The dialects and languages spoken by tribals in India are very large in numbers. The literary compositions in most of them have survived in oral form, though some tribal languages have taken to writings as a means of recording literary compositions. Conventionally, they have been perceived as mere anthropological curiosity, or at best a source for oral history. They have rarely been translated into English, or an Indian language, as a representation of tribal imagination.
In order to meet the long felt need for bringing out a systematic series of India's tribal literature, Sahitya Akademi has established a Project of Indian Literature in Tribal Languages and Oral Traditions.
The editor of the Khasi volume in the series, Shri Desmond L. Kharmawphlang, is a well known writer and translator.
Indian literature is marked by its immense variety of styles and forms and the rich interchange of language traditions that form its complex fabric. The distinction between the classical or elite and the oral or folk styles of composition has not been as sharp in India as elsewhere, though of course such a distinction is bound to arise wherever writing is used as a means of literary communication. Similarly, literary traditions in India have not evolved exclusively along the lines of development of one and the only standardised variety of any of our languages. Rather they have developed through an active interchange between regional varieties and standard forms. As such, no acquaintance with literature in any Indian language will be adequate in absence of an acquaintance with literary compositions in related dialects. Again, the linguistic complexity of our social situation is such that it is often impossible to decide whether a certain speech style forms the dialect of a given literary language or if it is an entirely independent but related language itself. Most of the speech varieties forming the basis of the culture of tribal communities in India are of this nature. Of course, the exceptions to this general observation too are large in number; and there indeed are many languages spoken by tribals that are clearly independent languages.
The dialects and languages spoken by tribals in India are very large in number. The literary compositions in most of them have survived in oral form, though some tribal languages have taken to writing as a means of recording literary compositions. The value of these oral literary works can by no means be undermined. Conventionally, they have been perceived as mere anthropological curiosity, or at best a source for oral history. They have rarely been translated into English or an Indian language as a representation of tribal imagination.
However, no systematic attempt to document and publish literary works in tribal languages - as literature per se - has been made in the past, the need for which can be hardly over emphasised. In order to meet this need, Sahitya Akademi has established the project of documenting and publishing Indian literature in tribal languages. It is proposed to bring out these publications in two streams: in one stream, short anthologies will be published giving the original works together with their translation in a related language, in most cases the main language of the particular state; and in the second stream, a series of volumes will be published containing the original works, their Roman transliteration as well as their translation in English/Hindi and in a state language. The present volume of Khasi literature compiled by Desmond L. Kharmawphlang belongs to the first series. In the same series, other volumes containing Kunkana- Dangi, Warli, Bhilli, Dehwali, Mizo, Dehwali, Garo and Garhwali literature have been published.
These volumes are not intended to be seen as exhaustive compilations but only as representative sampling of literature in the respective language. It is hoped that the general reader in the respective languages, and the students of literature, history, anthopology and tribal culture will find them of sufficient interest.
The Khasis and Jaintias inhabit the eastern and central parts of Meghalaya. The Khasi Hills are divided into three districts of East Khasi Hills, West Khasi Hills and Ri-Bhoi and the Jaintia Hills are constituted into one district, the Jaintia Hills District. The Khasi- Jaintia Hills are flanked on the north, east and south-east by Assam, on the south by Bangladesh and on the West by the Garo Hills district of Meghalaya.
Khasi is a general name given to the various tribes and sub-tribes that inhabit the Khasi and Jaintia Hills. This general application of the name Khasi to all the tribes and sub-tribes of the Khasi and Jaintia Hills is an ideal which is sung and, most importantly recorded in Ki Sngi Barim U Hynnieiwtrep, a book by Soso Tham, the most celebrated of Khasi poets:
"Khynriam U Pnar, U Bhoi U War, u dei u paid Khasi baiar".
The poet says that the Khynriam, inhabiting the middle ranges of Khasi Hills, the Pnar, inhabiting the eastern part of Meghalaya, the Bhoi, inhabiting the nothern parts of Khasi and Jaintia Hills and the War, inhabiting the southern parts of Meghalaya, all belong to the great Khasi tribe.
The Khasi language is broadly spoken in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills. Although there are various regional varieties of Khasi, they are all more or less related to the main language. The Khasi language was a purely oral language, and it was only with the coming of the Welsh Methodist Mission that it began to be written in the Roman script. The modern Khasi script with Roman characters was established in 1841 A.D.
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