The main factor that contributed to having dirty villages and towns is the lack of civic sense as people are careless and they dump their waste anywhere.
Kitchen garden and
In the past, it was a tradition that every house in the village also had a kitchen garden. Farmers not only plant many fruits and vegetables in the garden, but they also have a composting unit in the garden. Garden has a natural composting unit that helps convert waste to compost and at the same time helps people do away with their waste. This ancient natural composting unit has been practiced by our ancestors since time immemorial. This simple act was the main reason why communities were able to keep their villages clean in the past, also because the waste that people generated was mostly biodegradable. The other reason is also that in the past people did not generate as much waste as they do now for many reasons.
In the past packaging was only done by using sustainable wrappers which decomposed easily so we do not have the waste problem we have now. Broad leaves which include “sla-lamet” were used for packing or wrapping different food items. Sliced bamboo “thri” was also a common item used to tie items people bought from the market. Sliced bamboo was even used to carry meat like pork and beef from the market. We are also fortunate that “Sla lamet and bamboo are easily available and the two plants are so versatile that they can be planted and used for making different items.
People then used big baskets like “shang, kriah or khoh” to carry the commodities that they bought from the market. Kriah, shang and khoh were the main items that people used to carry their commodities from one place to another. There was a special basket that was used for putting eggs that were specially made, so that eggs do not break when they are carried from one place to another. The other common item that people used to carry commodities from the markets is “pla ïew/muna jun” which is made of cloth. All these items used then were made from biodegradable products which did not create waste. Now we pack everything in plastics and foils and other non-biodegradable items which will end up in the bin and contribute to the mounting of garbage in the landfills.
The other factor which helps in making the place clean is also because of the kind of utensils people use those days. Apart from baskets, the other utensils that people used were made from natural items like bamboo, wood, and stones which are also easily degradable. For grinding, people used stones and wood which are biodegradable. Much of the utensils that people used then were made from biodegradable products. Now for the sake of convenience, we switch to plastic utensils which are the main cause of the waste problem.
Our food habits
People were able to maintain cleanliness in the past because they only ate fresh foods and not packed food. Fresh foods which are produced locally do not have to be packed as products that are brought from distant places. Foods that are being transported from far away, need to be packed carefully, and using locally-produced food does not have to be packed. This minimizes the generation of waste which has become a major problem nowadays. The waste problem is because of our eating habits and most of the waste generated was from foils, sweet wrappers, and chips packets. With the waste that we generate, we litter our surroundings. The solution to the problem is to eat local food which does not need extra wrapping and minimize the generation of plastic waste in the state. Of course, it is healthy too.
The throwaway/disposable or single-use culture
The major contributor to the waste problem that the world is facing now are the disposable cups, plates, cutleries, or single-use items promoted by the service providers. These items which we so proudly call throwaway utensils are not only a waste of resources, but the problem is, they also contribute to the acute waste problem. The throwaway or disposable culture which was of a very recent origin has contributed to the waste that we dump in the garbage bin which later ends up in the landfill. The disposable items are used for convenience’s sake and maybe to somehow cut the cost so there’s no need to engage dishwashers anymore. But this has become very costly for the future generation because, in the long run, it is them who have to deal with these single-use items that end up in landfill.
Mind my backyard
The tendency amongst people now is to mind their backyard only. It is a common sight to see beautiful and clean houses in the locality, but the street of the same locality is littered with waste. We do not care how the streets and lanes of the village and the towns are, as long as the surroundings of our houses are clean. Some people make so much effort to clean their houses and then dump the waste they collect from their houses on the street sometimes in front of their own houses. Not only are the streets littered but, they even turned their streams and rivers into dumping places. It is indeed ironic that the community that not only calls nature their mother but even held rivers in high esteem is turning their rivers into a garbage dumping area. This is the kind of mindset that we have now because we have lost touch with nature and are disconnected from our roots.
The common good
The Khasi Pnar people have this saying which goes, “ka bhalang ka imlang sahlang” or “ka bha ka miat uba bun balang,” which means that the common good of all is what the Hynñew Trep people hold in high esteem. This is not only a statement of belief of the Hynñew Trep people but it is, in fact, the philosophy that governs their life and the way they live their day-to-day lives. If one looks around then one would see that everything they do is for the common good of all, but sadly that has changed now and people have become selfish and think of their own interests only. The need of the hour is also to help inculcate in the mind of every citizen and young people in particular, the need to remind ourselves of this important tradition.
Community cleaning drive
One may argue that the communities today continue with the tradition of maintaining our surroundings clean by organizing cleanliness drives now and then. This is true to some extent and the community in the form of a dorbar shnong or other entity organizes itself to ensure the common good in the community, but the problem is the lack of consistency. Localities and villages may remain clean for a few days, but then waste starts to appear in the area. To maintain cleanliness we need to be consistent in our efforts so that we can make our villages and towns clean all year round. The only way to make the state clean again is for the people to go back to their roots and reconnect with nature.