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Dreams and A∙chik Folk Life

Dreams and A∙chik Folk Life

Dr. Barbara S. Sangma, Assistant Professor, Don Bosco College, Tura

A∙chiks used to practice an indigenous religion known as Songsarek. Majority of them today follow Christian religion; however, by and large, their attitude towards dreams and their interpretation have remained the same even till this day.  In the traditional A∙chik folklife or among those who follow the Songsarek religion, the people consult the gods in their day to day affairs. They believe that life cannot be without harmonious coexistence with the gods. The gods manifest their pleasure or displeasure through dreams or by making people suffer from various ailments.

                 It may be safely stated that dreams play a quintessential role in the life of the A∙chiks; nay dreams permeate the very fabric of their agro-social life. The importance of dreams to the A∙chiks can be seen beginning from house-building. They believe that land and forests are shared by men and spirits. When people go looking for a site to build a new house, they believe that the land needed to be handed over to men by the spirits. Therefore, they break eggs and ask the spirits to vacate the place for human dwelling. The spirits either give or withhold their consent, either of which is revealed through dreams. Good dreams indicate consent. If the persons concerned have bad dreams, then they look for another site to build their house. If they build a new house on a particular site in spite of bad dreams, the people suffer from sudden illness and die. (A∙chikni Kuandik p.7)

                 Dreams also play a primary role in the agricultural life of the A∙chiks. Every year they clear a new plot of land for cultivation. However, before the new plot is actually cleared and burned, they clear a small plot of land and offer a prayer to the spirits of the forest to vacate that particular plot, so that they may cultivate the land in peace. The response of the spirits, whether positive or negative, is manifested through the dreams of the prospective farmer. A good dream indicates that the gods and spirits are happy to let the people cultivate that particular land; however, a bad dream indicates reluctance on the part of the gods to vacate their dwelling place for human occupation. (A∙chikni Kuandik p.12-14)

Dreams related to Jhumming:

  1. If the one clearing the jungle for jhum cultivation dreams of cloudy it is a sign not only of god’s consent to cultivate the chosen plot; but also that he would bless them with bountiful harvest.
  2. Dream of fishing in clear water indicates that god is vacating the plot for cultivation and this means good start and a good harvest will follow.
  3. Dream of heavy deposits of sand indicates that the cultivators of that plot are going to have good harvest.
  4. Dreaming of heavy bunches of sokmil (fruits of variety of cane, calamus floribandus) and white fish signify a good yield of paddy, chilly and aubergines
  5. A dream of suffering from any kind of eye problem such as conjunctivitis signifies the growth of chilly.
  6. A dream of rearing goats signifies good produce of gourd.
  7. Dreams of slaughter of pig for consumption or animals taking away man’s clothes signify prohibition by the gods to cultivate the intended plot of land. In such cases, disregard of the dream is believed to bring death to people. So they look for another spot.
  8. If one dreams of dressing himself with ba∙ra marang (traditional rich cloth afforded only by the Nokma or rich persons) it is believed that chilly plants will bear plenty of fruits.
  9. A dream of sweeping a courtyard or garden indicates poor harvest; it foretells poverty.
  10.  If one dreams of carrying plenty of chambil (a variety of citrus) fruits, it is believed that one will get bountiful crops.
  11.  If a man dreams of someone from another family coming and staying in one’s house it is believed that paddy will be plentiful.
  12.  If one dreams of insects gathering together, it indicates good paddy yield.
  13.  If one dreams of falling in garbage dumps it is believed that that person will become rich and accumulate wealth, including good harvest.

                 A∙chiks have their own tradition of healing and therapy; and even surgery. The secrets of medicines and healing are very often revealed through dreams.

                 The most renowned A∙chik herbal medicine practitioner and a bone surgeon was Asang M. Marak.  His grandson, Dr. Cornelius R. Marak attests that his grandfather’s practice of traditional healing began with a dream. Asang M. Marak used to participate in community hunting. In one of their hunting trips, the party managed to entrap an antelope one late evening. The captured animal was cut into chunks and divided amongst them in the forest itself. Asang got his share of chunk of meat. Fearing that his wife might be annoyed if she sees a whole chunk of meat and might not bother to cut the meat into pieces, Asang decided to cut it into pieces in the forest itself. He then plucked a large leaf and packed the meat in the leaf. When he reached home quite late at night, the wife just asked him to put the packet of meat over the fire-rack. That night as Asang slept he had a very strange dream. In the dream he was told that the leaf which he used to pack the cut pieces of meat is no ordinary herb, but that it can fix and join broken bones. He was urged to check the packet of meat. In this dream Asang was also told about various other herbs and plants which can help in healing of broken bones, dislocations, etc.

                 When Asang woke in the morning, he hurried over to the fire rack and unpacked the meat; and to his great surprise, he found that the cut bones had all been joined together and the flesh had become one lump. His grandson says that that was around the year 1949 and since then till his death in 1994, Asang did service to a great number of people with broken, splintered and dislocated bones. He dedicated his service to God and maintained perfect cleanliness and discipline. After his death, his son continued to practice this art of healing and today Dr. Cornelius, a dentist, who apprenticed under his father from his boyhood, is practicing the art of healing of broken bones and bone surgery with the help of traditional medicine alongside his government job as a dentist.

                  Not only this, certain traditional ojas use dream as medium to trace missing persons and things. (My personal experience)

                 An important element in the A∙chik oral tradition is epic singing. This singing/chanting of epic is generally said to be learnt in dreams. Mekenjo G. Momin was taught epic singing for the first time when he was in a coma for three days by what he calls as mite (spirits). Since then the spirits had been returning every three months to revise epic singing with him. During his state of sleep he is taken to the land of the dead (Balpakram) and taught epic song. He learns and remembers only what is taught him. (Oral formulaic theory propounded by Milman Parry, Albert Lord and David Bynum cannot be applied here).  In his dream he is taught in eleven separate chambers. When he was about to enter the twelfth, he failed to do something which he was expected to do and was given a good slap by the spirit. The impact of that slap was felt by him for about a week when he awoke. This epic singer also informs that there are many like him who was there to learn the song. But in the initial stage, a sizable body of water, like a great spray is splashed on them at random, and those who are able to act fast, open their mouth and take in the water were chosen to learn the epic song. He recalls that the way to that land was tortuous, but the spirit who led him there was a shrewd one and knew his way, and took him quickly and safely to the land of the spirits.

                 There’s another epic singer who informs that while he works at his jhum-field, a mite comes and teaches him the song. The mite stands with one foot on one hill and one foot on the other hill like a colossus. As the man clears the field of unwanted grass and weed, he also learns the song. When the learning gets over, he also finds his work done in the field. He does not know and cannot remember if he had really worked in the field. But he remembers learning the song from the spirit.

                 A similar incident is recorded in the book Katta Salling by Methoral G. Momin. Methoral is the nephew of Rengsin Chalbri Sangma, the original narrator of Katta Salling. Rengsin Chalbri Sangma was a blind man. During the course of his work in the jhum-field, he was made to sleep in the shed built there for three days and three nights. During this prolonged sleep, Rengsin Chabri Sangma was taught the narrative song by the mite. When he was found and awakened, he was in the midst of listening and learning a beautiful rendition by the mite and he got upset with the people for waking him from sleep.  Later, his song or narration came to be known as Katta Salling, not because his original name is Salling; but he had come to acquire this name with his association with the mite. Wherever Rengsin was, the mite used to come looking for him now and then saying: “The man named Rengsin, who had taken the title Salling, where is he?” On hearing such a call from the mite, Rengsin used to immediately faint. When he comes back to his senses, Rengsin used to narrate whatever the mite had taught him in during his time of ‘sleep’ (Katta Salling, p iii-vi and Kadimgimin Seanirang p133).

                 A∙chiks also practice domestication of certain spirits like bira, gure (horse deity), dikge matcha, etc. These are gods that are charmed or enticed by men to reside with them in their houses. These spirits are said to bring wealth and prosperity to the owner if kept in good humor. However, if the owner fails to keep the spirit entertained or annoys it in any way, the house and the family gets destroyed. Generally speaking, all these spirits like bira, gure (horse deity), dikge matcha, etc. conduct their affairs with men through their dreams. However, among them, the gure or horse deity can be said to be a class apart from the others.  According to A∙chik oral tradition, the great God Misi Saljong (the sun god/ god of fertility) took the form of a gure (horse) appeared to Dijong Nokma Gancheng Nokma in a dream, indicating its desire to dwell in his house and promised great wealth and prosperity to him. It is because of this the ritual of gure wata or gure rodila is celebrated where sacrifices are offered to the horse deity. (A∙chikni Kuandik, p80-84)

                 Numerous are the narrations of the A∙chiks about the special ability of a person (persons) to detach his or her soul while he or she is asleep and latch it onto another being, like tiger, snake, electric fish, etc. and bring back one’s soul to the human body at will. Added to this is the instance of skal pila, katchi pila, literally transforming oneself into or becoming a monster (skal=monster; katchi=roving spirit; pila=transform/become). A person becomes a skal or katchi while he or she is in inert position. A person who has this ability will detach his or her head while the headless body remains in the state of sleep. The head then assumes the guise of a fiery ball and flies about in search of food. Very aptly, this phenomenon has been given the name Jadoreng, which means the ja (short form of jabirong or jachri=soul, spirit) or the soul of the person frees itself from the human body and has the potential to fly and soar like doreng or kite.  (different from shapeshifters?)

                 The spirit of a person may also enter into simple creatures like flying squirrel, mouse, snake, etc. Person who has the second entity as flying squirrel or mouse are said to contribute to riches to the family as they carry quantities of paddy every night into their own granary from those of others granaries.   

                 A∙chik folklores too corroborate to the point that souls/spirits of people come out of their bodies and wander around. The souls/spirits of children are believed to enter into forms of centipedes, grasshoppers, etc (Pagitchamni Kusbiring, p34). That is why A∙chiks do not kill insects crawling about in the house while the children are asleep. Thus dreams are also associated with superstition. Dreams reveal to men things which in reality they are not able to see. (Blacksmith finding treasure under the kimka shrub in Garo Folklore II)

                 A∙chiks also offers interpretations to dreams dreamed by ordinary people during their sleep. The dreams generally project either health, happiness, wealth or sickness, pain, penury, etc.        

                 A sick person may constantly dream that he or she is in the company of his departed family members, friends or neighbours. This phenomenon is known as Jaringa and A∙chiks recall the spirit of the ailing person from wandering by offering sacrifices (Garo Folklore III, p91). I have personally met a young girl who was once obsessed with water. Whenever she gets into any stream (or body of water), she would just play with water and become oblivious to anything else as if mesmerised or in a dream. She was cured of this strange enchantment by a Christian Charismatic prayer. My mother also told us that our grandfather dreamed a number of times that he took soaked rice powder and made spots with it on his body. My grandmother knew that he was in the process of becoming a matcha (cheetah), and she pre-empted it with the help of a simple ritual.

                 It is interesting that very often expecting mothers or their close family members predict the sex of the A∙chiks child to be born based on their dreams.

Dreams related to Pregnancy and Childbirth:

  1. A pregnant woman having dreams of gourds or betel nut or fruits in general or fetching water from the streams,   foretell the birth of a baby boy.
  2. A pregnant woman having dreams of flowers or gathering flowers, digging yam, is believed to foretell the birth of a baby girl.
  3. If a pregnant lady dreams of entering the barn, it is believed that the alter ego of the conceived child can turn to a rat.
  4. If a pregnant woman dreams of entering a rolled-up mat, it is believed that the alter ego of the conceived child can turn to a snake.
  5. If a pregnant woman dreams of jumping across seven streams and over seven logs, it is believed that the alter ego of the conceived child can turn to a tiger.

                 In their everyday life the A∙chiks speak a lot about having dreams. Accordingly, there are dreams that are believed to foretell health and happiness, luck, sorrow, misfortune or even ultimate fate. With the change in practice of faith, life styles, the patterns of dreams are also changing. New dreams seem to be replacing old ones and the interpretations too are changing

References:

Momin, Aldrich Ch. A∙chikni Kuandik, Tura: Aldrich Ch. Momin. 1985. p.7

Sangma, Dewansing Rongmithu. Jadoreng (The Psycho-Physical Culture of the Garos) (2nd ed). Guwahati: Salseng C. Marak. 2011                 

Momin, Methoral G. Katta Salling (4th reprint). Damra: Ringga Publications. 2014. p iii-vi

Shira, Lindrid D. (com). Kadimgimin Seanirang (revised edn) .Tura: Sushil Kr Das. 1995. p13.

Sangma, D. K. A∙chik Golporang (Garo Folklore II)(7th ed), Mankachar: Tura Book Room, 1984

…, A∙chik Golporang (Garo Folklore III) (3rd ed), Calcutta: Tura Book Room, 1984

Sangma, Mihir N. Pagitchamni Ku∙sbiring, Mihir N. Sangma, Tura: 1982. p34

Seminar Paper:

“Superstition and Dreams: Their Importance in A∙chik folklife”

-Dr. Fameline K. Marak, Associate Professor, NEHU, Tura Campus, 

Verbal informations gathered from

  1. Dr. Cornelius R. Marak, Tura, for the role of dreams in traditional A∙chik healing
  2. Shri Mekenjo G. Momin, Rongjeng,  for the role of dreams in epic singing

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