An assessment on 'Ebenpokki wari', Manipuri folktales

Like any other folktales of the world, the stories in the book are refined for listening and found easier for children to differentiate characters, follow a plot-line or recall a sequence of events with plain vocabularies to understand.

Folktales are one of the major forms of folk literature. This genre of literature is also called as folklore or oral tradition, and all the forms of this literature are the traditional narrations transmitted by words of mouth through generation. It includes all the myths, legends, epics, fables, folktales, folk songs with or without musical instrument, ballad, folk dramas(containing speeches or songs which may be part of ritual and chanting of sacred texts). Like the written literature, it consists of both prose and verse narratives, songs, dramas, rituals, proverbs, riddles, and the like.

American folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand in his words, "Folktales are traditional prose narratives that are strictly fictional and told primarily for entertainment although they may also illustrate a truth or point a moral." This oral literature is basically intended for children to educate their character traits and reinforce the love of oneness, cultural values, customs and beliefs.

"Ebenpokki Wari" also attempts to create the same context. It is a compendium of twenty selected stories by  (Late) Shri W Tomchou Singh( author and linguist). Like any other folktales of the world, the stories in the book are refined for listening and found easier for children to differentiate characters, follow a plot-line or recall a sequence of events with plain vocabularies to understand. Above all the book, I'm sure, will help the younger generation incredibly, at a time in the region when there is an acute crisis of moral depletion, disregarding the cultural and traditional values and losing the sense of unity among the growing children. Most importantly, during these days of nation-wide lockdown in the wake of  COVID-19 outbreak, when elders and parents find a good time to sit together with their children at home,  I hope,  the content stories of the book could be one of the finest approaches through which they should impart moral lessons, character traits to their children and many other values. Furthermore, a best time for the young children also to cultivate the habit of reading and inculcate creative thinking in their mind.

"Ebenpokki Wari", reads as Old wife's tales or grandmother's tales was first published on October 15, 1958 and reappeared on July 8, 2013 in its second edition published by Padmini Devi de Wangkheimayum . It consists of the tales such as i) Tapta ii) Laikhusangbi (in my English subtitle, Long-armed Wicked Witch) iii) Kei amasung Ushai(Tiger and Heron) iv) Houngdong Lamboiba(Ascetic Cat) v) Pebet (The Tailor- Bird) vi) Kabui-Keioiba (Kabui Beast Man) vii) Samu Angoubagi Macha (White Elephant's Daughter) viii) Hamei Yonbi(Malted Rice Saleswoman) ix) Tokpa amasung Yenbaraba (Lynx and Rooster) x) Sabi Tomcht(Sincere Bush Rat) xi) Khambrakchak Pidonnu(Pidonnu, The Thrust) xii) Moithap Naibi(Cotton Rolling Woman) xiii) Raniton(Younger Queen) xiv) Nupi Lamhenbi(Vulgar Woman) xv) Theba Lousingba (Clever Hare) xvi) Katn Heibong Makha Hippa(The Indolent Man Lies Under Fig Tree) xvii) Apaang Chumcht (Blockhead Simpleton) xviii) Lukhrabigi Macha (Widow's Son) xix) Hungngoi Porobi ( Toad) xx) Aber Panganba (Aber the Stout Man).

According to the nature and characteristics of the tales, it can be  broadly classified into four categories viz. a) Animals Tales; stories featuring  animals, birds or any other inanimate objects like "Houdong Lamboiba", "Tokpa amasung Yenbaraba", "Sabi Tomcht", "Theba Lousingba", "Pebet", "Khambrangchak Pidonnu", b) Nooddlehead Tales ; stories with silly people or animals doing silly things out of pure nonsense and jocularity, however bringing triumph over the craftier evils, such as  "Apaang Chumcht", "Katn Heibong Makha Hippa", c) Pourquoi tales ( meaning 'why' in French language); stories that seek to explain some other or natural phenomena as in  "Khambrangchak Pidonnu", d) Wonder Tales; stories of supernatural wonders typically depicting the conflict between good and evil in which they are concluded with the triumph of virtue over evil and a happy ending, such as"Lukhrabigi Macha", "Hungngoi Porobi " and "Samu Angoubagi Macha".

Some of the tales also bear the characteristics of two or more  categories. They model the elements of effective decision-making. Almost all the characters   invariably encounter conflicts that require them to make difficult decisions and take action to resolve a conflict. These decisions then lead to clear consequences that carry a message : making a 'good' or more responsible decision results in positive outcomes while making a 'poor' or irresponsible decision inevitably leads to negative outcomes. As a result some of the tales can demonstrate the importance of making difficult decisions under challenging circumstances. Engaging children in discussions about the consequences of making poorly thought or rash decisions, helps them to see the importance of making effective decisions in their lives.  

Besides some of them embody hope and aspiration of people in the society . They help in showing how society views itself and also conveys their notions of justice, rights and obligations of its citizens. Laziness, greed and selfishness are therefore portrayed as negatively as possible with the offending characters such as the lazy man in "Katan Heibong Makha Hippa" (page 41) and the silly guy in "Apang Chumcht " (page 43)  always suffering for their idiotic and unwise behaviour. And some of the tales like "Houdong Lamboiba" (page 9) and "Kabui-Keioiba" (page 13) have performances and personal interaction between audience and storyteller with the rhymes, "...samu kaka lili kaka ", (lullaby) Tha Tha Thabungton/ Nacha Morambi Pobigey/ Pobi Sanaam Naambigey Ibungogi Heibong Charong Amata Thadabirakao/ (O! Moon, Young Moon/ I shall carry your kid on my back/ So release a cluster of fig fruits for my dear child /" (Tapta, page 1), "Soonaro Narilo/ Nabung Taretki Manungda Nathanta pokpi Tamphaton / Yotkki Pouron Taret Shtlo ; Nabung Lakae; Thong hango/... Kabui-keioiba naning namang hotrong ho natu leima kang kok", (Kabui Beast Man! Both ends are hollow, your consort vanishes and the abode is also gutted), (Kabui-Keioiba, pages 13 & 16), "Taytrektay, Trektay-Thangtay/ Koning Koning (Sabi Tomcht, page 26), etc. These recital ensure our attentiveness and participation.

Besides, among the tales that impress me most  are "Moithap Naibi", "Raniton" and "Nupi Lamhenbi", since all these stories reflect the characters of some of the stereotypical women, wives and mothers of the contemporary days, in which it is the subject of my study. In  "Moithap Naibi", the plot is revolved round the gossip loving and idle wife  who has not a  single contribution in the family, but only relying on her husband all the time, that shrink the family into poverty.  And with her contrast character is the younger queen in "Raniton", who supports her husband mentally, morally and physically . She puts  her man to a higher and respectable status in the society. I quote and unquote the words of the wife to her husband ...Ibungo ningthou khnluro/ Nupa haiba sidi Rajniti-Byavaar khngadabani; nupa oina poklaga Rajniti thouggallol khngdrabadi nupa oibagi kariamata kannade (subtitled as... My Honey! Go get the favour of the king as a man being born he must be loyal, tactical and opportunist, if not thing will go hopeless in life) While the young widow in "Hamei Yonbi"  is depicted as a devilish irresponsible mother. Feeling nothing for the fate of her two young kids,  but intoxicated in the sensuality, she can elope with her newly found lover leaving her children under no one care.

Looking into all these accounts the book as a whole is indisputably a superb work and a great contribution to Manipuri literature, except a little distaste in  the use  of some foreign words like "jungle", "Rajniti" etc. in some of the tales in place of the local vocabularies, which question it's native originality. And I do hope, everybody would definitely love to enjoy the book.

First Published:May 23, 2020, 11:36 p.m.