Kongthong, India—The Village Where Names Are Songs

Naming newborn babies in Kongthong village in Meghalaya, India takes some creativity. In the week following childbirth, mothers compose a melody for the child which will serve as their name. All the songs are unique and make Kongthong one of the most musical places on the planet.

According to Atlas Obscura, the practice is known as jingrwai iawbei, or “mother’s song”. Mothers are responsible for finding the melody without words, and the process is seen as an expression of their motherly love. Melodic names are mostly used for children, such as to call them indoors or sing them a lullaby, but they don’t disappear with adolescence. Even though the villagers also have an easy-to-write traditional name, the adults still affectionately call each other by their personal songs.

The tradition of names goes back several generations. It started as a way for village men to follow each other while hunting in the jungle. It was believed that chanting someone’s name instead of shouting it made it harder for the spirits to follow them. The custom probably served another purpose; songs travel greater distances than spoken or shouted words, making them a handy communication tool for group hunting.

Kongthong is not the only village in the area to observe the tradition, but it is well known for it. Elders fear that modern technology will erode this part of the culture, but some changes have been welcome. Thanks to recent media coverage and an influx of tourists, Kongthong has become famous for its songs. The attention will hopefully preserve the practice for years to come.

To hear Kongthong’s musical names, watch the BBC video below.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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