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
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