Department of Cultural and Creative Studies
North Eastern Hill University
Cultural diversity is the essence of India’s identity. Each culture draws its strength from its tradition and yet flourishes when it comes into contact with others. The Khasi have a long history of traditions and there is a great deal to learn from its tangible and intangible heritage. Tangible heritage includes handicraft (bamboo, grass and wood), weaving, art etc. These instruments are employed not only to fulfill one’s daily requirements but to add beauty and brightness in the otherwise dull and drab existence. They have been a cementing force in our social and economic life. Art was never meant for the privileged few but has instead, been a connecting thread and a medium of connection for the masses. The intangible heritage includes the oral traditions which have been transmitting the flow of knowledge in the various aspects of history, philosophy, technical skill. It cuts across the discipline of dance and music as well as of informal social practices. Folktales, jokes, proverbs, anecdotes, myths, legends are various forms of narratives, passed on orally, from one generation to another. These narratives are performed in an open area, accompanied with music. The performers and the audience have a strong relationship in romanticizing the dreams and aspirations of the common man, and thus relieving the society from hyper-tension and frustration. Also, the mysterious life of our ancestors is brought into light through these narratives.
These tangible and intangible forms of expression and information storehouse are under serious threats of extinction. The weaving and handloom activities which used to be found in plenty in Ri-Bhoi and West Khasi Hills are now gradually being submerged by modern technological invasion. Modernization and commercialization is definitely taking its toll on these traditional enterprises. The various forms of narratives are also being pushed aside by the bombing of foreign tradition through mass media and other forms of communication. Language which has played a crucial role in upholding the culture is also under threat from foreign languages.
Therefore, it is a desperate need to work together to safeguard the Khasi traditions and culture. In language, Linguist, Philogist, anthropologists etc, should join hands to develop the Khasi traditional language. The English language is so well developed because of the hard work of different scholars who kept tract and supported its growth; added new words, studied their application and printed them in dictionary and other literary works. The editing and publishing of English dictionaries every year is a testimony of its growth. However, no doubt that, the Khasi language has also accumulate thousands of new words every year. Words which are not there before have somehow find its way by inter-linking it with the old words making it new and some words are completely new, irrespective of its surrounding and cultural background. Some have existed in equivalent to the cultural surroundings. For instance, words like ‘thi-as’, ‘long khaw’, ‘lyhuh’, ‘ja-khom’, ‘chik’, ‘chi-kaw’, ‘ka khnium’, ‘la pii-iaw’, ‘la pra hi phum’ and many more. These are totally new words with regards of the situations and cultural set up; ‘thi-as’ and ‘long khaw’ are used mostly by taxi drivers to perpetuate their daily financial outcome. Ordinary people would not understand such language, which only the taxi drivers would understand in facilitating with each other in respect of their daily income. Literally ‘thi-as’ and ‘long khaw’ means ‘good’ ‘sufficient’ and ‘perfect’. These words are likely to be known as slang in modern day context, but if you try to look closely on the cultural-paradigm in the context of the taxi drivers. The language that they are speaking is so rich and has enormous potential to foretell the Khasi world-view of its past glory and off course the psychology of the past ancestors. For instance, why ‘long khaw’ ? Here khaw literally means rice, so by linking rice with the daily income is quite clear to understand. As for centuries, rice has been an important symbol of the Khasi in portraying different meaning. Off course, it is also a staple food, after the plain’s people have introduced it to the Khasi (Hill) people. For centuries rice is also used for different ritualistic performance and has been a strong symbol especially initiating against Khasi taboos. The taxi drivers seem to understand the concept of rice by using it in the form of language. However, it is also important to note that the inter-linked word are basically borrowed from the English word or are mixed between the Khasi and English word for instance a Khasi word for ‘computer’ becomes ‘ka komputar’, ‘guitar’ becomes ‘ka gytar’, ‘mobile phones’ becomes ‘ka mobyle’, ‘internet’ simply becomes ‘ka intarnet’ etc. It is however very ironic that these kinds of words which are totally new to the Khasi have not been added to the Khasi vocabulary and dictionary, which maybe can be translated to a Khasi. Instead the Khasi seems to be enjoying the luxury of always borrowing from an English words or Hindi words rather than have their own language for such terms (new terms). Well, some of the inter-linked language of the old transforming to a new word is also worthy to mention, for instance ‘khaw-arham’, ‘khiew-karai’, ‘kulai-nar’ etc. These words have never been in the Khasi vocabulary before but have somehow found a way to adjust with the present day cultural and social milieu.
 Khasi are known to be Hunters, fun gatherers and eat wild vegetables and barks of trees, (excerpt from the UPE Project “Rice Myths of North East India”