The practice of Night Hunting has been popularised, or rather disreputed by many articles and reporting in the media. They made the practice look dirty, male chauvinistic in nature, and et al, except good. And I tell you, nothing is farther from the truth. I may be wrong but I have my side of the story to tell.
This practice has been there generations before and was a socially accepted thing. It was the accepted courtship ritual in the villages and they still are in many parts of the country, still untouched and unpolluted by the so called modernisation and westernisation. It got a bad name, when the villainous outsiders, usually the visiting government officials, took advantage of the innocent damsels, sired children and left them to their own fates. Many fatherless progeny were left behind this way. Thus, this practice came to be labeled a notorious practice.
Way back at the village, we, as teenagers and even before that, used to go on such forages, if I may call it that. But I swear I did not get anybody into trouble. When we were “not of age”, as our elders used to say, we used to accompany them as their aides. We would facilitate their entry into the chamber of the lady.
Entry into the house, any house, could be gained through three different accesses; through the door, windows and the attic. Most popular was entry through the door. For this purpose we used to carry in our pockets a honed iron rod that could be bent as was the requirement. They were used for opening the door latches of almost any house. Usually the old Bhutanese doors had some gaps in between the doorframe and the shutter; some small and some big enough for a child’s hand to go in. The bigger ones were easy to open with our bare hands. Those doors with smaller gaps required the use of our improvised tool. The door latch in Bhutanese architecture is usually a piece of wood, to which the sharp end of the rod would claw and push it back to its place, leaving the door unlatched.
If the door did not yield to it, the next option would be the entry through the windows, where we, as children, used to come handy. Our smaller bodies would easily fit in through the windows. The skinnier you are the preferred aide you would be. Once inside we would silently go for the door and open it for the grand entry of our “masters”. Then we would be forgotten and left to survive the night. We would shiver (with cold) through the night in a corner of the house. If the lady was a kind hearted one, some of them were, she would throw us an old ‘kira’ or a piece of rag to ward ourselves off from the cold.
Even if this failed, we still had the option of climbing the whole height of the house, enter the attic and then enter the house vertically downwards. The success rate was cent percent.
The first “cock-a-doodle-doo” of the day, or rather the morning, would signal our return journey to our base, which we would grudgingly make and swear not to repeat such adventures in future, starting that day. Who would want to wake up at such unearthly hours and walk for hours on end! But usually we would be back on the road that very night. Through many such magnanimous gestures, I am proud to say that many unions resulted and all of them still stand, as strong a bond as the day they took the vows. Night Hunting was not viewed dirty then.
Usually the parents did not object and in most cases they were oblivious. A hard day’s work and a good dose of ‘ara’ or ‘bangchang’ at the end of it created a deadly concoction for a good night’s sleep and a favourable condition for the hunters. Moon lit nights are both advantageous and disadvantageous, in that it makes navigation to the objective easier but poses a problem for concealment when bang at the objective. Dark nights require the use of torches during move but covers own action at the objective.
If any parents were nosy, usually there were few, they would be dealt with accordingly, from arguing to playing pranks on them. The point of argument was that it is natural for bees to buzz around flowers and that the parents have no right to interfere in the act. If the parents acted a bit tough, hanging a bundle of nettle plants from the top of the door was the other option. Then we would instigate them to come out and when they did, the sharp sting of the nettle plants would bring about a loud cry followed by swearing that would defeat any truck driver any day. Some would threaten that they would report to the village authorities, which they never did. Incidences where we had to resort to such mischief were rare, though I remember playing such pranks on a few occasions.
There used to be lots of “accidents”, none of them fatal in any way. Once, I remember a friend falling from the window of a house and landing directly on the neck of a cow, cross-saddle. A sudden bellow from the poor surprised cow woke the whole family up. I had a hearty laugh afterwards but my friend did not find it funny.
Yet again, I remember waking up to the growling sounds of the grinding stones. The whole family, (my unwilling host for the night), have woken up and they were going on with their routine chores. The mother was rotating the heavy grinding stones, grinding maize grains. I was sleeping in one corner, luckily at a blind spot, of the house. Then I realised that my “master” had abandoned me. After helping him enter the lady’s chamber, I went to sleep in a corner of the house. Being tired of walking almost two hours to reach the destination, I must have gone into a deep sleep and my “master” did not bother to wake me up when he left the warm bed of his lady love.
Staring from the corner of my eyes, I saw that it was still dark outside. I weighed the situation and with no other option available, I dashed out of the house only to bang into the father, who was returning after attending the call of nature. Needless to say that everyone was taken by surprise, except the girl, who knew my presence there all the time. She was a party to the conspiracy. After that I never accompanied that person as his aide. My “master” for that night and the lady in question took the vows shortly after that. To this day they tease me and have a good laugh over memories of what happened ages ago, that fateful morning.
When I attended my late teens, what our elders used to say “came of age” I did follow the footsteps of my great “masters” and have had some memorable adventures. But I cannot reveal the details, for some things are best kept secret!
Through this I am neither glorifying the practice of Night Hunting, nor am I trying to justify the act. Accepted, that some actions were undesirable and warranted change, but the practice in itself was not looked upon as dirty. It was accepted by the society. All men were expected to go for such forages into the wild. Those who were not very adventurous were called “hearth cat” (because cats usually did not venture out at night and they always slept by the fire place). That too by their parents!
Nobody was taken advantage of. The girls had the right to deny anyone, anytime. It was through mutual consent that these activities went on. All most all marriages were as a result of this practice, then. Though there were incidences of children born out of wedlock, but they were few, and far between. These were exceptions, rather than a rule. It was only after the numerous incidences of fathering children by the outsiders and denied siring them, that this act got a nasty reputation. The girls were shown dreams of good and comfortable life back in towns only to be shattered at daybreak. In the traditional practice no false hopes and dreams were shown. Whatever happened, happened on a mutually agreed terms between the two parties.
If left to the villagers themselves, they would have carried on with this tradition, without bringing bad name to the act. Today, so much of emphasis is made on the need to preserve our precious tradition and culture. Isn’t Night Hunting a tradition in itself? It was a way of life then, and it should be so now. Only that, outsiders should not step in and interfere in the act. It is only when aliens enter the fray that things go topsy-turvy. Barking should best be left to the dogs!