The House Bonga

A Santhal Pargana Tale

translated by Cecil Henry Bompas

Once upon a time there was a house bonga who lived in the house of the headman of a certain village; and it was a shocking thief; it used to steal every kind of grain and food, cooked and uncooked; out of the houses of the villagers. The villagers knew what was going on but could never catch it.

One evening however the bonga was coming along with a pot of boiled rice which it had stolen, when one of the villagers suddenly came upon it face to face; the bonga slunk into the hedge but the villager saw it clearly and flung his stick at it, whereupon the bonga got frightened and dropped the pot of rice on the ground so that it was smashed to pieces and fled. The villager pursued the bonga till he saw it enter the headman’s house. Then he went home, intending the next morning to show the neighbours the spilt rice lying on the path; but when the morning came he found that the rice had been removed, so he kept quiet.

At midday he heard the headman’s servants complaining that the rice which had been given them for breakfast was so dirty and muddy that some of them had not been able to eat it at all; then he asked how they were usually fed “Capitally,” they answered “we get most varied meals, often with turmeric and pulse or vegetables added to the rice; but that is only for the morning meal; for supper we get only plain rice.” “Now, I can tell you the reason of that” said the villager, “there is a greedy bonga in your house who goes stealing food at night and puts some of what he gets into your pots for your morning meal.” “That’s a fine story” said the servants: “No, it’s true” said the villager, and told them how the evening before he had made the bonga drop the rice and how afterwards it had been scraped up off the ground; and when they heard this they believed him because they had found the mud in their food.

Some time afterwards the same man saw the bonga again at night making off with some heads of Indian corn; so he woke up a friend and they both took sticks and headed off the bonga, who threw down the Indian corn and ran away to the headman’s house. Then they woke up the headman and told him that a thief had run into his house. So he lit a lamp and went in to look, and they could hear the bonga running about all over the house making a great clatter and trying to hide itself; but they could not see it. Then they took the headman to see the Indian corn which the bonga had dropped in its flight. The next day the villagers met and fined the headman for having the bonga in his house; and from that time the bonga did not steal in that village, and whenever the two men who had chased it visited the headman’s house the bonga was heard making a great clatter as it rushed about trying to hide.

(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.)