Ramjit Bonga

A Santhal Pargana Tale

translated by Cecil Henry Bompas

Once upon a time a man went out to snare quail: he set his snares by the side of a mountain stream and then sat down under a bush to watch them. As he waited he saw a young woman come along with her water pot under her arm to draw water from the stream. When she got to the ghat she put down her pot and made her way up the stream towards where the snares had been set; she did not notice the hunter but went to the stump of an ebony tree near him and looking round and seeing no one she suddenly became possessed and started dancing round the ebony tree and singing some song which he could not clearly catch; and as she danced she called out “The Pig’s fat is overflowing: brother-in-law Ramjit come here to me.” When she called out like this the quail catcher quietly crept nearer still to her. Although the woman repeatedly summoned him in this way the Bonga would not come out because he was aware of the presence of the onlooker; the woman however got into a passion at his non-appearance and stripping off her clothes she danced naked round the tree calling out “The Pig’s fat is overflowing: brother-in-law Ramjit come hither at once.” At last out of the nala appeared the bonga, dark, enormous and shaggy; and approached the woman: Then the woman said “Brother-in-law Ramjit there is something that you must do for me; my nephew is ill; he must die on such and such a day; that day I must see the smoke of his funeral pyre; but you must save me from the witch-finder; let the blame fall not on me but on so and so; this is what I came to urge on you; that you protect me from discovery and then we shall always be friends.”

The Bonga at first knowing that they were being watched would not make the promise but when the woman insisted he promised in a low voice and then disappeared into the nala; and the witch went back to the ghat, filled her water pot and went home. The quail catcher also went trembling home and he remembered the day fixed for the death of the nephew of the witch and he decided to wait and see what happened before saying anything to the villagers. Sure enough on the day before that fixed by the witch the invalid became unconscious and was obviously at the point of death. When he heard this the quail catcher went to the sick man’s bedside and seeing his condition told his relatives to collect all the villagers to beat the woman whom he had seen with the Bonga and he told them all that had passed; the villagers believed him and summoning all the women of the village they scolded them; and then being excited by this they rose up and began to beat the women; to each they gave one blow with a stick, but the woman whom the quail catcher pointed out they beat till she fainted.

Then they ordered her to cure the sick man and threatened to burn her along with him if he died, but she insisted that she was innocent. Then they told her that they knew all that had passed between her and the Bonga Ramjit, she persisted that it was all a mistake. So they started to beat her again; they beat her from her heels to her neck and then from her neck down to her heels till the blood flowed and they swore that they would not let her go unless she cured the sick man and that if he died they would cut her to pieces. At last the torture made her confess that it was she who was eating the sick man; and she promised to cure him; so they first made her tell the names of all the other witches in the village and then tied her to a post and kept her there, and did not untie her till in four or five days the sick man recovered. When she was let loose the quail catcher ran away from the village and would not live there any more.

But the villagers threatened the witch woman that if her nephew or any of his family got ill again they would kill her; and they told her that as her secret had been found out she was henceforth to be their ojha and cure their diseases; and they would supply her with whatever she wanted for the purpose; they asked what sacrifice her nephew must make on his recovery; and she told them to get a red cock, a grasshopper: a lizard; a cat and a black and white goat; so they brought her these and she sacrificed them and the villagers had a feast of rice and rice beer and went to their homes and the matter ended.