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4. Ki Symboh KsiarGrains of Gold

Translation and Notes © Janet Hujon, CC BY 4.0

The opening lines of Ki Sngi Barim U Hynñiew Trep explain why Soso Tham decided to compose his magnum opus. Saddened by the fact that his people continued to look elsewhere for inspiration while failing to appreciate the cultural wealth into which they are born, he set out to reclaim and record the past—ki sngi barim—that survives in myth. He tells of a time now lost to us when the Khasi and Pnar people, who call themselves U Hynñiew Trep, came to be here on earth. This is the “Once upon a time” section of that story referring to legends and tales told and shared, of a common heritage of the imagination that has held a people together.

Grains of Gold

We scour the world in search of light

Know not the light within our land

How long ago far back in time

Our ancients did new worlds create

For then the Seven lived apart1

Impenetrable heavy was the dark

Among the Stars the Sun and Moon

On hills and forests, spirits roamed,

Man and Beast, the Tiger, Thlen2

United by a common tongue

Before the grim macabre took hold

They worshipped then the One True God

The Spoken Word was then revered

The humble Phreit was honoured, fed,3

Hard they toiled from dawn to dusk

Knowledge cached within the womb4

From where our legends sprang to life

And wingéd sprites sung into being

Of signs and symbols some did speak,

“From here,” some said, “Came forth the Thlen;”

“Sin and Taboo? Whence that flood?”

“From here”, they cried, “From Lum Diengïei:”5

But of the One, no one had doubts

Why He was called “U Sohpet Bneng6

Of God and Sin, so too of Truth

In parables as one they spoke

Old voices tell of visions draped

By Ka Rngai for all mankind7

Some stars live on in scattered gardens

The rest have drowned in forests deep

To banish Sin, to bear the yoke

In the Sacred Cave far back in time8

The fearless Cockerel rose upright

“I wait the word from God above.”

A Creed was born—its rites revered

By children of the Hynñiew Trep

Tears from a mother’s pain-wracked heart

Shadow the bier which bears her son,

Fingers strum, recall the tale

The legend of the noble Stag

The rusted Arrow piercing deep

The rushing flood of bitter tears9

Signs once clear on boulder rock

Remain unread, obscured, weed-choked,

Where Orators Thinkers once declaimed

Spoke in tongue unknown to us,

Yet hilltop stark and sheltered shade

Wood and Stone still speak to man

Ancient race—Khasi and Pnar

Ranged across the earth’s arm span

Hidden light waits to be found

In modest thatch and humble roost

To help us peel, push back the dark

Restore the light from days of old

Around the world we search for Light

Yet scorn the light that shines at home

The glorious past will dawn again

When seams of lustre-lost we mine

The seed of light his vibrant root

Into the Past he pierces deep

Gleam of sky on rock we’ll see

When sun-showers stop and fade away

Dark dense clouds retreat in fear

As the rainbow rises in the sky;

Libations pour, O Golden Pen

Emblazon with colour the blinding dark!

Listen to an audio recording of the poem at

1 “The Seven Original Ancestors”. See Chapter 3, pp. 1920.

2 The Giant Snake which promised wealth to his worshippers, and had to be kept happy by human sacrifices.

3 Munia, Spotted Munia, Red Munia etc. A little wren-like bird, which helped mankind. See Chapter 3, pp. 2021.

4 Khasis believe they lost their script in a great flood. The Khasi thought his precious script would be safe in his mouth but he swallowed it as he battled the raging waters.

5 The hill on which stood the monstrous tree (Ka Diengïei) that covered the earth—a sign of God’s displeasure (See Chapter 3, pp. 2021).

6 “The Navel of Heaven” (See Chapter 3, pp. 1920).

7Ka” denotes the feminine (as “U” denotes the masculine). “Rngai” is a word with shadowy connotations pointing to spectres, phantoms, the unreal yet powerfully real in the potency of its effect. So here “Ka Rngai” is a powerful female force.

8 The sacred cave into which the sun retreated, angered by the aspersions cast on her by those who attended the Dance of Thanksgiving (See Chapter 3, pp. 2122).

9 This is a reference to what is known as “The Khasi Lament”—a song of grief pouring out from a mother’s heart when she discovers the body of her wayward son who, against her wishes, had strayed too far from home. He dies from the wound inflicted by an arrow. Archery is still a common pastime in the Khasi and Jaiñtia Hills where the Khasi and Pnar (Jaiñtia) people live.