DIPHU: Scholars from India and abroad attending the 50th Karbi Youth Festival (KYF) in Karbi Anglong district have found water conservation clues in the folklore and rituals of the Karbi ethnic community. They have also underlined the historical misrepresentation of the Karbis and have called for the decolonisation of narratives around “non-mainstream” ethnic communities.
“In the indigenous Karbi culture, water is not merely a physical resource, but a sacred entity that holds immense significance. Embedded in their traditions and beliefs, water lore encompasses the spiritual, cultural, and ecological aspects of the Karbi people’s connection with this life-giving element,” Maggie Katharpi, who teaches at the Diphu Government College said.
Katharpi spoke on the Karbi beliefs and narratives about the folklore of water at the two-day International Karbi Winter Workshop, a major component of the KYF. The topic of the workshop was “Place in Stories, Stories in Place: Narrating Landscapes in (Indigenous) Oral Traditions”.
The workshop was funded by the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council, which governs the district, and organised by the Centre for Karbi Studies and the Department of Estonian and Comparative Folklore in collaboration with the Centre for Oriental Studies. The last two are under the University of Tartu in Estonia.
“The Karbi people believe that maintaining a harmonious relationship with water is essential for their overall well-being and the sustainability of their environment. This deep reverence for water reflects their profound understanding of its importance as a life force that sustains not only their physical existence but also their spiritual and cultural identity,” Katharpi said.
She narrated how littering was strictly prohibited in Ronghang Rongbong Rong Arak, the capital of the titular Karbi king. The use of vulgar or inappropriate language and contamination of water bodies were also banned, conveying the undertones of conservation. “In traditional rituals such as Vur Kamatha, performed by local priests, water is used to address various issues such as illness, familial problems, unfinished work, personal problems, or any other issue related to one’s life or family life. Water is sprinkled throughout the house with the belief that it will bring positive energy,” Katharpi said.
During the Rongker ritual – the propitiation of the gods for the good and well-being of a village – prayers are specifically dedicated to Langhe-Langche Arnam, the deity associated with water, she added.
Indigenous narrative Dharamsing Teron, a former MLA and the director of the Centre for Karbi Studies, said narratives on indigenous communities in India and beyond need to be overhauled. “Colonial and other documents reflect the historical misrepresentations of the Karbis, who belong to the Tibeto-Burman group and largely inhabit the Karbi Anglong and West Karbi Anglong districts of Assam. A highlight of the workshop was a round-table discussion on the viability of the folkloristic perspective through an indigenous research method,” he said.
Tokyo-based Mayako Murai, who works on traditional and contemporary fairy tales at the University of Yokohama, said cultures geographically far apart are connected by folk stories involving animals. “In Indian, Japanese, and other cultures, animal tales are a large body of work. If we re-read these tales through a multi-species lens, we find the relationships among different kinds of animals including humans,” she said, stated a press release.