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9. U SimpylliengThe Rainbow

Translation and Notes © Janet Hujon, CC BY 4.0

Out of relentless darkness hope emerges and here we begin to feel the calm benediction of light. Although the rainbow as a symbol of hope is appropriate in any culture, in the rain-lashed Khasi Hills where the Monsoon exults in unleashing its power, the colours of the rainbow arcing against freshly washed skies will obviously have a special resonance. Nature and Myth both underline the constancy of hope and mercy, provided mankind repents of his sin of pride and seeks forgiveness from his God.

The Rainbow

The face of the earth polluted by sin

The God within has taken flight

“Ascent” “Descent” forever ceased1

A people gripped by terror fear

Blinded choked by infernal hordes

“O where is He, He whom we love”2

Wisdom, Knowledge, Contemplation

Blindly stumble in the dark,

A widowed mother children held close

Cursed by memories helpless, alone.

Lost to us the Amirphor3

All that is left is the Ekjakor4

The world lies awake at the witching hour

Stars drown themselves in Hell’s deep void

Throughout this black impenetrable night

Grant us relief O Morning Star

You who with the rooster’s clarion

Welcomes the light that will drench the world

Crippled by affliction, crushed by illness

We glimpse the rim of earth’s dark belly,5

As when we encounter tiger bear

Our souls recoil and shrink with fear

The ceremony of colour now faded frail

“Rites, divinations—confusion confounded!”

What then is Right and what Transgression?

Though fervent the atonement, clan numbers decline

—“For Me! For Me!” Insatiable the demons, insistent the clamour6

The dignity of sacrifice most solemn profaned

Dried is the nectar, just the comb remains7

“O hear us, we pray! You who made us, placed us here on earth!”

As children die

Deceived betrayed8

Maggot, Fly and sickly Vulture

The only clans to grow and prosper

To lift the Shyngwiang to their lips9

Conducting rituals, performing last rites

“A basket of seeds yields a mere khoh of grain10

Much you will spend, but meagre your gain

One at dawn another at night

They give up the ghost so that I might live

For that’s how I’m fed, and from hunger am spared.”

So sings the crow as she circles above

Those offerings of rice that are left for the dead!11

The Midnight King ascends the throne

The world spirals down into Circles of Hell

Man wanders the world to look for a way

To rebuild restore the Covenant broken

For light to rise from deep in the dark

And for an insurgence of song to break out in his heart

Flames from the altar will rise to the skies

To Heaven man lifts his troubled gaze

When will the Dawn unveil herself?

When will the firmament blush a deep red?

And how from amongst a cohort of devils,

Will one stand upright and alone to face God?

One who strives to seek and appraise

Comprehending the mystery of divinations and rituals

Who evaluates, debates to challenge his Maker:

“Freely, generously, give of your blessings!”

He will plead for himself, stand up for his clan

To wrest divine pardon for sins and transgressions

“To shoulder sin, to bear the yoke

Make strong Ka Rngiew, to cleanse the curse”,12

These the words of God our King

Heard at the Durbar of Thirty Beasts,13

“Until the Prince of Song arrives14

Who consents to bear pain to save mankind?”

So spoke our God our Lord above

What answer will the Durbar give

In silence long the hushed world sat

Eyelids drooped beasts fell asleep

One question lingering on the lips of man

“The Prince of Song, when will he sing?”15

Stop! Now listen from Ka Krem Lamet Ka Krem Latang16

Keeper of his Word, the Rooster speaks:17

“Until the day of the Awaited One

Come what may I will bear the burden

To spare mankind eternal woe

When before his Creator God he stands.”

Thus he addressed the assembled Durbar

Fearless he stood holding fast to his word

Crossing the threshold of the Sun’s domain

He claps his hands and she wakes from sleep

And when the rooster thrice had crowed

The earth once more was bathed in light

The land, the soil began to bloom

Trust returned fear exorcised

Foreboding sank in Ka Diengïei18

Along with her demonic troops

Vivid all auguries, signs and predictions

Divinations and reckonings deciphered made clear

A shroud now lifted from the face of man

Who once again “ascends” “descends”

Heaven and Earth united as one

For man stands upright to appease his God

Peace shall reign throughout the land

Visible once more the King of the Skies19

Gleam of sky on rock we’ll see

When sun-showers stop and fade away

Dense dark clouds in fear retreat

When the Rainbow rises in the sky

When man grinds Satan underfoot

He then becomes a Child of God

When long ago the earth was pure

Dark was both the Sun and Moon

But through the dense relentless night

The Star of Hope refused to die

The Gift of Mercy man receives

When before his God he bends his knee.

Listen to an audio recording of the poem at

1 Referring to the time when the golden ladder, the “mediator” between heaven and Earth on U Sohpet Bneng had not been removed by God and human beings could move easily between the two domains.

2 “He” is the saviour. As Soso Tham was a devout Christian, one assumes he is referring to Christ.

3 See p. 50, n. 20.

4 A mythical Dragon/Serpent.

5 The earth here is a grave/a tomb—although the earth is also seen as the womb of life.

6 Khasis believe that illness and affliction are either signs of divine or demonic visitations. A person’s health could only be restored when the particular god or, as in this case demon, has been appeased.

7 Honey, especially that collected from orange groves in the Khasi Hills, is one of Meghalaya’s most prized products. Honey is a metaphor for sweetness and plenty.

8 A reference to the folktale of the ox punished by his Maker for his disobedience. See p. 35, n. 1.

9 A flute played during religious ceremonies.

10 A khoh is a basket with sides tapering to a point and carried on the back with the aid of a head strap. It is used to carry a variety of goods including market-produce, firewood and pots of water from a spring or communal tap.

11 As part of the funeral rites, offerings of rice are left for the deceased at cremation sites, thus providing food for the crow, the bird who for personal gain persuades the ox to lie to mankind. See p. 35, n. 1.

12 See p. 38, n. 8.

13 Thirty is a number Khasis use to indicate a great many.

14 Simpah/Simkaro is the name given to a gifted Intercessor. Sim means bird, pah means song or singing. I have translated the word into “Prince of Song” but to fully understand what “Song” means, it is important to remember that, among Khasis, songs are outpourings which have their root in religious observances. See n. 15 below.

15 Sim-karo (like Simpah): this term is a metaphor for a man elected as leader for his altruistic and trustworthy qualities. He is seen as the agent of light and transformation as willed by God.

According to Sten (p. 77), Khasis see the root of their creativity in their outpourings of prayer and thanksgiving to God. It is through these acts of worship that Khasis express their understanding of their place in this world and their relation to God. Thus poetry is linked to the sacred and the divine, and the poet is in many ways God’s agent whose song draws those who suffer under the yoke of sin back to the divine.

16 The Cave into which the Sun retreated in anger, depriving mankind of light. See Chapter 3, pp. 2122.

17 Again refers to the same legend of the Rooster offering himself as a sacrifice to the Sun so that she would forgive mankind and restore light to the world.

18 The monstrous tree that plunged the world into darkness (see Chapter 3, pp. 20–21).

19 “King of the Skies” refers to either the rainbow or Christ. Based on the words ascribed to the rooster in verse 13 (“Until the day of the Awaited One/I’ll bear the burden come what may…”), Sten maintains that Soso Tham saw Christianity as the final flowering of the indigenous Khasi belief in a saviour releasing the world from the darkness of sin. See Sten, Na Ka Myndai, p. 79. The underlying belief of both faiths is hope and salvation through a “mediator”.