Shapeshifting Traditions among the Khasi of Northeast India: Ecological Engagements and Multispecies Relationships

Published: Oct 29, 2023
Synthesis Anglophone Journal of Comparative Literary Studies Comparative Literature re-storying stories multispecies survival multispecies narratives belief multispecies human-animal transformations Khasi ethnography
Margaret Lyngdoh

This article engages with Water as a core medium in folklore among Khasi, an indigenous community in Northeast India. In the context of the corpus of narratives that engage, interact with, involve, and folklorise water—what will henceforth be called the folklore of water—I look at human-animal transformation traditions. Leaning heavily on empirical material derived from primary fieldwork, this article looks at the folklore of water as home to sanghkini or ‘hybrid’ persons who transform into weresnakes during the monsoon season. Aside from fulfilling its mundane utilitarian purposes, water among Khasi is more: water is expressive of the Khasi knowledge of the world around them. As will be discussed, water is a form of indigenous knowledge. If we look at water as a tradition-resource, it will allow disparate expressions of Khasi religious expression—gender-switching in shapeshifter form; astral travel in sangkhini-dreaming and examples of multispecies relationalities—to be viewed together as articulations of water as mediator, enabling new layers of understanding.

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Author Biography
Margaret Lyngdoh, University of Tartu

Margaret Lyngdoh received her PhD in 2016 from the University of Tartu, Estonia. She was the 2016 Albert Lord Fellow at the Centre for Studies in Oral Tradition, University of Missouri and received the Estonian Research Council Grant postdoctoral fellowship for her project from 2018-2021. Lyngdoh was the editor of the Journal of the International Society for Folk Narrative Research (ISFNR) 2019 -2022. She is a researcher at the Department of Estonian and Comparative Folklore. She is executive member, Belief Narrative Network (BNN). Her topics include indigenous worldviews, liminal ontologies, the folkloristics of religion, Khasi and Karbi magic, and the anthropology of Christianity.

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