Ramai and the Bonga

A Santhal Pargana Tale

translated by Cecil Henry Bompas

Once a bonga haunted the house of a certain man and became such a nuisance that the man had him exorcised and safely pegged down to the ground; and they fenced in the place where the bonga lay with thorns and put a large stone on the top of him. Just at the place was a clump of “Kite’s claws” bushes and one day when the berries on the bushes were ripe, a certain cowherd named Ramai went to pick them and when he came round to the stone which covered the bonga he stood on it to pick the fruit and the bonga called out to him to get off the stone; Ramai looked about and seeing no one said “Who is that speaking?” and the voice said “I am buried under the stone; if you will take it off me I will give you whatever boon you ask”; Ramai said that he was afraid that the bonga would eat him but the bonga swore to do him no harm, so he lifted up the stone and the bonga came out and thanking Ramai told him to ask a boon.

Ramai asked for the power to see bongas and to understand the language of ants. “I will give you the power,” said the bonga, “but you must tell no one about it, not even your wife; if you do you will lose the power and in that case you must not blame me,” Then the bonga blew into his ear and he heard the speech of ants; and the bonga scratched the film of his eye balls with a thorn and he saw the bongas: and there were crowds of them living in villages like men. In December when we thresh the rice the bongas carry off half of it; but Ramai could see them and would drive them away and so was able to save his rice.

Once a young fellow of his own age was very ill; and his friends blew into his ears and partially brought him to his senses and he asked them to send for Ramai; so they called Ramai and he had just been milking his cows and came with the tethering rope in his hand; and when he entered the room he saw a bonga sitting on the sick man’s chest and twisting his neck; so he flogged it with the rope till it ran away and he pursued it until it threw itself into a pool of water; and then the sick man recovered.

But Ramai soon lost his useful power; one day as he was eating his dinner he dropped some grains of rice and two ants fell to quarrelling over one grain and Ramai heard them abusing each other and was so amused that he laughed out loud.

His wife asked why he laughed and he said at nothing in particular, but she insisted on knowing and he said that it was at some scandal he had heard in the village; but she would not believe him and worried him until he told her that it was at the quarrel of the ants. Then she made him tell her how he gained the power to understand what they said: but from that moment he lost the powers which the bonga had conferred on him.

(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.)