The ‘Last man’ of the Lost Khasi State: A Tribute by Juster Lyngdoh


FEATURE | MAY 26, 2020:

By Juster Lyngdoh

The duality of nature and man or nature and culture stems from a particular cultural thought (Enlightenment Europe) for which it has dominated and established as the accepted way of things.

This foundational conception has become imperative to the construction of the modern world. In such unidirectional understanding or the one-dimensional world, nature is now weaved with aggressive developmental attributes to be dominated and exploited.

As Herbert Marcuse suggests, the instrumentality of science is to control nature and set it in the one-dimensional of consumption. This aggressive expansion, exploitation and irrationality of the whole have permeated in almost every corner of the earth.


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Even in society such as the Khasis and other indigenous peoples, this man-nature relationship has considerably changed from being participants to controllers of nature and one apparent reason for this is the changes in the perception coupled with socio-economic pressure to adapt and 'evolve' as the western industrialised world by seeing nature as commodity.

The story of the last inhabitant of the lost Khasi State diverged from this modern outlook. This write-up is no means intended as a traveller's tale for the amusement of the readers but a sincere tribute to a man who taught the writer the language of nature.

The unfamiliar, the strange, the odd, the outcast, the esoteric and the likes are always the people who have great
tales and lessons to learn from, even if their accounts contradict, or seems preposterous or even regressing in the mainstream world. Mr Das Iawim is one of those people.

A thought- provoking figure that refused and defied to leave the dying State and chose to stay back with nature and affirmed himself the custodian of all co-existents. To situate this in context, during the colonial period, there were 5 southern Khasi States neighbouring Bangladesh and Khyrim and Sohra Syiemship called by the British as the Panch (5) Punjee.

Comprising of Nongjri Elaka, Umniuh Elaka, Tmar Elaka, Tynriang Elaka and Lakading Elaka and these were designated and governed as British Area.

The present composition of these five Khasi States has changed, Umniuh and Tmar has merged into one State as Umniuh-Tmar Elaka with the resolution sanctioned from the joint Dorbar Elaka (council) in 1937, leaving only three Elaka.


As per the account shared by Mr Das Iawim and his nephew Mr Saindur Iawim (now living in Umniuh-Tmar), Lakading Elaka was abandoned for three major reasons.

First, owing to the lack of fencing in the international border after the Indo-Pak Nation-State settlement, giving Bangadeshi space to raid, assault and rob people. This life threatening hostile deed has enormous impact on the migration of the inhabitants to the nearby Khasi States during the 1950-80s. Here, just to mention, Lakading was one of the strategic points in the Indo-Bangla War 1971, although no battles were fought in it.

The second reason of migration is being the cholera outbreak in 1969 and third reason is opportunity to move to a more modern settlement. It is estimated, by 1980s all inhabitants has migrated out of Lakading.

Coming back to the protagonist, seeing this unprecedented misfortune that befalls the Elaka, he consulted his mother and decided to stay back despite all who think otherwise. He escorted his mother and sister to Umniuh-Tmar where they had arranged for their resettlement and returned to live a solitude life in the abandoned abode.

What made him choose this isolated life that challenge Aristotle's law of social animal?

A life amidst the dense forest with no accessible road, just a steep timeworn trail approximately 3kms from Tynriang Elaka, which is demanding to reach even in the standard of the local, when probe, his answer was simple "how can I leave"? Perhaps, this may seem peculiar, absurd or even irrational to a modern man but from the indigenous perspective, this is not so outlandish.

How can he leave a place where he was born and brought up by his ancestors whose footprints would never be
obliterated from the soil and his mind? An adage in the Khasis 'ka mei mariang, ka mei rilung ka mei risan,' points to this deep symbiotic relationship of man and nature whereby, separating one from the other mean that to disconnect the cultural knowledge, wisdom, identity and life itself. Wittily, right at his hut there is a signboard made out of a carton paper that says 'Sirdar of Lakading' despite when no other man is present.


Indicating he is the bearer of this footprint, a guardian of the lost Elaka and a participant in circle of nature along
with other co-existents. Mr Das Iawim understands this symbiotic, the oneness of existence, where he harmonises with the rhythms of nature in return, nature sustains his livelihood and other aspects of social life.

Man imbued in modernity asserts the exclusivity between material and mental where relationship with nature focuses with and on technology, economy, and development, blurring the 'True needs' and the 'False needs'. This orientation makes relationship between man and man also man and nature aggressive, misery and injustice one.

However, Mr Das Iawmi understands the pacification of existence, synthesising with mentalism or the cultural worldview, that man never exists outside nature nor is he superior to it or any co-existents. Rejecting any overproduction and excessive consumption, he sustains himself by having a small vegetable garden close to his hut and by collecting produce like banana, tapioca, yam and others from the forest and sometimes even from private individual land and clans' land.

Here, owners of these lands never once complaint or objected him for doing so, as they all know that he is the custodian who consume for survival but never exploit it. Besides, they uphold the indigenous principle and ethic of 'im palei' where life is the highest value and basis to all values and therefore, the act of taking when needed to sustain life needs no hostility or confrontation. In fact in doing so, would be construed as offensive.

Interestingly, Mr Das Iawmi does barter his produce with the people of Bangladesh for edibles like flattened rice, fish and others but never does it for material/wealth accumulation. When asked about broom grass cultivation, which is booming in the War region of the Khasi Hills but not seen in the territory, he stresses that he does not and will not cultivate cash crop and broom grass in particular as they erode the habitat.

Spending his years with nature this way, the old wise man do get visits from his family members but never once, they could convince him to leave the place. He departed from this world on the 1st May 2020 and his clan members performed his last rites on the following day. It is fortunate to know a man whose face expresses peace, whose heartbeat dances with the music of nature and whose still 'kren ka ktien ki 30 jingthaw' (speaks the language of nature).


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The life of Mr Das Iawim is a replica of the life of our ancestors and simultaneously the life and sustainability of mankind in future. It is fitting to say that he is the true personification of the green panther whose life may perhaps intrigue ecologists who still think in the bourgeois environmentalist language to search meanings of life in the inter- related cosmological totality.

Now, the question arises, that the last inhabitant has left the earth, what will be of Lakading Elaka? The record informed that Mr T. Khiewtam was the last Sirdar (Chief) of the State, elected by the Elaka Dorbar on the 6 th of February 1969 and was recognised and conferred by the United Khasi-Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council on the 21 st March 1969.

Speaking to Das's nephew, Mr Saindur Iawim who was also the former acting Sirdar of Umniuh-Tmar Elaka, he informed that he had appealed to the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council in late 2000 to facilitate the reestablishment of the Elaka that was once a great Khasi State. However unfortunately, the move lost momentum when Parkinson disease gave way in 2013 and he is fighting it until today.

Nevertheless, he is determined to recover and live to see that Lakading Elaka once again be restored along with the support of the landholders.

The writer expresses his gratitude to Mr Das's family members and especially to Mr Saindur Iawim for facilitating the family consent to pay a tribute through this article. Also, the writer is thankful to Mr I. Diengdoh, the secretary of Umniuh-Tmar Elaka who made this possible and to all the co-workers of Umniuh-Tmar, Pungweikyan and Rana 2014 who has conducted this case study together.

DISCLAIMER: This is a personal opinion. The opinion expressed in the article above belongs to the writer alone and TNT- The Northeast Today may not endorse the same views.