Tales of simple folks
Reviewed by Parbina Rashid

Legends of the Lepchas: Folk Tales from Sikkim
By Yishey Doma.
Pages 137. Rs 200.

WHEN the creator becomes "Mother Creator" and social custom requires a perspective groom to present all sorts of gifts to a girlís family to win her hand in marriage, you know you have reached the North-East. This time it is Sikkim, the eighth state of the region, which is presented in its most pure and primitive form through Legends of the Lepchas: Folk Tales from Sikkim by Yishey Doma, a poet and journalist who had earlier penned down a coffee-table book, Sikkim: The Hidden Fruitful Valley.

For the uninitiated, the Lepchas are the original inhabitants of Sikkim who are now concentrated in the central part of the state. Before the influence of Buddhism or Christianity, the Lepchas were believers of "bone" faith or "mune" faith and worshipped the spirits of mountains, rivers and forests.

The 24 folk tales painstakingly collected by Doma reflect the cohesive world of the Lepchas, where gods, goddesses, animals, people and nature live in perfect harmony. It starts with Itbu-moo or Mother Creator creating Kongchen Kongcho or Mount Khangchendzonga and eventually, the first man Fudongthing.

The Lepchas believe that the first woman Nazong Nyu was created out of Fudongthingís bones, but here the relationship was defined as brother and sister, which, of course, turned to that of a man and woman later, not because of any provocation from the evil but for their need to bite the forbidden fruit.

Like all folk tales, there are fairies and there are demons, there are animals that speak the same language as men, walking trees and shifting terrains in generous portions. That is to be expected considering that the Lepchas are the Motherís loved ones, children of the snowy peak and children of God, Mutanchi Rong Kup Rum Kup, in their language.

And like`A0most folk tales that owe their origin to the north-eastern multi-ethnicity, Yishey Domaís collection too seeks to explain diseases, misfortunes and some geographical and celestial phenomena based on their bone beliefs. The tales also reflect the advent of Budhism in Sikkim and Guru Padmasambhva, popularly known as Guru Riponche, finds a mention in many a story.

Itís a brave attempt by Doma to capture the legend of the Lepchas through its folk tales. After all Lepcha as a language has been bearing the burden of the derogatory tag "inarticulate speech" given by the Nepalese. And itís also time for the Harry Potter-generation to know our own indigenous demons and gods, fairies and witches, the mystical vases and magic drums, the`A0collective wisdom of our forefathers.

The names of the people and places at times are mouthful. The customs and traditions may also seem alien to an outsider, which hinder the flow`A0of reading, but Yishy Doma has tried to make it easy by explaining each difficult terminology in the reference section. The book may not present`A0Sikkim at its best, but it definitely captures the innocence and the simplicity of the Lepchas.