The Divine Ancestress in a Matrilineal Society: The Imprints of Khasi Matriliny on the Legend of Ka Pahsyntiew
Keywords:Matrilineal society, Khasi folklore, Swan maiden, Northeast India
The Khasi people in the state of Meghalaya, Northeast India, observe matrilineal customs. Among the Khasis, descent is traced through the female line. Women hold an esteemed status of the persons who continue lineages and promote the welfare of their families and clans. This paper examines the legend of Ka Pahsyntiew – a Khasi legend that explains the semi-divine origin of a Khasi ruling clan – to discern cultural notions that underpin Khasi matriliny. The legend portrays Khasi outlooks on female generative power, wifehood/motherhood, and women’s vital roles in the formation of a secured and wholesome society. The imprints of Khasi matriliny on the legend become apparent via a comparison with the swan maiden story – a tale type found in numerous variants among diverse cultures. I posit that the legend of Ka Pahsyntiew and the swan maiden story are different elaborations of the same narrative pattern. This narrative pattern produces a legend that extols female generative power and virtues when told and received in Khasi matrilineal society. It, on the contrary, turns into multiple variants of the swan maiden tale that portray female subordination in a male-dominated world when passed on in patriarchal societies.
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