Listening to or reading mythical stories or folktales has been part of growing up for everybody at some point in life. This article shares a folktale as well. A story about the garo mythical creature.named Te teng.
Visit to Baghmara.
It was the year 2015. Like every year, my family and I visited my grandparents’ place for the holidays. They lived in Baghmara, South Garo Hills, and we lived in Shillong. I thought it would be the same as all the other years. But little did I know things were going to be different. I usually hung out with my cousins, for I hardly had any friends.
One day we decided to trek Balpakram National Park. It was about half an hour away from my grandparents’ place, which was the reason we went on our little journey. As we walked the inside of Balpakram I remembered that Ambi (Grandmother) told us that this was the very home of spirits and the mythical creatures she told stories about . I wondered if it was true. I did not believe in folklore or mythical stories. If my ancestors were to hear me say this, maybe they would have disowned me for not believing .
The encounter with the mythical Te.teng.
The walk was so long and we had not rested from the time we started, so I told my cousins to head-on while I rested. Without hesitation, they left me in the middle of a forest. I sat under a tree. As I sat, I started regretting my own decision to trek and the weather being humid for December got on my nerves. As I stood back up to continue walking, I heard a sound. I tried to ignore the sound, but ignoring it did not help as the sound only continued. It sounded like someone was stepping on twigs.
I headed in the direction of the sound. I thought it was my cousin, but what I saw was even more unbelievable. It was a naked man. He looked weird and that made me walk towards him; he turned my way. I got nervous and ran. I ran as fast as I could because I did not want the naked man to catch up to me. As I was running, the only question in my mind was if what I saw was really a naked man. Was he even a person?
I realised I was lost the moment I stopped running; I ran in such a hurry that I got deeper into the forest and lost all track. “Are you lost?” said a voice behind me. Shivers went down my spine while I stood there, all confused. I turned, and to my surprise, it was the man I had seen. He looked short and had no clothes on, and I thought to myself he looked like Dobby from the Harry Potter movies. I was in disbelief. I thought I was hallucinating because of the heat. What stood right in front of me was something out of the ordinary. As I observed him from top to bottom, first, I noticed that his ears were longer than a human being. Secondly, his body was a little wrinkled, and also that his feet were backwards. It was at that point that I fainted.
I woke up only to find myself on a bed. As I was awake, my family told me that the forest ranger had found me. Him along with my cousins, brought me back home, but what was it that I saw? I tried to remember the story that Ambi once told us. She once narrated to us a story about dwarfs. The story striked into my brain. I remembered, she told us about dwarfs called Te.tengs. They lived up in the hills of Balpakram in the olden times. She had also described them to us.
According to the stories she heard, they were only four feet tall and lived without covering their bodies. They ate sand but were however weakened by the leaves of yam. What made them even more different were their backward feet. I was baffled, I couldn’t believe it. I saw the weird creatures’ feet, and they were backwards. Did I see a Te.teng? Maybe I was just dreaming, or the heat was so bad that I hallucinated. At that moment, I had a plan. I could not just sit there. My desire was to see it one more time; I needed to make sure it was just a hallucination and that it was not real. The next day, I took a backpack, filled some sand and cut the leaves of the yam from the veins. I was ready.
The te.teng village and its secrets.
I reached the area and started to trek to the same place I first saw the te.teng. When I reached the same spot, I sat there for a very long time but saw no one and heard nothing but the birds. It made me glad to see no one. I became sure that what happened the day before was just me hallucinating due to the heat.
When I stood up to leave and, as I took a step forward; I fell. The roots of the tree caught my foot. Are you okay? Said a voice. I looked up and saw the Te.teng right in front of me. He walked straight to me and helped me get up. I asked him directly if he was a Te.teng. He nodded his head and told me that he remembered me coming the other day and that he was really glad to have seen an actual human up close.
It surprised me he could speak. On top of that, he was glad to see a human. When I stood up, I noticed my knee was scraped and my ankle was sprained. I was unable to walk properly. The te.teng noticed it and quickly grabbed me and told me to follow him.
I asked how he walked with his feet being backwards and he told me that they walk just as normally as we did. For some reason, I was not scared of him. Since he was only four feet, it was difficult for me to grab on him and walk. But it was alright just a little uncomfortable. In the stories my Ambi told me, she said that te. tengs could grant wishes. They were hunted for this reason. Their ability to make anything one wishes to come true.
Humans used the end of the vein of the yam plant and would stick them to the heads of a te.teng and because these creatures were weakened by the leaf wouldn’t be able to move and inorder to have the freedom, they granted one wish.
All the humans ever did was make greedy wishes, my Ambi told. Some would even make cages and trap the te.teng children. Greedy humans would ask for riches equal to the amount of hair on their heads for the release of the children. It wasn’t nice or very human of them.
Out of all the stories she told us, the story of these dwarfs was the shortest and also the only one I was interested in because even though I did not believe they existed, it made me realise how as humans we create trouble for our greedy desires. It made me wonder if any human ever made a wish without a greedy intention. The te.teng stopped, and we were just standing in front of a really big rock. I looked towards him and he smiled back, comforting me.
The rock moved and there was a staircase made of stones on the ground. We walked down the stairway, which led us to a straight path. The rock moved again and closed the way. The path was lit with fire, and what I saw when we reached the end was even more incredible.
When we reached the outside of that dark path, I saw that right in front of my eyes was a village of Te.tengs. The other te.tengs saw us and rushed towards us. I was a little shocked to see a large number of them, but not afraid; and neither were they afraid that a human had appeared in their village. A te.teng that looked a little older than all the others appeared and made me sit down inside one of their houses, and then he held my sprained feet and mumbled words like saying a mantra and my foot was healed. My scraped knee was also better.
The wish that saved te.tengs.
The te.teng who brought me told me on our way to call him ripeng(friend) and so I did, Ripeng and brought me fruit, and said, since I am human, this is what is better, rather than their food, which was sand. I asked him why they weren’t afraid of me. I told him how we heard stories about them being captured by humans, to which he laughed. He told me that it was true that ages ago there were humans that captured and used them for their own benefits, but he also added that there were humans who helped them go into hiding; people who did not wish for gold but instead wished for the health of their families.
He said that those humans are no more today, but because of them, their lives had been saved. Those humans who are no longer on earth, but spirituality, are always present. The old te.teng who helped me heal was the oldest among all. He had seen and observed all that has been happening from the past till date. No one has discovered them for years, but I kept wondering, why I had to be the one to see them all these years.
The older Te.teng came up to me, he looked at me and said you are the one who deserved to see us. I asked, how was I deserving, because I was someone who did not believe in them and I had also carried along yam leaves to use against them. He said that out of all the other humans, there was one human who made a wish for them. That person had wished that they lived peacefully without anyone finding out, and that if anyone ever did see them, he should be a deserving human being .
The older Te.teng said he wished for the wellness and peace of all spirits and creatures that were residing within the hills of Balpakram.
He told me how in all these years humans have accomplished so much and also said how they have also learned a number of things through us. They learned how to use fire as torches to light up dark paths. They made mud houses for themselves, but one thing they did not learn was to cover their bodies.
As I sat there in the Te.teng village, I thought to myself maybe I was able to see them because my ancestors might have heard me saying how much I don’t believe in my grandmother’s stories and how folklore could or could not be true. Maybe I wasn’t really the deserving one and that this was their sign to make me believe. Maybe it was their way of telling me that sometimes unbelievable things happen. Sitting there, I saw the te.teng families dance around a bonfire. It was weird at first because of their feet being backwards, but later I was fine with it.
After some time, I took out the sand from my bag. Gave it to them as a gift and was ready to go back home. I told them that I wouldn’t tell a soul that I was at their village and that I was grateful for their help and kindness. At that moment, the old te.teng came up to me and asked if I had any wish, to which I said I didn’t have one. He insisted that I wish for something. I gave a lot of thought and finally made a wish. The te.teng who brought me walked me back the path to the big rock. I told him that he would always be a good friend to me and we parted ways.
It was already pretty dark. When I came back, my parents gave me a pretty good scolding because it was really late and also because I was alone. Preparing for Christmas and the New Year was how we spent the rest of the vacation. I confessed to my Grandparents that this was the best visit before we left for Shillong. I also told them how I’m looking forward to more great folk stories. They looked really happy, and we set off for Shillong.
It has been six years since I’ve seen Ripeng and the other te.tengs. The thought of whether they were okay would always flash through my mind. When the older Te.teng asked me to make a wish, I wished that they, along with the other spirits who might have been living on the hills of Balpakram, live in peace. I wasn’t trying to just look kind, but that was the only thing I could think of.
After that visit, I have been invested in learning more about my culture and folklore. I have been trying to learn about my own culture, but I have also been taking an interest to learn about other cultures as well. Meeting those te.tengs still feels like a dream. It made me understand why Balpakram was sacred. It made me understand the importance of always protecting sacred grounds even more. I’ve understood that Fairy Tales, Mythologies, or any folklore are wonderful to read and listen to; they somehow connect us and help shape us as individuals and it brings us closer to our own culture as well as different others.
Folklore or stories of different cultures should always be shared. Everyone should be able to hear such stories. One person alone should not keep it to themselves. Maybe some stories aren’t true, but we can always use our imagination and think, but what if it was?
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