The Herd Boy and the Witches

A Santhal Pargana Tale

translated by Cecil Henry Bompas

Once upon a time a cowherd lost a calf and while looking for it he was benighted in the jungle; for he was afraid to go home lest he should be scolded for losing the calf. He had with him his bow and arrows and flute and a stick but still he was afraid to stay the night in the jungle; so he made up his mind to go to the jahirthān as More Turuiko would protect him there; so he went to the jahir thān and climbed a tree in which a spirit abode; he took his bow and arrows up with him but he was too frightened to go to sleep.

About supper time he saw a number of women who were witches collect from all sides at the jahir thān: at this sight he was more frightened than ever; the witches then called up the bongas and they also summoned two tigers; then they danced the lagre dance and they combed the hair of the two tigers. Then they also called More Turniko and when they came, one bonga said “I smell a man” and More Turniko scolded him saying “Faith, you smelt nothing until we came; and directly we come you say you smell a man; it must be us you smell”; and the chief of the bongas agreed that it must be all right. Then while the women were dancing the boy took his bow and shot the two tigers, and the tigers enraged by their wounds fell on the witches and killed them all; and then they died themselves; and as they were dying they roared terribly so that the people in the villages near heard them. When it grew light the boy climbed down and drawing the arrows from the bodies of the tigers went home.

Then the people asked him where he had spent the night and he said that he was benighted while looking for his calf and as he heard tigers roaring near the jahir thān he was frightened and had stayed in the jungle. They told him that when the tigers began to roar the calf had come running home by itself and this was good news to the herd boy. Then he found that all the children in the village were crying for their mothers and the men were asking what had become of their wives; then the herdboy said that in the night he had seen some women going in the direction of the jahir thān but he had not seen them come back and they had better go and look there. So the villagers went off and found their wives lying dead by the jahir thān and the two tigers also dead; and they knew that the women must have been witches to go there at night; so they wept over them and burned the bodies. And a long time afterwards the boy told them all that he had seen and done; and they admitted that he had done right in destroying the witches and that it would be well if all witches met the same fate.

This story whether true or not is told to this day.