The Khasi people believe that men were not the only sentient beings sent to earth by the Creator God, the one whom they refer only to as U Nongbuh Nongthaw. There were other spirits and entities too, each with its own sense of purpose, wants and needs. Often deified as earthly gods, these powerful beings are of many kinds and tribes, living alongside human beings since the beginning of time.
The Khasis also believe that some of these beings were specifically sent to earth as custodians and caretakers of nature and the earthly realms. They call these beings Ryngkew or Basa. They were believed to be able to take on any form and reside in their own natural territories – be it a hill, a mountain, a forest, a river or stream, or any place they were appointed to watch over. Known to be fierce protectors of their own territories, these beings are often most feared and respected by the people who are aware of their existence. The belief still survives to this day.
People need to hunt in the recent past to stay alive, especially in places where farming is not a fruitful labour. There were however certain parts of the wildlands and jungles where they were forbidden to do so. Under no circumstances should people be allowed to harm anything inside these forests – for these forests are believed to be under the stewardship of the earthly gods, the Ryngkews and the Basas. Bad things often befall people who fail to abide by this code. The gods (the Ryngkews and the Basas), they believed, can grant curses and also wishes to those who happen to meet them, although it is very rare for them to do so. Usually they like to be left alone and undisturbed. No one knows what happens if the Ryngkew or Basa gets disturbed and certainly no one would want to find out. This belief of the Khasi people too is still strong to this day, with some of these age-old reserved forests still intact and venerated.
Once, there was a person named Kani who lives in the town of Nongrim, who loves hunting more than anything else in the world. So great was his love for the sport that he would choose to devote many nights in the forest hunting, rather than spend quality time at home with his loving family and friends. Gradually his unbridled passion turned into an unhealthy addiction, while his fame as a crazed hunter of Nongrim never seems to stop spreading. As a hunter, he was lauded for knowing even the most obscure tracks in every forest in the region and for the wonderful trophies he brought back to the markets. As a person, however, he was heavily disliked by many, particularly by his family and folks at home for his insincerity, general indifference and lack of respect for anything but himself.
One day, while Kani was out again on yet another hunting spree, he accidently crossed into one of these sacred parts of the forests not far from his village. Named Rangpongpa, this part of the forest is so old and ancient that the memory of it being a place of a certain forest god has long passed away along with the memory of his name.
As an exceptionally experienced hunter, Kani knows his way around the forests as he knows the back of his hand for he is quite familiar with the areas around his village. Only this time however, he sensed that he had never been in that part of the forest before. Nothing seems familiar, except for the vegetation which seems to have grown a lot thicker and the trees which seem to have grown a lot taller. There was a certain kind of unusual dread in the air and Kani seemed to have sensed it too. Something strange was definitely afoot.
Usually, people would turn back when things like these happen but Kani isn’t in the least afraid of these things. He is even more excited as ever because he had never hunted in this strange area before. Since this part of the forest seems thicker, he expected that there would be more exotic animals and hence, more trophies. Eventually, he found his perfect place near a waterhole as he perched himself on a branch of a very tall Soh-um tree and waited with his rifle – oiled and loaded.
As the sun starts to go down, the forest gradually loses its colour to an almost pitch blackness of the night. So far, no animal in sight, Kani thought as he remained there perching motionlessly on the branch, a skill befitting only a few men of his calibre. After another couple of hours of waiting, Kani was suddenly awakened from his half-slumber by a white thing flashing out of the nearby thickets. He cocked his gun and aimed at the spot where the movement was seen.
What he saw surprised him so much that he nearly fell off the tree in excitement.
It was a fox with an especially bright white fur moving about in the bushes seemingly unaware of Kani’s presence. The white fur is so bright; it shines – almost mimicking the half moon above it. Kani eventually regained his position as he aimed his gun at the white thing again. “A white ghostly fox…” He gleefully thought to himself. “...what a score! Imagine how much money they would give me for this!”
In his defense, the fox did look like something out of a fairy tale. White, spotless and ethereal, the enchanting animal stood out of the darkness like a well misplaced apparition. The sight is most otherworldly indeed.
Kani, fully regained, was just about to pull the trigger when he heard a very loud, booming and deafening voice that seemed to be coming from nowhere and everywhere at once.
Taken off guard, Kani relaxed his aim and listened to the strange voice for a few seconds. The source of the voice cannot be determined, neither is its direction. When no other sound was heard, he grudgingly took to aiming the rifle again, thinking that he was just simply imagining things. That it was all in his head.
When he was just about to pull the trigger, he heard the voice again. This time it was louder and a lot more terrifying.
“GO BACK HOME AT ONCE!”
And this time, Kani was scared because he had heard it loud and clear. He was definitely not imagining it. It was most definitely not in his head. It was real. No sooner than he realized this, he started hearing the loud thumping sounds that are slowly drawing closer. The thumping sounds raised several hairs on his neck as he panicked and quickly packed up his rifle and nap sack in an attempt to flee before things got any worse. But before he could leap from the tree branch into the ground below, he saw a shadowy figure of a very big animal approaching him with the same loud thumping sounds that could only have come from the animal’s exaggerated footsteps.
As soon as he saw what it actually was, Kani froze. By then, the huge human-like thing had come out of the shadow of the trees and into the faint light feebly shone by the waning half-moon. This bizarre creature was so grotesquely huge that although it was standing with its feet on the ground below, all Kani could see were its big bare tummy and its pair of thick monstrous pillar-sized legs. And whatever this thing is, it is stomping towards Kani, slowly, threateningly, with a strange calculated intensity. The upper part of the body including the head cannot be seen as it was so high above the trees!
The frightened master hunter stumbled, lost his footing and fell from the branch of the tall Soh-um tree. Luckily the forest floor of thick fallen leaves broke his fall and he was unharmed. He quickly got to his feet and ran home as fast as his legs could carry him without ever looking back. Any thoughts of the white ghostly fox had completely left him by then as he ran towards home without stopping.
Upon reaching the village, the story of Kani’s terrifying ordeal spread like wildfire. It was later ruled out to be a rare encounter with a Ryngkew, one of the guardian gods of the natural world. To make things even stranger, this specific part of the woods where the leaves are bigger and the trees are taller, was never found when villagers went to look for it in the following morning. It was also ruled out that Kani, who was once a proud man, was far too humbled by the supposed encounter to be lying about it, or so the villagers thought. But whatever it was that he saw, legend has that Kani never went hunting ever again.