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First Families

Ki Hynniew Trep myth

In the beginning there were sixteen families. Heaven and earth were connected by a tree called Diengiei, which was on a hill called U Lum Sohpetbneng ("Navel of Heaven"). People came and went easily and had a very close relationship with God. But the tree was so big that it covered the earth with darkness.

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One day the devil came to the people and told them to cut down the tree. "You will get sunlight and warmth," said the devil. The people were delighted by the idea, so some men decided to cut down the tree. But the tree was so big that they could not complete the job in a day. To their surprise, when they returned the next morning, they could not find the cut they had made. Every day they cut the tree, and every morning the cut disappeared.

Then the devil asked if they knew why they could not cut down the tree. The devil explained that a tiger came every night and licked the tree, filling in the cut. The people asked the devil to help them complete the job. The devil advised, "Cut the tiger's tongue. Leave your saws and axes in the tree." The people obeyed, and sure enough, when they returned the next morning they found their saws and axes stained with blood. The cut in the tree was still there.

The people were very happy and continued cutting the tree. But when it fell, nine families were in heaven and could never come down again. The seven who were on earth became the progenitors of the Khasi, and they are called the Hynniew Trep or Hynniew Skum, the "seven huts."

Ki Hynniew Trep myth
Khasi Hills, Meghalaya, India

The matrilineal tribal people of the Khasi Hills had no written tradition until Christian missionaries arrived in the nineteenth century. Hajom Kissor Singh learned about Unitarianism and introduced the religion to his people in 1887. Many embraced it over evangelical Christianity in part because it did not require rejecting their traditional beliefs. The Khasi Unitarian Union today includes thirty-two congregations and some 9,000 people. This passage is adapted from a sermon delivered by Darihun Khriam, the first female "church visitor" in the Unitarian Union, at the UUA's Eliot Chapel in Boston in 2002.

 Contents: UU World Back Issue

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