Jatinga lies in the foothills of Barail Range and is about 330 kilometres from Guwahati. It is a beautiful place situated nine kilometres east of Haflong, the lone hill-station of Assam in Dima Hasao district. This hamlet is known worldwide for the mysterious phenomenon of birds committing annual mass suicide.
History of Jatinga mystery asserts that Zeme Nagas were the first inhabitants of Jatinga in 1890 and they were the first people to witness the bizarre mystery. At night when they lit camp fires, migratory birds got attracted and they came flying down towards the fire. This act of the birds frightened the villagers and they considered the birds to be evil spirits descending from the sky. Gradually they abandoned the place and moved away.
Next inhabitants of Jatinga were the Jaintia who settled down in 1905 and they too witnessed the rare behaviour of the birds. History reports say that Lakhanbang Suchiang, the leader of the group first noticed the mystery as lighted bamboo torches were used at night to search for and gather the strayed cattle. The flying birds getting attracted towards light swooped downwards and accepted death. These villagers whereas didn’t get scared and instead they regarded the acts of the birds as gifts from God.
But investigations deny the fact that birds committed mass suicide. According to revelations, they were trapped by artificial lights on dark foggy moonless nights. When the birds flew down seeing light sources, the villagers used catapults to hit them. The hovering birds were also brought down by forceful swinging of bamboo poles. Finally, they fell prey in the hands of the villagers.
Famous ornithologists namely, Dr. Sudhin Sengupta, Dr. Salim Ali and A. Rauf have done researches on this subject. However, steps have been taken by conservation groups to prevent killing of the harmless birds.
Jatinga still remains a mystery till date but research is ongoing for finding answers to this bizarre phenomenon.
[Published in the magazine ‘The Hudaang’ in August 2011 issue]