If you think the ‘Hynniewtrep’ is a mere oral narrative,think again!


By Ibankyntiew Mawrie 

SHILLONG: Ka Ri Khasi Jaintia-Ka Bri U Hynniewtrep, U Hynniewskum – if we are to give a spiritual meaning or folkloric  explanation, this tag would refer to the indigenous tribes of Meghalaya which means the seven huts who were separated from their kin, the nine huts after the fall of the Golden Bridge or the 'Jingkieng Ksiar'.

The lack of a written script to substantiate the existence of the seven huts has of course reduced this story into folklore, a myth passed down from generation to generation by way of mouth.

However, though the depth of truth which circles around the existence of the seven huts is a mere belief but it did not deter the indigenous tribes from holding on to that root and belief, the gratitude of which goes to the Seng Khasi, an indigenous faith which has kept this belief going and is often considered as the 'Treasure house of the Khasi cultures and traditions'.

Interestingly, the recent archaeological findings at Lawnongthroh also known as the ridge (or Budlum in Khasi) of U Lum Sohpet Bneng or the Umbilical Peak seem to point in the right direction as to the true existence of the seven huts. According to the findings unearthed by an archaeologist Marco Mitri, it was learnt that the ridge is home to Neolithic cultural materials dating back to 1200 BC.

What is even more interesting to learnt from Mitri's findings is the existence of seven rectangular funeral mounds (fig) also known as 'Kpep' and seven Mawbah (Burial cists), all reduced to ruins. On visiting the site, these ruins were located in close distant from each other which signifies that each clan has its own Kpep and Mawbah.

According to Archaeological Report from the Site of Lawnongthroh compiled by Marco Mitro, the archaeological site of Lawnongthroh is located in the northern slopes of SohpetBneng hill in the Ri-Bhoi district of Khasi hills, Meghalaya. The actual site where archaeological excavation was conducted is located in one of the village's locality known as LumMawbuh.

The presence of Neolithic cultural material at the site of Lawnongthroh was discovered in the year 2004 and archaeological remains are found throughout the village of Lawnongthroh, spreading over for a 1.5 Km along the lower ridge of the hill. These preliminary findings attested the importance of site.

Speaking to The TNT (The Northeast Today) News, Mitri said archaeological findings from this area revealed that the entire ridge was inhabited by ancient settlers for a fairly long period of time in the past.

Linking the findings with the oral narratives, Mitri said "The findings also provided a closer insight to the folk tradition associated with the hill and its surrounding areas."

The archaeological evidences which are scattered along the ridge and around the site, clearly reveals the continuous occupation of the area at different cultural periods in the past, he said adding that according to living ethnographic sources, the last occupants of the area abandon the site about 200 years ago, before a new batch of settlers re-occupied the area 30 years ago to establish the present village where the name of the site was derived.

Today the village of Lawnongthroh housed around 25 households and the entire village depends on agriculture for their livelihood. These new occupants came in at different times from other nearby villages and also from distant places of Khasi hills.

According to the archaeologist, the reoccupation of the site after a long interval of abandonment is an important feature about the settlement system on this hill which will help to provide strong analogy to understand the occupation pattern of the area in archaeological past.

"This cycle of settlement on this hill could have probably been a trait that may well go back to a very remote time period, consider the unique position assumed by this hill in the cultural landscape of Khasi-Jaintia hills as reflected in the oral narratives," Mitri said.

The most prominent archaeological feature observed on the ridge, are the Megalithic monuments (Mawbynna) which are found scattered all over the ridge top.

All these archaeological evidences pointed that the ridge was used mainly for funerary activities probably the people who had abandoned this settlement. To support this view, there is a trace of a settlement with evidence of iron implements and wheel made potteries being recovered from the lower terrace of the hill slopes below the ridge.

Mitri who has been exploring this site for over 14 years now recovered stone implements of Neolithic origin. Different types of artifacts made of stones were recovered from the excavation—stone tools from the surface and stone tools from the excavating layers mostly broken stone axes, knives, broken carved potteries, chisel types etc.

Owing to the archaeological importance and significance of this site, Mitri called upon the people to cooperate with him as he intends to construct a museum at the popular site, with the support of the government and the people.

When asked whether the discovery has any connection with the folk narratives, Mitri said "I am trying to co-relate and the recent discovery seems to be pointing in the right direction." He also added that the site was preferable for settlement as it is located atop a hill with Umiam river in the east and Umtrew river in the west.

When asked about the significance of U Lum Sohpetbneng, Mitri said that like every community, faith comes to the forefront to help settle the right from wrong. Similarly, the Umbilical peak was considered a place of worship, a sacred altar created to give thanks to the Almighty.

Calling upon the state government to support his cause, Mitri said that Meghalaya is a hot spot of archaeological findings, the same of which can enriched our historical evidences and strengthen our traditional roots.

"We are a rich tribe, one of the earliest settlers in the entire NE region, whose origins date back to 1200 BC. Hence, we should be proud of our origin and should work together to keep this tradition alive and going," he said.

(The writer can be reached at mawrie.iban@gmail.com or iban@thenortheasttoday.com)