Today, we will look at some stories about women. The women of these stories’ were Santal women. We know Santal is a Tribe in India. They are also living in other States like Nepal, Bangladesh, Andaman, etc. Here we will see some other stories like – The Money Lender and His Debtor and Humorous Stories such as Kara and Guja etc.
The Stories about Women
A long time ago the people of a village, all of whom were of the same clan decided to offer animal sacrifices to their ancestors and to have a feast. The men gave instructions to the women to make all the preparations and went away for some trade promising to return in time for the sacrifice.
The women brewed rice beer and waited but the men did not come as promised. So, they decided to go ahead with the sacrifice by themselves. They conferred among themselves and made the wife of the eldest brother their leader.
They would fell one animal per family and dedicate the sacrifice to the bongas (spirits) of all their ancestors. Then they prepared the rice flour for the ritual, plastered the sacrificial ground with cow dung and drew a magic circle with flour, and put a handful of rice inside it.
They prepared the animal for sacrifice and invoked the Bongas with incantations but blotched up the actual sacrifice, because nobody knew how to fell an animal. The sacrificial animal escaped and the Bongas were displeased.
The women had a good laugh but from that incident onwards the Bongas have refused to accept any sacrifice from the hands of the woman. This story describes in detail all the preparations undertaken before a sacrifice.
It presents women in a derogatory light showing them as silly and inefficient. This story tries to justify why women are not allowed to lead any Santal worship rituals.
Stories about Women
The Silly Women’s story
‘The Silly Women’ is a variation of this story except that the men did not go for the trade. One day before the sacrifice the zamindar’s men come and take all the men from the village to perform forced labor for five days.
The women lament, unsure if the zamindar will ever let their husbands return and even fear the worst. They decide to go ahead with the sacrifice to please the Bongas so that their men may return safely.
The rest of the story is nearly identical. Both the stories depict men congregating to make decisions about the sacrifice and then the decisions being relayed to the women. In traditional Santal setups, it was always the men who took all collective decisions.
Their place of the congregation was usually under a tree some distance away, at the end of the village street (lest the women overhear something).
The narrator is able to overlook the tragedy of forced labor imposed upon them by the Zamindar and present this story with its comic elements.
The Money-Lender and His Debtor
This is the story of a Santal who tricked a mahajon (money-lender) to write off his debts. A Santal farmer has taken a loan from a mahajon and is unable to repay as the interest rate is high.
The Santal avoids meeting the mahajon who keeps coming to his house. In order to shield him, his wife cooks up a cock and bull story about him playing a mysterious game.
One day the mahajon accosts him whereupon the Santal offers to teach him the fictitious game but the mahajon has to write off the debt first. The curious moneylender agrees to ‘break the straw’ and thus symbolically writes off the debt.
He soon realizes that he has made a fool of and he refuses to abide by his promise and takes the matter to the court.
The judge confirms that the act of ‘breaking of the straw’ (symbolic act to testify the reality of the action of writing off the debt) has been performed by the mahajon in front of a witness. He then proceeds to dismiss the case after scolding the mahajon thus releasing the Santal farmer from debt.
Lesson: With your wit and presence of mind you can beat even the dreaded money lender.
In ‘An Encounter of Peripheries Marine Carrin; and Harald Tambs-Lyche comment that ‘Santal folk tales often humorously evoke their peripheral position; exploited by the diku but able, as we shall see, to answer back.’
In this story, there is an example of one symbolic act employed by Santals to testify the reality of their action. Use of symbolic acts is very common in tribal communities for all purposes – religious, social as well as everyday affairs.
It is interesting to note that the judge in the court of law upheld; the legality of the symbolic act of breaking the straw; and did not overrule it; (as one would expect the court to overlook the tribal legal/justice system or be totally ignorant about it).
Kara and Guja
Kara and Guja are the name of two persons. This story has got three variations. They relate the escapades of two brothers who manage to defeat a traveling Raj (zamindar); and his men with the help of some bees in the forest.
The lads render Raj’s guns and gunpowder ineffective against their own wit and agility. It teaches the lesson of survival in spite of all odds. With the help of wit, courage, and presence of mind one can overcome even the deko; the raj (zamindar), and the tiger/leopard (the three most feared foes of the Santal).
In two of the stories, the zamindar’s men have guns, gunpowder; and shots with which they shoot at the two brothers.
These are contemporary mechanical devices which must have been 9 incorporated in the later variations of the folktale. The trickster element is once again present in this story.
Conclusion (Stories about Women)
There are many Stories about Women in the book of the Santal Folk Tales. The intended reader of the ‘Santal Folk Tales’ book was the European scholar.
For his benefit P. O. Bodding has included copious endnotes explaining the figurative language, symbols, customs, objects; and items depicting their way of life, beliefs, and cultural practices.
The purpose of story narration for the Santal was to transmit their body of knowledge, history, culture; and traditions to the oncoming generations.
On the other hand, P. O. Bodding’s purpose for narrating and translating these stories is related to documenting, preserving, and archiving; this precious body of knowledge that would not survive the ravaging influences of the changing times.