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Kongthong Village: An Enchanting Melody of Meghalaya

20 May,2023 05:53 PM, by: Sushmita Dey
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Kongthong, the picturesque village nestled in the mesmerizing East Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya which is 60 km away from its capital city Shillong, is renowned for its unique and captivating musical tradition. Popularly known as the "Whistling Village," Kongthong is home to about 700 people who belong to the Khasi tribe.The primary modes of sustenance of the villagers are farming and hunting in the lush green meadows and the dense tropical rainforests which surround the place from all sides.

In the past, the melodies were used to keep track of one another in the forest while hunting, and also "to ward off evil spirits”. Following which the residents here communicate with each other through melodious tunes instead of using conventional names.This enchanting practice garnered attention from across the globe, making ‘Kongthong’ an extraordinary destination for cultural exploration. Let's delve into the melodious world of Kongthong and uncover the secrets behind this harmonious village.  

The Musical Language:

In Kongthong, each villager possesses a musical tune, locally referred to as a "jingrwai lawbei," which is composed by their mothers and passed down through generations. These tunes are distinct and represent the identity of an individual. Instead of calling someone by their given name, villagers melodiously whistle their tune to summon or get their attention. This practice not only fosters a strong sense of community but also adds a touch of magic to everyday life in Kongthong.

Preserving Tradition:

The tradition of whistling as a means of communication has been deeply ingrained in the cultural fabric of Kongthong for centuries. Meghalaya is a matrilineal society, where the matrilineal principles, ethos, traditions and customs are deep seated into the system and orally handed down generations; much like the practice of using unique musical tunes to identify a person had been rooted culturally and passed down orally.  It is also a manifestation of their matriliny.

Despite the advances of modern technology, the villagers have steadfastly held onto their musical language, valuing its beauty and uniqueness. The village elders play a crucial role in teaching the tunes to the younger generation, ensuring that this captivating tradition endures.

Tourism and Recognition:

In recent years, Kongthong has gained popularity as a tourist destination, attracting visitors who are captivated by its musical heritage. Travelers have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the village's vibrant culture, witness the whistling language firsthand, and even learn a few tunes themselves.

In 2014, a road was built to Kongthong that replaced the previous hiking trail through the mountains; and a year earlier, a homestay was built in the village in the traditional style using local materials like bamboo. Here, the people also offer community-led initiatives for tourists, where one can immerse in an authentic experience, fostering cultural exchange and contribute towards the local economy.

In September 2021, this village was nominated for the UNWTO's Best Tourism Village award, which recognises "villages taking innovative and transformative approaches to tourism in rural areas in line with the Sustainable Development Goals"

In 2016, award-winning Indian filmmaker Oinam Doren released a 52-minute documentary titled “My Name is Eeooow” on Kongthong and its unique tradition. The film bagged the Tangible Culture Prize at the 15th RAI Film Festival in Bristol. The plot speaks on what happens to this maternal expression of love when children fly the nest to bigger cities and are exposed to modern lifestyles.

Kongthong village in Meghalaya stands as a testament to the enduring power of tradition and the remarkable capacity of music to connect people. Its whistling language has captivated the world, drawing visitors to experience the magical melodies firsthand. As Kongthong continues to navigate the balance between the matrilineal principles, ethos, traditions & customs  and tourism, it serves as a shining example of cultural preservation and community resilience. To witness the harmonious interplay of nature, music, and human connection, a visit to Kongthong is an absolute must for those seeking a truly enchanting cultural experience.



Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author's. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Critical Script or its editor.

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