Khasi Heritage Foods – an Amazing Find from a Village in a Deep Valley

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Khasi Heritage Foods | Zizira

Ready for a journey 3000 steps down? A trek to a village, deep down a valley, to meet villagers farming the traditional way? And, to meet a beekeeper who collects honey which may well be called ‘Heritage Honey’, as it is collected the way it has been for centuries?

Come join us and learn some little-known facts, some ancient secrets. What we learned and saw during a visit to Nongtraw village, in the Khatarshnong Sohra-rim, was beyond our expectations! The village is in a remote area with no motorable roads passing nearby. The only way to reach it is by foot, that too walking down lots of steps –  3000 of them!

Even as we were walking down we got a sense of how the people who live in the value take care of their environment. Every 10 to 11 meters we saw bio-degradable garbage bins, to make sure no plastic and things are strewn on the ground. The people of Nongtraw village depend on agriculture and handicrafts for their livelihood.

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What Do They Grow?

Woman from Meghalaya village in her field

The farmers follow Jhum cultivation and grow over 30 types of crops, such as tapioca (phandieng), beans (Rymbai ja), 4 different types of millets, sweet potatoes, different types of wild vegetables (jail, jarain, khliengsyiar), job's tear and others. (Khasi names given in brackets). These are few heriatge foods found here!

Farmer in Meghalaya practicing shifting cultivationShifting cultivation is practiced in one hill. The locals clean the hill in the months of December and January and the crops are planted in the month of April. The harvest is in the month of November.

The village has about 30-40 types of wild vegetables! We came to know about what they called ‘a nitrogen fixation plant’, locally called dieng lyniong (‘dieng’ means tree and ‘lynniong’ means song). This plant makes the soil fertile and black in color. The village is famous for its Sohiong fruit and has won an award in Blackberry fruit festival. The village headman has 10 Sohiong trees. Annually he harvests an abundant amount of Sohiong fruits. The Sohiong tree is planted in the month of April and it takes 10 years for on tree to reach maturity and provide fruit.

We were surprised to learn that the people of this village did not even know about rice until 1995! They depended completely on millets. Even today they follow the tradition of the millet dance.

Cooking millet at Nongtraw village

Where Do They Sell?

Locals of this village sell their produce at the Sohra market. Remember, what this means is they need to carry their produce up 3000 steps, to reach the market.  Real hard work.

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Do Not Always Find Buyers

We understand that, at times, the market demands do not resonate with the produce they sell and they return either without selling their produce or selling it at cheap rates. What happens to the produce they bring back, unsold? They usually go waste or are distributed to the neighbors.

There is only one school in this village which is only till 5th standard. The villagers have to go to Sohra for higher education and the school student has to trudge up and down those 3000 steps every day!

Now, learn about some hidden gems (by way of information) we discovered!

Amazing find – Heritage Honey

Bee keeper Nongtraw village

Our chance meeting with Bah Richard Ranee, a beekeeper from Nongtraw village, was very fulfilling. He is passionate about what he does and has been in this profession from 1987.

What he knows about beekeeping is what he has learned from his elders. He follows an age-old practice of speaking to the bees, with respect, before he collects honey from the beehives. That is the amount of respect they have for nature.

Bah Richard showed us how he does it. He said something like this to the bees: “I am taking good care of you and you should not be mad or angry with me. I need to take out honey for helping me in getting money that I need to feed my family”.

We learned from Bah that the honeybee’s travel 2 to 5 Km, on an average, to get nectar. To make it easier for the bees, Bah Richard planted trees and flowers, which the bees love, near the bee drums (hives). This helps the bees fill their hives with heritage honey faster.

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According to him and his fellow beekeepers, bees prefer a plant called, kdait, a grass variety. The flowers of this plant bloom in the month of December. The honey is thus flavored with this flower. Bees also prefer flowers from cherry blossom and Sohiong trees.

Beekeepers face problem from a wild animal (locally called phyllad), which destroys the bee’s drums(hives) and eats all the honey.

The forest trees are used for bee keeping activities. Bah Richard would go the forest, select and mark a tree belonging to a variety called dieng sympa (local name). He would then make a hole in one of these trees and leave a portion of the tree to dry. The bees will then use the hollow to form their hive.

When it is time for him to collect the honey, he would go and start a mild smoke by burning a cotton thread, which will drive the bees away, while he tries to recognize the queen bee, locally called kiaw.

Once he catches the queen bee, he keeps her in the hollow of a log he has made. The log is called dieng Lakhiat (Dieng means tree and Lakhiat is the local name of the tree). We learned from Bah Richard that the black honey bees are a little bit tough to handle as they are rough in behavior, whereas the yellow honey bees are quite easy to handle.

According to the locals, the bees will not last or stay with a person who is not honest, clean and kind hearted.

Yet More Amazing Heritage Foods of Nongtraw Village

Other than Heritage honey, we also found out about a medicinal plant we did not know about. The Shiahkrot (scientific name is Smilaz) is a creeper plant that grows wildly, along the river bank.

The locals of the village take the roots, clean it and add 2-3 slices in 3 – 4 cups of boiling water and make tea. Most of the villagers prefer Shiahkrot tea instead of tea made from tea leaves. This is an age-old practice that has existed from the times of his ancestors and it niangsohpet continues till today. This herbal root also acts as a medicine, in that it helps chest congestion.

Local Khasi medical practitioners use it, along with other roots and herbs,  to treat a child for a disease called niangsohpet (in local language. An infantile disease that affects the navel in infants)

Wild fruits Meghalaya Nongtraw village

Other wild edibles such as sohmad, sohngang, sohthylliang, which are varieties of fruits, are also found in this village. Sohben is a fruit in shape of a ball, it has 6-7 seeds inside. The seeds taste a bit like a peanut.

Team Zizira stayed in village Nongtraw for many hours and then made their way back, climbing 3000 steps to reach the top. Hope you found this story from their travel log interesting. Our team of explorers is always up and ready for such an adventure. Exploring for hidden treasures of nature, seeking out super food and medicinal herbs, and sharing such an experience with all of you, our readers.

Is there something you found interesting in this story? We would love to hear from you. Please share your views in the comment sections. Zizira is trying to spot heritage produce like the heritage honey we told you about in this post. Stay in touch to know more. Visit our store to find wildflower honey and other varieties.

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8 Responses

Mani
Mani

July 11, 2020

Hello, nostalgia for my 20 years in Meghalaya (1959 to 1978 in Shillong!) brought me to this wonderful site…and the decades just vanished into thin air (like the magical mists rising above Mawsmai gorge) reading about Sohiong :).

May you all be merry and well, I shall certainly come a-calling again!
Mani

Elisha Sangma
Elisha Sangma

July 08, 2020

Hi, Neeraj! Thank you for writing in, appreciate your keen interest in getting to this fascinating place! It takes about 1 and a half hour from Shillong to Sohra via automobile, then you will have to go on foot below 3000 steps to reach this serene village. Hope you enjoyed this article!

piyush kashyap
piyush kashyap

July 08, 2020

How can I get this sohiong fruit? if possible can you give me name or contact no. of any supplier?

Soopaia Kharmawphlang
Soopaia Kharmawphlang

July 08, 2020

Hi Piyush,

Meghalaya Cherry, or Blackberry, locally known as Sohiong is quite common in the Khasi and Jaintia hills districts of Meghalaya. It is a seasonal fruit which is plucked from August to October and available in abundance during these months. As of now, the agriculture department and very few locals of the state use Sohiong to make them into jams and juice.

Thanks!

RONENDRA BORBORA
RONENDRA BORBORA

July 08, 2020

It’s very nice to know about this Bee Keeping Tradition.

I’m also much interested on the subject.

Hope to keep a continuous touch.

Regards.

Ronendra Borbora
Chastised, Assam.

RONENDRA BORBORA
RONENDRA BORBORA

July 08, 2020

CHARAIDEO, ASSAM

Elisha Sangma
Elisha Sangma

July 08, 2020

Hi, Ronenedra! Thank you for writing in, glad to know that you like this article on traditional beekeeping still practiced in Meghalaya. We definitely can keep in touch with you! You can sign up to our newsletter for more contents on traditional beekeeping or join our community “”https://friends-of-zizira.mn.co/sign_in?autojoin=1&from=https%3A%2F%2Ffriends-of-zizira.mn.co%2Fhome%3Fautojoin%3D1" rel="nofollow">Friends of Zizira", a platform whee you can learn and interact with similar prospects like you.

Dr Neerja L Bisht
Dr Neerja L Bisht

July 08, 2020

How does one get here?

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