Folklore from North East India: A Singpho tribe tale

The Land of Rising Sun-Arunachal Pradesh just like its unexplored beauties and hidden paradise has many myths and folktale. There are numerous tribes inhabiting the state and each tribe has their enchanting folktales which are mysterious and unheard of and have beauty hidden in them to be foretold again and again.  Most of tribes’ folktales are stories passed down through generations, mainly by telling. Different kinds of folktales found in each tribe of the state include fairy tale, tall tales, trickster tales, myths and legends. Some of these tribal tales will make one wonder, think, laugh but almost all of them have hidden wisdom to discover and explore!

One such tribe that has many mesmerizing tale is the Singpho tribe inhabiting the Changlang district and scattered in some pockets of Lohit and the newly created Namsai district. Some Singphos are also found living in Assam. They are known for their fierce independence, disciplined martial art skills, and for their lifestyle where nature parts an important role. The Singphos are a hilly tribe of mongoloid origin. They had even played an important role in shaping the history of Northeast Frontier Region. They have no written history of their own. As such their life history more or less depends upon legends. The Singpho tribe is divided into a number of clans or groups each under a chief. Their clan organization is based on lineage or sub-lineage group. Their houses are built with bamboo, wooden planks and post and the roof are thatched with Takaw leaves. The traditional dress of the Singpho tribe also bears significance. They wear ornaments or enameled beads, etc. Married women tattoo on both legs from the ankle to the knee and the man tattoo their limbs slightly. The Singphos are Theravada Buddhist by religion.  According to their mythology they enjoyed immortality and unsullied happiness in the land of their origin; fall from grace resulted from the original sin of having bathed in forbidden water. On coming down to the plains, they have become mortal, and fallen from their pristine belief in one Supreme Being. The Singpho bear the faith that after the creation of the Sun and the Moon by Mathun Mathia (the creator of this Universe) the earth bloomed up flowers and fruits became a pasture ground for all creatures.
Each myths and folktales of the state, once read is sure to mesmerize the mind of those who rarely find time out of their busy schedule of life.
Here is a Singpho folktale reproduced from the book “Myths of the North-East Frontier of India” by Verrier Elwin and reprinted by the Director of Research, Government of Arunachal Pradesh, Itanagar.

A Singpho Folktale
There was once a very great Raja who had seven wives. One year they all became pregnant at the same time. The six elder wives had human children but the seventh and youngest gave birth to a tortoise. When the raja saw the tortoise baby he was angry and drove the mother, though she was most beautiful, out of his house and made a little hut for her outside the village. Gradually the six elder boys grew up and when they were old enough, they prepared to go down river to trade. When the tortoise boy heard about it he said to his mother, ‘My brothers are going to trade; let me go as well.’ The mother said, ‘your brothers can walk about, for they have hands and feet, but you have none. What do you want to go trading for?’ ‘All the same,’ said the tortoise boy, ‘even if I have no hands and feet, I’d like to go.’ So the mother prepared the tortoise-boy for his journey and put him in the boat with his brothers. When they came into mid-stream the tortoise-boy brought a flute from under his shell and played it. The trees of the forest heard the music and came to the bank to listen and this is why to this day there are many trees along the banks of rivers. The boat went down the river and the tortoise played his flute. After a time he said to the six brothers, ‘Leave me here; you go on and when you return, call me and I will join you.’ He jumped into the water and sank to the bottom. There he found a great store of gold and silver and precious stones and hid them under his shell. He went on a little further and found many different musical instruments. When their brothers had finished their trading they returned and called their tortoise-brother, and he came up from the bottom of the river and clambered into the boat. Then he brought out the instruments from beneath his shell and played them. He gave some of them to his brothers and they all played together very happily. When the boat neared home and the raja heard the music he supposed that his sons must have made a great deal of money and were celebrating their success. He went down to the bank to welcome them with honour and took them home. But he took no notice of the tortoise-boy and left him in the bottom of the boat. But soon his mother came for him.
Presently the Raja made arrangements for the marriage of his sons. The tortoise-boy said to his mother, ‘My brothers are getting married; find a wife for me too.’ The mother said, ‘But you are tortoise, you are not a human being. What sort of girl will you get to marry you?’ The tortoise-boy said, ‘There is a Raja’s daughter in a village not far away and I want to marry her.’ The mother said, ‘But she is the daughter of a Raja and you are a tortoise.’ The tortoise-boy said, ‘that may be so, but what does it matter? Go and ask the girl’s father.’ So the mother went to the Raja and said, ‘Give your daughter to my son.’ The Raja replied, ‘Very well, I will give him my daughter on this condition, that within two days, before the sun rises for the second time, your son must make a boat of gold and  diamonds and bring it to my palace.’ The mother went home and told her son. Now the tortoise had great wealth hidden beneath his shell and he brought it out and called a craftsman who made a boat of gold and diamonds and they took it to the Raja’s palace before the sun rose for the second time. The Raja came down to see it and there the tortoise-boy was sitting in the boat shining like the sun. When the tortoise saw the Raja he changed his shape and became a handsome youth, and the Raja willingly gave him his daughter in marriage.

By:- Chow Bilaseng Namchoom