Written in the stones: Story of an ancient, dying game of the Khasis – Maw Korkatia
Shillong, May 09, 2018:
"Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future" ~~ Elie Wiesel
If culture was born out of a memory, as American writer Elie Wiesel has clearly observed, then it is safe to say that our identities and cultural practices are but a reflection of that memory which has been passed on to us since time immemorial.
Similarly, the traditions and cultural practices of the Khasi tribe of Meghalaya is the result of a few well-preserved memories, some of which have been stacked in the pages of history as myths and legends while others have evolved to become a part and parcel of the lives of the people till date.
When we are talking about the cultural richness of the Khasis, I am not limiting the concept to only rituals and practices but also the historical structures like the monoliths, which holds significance not only to the tribes of the hills but also to a range of academicians, researchers and historians.
Well, living monolithic culture of the Khasi-Jaintia isn't the only piece of memory passed on to us by our ancestors; there is yet another interesting facet to this wide range of traditional, or should I say, historical practices.
We have learnt a lot about the history of the Khasis, their lifestyle, occupation, faith and beliefs but rarely do we speak or discuss about the kind of games they played back in the days.
Historical findings suggest that gambling was a common game played by the inhabitants of the hills and that game is known by the name Korkatia.
ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THIS GAME –A MIND GAME
Korkatia is a dying game on stones recorded to have been played in Rangjyrteh, Nongkrem, 12 Shnong and probably other parts of the Khasi Hills, arguably 2000 years ago.
An Associate Professor of the Department of Environment and Traditional Ecosystems, MLCU, Shillong, Dr Kitboklang Nongrum, who through his research, has documented certain aspects of this game, noted that Korkatia is a game played on wooden board or in holes scooped out of the ground or rock.
Out of many rules extracted from literature, Korkatia resembles the age-old gambling games played across the world in many aspects. These games are also played by two players or two teams'.
Through photographic evidences, it has been revealed that the Korkatia game was often played in stones or rocks on open spaces and not indoors.
"Korkatia also matches with other similar structured two-row games that have an aim to win a majority of the stones in play. The study revealed an interesting finding about the game where informants informed that men used to also gamble with coins instead of stones or seeds. It is more of a gambling game!" said Dr Nongrum.
Interestingly, this game was also played by children (as reported) and usually, it was one way of sharpening their minds as it involved strategic and clever tactics to win. Children were allowed to learn the game with right rules and tricks as perceived to be a game of mind and calculations.
Coincidentally, it was reported that due to the 'addictive nature of the game', Laitmawsiang village had banned many gambling games that were played by children e.g. round glass marbles. Korkatia met similar criticisms but was not banned.
KHASI HISTORY ON STONES
This study discovered many imprints on stones in Laitmawsiang village in Khatarshnong in East Khasi Hills. However, people of this village reportedly stated that the rocky surfaces where many imprints of tiny holes scooped out are now covered under houses, roads and footpaths.
The name of the village itself suggests that it is a rocky place with the word 'Mawsiang' literally meaning 'rock' is attached to the word 'Lait' which means 'end of the slope'. "So basically, this village was the perfect locale for people in those days, to play this game by digging small holes on empty rocky surfaces," said Dr Nongrum.
During his interview with village elders of Laitmawsiang, Laitryngew, Mawlyndiar and Sohkynduh, Dr Nongrum was informed that it wasn't long ago when the game had lost its popularity as it was still known and played by the elders in their childhood.
However, imprints were not recorded from the villages barring Laitmawsiang as there are fewer rocks within the villages and some could have been buried under cemented or metaled footpath and roads. People of these villages informed that unlike Laitmawsiang, the game in these three villages was played by digging small holes not on rocky surfaces by on either sand or soil; hence no structure could be traced in these villages.
"The game is dying out these days with little or no interests being shown towards the game by the younger generation. It was difficult to even find people among the villagers who would remember the rules of the game," added the professor.
TRACES OF A DYING GAME FOUND IN THE 'LOST CITY'OF RANGJYRTEH
Interestingly, imprints of the Korkatia structure was discovered in one of the ruined settlement called Rangjyrteh, a village famous for its folk tale known as 'Noh KaLikai'. "We discovered three Korkatia structures which are still clear and one of the structures was carved out of a rectangular stone," Dr Nongrum said.
In case, you are unaware of the 'Noh Ka Likai' folktale: – Here's a brief summary
According to legends, in a village called Rangjyrteh, a woman named Likai resided along with her infant daughter and 2nd husband. As the story goes, lack of attention and love provoked the jealous husband to murder his step-daughter and cook her meat, whilst his wife was away at work. When Likai returned home, she saw nobody in the house except for a meal that had been prepared. She wanted to go look for her daughter but decided to first have her meal as she was tired from work. And so, she had it all alone. It was only later that she discovered what had happened in her absence and went mad with anger and grief and started running as she swung a hatchet in her hand. She ran off the edge of the plateau and the waterfall where she jumped from was named 'Nohkalikai Falls' after her. (Nongkalikai Falls is the tallest plunge waterfall in India. It is located near Sohra/Cherrapunjee)
Linking this game with the folk tale of 'NohKaLikai', an interesting theory comes to the fore. Since it was believed that the Khasis smelted iron in Rangjyrteh since 2000 years ago, it would be safe to assume that the game Korkatia must have also existed since then.
CALL FOR REVIVING, DOCUMENTING AND PROMOTING THIS ANCIENT GAME
Dr Kitboklang Nongrum, who through his research, has documented certain aspects of the game — Korkatia, is also attempting to document the present context of Korkatia and also tried to dig at its historical evidences through literature and interview.
"This dying game needs to be documented thoroughly from more places wherever reported. With younger generation too inclined to technological games, outdoor and indigenous games are vanishing very fast and needs revamping at the earliest," observed Dr Nongrum.
During the course of his research, Dr Nongrum found out that similar kind of games were also played by early inhabitants from different parts of the world. "Many aspects need to be considered while trying to study this ancient game of the Khasis underpinned on other games across the world," he added.
"I intend to carry forward my study on Korkatia in future for more interesting facts that might be attaching with the social, cultural and customs of the Khasis," said Dr Nongrum adding that despite small study areas, this documentation has generated enough information on the game to be able to promote, conserve and multiply in suitable situations e.g. competition at University week and at village level.
There it is! The dying game which needs to be promoted and like Dr Nongrum has mentioned, if studied minutely, this game could open a whole new chapter based on the social, cultural and customs of the Khasis.
A famous historian Thomas Fuller once said that memory is the treasure house of the mind wherein the monuments thereof are kept and preserved. Therefore, it is befitting to arrive at a conclusion that the treasures passed on to us by our ancestors should not be dumped in some corner of our mind and forgotten but should find its way into the real world through writings, documentations which could later be preserved and promoted.
"A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots" ~~ Marcus Garvey
(The writer can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org)