Traditional oral literature is well established in the Khasi Society, especially in the pre-literate days prior to 1841. Parents and elders told stories woven around the fold myths and legends, sometimes to the accompaniment of a Duitara, a Mary thing or other simple instruments. The scene was usually around the family hearth late in the evening, after the day’s hard work in the rice field or forests. The family hearth in the kitchen was also the ‘classroom’ where children and teenagers learn about moral and social laws (ki jingsneng tymmen). Many folk tales and stories, as well as the exhortations of elders, were later reduced to writing. Many were also lost, before they could be written, when the tradition of story-telling died out in the course of time.
Group oral literature includes ‘ki phawar’ or couplets on various subjects, in different situations, set to simple music. For example, during the ritual of bringing the bones (of a deceased clan or family member) to be kept in the clan’s Ossuary, some make members would spontaneously compose and sing a phawar, one after another, while all would join in at the repeated line. Other ritualistic phawar include the paying of respects to the paternal grand mother, justification for victory in a war, or for a kill (tiger or beer) and so on. Some ‘phawar’ were light-hearted, composed in happy situation such as dances, archery etc. unfortunately most of these phawar are lost because they had not been recorded on tape or in writing. The traditional oral form is becoming a lost art among the modern present day generation.
Some of the types of oral literature include lyrics (poetry and song), hymns used in various congregations, Christian and Non-Christian, ritual songs, especially mourning songs (again, a lost art because they are spontaneous and oral). There are a number of folk songs above love (romantic love, parental love) nature, god etc. some lullabies still exist, but must have been lost with the passage of time.
The History of written literature began with Ka Gospel of u Matti (1844), a translation of the Gospel of Mathew into Khasi by Thomas Jones. The first Welsh Missionary also wrote many Primers and Readers, but these cannot be taken as literature as the Bible can be Thomas Jones set the stage for written Khasi and for written literature, both for Khasi and Non-Khasi writers, especially the missionaries.
According to (late) R.S.Lyngdoh, the period 1888-1910 saw the emergence of the pioneering Khasi writers. Out of the many who contributed to the growth of Khasi literature, five names are more important for study. These include Jeebon Roy Mairom (1838-1903), Rabon Singh Kharsuka, Radhon Singh Kharwanlang, Rev. Morkha Chyne and Hormu Rai Diengdoh.
Rev. Morkha Chyne’s career as a poet went along very well with his calling as a Pastor. He was most productive between 1888-1916, and his poetry was published in an anthology “ka Ryngkap ne ki poetry khasi”. His best known work is U Sierlapalang, a fivety-one stanza tale or allegory. A revised version “U Sierlapalang” has 380 lines. i.e, 38 stanzas with ten lines each. He also composed lengthy poems including the great Earthquake of 1897 “U Jumai Bah ka Ri Khasi”. With many other Poetry works to his credit, Chyne may be considered the first major Khasi poet.
Rabon Singh Kharsuka wrote treatise on Khasi religion Ka Niam Khasi 1894, Ka Kitab Niam khein ki Khasi, Ka Kitab Jingphawar, Ka Jingiathuh khana Puriskam (Folk tale) 1908, he was also a regular contributor to Khaso news papers like U Nongapphira (1905 onwards), Ka Kot Khubor Khasi, U Nongialam Katholik etc, where his articles and poems appeared frequently. Some of his poems and prose articles were later included in prose and poetry collection.
Hormu Rai Diengdohos mostly connected to an important bulletin or journal U Khasi Mynta which provided the platform for many Khasi writers to release their creative energy. These include R.S. Kharwanlang, Job Solomon, Hajom Kissor Singh, Nelson Dkhar, and so on. U Khasi Mynta also provided a platform for academic debates on Khasi letters and spelling system.
Jeebon Roy Mairom (1838-1903) began his literary career with a book by translations of Sanskrit books – Mit-Upodesa Parts I and II, 1898, Part III 1899, Ka Ramayan (1900), Ka Kitab Chaitanya 1900. Jeebon Roy also wrote children’s stories and poems in Ka Kot Pule Nyngkong 1899, and other books. He also attempted to write history in Ka History jong ka India 1900, books on religion, Ka niam jong Ki Khasi 1897. This was followed by translations. In the same year he brought out another book on Khasi religion “Ka Kitab ba batai pynshynna shaphang U wei U Blei” (1900).
Radhon Singh Kharwanlang wrote around 35 songs and hymns, besides numerous poems and books on religion. However, he is best remembered for two important books on Khasi ethnics and etiquette, in the form of poetry- Ka Jingsneng Tymmen Part I (1902) and Part II (1903). These are in the traditional ‘Phawar’ couplets having ten syllables per line.
Following his illustrations father Jeebon Roy Mairom, Sib Charan Roy Dkhar translated mostly from Indian literature, such as Ka Bhagavad Gita (1903). He also wrote many articles which were included in “U Nongapphira”. Sib Charan Dkhar wrote books on religion such as ka “Kot Tohkit Tirtir shaphang ka niam tip Blei ki Khasi” (1913). Ka Niam Khasi – Ka Niam tip-bleit tip briew 1919, Ka Jingiakren iapule shaphang ka niam, (1924) and others.
Hari Charan Roy Dkhar produced the first work on drama “Ka Savitiri” (1910) based on the Mahabharata. His brother Dino Nath Roy Dkhar brought out the second work on drama “Ka Srommotimai lane ka HOK” (1912) about the triumph of Truth, followed by U Tipsngi, the first Khasi novel. “U Kausik” (1915) was also by Hari Charan Roy Dkhar. This work based on the Mahabharata, paved the way for the Khasi fiction.
During this period there were experimental writings in History and biography such as B K Sarma Roy’s “Shaphang ki Syiemlieh Nongkhlaw” 1908, Ka History jong ka Ri Khasi (1914); Sib Charan’s Chanakya Diti Darpana (1913) and Father Bonheim’s Ki Martir Nekro (1914).
Mention has been made of non-Khasi who wrote in Khasi, such as the Welsh Missionaries. After Thomas Jones, John Roberts in fact is known as the Father of Khasi Writings (Literature) just like Thomas Jones is the ‘Father of the Khasi Alphabets’. He translated classics like Pilgrim’s Progress (Ka Jingiaid Pilgrim 1867), Julius Kaiser etc. He also wrote short stories and essays related to Khasi socio-cultural life, and animal stories meant more for children. Rev. Roberts is credited with a beautiful patriotic song. “Ri Khasi” which shows his love for the land and the people, set to music, it also became the ‘anthem’ for all Khasis in the sub segments generations. He also contributed to the growth of the Khasi language; the Khasi English Dictionary not only gives the meaning of Khasi words but also gives a brief write-up on Khasi grammar, synonyms etc.
Mention must be made of Amjad Ali (1861-1926) who realizing the need for elementary practical works in Khasi, penned around eighteen poems and compiled around thirty-three idiomatic phrases. Thus he was not only well versed with the Khasi language but also with Khasi thought.
Poetry was a favorite genre with the early Khasi writers, who published their poems in newspapers such as U Lurshai, U Nongkit khubor etc. the poets include Rabon Sing “Ko Rangkynih” (1894), Joel Gatphoh “Ka bor bad ka burom u Blei” (1889-94), Robert Evnas “Ka Ktien Jingstad” (1924), “Sha Iapthem ha Mawkhar?” (1896), “Ha Phawar Bther Khasi Kai Hangne” (1896), H. Roy “Ka Jingrwai Kruh Ki Mawdem” (1896), H.R. Diengdoh “Ka Jingieid ia ka Ri Lum Khasi”, Nelson Dkhar “A Shnong Sohra” (1904), Solomon Blah “Tiew Pathai Khubor’ (1901).
For reasons unknown, many also under pseudonyms like U Nongrwai “D.C.M” (1898), U Rangthir “Ka Ktien Don Akor” (1898), U Khasi Puriskam (1899), U Tipniam “Ki Daw Lum Ha Ri Khasi” (1909), U Parari “Ka Jingkyrpad Kyntu ban shna la ka ka Ri” (1901) and many others.
The brightest star among the Khasi writers and the greatest poet till now, is Soso Tham. A school teacher, and the de-facto editor of “U Lurshai” for a decade (1910-1920), Soso tham began writing articles and poems to fill the pages of the newspapers. In 1920, he published a collection of stories “Ki Phawer u Aesop”. Having spent his meager resources in the publication of the book, he had to go from door to door to sell it to unwilling people. Inspired by Aesop’s Fables, Tham’s “Ki Phawer u Aesop” was written in Khasi idioms and metaphor, for the Khasi publics, in pristine Khasi. It remains one of the best works in prose. Soso Tham also wrote innumerable poems published in books lime “Ki poetry Khasi” (1925), later ka Duitara Ksiar (1931). “Ki Sngi Barim u Hynniewtrep” (1936), the last termed as classic old Khasi Literature by Prof. R.R. Thomas. The period 1930-1940 was very productive with writers like Homiwell Lyngdoh Nonglait ‘Ka Pomblang’ (), ‘Ka Pomblang Nongkrem bad ka thung Syiem Sohra (), Ka Niam Khasi’ (1938), Ki Syiem Khasi bad Synteng (1938), Ki Jait Syiem bad Jait Lyngdoh, D. Nihon Sing Wahlang “Ki Khasi Poems ne Ki Sur Khasi”.
H.Lyngdoh Nonglait ‘U Khawiang Nyngkong U Kosmopolitant’ etc; Primrose Gatphoh ‘Sawdong ka Lyngwiar Dpei’ (1933), a collection of short stories, folktales, poems, essays and one play. Ka Pansngiat Ksiar ki saw Aiom (1937), Ka hamsaia ka por ( ), U Sier Lapalang (1936), Ki Khanatang bad u Sier Lapalang (1936), B. Thangkhiew “Ki Tienrwai Khasi”, “U Nongtem Duitara”, G.Costa “Ka Riti Ki Laiphew Syiem” (1936), H.Elias “Ka Pansngiat Ksiar ki Saw Aiom” (1937).
This period was also productive in other non-literary endeavours, with the publication of dictionaries, History books, Law books Religious books etc.
The period 1941-1960 saw socio-political upheavals in the form of the World War, and the annexation of the Khasi states into the newly independent union of India (1945). It was therefore a ‘lean’ period, but it saw the emergence of new writers like L.L.D Basan, E.Blah, B.M Pugh, Victor G. Bareh “Ka Drama U Tirot Sing” (1956) “Ki Poetri Khasi” (1957); P.R.Pariat “Ka Shangkawiah ki rang” (1948), “Ka Maryng-od’ (1951) and other short plays. Many writers were more involved with writing religious books and articles and school textbooks.
Between 1960-1979, F.M.Pugh translated some Shakespeare’s dramas ‘As you like it’ (Katba Phi Mon), ‘Romeo and Juliet’ (U Romeo bad ka Juliet), ‘Taming of the Shrew’ (Ka Temding ia ka shla briew), Macbeth (Ka shem lanot u Macbeth) etc. An innovative/creative work to discuss about the origin of Khasi language is in the form of an imaginary dialogue “Ka Daialok” between plato (Greek), Horace (Latin) Howard (English) and Tohiko (Japanese). F.M. Pugh also wrote poems “Ka Phawar – Rwai Khasi” etc.
Victor G. Bareh “Ki Jingrwai Khasi” (1960), D.S. Lyngdoh “Ka Thymmei Longbriew Manbriew” (1961), S.S. Lyngdoh “Ki Riti Khyndew ba la buh u Longshuwa Manshuwa ha Ri Bhoi”, (1965), O. Sumer “Ka Hima Ka Jingieit” (1968), H.W. Sten “Ka Miet bad um kynjah” (1966), B.R. Kharlukhi “Ka Waitprat ia ki Sngi Barim u Hynniewtrep” (1966), M. Bareh “Ka Drama u Mihsngi” (1966), D.S. Khongdup “U Baieit Donshkor” (1967), “Na Lum Khasi” (1967), “U Don Putit I & II” (1969), S.J. D. Hujon “Phuit! ka Sabuit bad kiwei de ki drama”. Biography is seen in the works of D.S. Roy, T. Resto’s, Mrs. A.D. Tham, H. Sawian, T. Radborne and others.
Copyright CIIL-India Mysore