Tapestry of Faith: Faith Like a River: A Program on Unitarian Universalist History for Adults

Activity 1: Khasi Hills Creation Story

Activity time: 25 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • A copy of the story "The Seven Tribes"
  • Drawing materials including paper markers, charcoal, and/or color pencils
  • Optional: Computer and digital projector

Preparation for Activity

  • Read the story "The Seven Tribes" and prepare to read or tell it to the group.
  • Make sure you have table space where all participants can draw with a partner. Set out materials, making sure they are accessible to all participants.
  • Write on newsprint, and post:
    • What does the creation story of the Khasi Hills tell us about the traditional values and world view of the Khasi people?
    • In what ways are these traditional values similar to or in harmony with Unitarian Universalist values?
    • How are the two sets of values dissimilar?
  • Optional: Download the questions and prepare them as a digital slide. Test the computer and projector.

Description of Activity

Invite participants to sit at tables. Introduce the story with these or similar words:

The culture of the Khasi Hills of India is rich with legends. There are legends that explain the presence of natural phenomena such as the spots on the moon and the elaborateness of peacock feathers. There are stories that explain all the varied relationships among the gods, people, animals, and the earth.

The first, and still extant, Unitarian church in India was founded in 1795 in Madras by Thirvengatam, a Hindu who, while travelling in England, was influenced by the Unitarian writings of Theophilus Lindsey and Joseph Priestley and was christened with the name William Roberts. The largest Unitarian group in India, however, includes the nearly 10,000 Unitarians who belong to the Khasi and Jaintia Hills congregations founded by Hajom Kissor Singh. In 1887, dismayed by the strict Calvinist Christianity of British missionaries, Singh founded his own church that welcomed the teachings of Jesus, but honored those teachings alongside the practices and teachings of the area's indigenous religion, and the teachings of Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism. Inspired by the work of Charles Dall, a Unitarian missionary in Calcutta, and the writings of William Ellery Channing, Singh named his church the Unitarian Church of North East India. Singh's Unitarianism rejected narrowness of interpretation and the doctrine of the Trinity while remaining strongly theistic. Singh's church drew wisdom from indigenous stories such as the creation story of the Seven Tribes as well as from Unitarian Christianity. In order to help his congregations thrive, Singh wrote a number of hymns, many still in use today, and a prayer book from which anyone could lead a service. By the time of his death in 1923, there were ten Unitarian congregations in North East India. Today there are more than three times that number.

Explain that you will share a creation story from the indigenous culture of the Khasi Hills. Invite participants to listen for spiritual values they hear reflected in the story.

Read or tell the story. When you are done, ask participants to consider the questions you have posted and then turn to a partner to share their responses. Allow five minutes for paired sharing.

Invite participants to remain in pairs and create a drawing together that illustrates the Khasi Hills creation story. Invite them to illustrate the values inherent in the story, particularly those values which are in harmony with Unitarian Universalist values. Invite participants to post their drawings when complete.