Margaret Lyngdoh will defend her doctoral thesis titled “Transformation, Tradition and Lived Realities Vernacular Belief Worlds of the Khasis of Northeastern India" on 25 April at 12.15 at Ülikooli 16, room 214.
Supervisor: prof Ülo Valk
Opponents: Dr Lidia Guzy (University College Cork (UCC), National University of Ireland);
Dr Ergo-Hart Västrik (TÜ eesti ja võrdleva rahvaluule osakond)
Summary: Beginning with the understanding, that belief in the supernatural expresses itself in multiple folkloric manifestations, this thesis sought to document traditions about the revenant, narratives about the blood-seeking non-human, human-animal transformations and the after-life culture of the Khasi ethnic community in North Eastern India. But the research process of documentation through fieldwork led to several questions related with the multiple articulations of belief. Accordingly, this thesis makes an attempt to analyse the storyworld of the Khasis, and it’s intersections with their social and religious reality. It presents a case study seen from the context of marginalisation, the indigenous heritage and conflicted intentions where belief becomes suggestive of a community’s need to come to terms with it’s own place alongside other ethnic identities. This thesis also looks at the various social mechanisms that are employed toward a reconciliation with modernity and Christianity whilst retaining a sense of what it means to be Khasi. The outcome is a hybrid interaction between religion, society, and the supernatural realm in the everyday life which is not fixed, but which accommodates shifting belief and notions about the self and personhood. Accordingly, narratives of the vanishing hitchhiker and the non-human Thlen were collected in order to examine the functions they perform in the context of the matrilineal social structure and the highly urbanised, modern environment of Shillong city. The analyses showed how the existing structures in society were subverted as a result of the circulation of the revenant narratives. The consequences of the circulation of “dark”, and malicious folklore often lead to the loss of life, mob violence and “othering” of groups of people within Khasi society. In the peripheral areas of the Khasi Hills, the phenomenon of human-animal transformations revealed the ability of culture to adapt to changing circumstances, and sustain itself through narratives. Significant aspects that are discussed in depth comprise the strategies of meaning-making in the context of the discourse of encounters: the preservation of indigenous beliefs is made possible through their demonisation by the Khasi Christian Church. This thesis does not arrive at a homogenised, coherent conclusion about contemporary Khasi society; rather it looks at the multivalent nature of folk beliefs and narratives, and presents a non-linear, layered glimpse into the life ways of the community.