The Bonga Headman

A Santhal Pargana Tale

translated by Cecil Henry Bompas

Sarjomghutu is a village about four miles from Barhait Bazar on the banks of the Badi river. On the river bank grows a large banyan tree. This village has no headman or paranic; any headman who is appointed invariably dies; so they have made a bonga who lives in the banyan tree their headman.

When any matter has to be decided, the villagers all meet at the banyan tree, where they have made their manjhi than; they take out a stool to the tree and invite the invisible headman to sit on it. Then they discuss the matter and themselves speak the answers which the headman is supposed to give. This goes on to the present day and there is no doubt that these same villagers sometimes offer human sacrifices, but they will never admit it, for it would bring them bad luck to speak about it.

The villagers get on very well with the bonga. If any of them has a wedding or a number of visitors at his house, and has not enough plates and dishes, he goes to the banyan tree and asks the headman to lend him some. Then he goes back to his house, and returning in a little while finds the plates and dishes waiting for him under the tree; and when he has finished with them he cleans them well and takes them back to the tree.

(Bongas, i.e. the spirits which the Santals believe to exist everywhere, and to take an active part in human affairs. Bongas frequently assume the form of young men and women and form connections with human beings of the opposite sex.)