Meghalaya, located in the north-eastern section of India, has many charms that travelers to this region enjoy. It is known for its beautiful forests and hilly terrain, amazing cuisine, and fascinating wildlife. However, in the remote village of Kongthong, how the residents select a name for their children will amaze you. In the village of Kongthong, everyone is given a song as a name. Amazing as it sounds, the villagers do not have typical word-based names rather, they use a song as a name.
The village is located in Khat-ar Shnong, in East Khasi Hills. It is about 60 kilometers from the capital city, Shillong. The place is quiet and serene with a population of only 700.
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The tradition of assigning songs and tunes as names instead of typical words was created for a practical purpose. In these remote hilly regions, sharp sounds of whistles can be heard better than typical words. The villagers live in the lap of nature and do not like making loud sounds. Their ancestors also believed that using tunes can be good for keeping the evil spirits residing in the jungles at bay.
Life in the village is largely peaceful and there have been no instances of crime. The people are honest and hospitable and live a simple life. After the song naming tradition of the village became known to the outside world, tourist inflow shot up. However, the serene beauty of the region has not been affected too much by tourism.
When the villagers want to talk to someone they sing a specific tune. The person addressed the response on hearing it. The area is not very big and so everyone knows the name tune of the others! These tunes are assigned by mothers after the birth of their children. The same tune is not reused after a person dies.
Kongthong residents are also given proper names
The interesting thing is mothers sing the shorter form of the tune before bed or at the playground, and when they are in the forest, the longer form of the tune is used. The short form of the tune is somewhat like nicknames! The Kongthong residents are also given proper names and those are registered too. However, these names are used sparingly. Most of the time, they use the tune assigned to both.
With time, modern civilization has been introduced to the villagers. There is a school in the village and some residents now use mobile phones. However, the villagers have not given up the ancient norm, handed over to them by their ancestors. Even if they move to outside cities or shift to other states, they do not forget the tune associated with their identity.
After her paper on Kongthong was published in 2016 in the Indian Sociological Bulletin, noted filmmaker Oinam Doren made a documentary about the village entitled My Name is Eeooow:
It is a fact that such tunes have little use outside of the village. A villager named Shidiap Khongsit says: “It is an expression of a mother’s unbridled love and joy at the birth of her child. It’s like a mother’s heart song, full of tenderness, almost like a lullaby.”
In the Khasi language, this norm of tune naming is known as “jingrwai iawbei”, which denotes “song of the mother”. If a woman hailing from another place gets married to someone in this village, she is given a tune name by her mother-in-law. Some other villages near Kongthong also adhere to this tune naming norm to a lesser degree.
The custom has not been documented properly. Shillong-born professor Dr. Piyashi Dutta says: “Meghalaya is a matrilineal society, where the matrilineal principles, ethos, traditions, and customs are deep-seated into the system and orally handed down generations. Kongthong is no exception. Here the practice of tunes or songs as names is rooted in their cultural ethos and passed down orally. It is also a manifestation of their matrilineality.”