Have you ever wondered why are there mountains and valleys, rivers, lakes and seas?
Why there's so much diversity on the landscape or geography of the earth?
There is a Khasi folklore that explains all these.
This folklore tells us why the earth's crust is strewn with rocks, sand and mud. And why beneath the surface, metals and ores abound.
The Khasis called Mother Earth as 'Ka Mei Ramew'. (Mei means mother in Khasi language)
This tale speaks about the turmoil and destruction of Ka Mei Ramew and the need to prevent it from further decay.
That's why the Khasis so respect Ka Mei Ramew and sing paeans to her!
Let's hear out this story.
Ka Ramew, U Basa and the Beginning of the World
Long, long ago, there was nothing in this world. God, the Creator, placed upon it only Ka Ramew, mother earth, and her husband, U Basa.
At first, the two lived a happy life. They had everything and lacked nothing, or so it seemed. But later, their lives became drab. There were neither days nor nights nor colour or variety. They had no one to talk to but themselves.
Truly, life for the pair was one long, dreary roll.
An immense void filled the earth and the sky above them. The pair was extremely unhappy and wished for the company of children with all their hearts.
Ka Ramew and U Basa Petition for Children
And so, Ka Ramew and U Basa petitioned the Creator to give them children. They would raise them up as they play with them, and teach them to run the affairs of the world. They would bestow their legacy upon them, and their kind would multiply and prosper.
For several days and week, they entreated God thus. At last, he heard their prayers and granted their wish.
He gave them five children.
Ka Ramew and U Basa named them: Ka Sngi, the sun; U Bnai, the moon; Ka Lyer, the wind; Ka Um, water; and Ka Ding, fire.
The Character of the Children of Ka Ramew
Ka Sngi was 'ka khun phrangsngi', the first-born, the child who saw the world first.
U Bnai was the only son. He accompanied his mother, Ka Ramew, wherever she went.
The middle children, Ka Lyer and Ka Um were the wayward ones. They roamed the earth, blew across the heavens, inundated the plains and filled the seas.
Ka Ding was 'ka khun khlieng kpoh', the last child, the cleanser of her mother's womb. She was also 'ka khadduh', the youngest daughter, who was to be forever the custodian of the 'nongkynti' or legacy of her parents. It would be her duty to be the caregiver of her parents in their old age and the conserver of her clan. Till today, ka khadduh plays that role in the Khasi matrilineal society.
And so, with the siblings' arrival, life on earth sparkled with variety. Sunshine, air, and rain caressed the parched earth, and plants and animals began to thrive and multiply. The earth was no longer the desolate place it was before. It grew green and abounded with an amazing variety of life forms and non-life forms.
Ka Ramew and U Basa watched with pride as their children grew in stature. They marvelled at the beautiful transformation their arrival brought the earth.
The proud parents doted on them and gave them everything they wanted.
The Waywardness of the Children of Ka Mei Ramew
As the siblings became older and their characters became more set, they also started showing wayward behaviours. Although they performed their duties as nature had allotted them, they often fought among themselves. They bickered constantly, even coming to blows that caused destruction and misery. This conduct caused so much anguish to the parents, especially Ka Ramew, who took much of it to heart.
Her children's constant squabbling and fighting affected Ka Ramew a lot. It pained her so to see the enmity they reserved for each other, clawing and fighting with no thought of the consequences. Their greed and jealousy knew no bounds and they caused immense damage everywhere.
The hurt showed in the furrows on her surface, the deep gashes where canyons cut and high mountain peaks that jut out. Her bowels burned and rumbled, shook the earth in spasms of earthquakes. Now and then fire and ash spew out from 'ki lumding' (volcanoes).
Sometimes boulders strew everywhere along the path of Ka Um. Holes and caves pockmarked Ka Ramew's surface where she seeps, playing hide and seek. Ka Lyer denuded the mountain faces while Ka Sngi's relentless battering made pebbles out of massive rocks!
U Bnai might seem placid but he caused huge tidal waves. Ka Ding would destroy everything in a fit of anger!
The Last Days of Ka Ramew
The last straw was when U Bnai cut his sister, Ka Sngi, with a sword that led her to bleed profusely and caused the solar eclipse.
While Ka Um remained to tend to Ka Sngi, the other daughter, Ka Lyer, rushed to report to their mother what U Bnai had done. Ka Ramew had grown very old and infirm at that time. The news saddened her even more and she aged faster to the point of collapse.
Still, Ka Ramew gave the healing plants which she had always nurtured in her bosom to Ka Lyer. But, this time, when blood was let, Ka Ramew herself collapsed. Her poor old heart could take no more burdens. Her children's wantonness hastened her end. She died broken-hearted.
The Funeral of Ka Ramew
The earth then became desolate. The forests and waters dried up. Deserts crept and gobbled up fertile lands. Life on earth came to a standstill.
In that scenario, Ka Ramew's children and clans-people all gathered in mourning and prepared for the funeral. They made the elaborate 'krong', a bamboo frame to lay a dead body on. Around the krong, they wrapped all finery of silk and brocade as befitted nobility such as Ka Ramew. A few went to the cremation ground to prepare the pyre.
At home, the elder did the rituals for dead, the rite of safe passage of the soul to the other world. Meanwhile, mourners sang their sombre dirges that brought tears to the eyes.
Finally, everyone trooped in procession to the burning ground and there, on the unlit pyre, they rested Ka Ramew's mortal remains.
It was already evening, and the sun was going down.
As the eldest daughter, it was Ka Sngi's duty to light her mother's pyre. But, by that time, her powers had weakened, and she could not ignite it.
U Bnai, the only son, tried next. But he had neither the heat nor the power. He failed to create even a small spark.
Likewise, Ka Lyer was too flighty, and Ka Um was too damp. They both were unsuccessful at lighting up.
Finally, it fell upon Ka Ding, the youngest daughter, to light the pyre. She easily sparked a fire and sent the pyre bursting into flames. In a very short time, Ka Ramew's body reduced to ashes and returned to dust where she belonged. Only her bones were collected to rest in the 'mawbah', the clan's ossuary.
Sibling Rivalry towards Ka Ding
Ka Ding only lighted the pyre after her elder siblings had failed. They should've appreciated the job well done. Instead, they were mad at her and became envious because they thought she had taken away the honour that belonged to them. They began hounding her to snuff out her life.
And so they set about hunting for the flames.
Ka Sngi hammered on, melted the snows and parched the earth. U Bnai pulled at the waters and shook the seas. Ka Lyer thrashed about everywhere, created havoc and destruction in her wake. Ka Um splashed about at random, cutting valleys and flooding the plains. So much destruction and desolation were not seen before!
Poor Ka Ding! She went about hiding from her siblings, into nooks and crevices. There she buried herself inside rocks and metals just to escape the wrath of her sisters and brother. And there she hid, in those places.
And so, till today you will find sparks of fire coming out when you strike stones together or rub metals or wood, or whenever you create friction. The reason? Ka Ding's still in hiding in these places!
Isn't the Story of Ka Ramew's Children familiar?
When we listen to this story, don't we wonder what the ancient Khasi storytellers were trying to teach us?
Yes, the geography of the earth owes much to the natural forces. However, if our fragile Ka Ramew is still dying today, it is because of the unabated rapacity of her children, human beings! The destruction persists and we, the children, are still bickering and fighting. It's time we realise and stop causing hurting Ka Ramew, mother earth, the only home we have!
It's surprising to learn how the ancients already knew what we could only realise now!
We have so many stories like this!
If you like this story, do tell us what you think it means to you. Or, maybe you too have a story to tell?