Meghalaya’s lush forests of the East Khasi Hills is where it is nestled, the whistling village of Kongthong is dotted with quaint huts and fringed farms brimming with betelnut trees and is tiny hamlet housing 700 villagers as its inhabitant who live deep into the forest, cultivate the land, hunt locally and live a peaceful serene pastoral life. Kongthong is more popular for its sounds rather than its sights as the villagers have a unique form of communication where they use a whistled tune to identify and converse amongst themselves instead of names in meghalaya. During the birth of every infant in Kongthong, the mother composes a significant lullaby without any words but just tunes which is considered as the baby’s identity after its birth and is used by the villagers to recognise and remember each other . These tunes usually resemble a bird call and is an age old tradition among the villagers, the origin of which is as distant as the region itself and renders extremely helpful during hunting expeditions where these sounds are used to alert fellow members of the hunting group without instigating curiosity amongst other groups who might be after the same prey.
Inspired wholly by nature or natural sounds, each jingrwai lawbei or lullaby is different and unique from the other and goes on from half a minute to a minute. After ensuring that the melodious whistled lullaby made by the mother is distinctive and unique from all the others, it acts as a permanent identity stamp for the child who learns to respond to these tunes very quickly. Intriguingly, the title of these tunes that are used by the villagers of meghalaya to address each other amongst themselves is only 5 to 6 seconds long and shockingly they never use their official names to engage with each other. No tune composition is ever repeated to address another, even if the individual passes away. The musical heritage of this tribal community also plays a significant role in the courting rituals of the village on every full moon night during the summer where the villagers take part in a grand celebration by lighting a bonfire in the middle of the forest where every unmarried young man sings a self composed tune and the the person chosen for the best tune is married to the prettiest single woman in the village.
It is believed that unseen spirits of the forest makes an individual fall drastically ill if they hear names being called out loud so the lullaby is a way of protection from unforeseen danger. Similar to the American native cult tribes, these villagers of meghalaya also believe that every child born is a counterpart in the world of plants or birds. But their practice of the whistling conversations make much more practical sense as in the mountains of meghalaya, the sound of names usually diffuses when yelled over valleys and ridges but these distinctive tunes reverberate and travel much faster to a person.
Although in the past years, many scholars from US and Europe have tried to study and understand the villagers’ unique mode of communication, sadly its rich oral traditions are very little known to its own nation where the government does nothing to protect this distinguished cultural heritage and give it the deserving recognition it has earned. But the local administration has taken a good few steps in the right direction and a homestay called Traveller’s Nest has been introduced to boost tourism at Kongthong and great efforts are being made in order to preserve the indegenious culture. So if you are in the beautiful Meghalaya, you must take a detour to the whistling village Kongthong for a unique and unforgettable experience!