December is not only the time for merry making in Meghalaya; it is also a time when the people of the state remember the two heroes Pa Togan Sangma and U Kiang Nangbah who led a rebellion against the British soldier during the heyday of the Raj.
There is not much material to create the life history of U Kiang Nangbah, and in the absence of historical evidence like many folk heroes, with the passage of time the story of u Kiang Nangbah got intertwined with myths and legends that people has weaved and passed on orally from one generation to another.
The recorded correspondence between the British administrators, the military leaders and the power that was in Calcutta and in Cherrapunjee does not provide us with material about the personal life of U Kiang Nangbah. U Kiang to the British was an enemy on the run and a leader of the rebellion they wish crush, and a person they wish to capture whose identity they barely known except his name.
It was from the local oral tradition that we know that his mother’s name was ka Rimai Nangbah, the only record that we have about his father is again from the British record which Dr. Shoban Lamare has salvage from the archive and published in his book. U Phet His father’s name was mentioned in the information recorded when U Kiang was arrested and that too only his name and not his clan’s name was recorded by British so we don’t really have the full identity of u Kiang Nangbah’s father too.
We don’t know when Kiang Nangbah was born, Dr. Omarlin Kyndiah in his write-up said that u Kiang Nangbah was a child when the Jaintia Kingdom was annexed by the British in 1835. In the Pnar tradition u khynnah will be somebody in the age group of 4/5 to 10 and after 10 they are then call khynnah khynroo for boys and khynnah khyllood for girls, hence if we take this into consideration u Kiang must have been born in the year between 1832 and 34.
U Kiang Nangbah is believed to have a divine origin; his origin was from the Soo kpoh khad-ar wyrnai clan, a clan which was started by the four progenitors’ ka Bon, ka Tein, ka Wet and ka Doh, the founding female deities and the first settlers of Jawai who are partly human and partly divine. U Kiang’s also rise to fame when he was about 30 years old and died in his early thirties after fighting for the cause that was dear to his heart for about 3 years
The claimed that U Kiang Nangbah belong to the Soo kpoh khaddar wyrnai clan is because the Kur ‘Nangbah’ is part of the grand Sookpoh khaddar wyrnai clan and it is the sub-kur of the kur Syngkon which originated from ka Bon one of the four progenitors (Yawbei/Seinjeit) of the clan.
U Kiang Nangbah lived in a locality we now called Tpep-pale and his family’s hut must be on the hill top across the valley between the two hills where Yawmusiang and Tpep-pale stand. The valley between Yawmusiang and Tpep-paple derived its name from the Nangbah family’s name and the valley is till this day called ‘wah Nangbah’ which literarily mean the valley below the Nangbah’s place or hut. The place where the Nangbah family’s hut once stands is now owned by one Passah family in the Tpep-pale locality.
Legends have it that u Kiang Nangbah was a well build young man and of a moderate stature by Khasi Pnar standard. It is said that his height must be a little more than 5 feet tall. The story was abound then that u Kiang Nangbah was a strong man and because the strength of a man is based on how much he can plough, he is said to possess extra ordinary strength and in a day can plough double of what any young man of his age can.
Regarding Kiang’ war tactics and the kind of weapons he used, my earlier impression was u Kiang like any native hero would use traditional weapons and gorilla-warfare tactics to fight against the British. My impression was that the Jaintia rebels used the traditional weapons to fight against the British which includes swords and shields, bows and arrows, spikes and lances and et al. But when U Kiang was arrested in Mynser or Umkara village, it was reported that the British soldiers also confiscated three guns from him. The last thing he did when he realized that he was surrounded by the British soldiers was to fire at the betrayer who took them to his hideout and helped identify him to the enemy. U Long Sutnga was lucky the gun got stuck and failed to fire and he was saved.
He was hanged in the evening of the 30 of December 1862 which was also the beginning of the end of the Jaintia rebellion.
(Mohrmen is a freelance writer and environment activist based in Jowai, Meghalaya. He can be reached at [email protected])