The Bonga’s Victim

A Santhal Pargana Tale

translated by Cecil Henry Bompas

Once upon a time there were seven brothers and they had one sister. Every day they used to go out hunting leaving their wives and sister at home. One very hot day they had been hunting since dawn and began to feel very thirsty; so they searched for water but could find none. Then one of them climbed a tree and from its summit saw a beautiful pool of water close by: so he came down and they all went in the direction in which he had seen the water; but they could not find it anywhere; so another of the brothers climbed a tree and he called out that he could see the pool close by, but when he came down and led them in what he thought was the right direction he was equally unable to find the water; and so it went on; whenever they climbed a tree they could see the water close by, but when on the ground they could not find it; and all the time they were suffering tortures from thirst.

Then they saw that some bonga was deluding them and that they must offer some sacrifice to appease him.

At first they proposed to devote one of their wives to the bonga; but not one of the brothers was willing that his wife should be the victim; and they had no children to offer so at last they decided to dedicate their only sister as the sacrifice. Then they prayed “Ye who are keeping the water from us, listen; we dedicate to you our only sister; show us where the water is.” No sooner had they said this than they saw a pool of water close beside them and hastened to it and quenched their thirst. Then they rested and began to discuss how they should sacrifice their sister; and at last they decided that as they had devoted her to the bonga because they wanted water, it would be best to cast her into the water; and they planned to go and work one day near a pond of theirs and make their sister bring their breakfast out to them and then drown her.

So they went home and two or three days later the eldest brother said that the time had come for the sacrifice; but the two youngest loved their sister very much and begged for a little delay. Out of pity the others agreed; but almost at once one of the brothers fell ill and was like to die. Medicines were tried but had no effect; then they called in an ojha and he told them that the bonga to whom they had made the vow while out hunting had caused the illness and that if they did not fulfil the vow their brother would die. Then they all went to the sick man’s bedside and poured out water on the ground and swore that they would fulfil their vow; no sooner had they done so than the sick man was restored to health.

So the very next day they arranged to go and level the field near their pond and they told their wives to send their sister to them with their breakfast. When the time came the girl took out their breakfast and put it down by them and they sent her to draw water for them from the pond but when she put her water pot down to the surface it would not sink so as to let the water run in. The girl called out to her brothers that the pot would not fill; they told her to go a little further into the water; so she went in till the water was up to her thighs but still the pot would not fill: then they called to her to go in further and she went in waist deep but still it would not fill; then she went in up to her neck and still it would not fill; then she went in a little further and the water closed over her and she was drowned. At this sight the brothers threw away the food which she had brought and hastened home.

Some days later the body rose and floated to the bank and at the place where it lay a bamboo sprang up and grew and flourished. One day a Dome went to cut it down to make a flute of; as he raised his axe the voice of the girl spoke from within the bamboo “O Dome, do not cut high up; cut low down.” The Dome looked about but could not see who it was who spoke; however he obeyed the voice and cut the bamboo close to the ground and made a flute of it. The sound of the flute was surpassingly sweet and the Dome used to play on it every day. One day he was playing on it at a friend’s house and a Santal heard it and was so taken by its sweet tone that he came at night and stole it.

Having got possession of it he used to play on it constantly and always keep it by him. Every night the flute became a woman and the Santal found her in his house without knowing where she came from and used to spend the night talking to her but towards morning she used to go outside the house on some pretext and disappear. But one night as she was about to depart the Santal seized her and forced her to stay with him. Then she retained her human form but the flute was never seen afterwards; so they called the girl the Flute girl and she and the Santal were betrothed and soon afterwards married.

(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.)