The Schoolboy and the Bonga

A Santhal Pargana Tale

translated by Cecil Henry Bompas

There was once a boy who went every day to school and on his way home he used always to bathe in a certain tank. Every day he left his books and slate on the bank while he bathed and no one ever touched them. But one day while he was in the water a bonga maiden came out of the tank and took his books and slate with her under the water. When the boy had finished bathing he searched for them a long time in vain and then went home crying. When the midday meal was served he refused to eat anything unless his books were found: his father and mother promised to find them for him and so he ate a very little. When the meal was finished his father and mother went to the bonga maiden and besought her—singing

“Give daughter-in-law, give

Give our boy his pen, give up his pen.”

The bonga maiden sang in answer

“Let the owner of the pen

Come himself and fetch it.”

Then the boy’s eldest brother and his wife went and sang

“Give, sister-in-law, give,

Give our brother his pen: give up his pen.”

The bonga maiden sing in answer

“Let the owner of the pen

Come himself and fetch it”

Then the boy’s maternal uncle and his wife went and sang the same song and received the same answer. So they told the boy that he must go himself.

When he reached the tank the bonga girl came up and held out his books to him; but when he went to take them she drew back and so she enticed him into the tank; but when once he was under the water he found he was in quite a dry and sandy place. There he stayed and was married to the bonga girl. After he had lived with her a long time he became homesick and longed to see his father and mother. So he told his bonga wife that he must go and visit them. “Then do not take your school books with you,” said she; “perhaps you won’t come back.” “No, I will surely return,” he answered; so she agreed to his going and said that she would sit on the door step and watch for his return; and he must promise to be very quick. She tied up some cakes and dried rice for him and also gave him back his school books.

She watched him go to his home and sat and watched for his return but he never came back. Evening came and night came but he did not return: then the bonga girl rose and went after him. She went through the garden and up to her husband’s house in a flame of fire: and there she changed herself into a Karinangin snake and entering the house climbed on to the bed where the boy lay sleeping and climbed on to his breast and bit him.

“Rise mother, rise mother,

The Karinangin snake

Is biting me.”

he called—

But no one heard him though he kept on calling: so he died and the bonga girl went away with his spirit.

(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.)