OF LATE years the Folk tales of India have been the subject of much study and research, and several interesting collections of them have been published. But I am not aware that as yet the folk lore of the Santals, has received the attention which it deserves. The Santals as a people, have, to a remarkable degree, succeeded in resisting the subtle Hinduising influences to which they have long been exposed, and to which such a large number of aboriginal tribes have succumbed. They have retained their language, institutions, tribal organization, and religion almost intact. Their traditions show the jealousy with which these have been guarded, and the suspicion and distrust with which contact with their Aryan neighbours was regarded. The point at which they have been most accessible to outward influence and example, is in their relations with the aboriginal tribes, who in a more or less degree have merged themselves in Hinduism. Hindu ideas, customs and beliefs, filtering through these tribes, became considerably modified before they reached the Santals, and were therefore less potent in their effects than if they had been drawn from the fountain head of Hinduism itself. Still, in respect to their aboriginal neighbours they are always on their guard, ready to repel any innovation on their customs or religion with which they may be threatened. In the folk tales of such a people we may well expect to find something, if not altogether new, still interesting and instructive from an ethnological point of view, and this expectation, I believe, would be abundantly gratified if they were only made accessible to those who, by training and study, are competent to deal with them.
Santal folk-tales may be divided into two classes--those apparently purely Santal in their origin, and those obtained from other sources. Those of the first class are by far the more numerous, and besides showing the superstitious awe with which the Santals regard the creations of their own fancy, they throw a flood of light upon the social customs and usages of this most interesting people. The second class embraces a large number of the more popular tales current among the Hindus and semi-Hinduised aborigines. These, although adapted and modified by the Santals to suit their language, modes of thought, and social usages, may generally be detected by the presence of proper names, or untranslatable phrases which unmistakably indicate the source from which they have been derived.
These tales were taken down in Santali at first hand, and are therefore genuine and redolent of the soil. In translating them I have allowed myself considerable latitude without in any way diverging so far from the original as to in any degree impair their value to the student of Indian Folk-lore.
It was to be expected that in the popular tales of a simple, unpolished people like the Santals, expressions and allusions unfitted for ears polite would be found. In all such cases the changes which have been made are in accord with Santal thought and usage, so that the tales are, notwithstanding these alterations, thoroughly Santali.
I have aimed at making these Santal Folk-tales, in their English dress, true to the forests and hills of their nativity. I am not without hope, that in this I have succeeded in some small degree.
A number of the tales included in this volume have already appeared in the Indian Evangelical Review, but in this collected form they are more likely to prove of service to those who take an interest in the subject.
This volume of Santal Folk-Tales is offered as a humble contribution to the Folk-lore of India.