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The Origin Of Betel And Tobacco

Source: Folk-tales Of The Khasis

Long, long ago two boys lived in a village on the slopes of the hills,
who were very fond of one another and were inseparable companions. The
name of one was U Riwbha; he was the son of one of the wealthiest
men in the country. The other was called U Baduk, who belonged to
one of the lowly families; but the difference in station was no
barrier to the affection of the children for one another. Every day
they sought one another out, and together they roamed abroad in the
fields and the forests, learning to know the birds and the flowers;
together they learned to swim in the rivers, together they learned
to use the bow and arrow, and to play on the flute. They loved the
same pastimes and knew the same friends.

As they grew up they were not able to spend so much time together. U
Riwbha had to overlook his father's property, which involved many days'
absence from the village; while U Baduk went every day to labour in
the fields to earn his own rice and to help his parents, who were
poor. But the old friendship remained as firm as ever between the
two young men, they trusted one another fully, and the one kept no
secrets from the other.

In the course of time they took to themselves wives and became the
heads of families. U Riwbha's wife, like himself, belonged to one of
the wealthy families, so that by his marriage his influence in the
village increased, and he became very rich and prosperous. U Baduk
also married into his own class and went to live in a distant village,
but he never gathered riches like his friend; nevertheless he was
very happy. He had a good and thrifty wife, and side by side they
daily toiled in the fields to supply their simple wants as a family.

Thus circumstances kept the two friends apart, for they seldom
met. The old regard was not in the least abated by absence, rather
the bond seemed to be drawn closer and closer as the years went
by. Occasionally U Baduk journeyed to his native village to see his
people and friends, and on these occasions nowhere was he made more
welcome than in the house of his friend U Riwbha, who insisted upon
his spending the greater part of his time with him, and partaking of
many sumptuous meals at his house. Thus the two old comrades renewed
their intimacy and affection.

On his return home from one such visit U Baduk's wife told him that
their neighbours had been talking a great deal and making disparaging
remarks about the intimacy between them and their wealthy friend,
hinting that no such friendship existed, that it was only U Baduk's
boast that he had rich friends in his own village. If there were such
an intimacy as he pretended, why had his rich friend never come to
see them when U Baduk was constantly going to visit him? He was vexed
to hear this, not so much because they condemned him, but because
they were casting aspersions on his best friend, so he determined to
invite his friend to pay them a visit.

When U Baduk paid his next visit to his village, and had as usual
accepted the hospitality of his friend, he ventured to say, "I am
always coming to see you and partaking of your hospitality, but you
have not been to see me once since I got married."

To this U Riwbha replied, "Very true, my dear friend, very true, but
do not take it amiss that I never thought of this before. You know
that I have much business on my hands, and have no leisure like many
people to take my pleasures; but I have been too remiss towards you,
and I must make haste to remedy my fault. Give my greeting to your
wife, and tell her that I will start from here to-morrow to come to
pay you both a visit, and to give myself the pleasure of tasting a
dish of her curry and rice."

Highly gratified and pleased, U Baduk hastened home to tell his wife
of his friend's projected visit, and urged her to rouse herself and
to cook the most savoury meal she was capable of. She too was very
pleased to hear that the man they respected and loved so much was
coming to see them; but she said, "It has come very suddenly, when
I am not prepared; we have neither fish nor rice in the house."

"That is indeed unfortunate," said the husband, "but we have kind
neighbours from whom we have never asked a favour before. You must
go out and borrow what is wanted from them, for it would be too great
a disgrace not to have food to place before our friend when he comes."

The wife went out as requested by her husband, but although she walked
the whole length of the village there was no one who could spare her
any rice or fish, and she returned home gloomy and disheartened and
told her husband of her ill-success. When U Baduk heard this bad
news he was extremely troubled and said, "What sort of a world is
this to live in, where a morsel of food cannot be obtained to offer
hospitality to a friend? It is better to die than to live." Whereupon
he seized a knife and stabbed himself to death.

When the wife saw that her good husband was dead, she was smitten
with inconsolable grief, and she cried out, "What is there for me to
live for now? It is better that I also should die." Thereupon she in
her turn seized the knife and stabbed herself to death.

It happened that a notorious robber called U Nongtuh was wandering
through the village that night, and, as it was cold, he bethought
himself of sneaking into one of the houses where the family had
gone to sleep, to warm himself. He saw that a fire was burning in U
Baduk's house, and that it was very silent within. He determined to
enter. "They are hard-working people," said he to himself, "and will
sleep soundly; I can safely sit and warm myself without their knowing
anything about me." So he squatted down comfortably on the hearth,
not knowing that the two dead bodies lay on the floor close to him.

Before long the warmth made him drowsy, and without thinking U Nongtuh
fell asleep, and did not awake until the day was dawning; he jumped
up hastily, hoping to escape before the village was astir, but he
saw the two dead bodies and was greatly terrified. A great trembling
took him, and he began to mutter wildly, "What an unfortunate man I
am to have entered this house! The neighbours will say that I killed
these people; it will be useless for me to deny it, for I have such
an evil reputation nobody will believe me. It is better for me to
die by my own hand here than to be caught by the villagers, and be
put to death like a murderer." Whereupon he seized the knife and
stabbed himself to death; so there were three victims on the floor,
lying dead side by side, all because there was no food in the house
to offer hospitality to a friend.

The morning advanced, and when the neighbours noticed that no one
stirred abroad from U Baduk's house they flocked there to find out
what was the matter. When they saw the three dead bodies they were
filled with sadness and compunction, for they remembered how they had
refused to lend them food the night before, to prepare entertainment
for their friend.

In the course of the day U Riwbha arrived according to the promise made
to his friend, and when he was told of the terrible tragedy his sorrow
knew no bounds; he sat wailing and mourning by the body of the friend
that he loved best, and would not be comforted. "Alas!" he wailed,
"that a man should lose such a true friend because the world is become
so hard for the poor that to entertain a friend is a greater burden
than they can bear."

For many hours he wept and sorrowed, praying to the Great God to show
a way of keeping up the customs of hospitality without the poor having
to suffer and be crushed, as his own good friend had been crushed.

Just about that time the Great God walked abroad to look on the
universe, and he saw the sorrow of U Riwbha, and took pity on his
tears, and made known that from henceforth He would cause to grow
three valuable plants, which were to be used by mankind in future
as the means of entertainment, whereby the poor as well as the
rich could indulge in the entertainment of friends without being
burdened. Immediately three trees which had never been known to mankind
before were seen springing up from the ground where the dead bodies
lay. They were the Betel, the Pan, and the Tobacco.

From that time it became a point of etiquette in Khasi households,
rich and poor alike, to offer betel nut and pan or a whiff of tobacco
from the hookah to friends when they make calls.

Next: The Stag And The Snail

Previous: How The Dog Came To Live With Man

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