By S Maxwell Lyngdoh
Shillong, May 17: Loss of ‘Culture’ is loss of ‘Identity’, is what Dr. Natalie Jo-Anne Diengdoh, a renowned media professional and writer of the State had to say. Dr. Natalie who is currently working on another book on Khasi culture and traditions has so far published five books which consist of Ka Jer Ka Thoh (Naming Ceremony of the Khasi) (2015), U Lok Baieit (2019), Ki Khanatang u Hynniewtrep (2019), Ka Dohkyndang (2019) and Ka Jingieit Ba Long Rngai (2015). Born to parents who are both media professionals, Natalie was able to observe and absorb many cultural performances from a very young age.
Dr. Natalie’s expression of Khasi culture is that it is unique, which is why maximum effort should be made to document and preserve such knowledge. Unfortunately, most often, writers and researchers are misunderstood as trouble makers, intruders, and considered inquisitive due to a lack of understanding that conserving one’s culture has become imperative. Another existing belief is the stigma that documenting certain rituals hinders cultural performances in their entirety. She went on to share that ‘Khasi Culture stresses on ka akor kaba tam (respect) regardless of status and wealth. The elders are placed in high esteem in the society and usually, no one misbehaves or cite their opinion in their presence, because of the fact that they are considered more knowledgeable as they have seen the world before them, usually termed as kiba la iohi shuwa ia ka sngi bad u bnai (having seen the sun and the moon before them).
- The journey so far: Dr. Natalie has a Ph.D in Folkloristics and her interest includes Writing, Documentary Film making, Television Production, Radio Production, Event Management, and Networking. Besides her media assignments, she has been actively involved in philanthropy.
Through her exposure in the field of Khasi cultural performances, she has been able to document and enrich the existing literature in numerous ways. Some of her publications include U Khiew Ranei (Pottery): The Cradle of Civilization (2019), The importance of Ka Tang Jait (consecration of a surname) in Khasi Milieu (2018). Ka Ktien Ka Thylliej (word of mouth) – Basic Communicative skill of the Khasi (2018), Attributions through performing Arts in the Khasi Harvest Dance, Ka Shad Ai Nguh Ïa Ki Blei (2016), U Khnam bad Ka Ryntieh – Atiarkordor U Hynñiew Trep: The Bow and Arrow- priceless possessions of the Khasi (2016), Ka Ïawbei (Ancestress): Matrilineal Society of the Khasi (2015), Kynthah Nar (Singeing): Ethnic Khasi Healing Practices (2015) to name a few.
Highlighting topics of Khasi culture in international and national forums by Dr. Natalie include Ka Pah Syntiew: The Shillong Deity (2019), The Khasi Faith in U Lum Sohpetbneng (Navel of the Earth) (2019), Incantation of ki Phawar as a medium of mass communication (2016), Ka Durbar in the Matrilineal System of the Khasi (2016), Ka Mei Ramew (Mother Earth): A Vehicle of Livelihood (2016), Representations of Khasi Culture in Mass Media (2015), Khasi Gamma Girl (2019), Ka rngai (apparition) – Reminising Janet Kharbangar’s last goodbye (2019), Adaptations of Khasi Folklore in Documentary Films (2019), Communication through Performance Poetry (Phawar) (2019), Contemporary changes in the Khasi language (2017), Oral Discourse in Ka Kyntiew Kurim (Marriage ceremony) of the Khasis (2017), From Oral Tradition to Digital Media: Gender Bias in the Khasi Folk Narrative of U Manik Raitong (2016), U Shken u Siej (Bamboo) in the life of the Khasi (2016), Oral Discourse in the Ritual Performance of U Lumsohpetbneng (2016), Ka Shad bad ka Pomblang Hima Khyrim: Nongkrem Dance and Goat Decapitation of Khyrim State (2016), Ka Siat Bisei (Archery): Mighty Stick and String of the Khasi (2016), Saiñnar pyrsut (Smelting): The Material Culture of the Khasi (2015) and Kynthah Nar (Singeing): Ethnic Khasi Healing Practices (2015).
- Khasi Culture in present times: While reflecting on the Khasi culture in the present times, Dr. Natalie is of the opinion that “The onset of modern trends and lifestyles of the present generation and acculturation is an alarming threat to the Khasi culture. The new generation feels that culture and traditions are outdated and prefer to adapt to western culture. In so far as lifestyle is concerned there is a complete change in the attire, food habits, mannerisms, and belief system, and so on. However, rays of hope are seen in the horizon as there are segments of people including Diasporas who are working towards cultural revival by going back to their roots in various platforms”.
For instance, one of the pertinent examples cited by Dr. Natalie is the practice of respect which is designed by our ancestors. She says “it is desired to bow as a mark of respect while walking in front of seated elders or greeting the elders with the world Khublei (greetings). When verbal participation is necessary one must tone down their voices, choose accurate words, no display of temperament, and controlled body gestures is absolutely necessary. Ieid ia lade bad burom ia kiwei (self-love and respect others) or respect oneself to be respected by others is an age-old practice”, that the young ones need to learn and understand.
At a larger front, another general example is “Kamai ia ka hok (earn righteousness) is the essence of the Khasi culture as the Khasi belief holds that our arrival on earth is God’s decree to serve a purpose the moment we land, thence one must return to ka dwar U Blei (God’s abode). It is strictly forbidden to desire the possessions of others (bymdei ban I kwah ia ka jong kiwei) for that may lead to immeasurable unforeseen predicaments”.
There are ample such examples that the Khasis are bound to follow and respect and at the same time continue the lineage by passing on such wisdom to the coming generations. This will happen only after we take an extra mile to learn and inculcate such practices in our day-to-day lives.
- Awards and ‘Message’ to the youth: Dr. Natalie who has an ardent desire to conserve, popularize and revive the rich cultural heritage of the Khasi people remains forever indebted to her family for their tireless support, love, and encouragement in all that she has been able to achieve so far. She has been awarded the Medro Sing Diengdoh award for cultural enhancement, in 2016 and 2020, the Navratan Nariyar Award for cultural enhancement in 2019, and the Prabhavati Award, Sulabh Sahitya Academy Awards for literary contribution in 2016. Dr. Natalie was recently felicitated by Meghalaya Scouts and Guides Fellowship for her contribution in 2020.
It may be mentioned that Dr. Natalie has made more than 60 documentaries that have all been aired on Doordarshan since 1997 and other mediums and over 40 radio programmes that have been broadcast on All India Radio Shillong and North Eastern Region Shillong since 2008. She is currently one of the few female documentary film makers of the region. Dr. Natalie is associated with All India Radio Shillong, Shillong as Script Writer and Researcher, Moderator, and Production coordinator since 2008 and Empanelled Producer with Doordarshan since 2007.
U Kni (maternal uncle) enjoys an esteemed position in his sister’s house as he is U Ksiang (facilitator) in matters concerning the family. Ka Durbar Kur is usually chaired by the eldest maternal uncle of the clan and his advices are seriously taken into account. Even though, ‘mass culture’ has invaded our Khasi culture from all aspects, the role of the uncle (Kni) is still pertinent and hold high significance in all rituals and traditions of the Khasis.
Dr. Natalie believes that ‘Our young folks should not get carried away by modernity, although assimilation takes place throughout the world, yet the love of one’s culture and tradition should be considered of immense importance. Khasi people as a tribe can perish if our future generations are casual about cultural conservation. Practitioners should realize the importance of documentation by sharing their knowledge as it contributes to the conservation of one’s cultural practices’.
(The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)