THE SILLY WOMEN
In the olden times, people tell, the Santals, both men and women, were foolish and witless. there is a tale about this.
In a certain village, it is told, the whole village population had fixed a day for feasting with a sacrifice of a bullock to be ancestors; in every house they had consequently commenced brewing a pot of rice-beer. Then just one day before the day appointed, it is told, people came and carried the men, every single one of them, away to do forced labour for the zemindar; they told them, “You will have to remain there for five days.” Out of fear for the zemindar’s messengers no one was able to say anything, and they took the men away with them.
The women now lost hope and said, “Who knows whether they will set our men free or not; perhaps they will presently kill them for us.”
The women-folk of that village then came together and talked and decided, “Let us today boil and wash our clothes, bathe and wash our hair; then we shall this evening sanctify ourselves, like the men do, and become priests. This coming night we shall sleep on the floor and tomorrow we shall ourselves take the cows over to that forest and fell them there.”
“That is good”, they all of them said, “let us then do so.”
So they verily boiled and washed their clothes and sanctified themselves, sleeping on the floor. As soon as it became dawn, they made the things necessary for the sacrifice ready and tied a cow up. Having taken the cow and everything to the forest, they weeded a small spot clean at the foot of a saal tree and plastered it with the cowdung. Having prepared the magic circle in this way, they put a handful of rice there and applied vermilion. Thereupon they sprinkled water on the cow and made her face the magic circle. “Now, girls,” they said, “we shall offer an invocation; do lead us, please whoever of you knows how to do it.”
But as no one knew how to do it, they all of them excused themselves and asked the other ones to act. No one was willing. Then the wife of the headman of the village, it is told, commenced to offer an invocation as follows, “Look here, thou bonga of the felled bullock, we are felling a cow for thee; may our men come back; may the king not sacrifice them for us; may they come quickly back.”
Having spoken in this way the wife of the village headman said, “Now then you, what are we to make invocation for? Do say something; we shall of us make invocation.”
“No”, they said, you offered a very good invocation for us. What need for any more invocation? That’s finished; let us now fell the cow.”
But all of them were hanging back. Then the wife of the village headman commenced to scold them, “Now be quick, please, take the axe and strike her.”
“Where are we to strike her?” they asked. “Surely we don’t know that.”
“Where the Soul is,” she answered , “won’t you strike her there?”
“Where is that then?” they said, “in which place has she got her soul?
“In any place where you see anything moving.” she replied, “strike her there.”
So they looked at the cow, it may be, and in very truth they saw the tail moving; then they said, “There she has got her soul; do be quick and strike her.”
Then to tell the truth, they tied the cow by her neck and three or four of them caught hold of her, whilst one woman was giving her blow after blow with her head of an axe. She twice hit her on the bone close to the tail and when the cow felt the pain of this, she urinated. “Look girls,” they cried, “look girls, the blood is flowing; be quick, receive it in a cup.” And so they did, it is told.
As they again hit the cow with the axe-head and she felt the pain of it, she jumped and kicked; then she got loose and ran away. She ran off through a cotton field, and they gave chase all they could. Running along the cow kicked down a good deal of burst cotton pods. “Look here girls,” they said, “all along here her fat has fallen down.”
The cow ran away; they were not able to catch hold of her. So they ate the cotton, thinking it was fat.
There the story is ended; it is thus much. In olden times, people tell, the women were silly or witless in this way.