Accepted Paper:

Alternative perceptions of belief among the Khasis: the Weresnake and the Weretiger  

Author:

Margaret Lyngdoh (University of Tartu)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will make an attempt to examine the significance of human-animal transformations within the greater Khasi world view. The folk epistemology of shape-shifting will also be analyzed in the context of the matrilineal social system.

Paper long abstract:

The Lyngngam, Muliang and the Nongtrai are sub communities of the Khasis residing in the Western section of the Khasi Hills of Meghalaya. Although, these sub groups share affinities in their way of life and traditional beliefs, they prefer to be recognized as separate sub groups of the greater Khasi tribe.

Belief in the Sangkhini or weresnake is central to social transactions among these communities. The Sangkhini is described to have the head of a cat and the body of a snake and is inextricably linked to the ecological system. They are accepted in the community and have social roles to play.

Parallel to this belief system among the Lyngngam, is the Bhoi tradition of the weretiger. The Bhoi sub-community of the Khasis reside in the northern section of the state close to the border with Assam. It may be mentioned that Ri-Bhoi remains isolated from the Shillong city and as such these tracts of wilderness have fostered narratives about streams, caves, hills etcetera.

Central to the belief system here is the existence of the Khla Phuli or were-tiger, in which men and women shift into the form of the tiger. The bigger were-tigers are called sansaram and the mostly female, smaller were-tiger is the khruk. This paper will make an attempt to examine the significance of human-animal transformations within the greater Khasi world view. The folk epistemology of shape-shifting will also be analyzed in the context of the matrilineal social system.

Panel P14
Circulation of cultural tropes in indigenous Adivasi India