The eight states of Northeast India have some similarities as most of the tribes have their unique myths, legends and folktales. The tribes of Northeast India understand their origin and moral ethics through these. It was when the British and Welsh missionaries came here during the 19th century that some of the tribes followed their religion i.e Christianity.
But till today, the tribes of Northeast India have always been a storytelling people. This way of storytelling started right from the time when each tribal community was at a nascent stage; told through the oral tradition or word of mouth before each tribe learned to read and write.
The Khasis being one of the tribes (and being a Khasi myself), I would like to share how a lesser known folktale shaped about our way of eating “paan”.
“Paan”, or “kwai” as Khasis call it, when served or offered to a guest coming in one’s house, or when served or offered in funerals, marriages or other gatherings, reflects how the Khasis welcome people from outside their abode. “Paan” or “kwai”symbolises forming a bond, or simply to show that one has good manners. Foreigners have often praised the Khasis for when they enter their houses, they are always offered “paan”.
There is a folktale that led to this tradition. Once, God or “U Blei” saw from heaven above that a poor man (U Baduk) and his wife killed themselves for not having any food to give to their bosom friend who would soon arrive. He hence blessed some parts of the Khasi and Jaintia Hills with growth of the bettle-nut and paan leaf.
God or “U Blei” then made it known to all that, henceforth, these plants- cut and served with lime- should be the only items to be compulsorily offered to guests in every home, rich and poor, and that they will be available in abundance in the land.
It also balances the hierarchical differences between the rich and poor, for it not only bonds them but also makes them feel that they are both the same.
“Paan” is much loved here in the Northeast and all of the country. The sweet juice that comes out when the bettle-nut, paan leaf and lime get mixed together with one’s saliva is one which we all love. In the Khasi and Jaintia Hills a lesser known folktale, when told and retold through countless generations, becomes a part of the cultural and moral consciousness of a tribal community. And till today in this modern world, it survives and becomes part of the cultural habits and moral ethics of a community.