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Sacred Forests of Khasi Hills



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(Under Raid Swer, Hima Sohra)

(Ka Law Adong Swer, Raid Swer, Hima Sohra)

There are many stories and accounts about the origin of Swer village.Traditional knowledge says that this village was under Hima Shyllong, then undivided territories (states) of the present Hima Khyrim and Hima Mylliem. The Land was individual owned by Pliang Majaw, who sold away this private property to the three clans namely, Nongrum clan, Dohling clan and Shanpru clan at the cost of three basketfuls of cowries weighing in total about 20 kilogram. As a result the village is known as the Raid 5 Kur (Raid of the Three Clans).

Besides the above three clans, there were also other clans migrating into the Raid, some settling through marriage, and as a result the number of inhabitants began to grow. There were five Elders in the village each from the five Clans, namely Synrem, Swer, Nongkseh, Mawlong and Mawlieh. It appears that the Basan (Elder) Swer of the principal clan was a very shrewd and intelligent man, very popular amongst the people. His reputation prompted the Syiem (a traditional ruler equivalent to a Chief) of Hima Shyllong, at about 1500 A.D., to ask Basan Swer to nominate or provide one Elder to become the Ruler of Raid Swer.

According to traditional stories, a woman by the name of Wankma Swer from Syntei˝ village migrated to Laitkroh village. Wankma had thirteen children; one of them was a daughter named Ka Shan Swer who had four children, however three died, and only ka Jah survived. Ka Jah in course of time disappeared from the village. Her relatives not being able to trace in accordance with the prevailing custom symbolicaly cremated her in her absence. But ka Jah re-appeared in the village after a lapse of two years, to the astonishment and bewilderment of the entire village. The villagers told her that as she had disappeared without any information, and informed her of he symbolic cremation. Incensed by the news, she vowed never to return or enter the village again. To compensate, the Basan Swer offered ka Jah to be the Ruler of Raid Swer. Ka Jah agreed but on condition that her descendants should also be the rulers.

After a short spell, ka Jah made her way to Dympep then to Mawmihthied, Laitryngew, and finally to Mawsmai a place to be the first seat of the Syiem of Sohra (Cherrapunjee). This is according to a story narrated by Ostin Swer, Sirdar of Swer on 20th January, 2001. A similar story which differs in detail from the above was published by Dr. H. Lyngdoh in his book Ki Syiem Khasi bad Synteng  (chapter - VIII; page 117) and also in a book published by Mr. B. V. Rymmai in his book Ka Khanatang Jong Ka Hima Sohra, (Chapter - IV; page 15-28) published in 1985. According to these authors the four children of Wankma Swer, namely u Buhsing, u Sadang, ka Shan and ka Jah, migrated to Swer from Sumer (Synteng) in the Jaintia Hills, Basan Swer who ruled over the raid (village) of Khadarshnong and Khadarblang welcomed them to stay at the house of his clan members.

When the four members had stayed there for sometime, the Basan Swer found them to be very good and well-mannered children of noble up-bringing. He went to the Syiem of Hima Shyllong at Nongkseh and told him about them. The Syiem was so impressed by this report that he informed the Dorbar. Upon hearing these accounts, the Syiem and the Dorbar were immensely happy. Subsequently the Dorbar Hima empowered the Basan Swer and the Elders of the Raid to appoint them as Lyngdoh (Lyngdoh duties are divided into categories - the Lyngdoh to administer the Raid/Hima and the Lyngdoh to initiate and perform the Raid/Hima/Village rituals) he also nominated the eldest brother Buh Sing to assist the Basan Swer. The Basan Swer returned to his village Swer and convened a Dorbar and informed the Dorbar of that which the Syiem had instructed him. The Dorbar fully endorsed the action of the Basan Swer. From that time onwards there was such a great bond of love, respect and mutual understanding that they finally bound themselves in a family tie with the Swer Clan. Buhsing showed exemplary behaviour and endeared himself as a good administrator to the Khadarshonong people who came to love and respect.

In the meantime, ka Shan got married and had a son named Borsing. Her younger sister was very fond of going to weekly market at Laitlyngkot. In one of these market days she went to the market and mysteriously never returned. Her family members were so worried that they searched for her for seven years. Not being able to trace they performed the symbolic cremation ceremony. However the account of Ostin Swer, Sirdar of Swer differes in that he suggest that later , ka Jah had eloped with a man from Khadsawphra (modern Mairang). She returned to the village together with her husband and children. Her clan members refused to accept her as they had already symbolically cremated her and kept her symbolic bones in the clan cairn. To appease ka Jah, the Basan Swer conceived a plan with the elders of the Raid to ceremoniously appoint them as the Syiem. After prolonged efforts, ka Jah accepted the proposal on the condition that her descendants would also hold the position of Syiem; and secondly took a vow never to return or set foot at Swer village, and even now the Syiem discendants never venture to Swer village. The mother of Syiem Join Manik of Hima Sohra (who held this position from 1918 - 1963)  once visited Swer Hill and the forest returning Sohra the same evening. She became ill and died.



The accounts given  by many authors as well as the elders of the clan at the time of my study, did not mention the name of this great personality. The title 'Basan' is given to any elder of the Clan by the Khasi Syiem. The Basan is chosen from among the elders of the clan who are considered more englightened and intelligent. I have not heard of any other Basan in Swer Village except the Basan Swer subject of this study. From enquiries and discussions I had, I feel that the name of this Basan was "Lam Swer" based on his intelligence and personality. (Lam-a.short form of Ialam-means to lead).

Lam Swer was known for his great skill, prowess, prudence and statesmanship. He was a man of about 45 years of age, a manly looking Khasi who wore a mustache. The belief that he was a King maker still holds good in the Hima.

In about 1600 AD he fought and lost  a war at the same  time he  also lost the village of Khadarblang. As a result of that loss he was forced to leave Raid Swer and together with his Second in Command, Buhsing Lyngdoh. He proceeded to Lyndiang, then to Umthli and eventually to Sohrarim. Having heard about his situation, Laitlyngka, Syiem of Nongkhlaw took advantage and invaded Sohrarim. The Basan Swer and Buhsing Lyngdoh fled to Nongsteng and finally migrated to Kynturs˝iang where they founded a village.

A fact is corroborated with the accounts given by Dr. Hamlet Bareh, The History and Culture of the Khasi People, page 108. According to some accounts, Lam Swer was not only a very cultured and dynamic man of valour, but also humane and sympathetic possessed of both a personality.



The Swer Sirdarship is also known by the name, 'Ka Raid Lai Kur' (Raid of the 3 Clans) who originally purchased  the private land from one ka Pliang majaw.

The Raid Swer has three localities :

   1. Dong Lumbah (Lumbah locality)

   2. Dong Umkoi (Umkoi locality)

   3. Dong Shiliangwah (Shilliangwah locality)

  These three localities have their own elders (Rangbah Shnong). The boundaries of the Raid are -

  l East : Wah Umnuid

  l Noth : Laitlyngkot Sirdarship

  l West : Wah Sohra (Sohra River)

  l South : Raid Diengsaw of Khadarshnong.

The land of the Sirdaship have not been cadastrally surveyed; but according to elders the total area is said to be 140 square kilometers and the total population is said to be 2500 at the time of my study on 21st January, 2001.



  People inhabiting Swer Sirdarship are a strong, sturdy and hard working people of the Khasi highlands. They are of the same stock as detailed in Part II of the Law Kyntang Mawphlang (Sacred Grove of Mawphlang) and also Part II ibid; In fact the two Himas are almost contiguous and the distance from Mawphlang Lyngdohship to Swer Sirdarship is 6 km as the crow flies.



  The social and religious life of the people of Sirdarship of Swer are the same as described at Part IV of Hima Mawphlang. Unlike Mawphlang Lyngdohship, however, there is no Christianity convictions at Swer. Of course there were some inhabitants who have embraced Christianity, but who later returned to their ancestral religion. The Sirdar ascribed their return to the fact that the Rynkew Basa and the Lei Shnong  still rein supreme in the village. However there are no restrictions placed anyone upon who follows any other religion.

  The village holds and performs a religious thanksgiving ceremony to God and the village diety Ryngkew Basa once in every 10 or 15 years. These rituals may be performed at any point of time, particularly when the village is struck by any form of calamity. The rituals have always been performed by the Chief Priests from Nongrum, Dohling and Shanpru clans. These three clans perform their own rituals call the 'k˝ia lai klong lai sla' (rituals of three bottle gourds and three leaves).The modalities and sequences of the rituals begin with preliminary egg divination and end in the sacrifice of the goat as universally followed in Khasi ancestral religion. (Refer to Part VIII, p.4) of Sacred Grove at Mawphlang-Ka Law Lyngdoh Khun.

  Prior to any kind of ritual being performed by the Raid, there should be 'ka pyrta ka shula' (Decree of promulgation) from usual place at Lum Mawbah in the village, and contributions (u syn˝iang u bynhei) are colleted. The site for rituals is always located at Mawsiangsla (literally a stone for spreading leaves). The sacrificial offerings are in the form of a cockerel, goat, or doves, depending on the wishes of God or the Ryngkew Basa. Normally, in these kinds of rituals, signs from the entrails are not normally read or deciphered, but the Priest may casually look at the entrails. The sacrificial meat is then boilded without salt and distributed to the assembled inhabitants.

  According to tradition, the Raid holds the old age belief that there are three Ryngkew-Basa :

1. Ryngkew Swer of the Swer Clan, residing at Lum Swer (Swer Hill) and the prohibited forest

2. Ryngkew Lyngdoh of the Nongrum Clan

3. U Leibah Leiraid, the Ryngkew of the Sirdarship tagged with the Shanpru Clan.

4. Khasi Polity-vis-vis : Raid Swer  -

  An undiluted Khasi concept of democracy has been existence since ancient time and the customary norms are followed very scrupulously. A group of localities forms a shnong (village). And a number of shnong form a Hima or Raid, Headed either by the Lyngdoh, Sirdar or the Syiem. These traditional heads are titular only and they have no direct authority to adminster or exercise their powers without the approval of the Executive or Dorbar (Executive Committee or General Council). The three Rangbah, Shnong  of the three localities get the recognition from the Sirdar, and the Sirdar in turn gets his sanad (letter of appointment) from the Syiem. The Rangbah Shnong  (headman) and the Sirdar are elected by the village Dorbar and they may be removed by the Dorbar should such functionaries violate the traditional rule of law. The village functionaries draw no salary. Ostin Swer who has provided the source  material mentioned earlier, is holding the post of Sirdar at the time of my writing.


5. Village Economy :

  The village of this Sirdarship is the same as that of Hima Mawphlang. The village gets a very small percentage of royalty on stone quaries and this is being shared with the Hima Sohra. People plough and cultivate the land by traditional methods. Seasonal crops like potato are grown which,  according to the Sirdar, result in about 150 truck loads being produced on the highlands. Other seasonal crops are maize, millet,  varities of rice and vegetables. People rear sheep, goat, cattle, pigs and tows. A section of the people also engage themselves in road construction as daily labourers. Swer village is situated on the south west part of Shillong on the Shillong - Cherrapunjee road and its feeder road meets the Shillong-Cherrapunjee road at Mawjrong village. There is only one Upper Primary and one L.P. School.


6. Land Tenure System


7. The Prohibited Forest at Swer :

  According to the Elders of the Raid, the area is about 11/2 square kilometres. The forest which covers a Hill (Lum Swer) has an elevation of about 1945 m above sea leve. To go to the forest one has to pass along the PWD road which suddenly ends at the village of Swer, where a rough road leads to hill for a distance of about 2 kilometre . On top of Swer Hill, one can see Shillong Peak, the highest in the State. On a clear day, a portion of Bangladesh can also be seen. A visitor would be surprised to see a water tank having been built on top of the hill. Villagers in the area claim that the Hill and the Forest are held in reverence as the abode of U Ryngkew U Basa . This writer enquired of the Sirdar whether such an installation would displease U Ryngkew U Basa. The Sirdar explained that the installation of such a tank is for the benefit of the people inhabiting the area and prior 'hukum' (approval) was sought by ritual ceremony or permission from U Ryngkew .



 Probing the forest towards its western part, there is a deep gorge covered with thick forest containing wild trees and brambles which makes it very difficult ot penetrate. The forest suddenly ends at the side of river called Wah Sohra. Thus the entire portion of this prohibited forest on its entire western side is bounded by a natural boundary, the river. From this point, the forest grows thicker and if one explores towards the north, there is a deep gorge which again is bounded by the wah Sohra. The southern portion of the forest has gentle slopes and ends at the brink of some farmsteads and other fallow lands.

In an interview on 22.2.2002, another one Lobarson Lyngdoh, explained that the prohibited forest has two parts. The three dominant clans, Khardohling, Stap Ryndem and Nongrum - War clans dominate the area in the South-West, while in the North-West, the Swer Clan dominates. In fact no physical boundary can be indentified, but all people respect the unmarked and natural boundaries of the forests. Further, the forest has three names of clans division which are reserve for ritual purposes and their respective U Ryngkew U Basa (Village deity) namely : a) Ryngew Swer on top of the Hill; b) Ryngkew Lyngdoh of the Shanpru Clan; and c) Ryngkew Lei Raid of the Shanpru Clan. At present the Shanpru Clan have all migrated elsewhere, and U Ryngkew U Basa has been alloted for ritual use by the Step Ryndem, Khar Dohling and Nongrum-War.

  There are few ancient trees covered with foliage, intertwined and cover with lichen and sometimes orchids. There are many mahagony trees, hard wood (dieng byllait), poisonous tree (rhus succedanea-dieng kai˝), medicinal trees (berberis nepalansis-diengmat), oak trees (castonapsis-dieng sning), Khasi wild fruits, sohkhlur, sohphie, sohshur, (sour wild fruits of fig family), sohbrap (passion fruit) sohliya (myrica nagi), soh-ot (chestnut), sohma (wild pear), varieties of orchids, ferns, creepers, other Khasi names of trees are dieng pingwiat (tree branch which make good handle for doa or machate). Other trees like cedars, shrubs which grow along side the river Wah Sohra.

  The two rivers, Wah Sohra and Wah Rew orginate from this forest. They meander southwards to distant  Bangladesh.




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