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U Ramhah

Source: Folk-tales Of The Khasis

Where is the country without its giant-story?

All through the ages the world has revelled in tales of the
incomparable prowess and the unrivalled strength and stature of great
and distinguished men whom we have learned to call giants. We trace
them from the days of Samson and Goliath, past the Knights of Arthur in
the "Island of the Mighty" and the great warriors of ancient Greece,
down to the mythland of our nursery days, where the exploits of the
famous "Jack" and his confederates filled us with wonder and awe. Our
world has been a world full of mighty men to whom all the nations
pay tribute, and the Khasis in their small corner are not behind the
rest of the world in this respect, for they also have on record the
exploits of a giant whose fate was as strange as that of any famous
giant in history.

The name of the Khasi giant was U Ramhah. He lived in a dark age,
and his vision was limited, but according to his lights and the
requirements of his country and his generation, he performed great
and wonderful feats, such as are performed by all orthodox giants all
the world over. He lifted great boulders, he erected huge pillars, he
uprooted large trees, he fought wild beasts, he trampled on dragons,
he overcame armed hosts single-handed, he championed the cause of
the defenceless, and won for himself praise and renown.

When his fame was at its height he smirched his reputation by his bad
actions. After the great victory over U Thlen in the cave of Pomdoloi,
he became very uplifted and proud, and considered himself entitled to
the possessions of the Khasis. So instead of helping and defending
his neighbours as of yore, he began to oppress and to plunder them,
and came to be regarded as a notorious highwayman, to be avoided and
dreaded, who committed thefts and crimes wherever he went.

At this period he is described as a very tall and powerful man whose
stature reached "half way to the sky," and he always carried a soop
(a large basket of plaited bamboo) on his back, into which he put all
his spoils, which were generally some articles of food or clothing. He
broke into houses, looted the markets and waylaid travellers. The
plundered people used to run after him, clinging to his big soop, but
he used to beat them and sometimes kill them, and by reason of his
great strength and long strides he always got away with his booty,
leaving havoc and devastation behind him. He was so strong and so
terrible that no one could check his crimes or impose any punishments.

There lived in the village of Cherra in those days a wealthy woman
called Ka Bthuh, who had suffered much and often at the hands of U
Ramhah, and whose anger against him burnt red-hot. She had pleaded
urgently with the men of her village to rise in a body to avenge her
wrongs, but they always said that it was useless. Whenever she met U
Ramhah she insulted him by pointing and shaking her finger at him,
saying, "You may conquer the strength of a man, but beware of the
cunning of a woman." For this saying U Ramhah hated her, for it showed
that he had not been able to overawe her as everybody else had been
overawed by him, and he raided her godowns more frequently than ever,
not dreaming that she was scheming to defeat him.

One day Ka Bthuh made a great feast; she sent invitations to many
villages far and near, for she wanted it to be as publicly known as
possible in order to lure U Ramhah to attend. It was one of his rude
habits to go uninvited to feasts and to gobble up all the eatables
before the invited guests had been helped.

The day of Ka Bthuh's feast came and many guests arrived, but before
the rice had been distributed there was a loud cry that U Ramhah
was marching towards the village. Everybody considered this very
annoying, but Ka Bthuh, the hostess, pretended not to be disturbed,
and told the people to let the giant eat as much as he liked first,
and she would see that they were all helped later on. At this U
Ramhah laughed, thinking that she was beginning to be afraid of him,
and he helped himself freely to the cooked rice and curry that was
at hand. He always ate large mouthfuls, but at feast times he used
to put an even greater quantity of rice into his mouth, just to make
an impression and a show. Ka Bthuh had anticipated all this, and she
stealthily put into the rice some sharp steel blades which the giant
swallowed unsuspectingly.

When he had eaten to his full content U Ramhah took his departure,
and when he had gone out of earshot Ka Bthuh told the people what
she had done. They marvelled much at her cunning, and they all said
it was a just deed to punish one whose crimes were so numerous and so
flagrant, but who escaped penalty by reason of his great strength. From
that time Ka Bthuh won great praise and became famous.

U Ramhah never reached his home from that feast. The sharp blades he
had swallowed cut his intestines and he died on the hill-side alone
and unattended, as the wild animals die, and there was no one to
regret his death.

When the members of his clan heard of his death they came in a great
company to perform rites and to cremate his body, but the body was
so big that it could not be cremated, and so they decided to leave
it till the flesh rotted, and to come again to gather together his
bones. After a long time they came to gather the bones, but it was
found that there was no urn large enough to contain them, so they
piled them together on the hill-side until a large urn could be made.

While the making of the large urn was in progress there arose a great
storm, and a wild hurricane blew from the north, which carried away
the bleached bones of U Ramhah, and scattered them all over the south
borders of the Khasi Hills, where they remain to this day in the
form of lime-rocks, the many winding caves and crevices of which are
said to be the cavities in the marrowless bones of the giant. Thus
U Ramhah, who injured and plundered the Khasis in his life-time,
became the source of inestimable wealth to them after his death.

His name is heard on every hearth, used as a proverb to describe
objects of abnormal size or people of abnormal strength.

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