Nawab Tabassum Yasmin

Research Scholar, Gauhati University (Assam)


Folklores and nature are like two sides of the same coin. The stories that are narrated to children are enriched with lessons about nature and society. The witches and were-tigers form a large part of every folk tradition. These elements instill in us a sense of awe and respect towards nature and her mysterious ways.The aim of this paper is to interpret the figures of the therianthropes and otherkins that Easterine Kire repeatedly invokes in her works through the lens of ecofeminism. It tries to understand how these witches and werewolves not only impart important ecological lessons but also convey important social commentaries. Kire’s novels juxtapose the natural and the supernatural in an attempt to understand the ecofeminist message conveyed through it. Ecofeminism not just emphasizes on the exploitation of women and nature but also studies the oppression of other marginalized beings and their subsequent correlation with the exploitation of nature. Kire’s fiction brings the marginalized mystical figures in to the realm of the real world. This paper aims to highlight how she deploys the elements of therianthropes and otherkins in her stories in order to impart a lesson about social as well as ecological injustices. These ‘othered’ beings that are either revered or shunned are humanized in her novels Don’t Run, My Love and When the River Sleeps. These tales not only teach us about ecological sustainability but also reveals how social injustice meted out to certain section of the society go hand in hand with atrocities meted out to the environment. This paper studies the figures of werewolves and witches in the light of ecocritical and ecofeminist theory to unearth the tales of exploitation that have been subtly narrated in these novels.

Keywords: Therianthropes, otherkins, Easterine Kire, folklore, ecofeminism, ecological injustice, sustainability, supernatural, nature, empathy.

Jessica Schmonsky in an article entitled, “The Ecological Importance of Folklore” mentions an important commentary made by Roger.D.Abrahams in the Journal of American Folklore. Abraham states: “Folklore, like any other discipline, has no justification except as it enables us to better understand ourselves and others.”

 Apart from providing a better understanding of oneself and others, folklores also help us to understand the world of nature and its inexplicable ways better. It imbibes in us respect towards the non-human world. The article discusses the various facets of folkloric traditions like taboos and trepidations that indirectly propagate conservation of certain species of plants and animals. Anthropocentric actions and attitude of the modern man has led to his detachment from the world of nature. Schmonsky refers to the anthropocentric menace unleashed by human beings as a phase of “ecocidal dominator tendencies”1.Apart from prescribing “eco-psychology”2 and “deep ecology”3 as routes to minimize the damage caused due to our ignorance, Schmonsky also explains how folklores preserve, uphold and disseminate knowledge regarding the pristine bond between man and nature. Hence, it cannot be denied that folktales share a very close relationship with nature.

Werewolves and witches have been an integral part of folklores in every part of the world. These magical beings that shift shapes and possess supernatural powers form an important part of every childhood fantasy tale that increases a child’s imaginative powers. However, it cannot be denied that these folktales also impart important moral lessons that shape the children’s personality in the growing years. In the Indian context, the folktales tend to rely heavily on the world of nature. From Panchatantantra to Hitopadesha, every Indian folktale is enriched with elements of nature. The North-Eastern region of India too has a rich reservoir of folktales that impart lessons of social as well as environmental sustainability. In a world fraught with environmental problems and looming ecological crisis, it is very necessary to revisit these folktales and learn them once again to implement the valuable lessons that they share in our lives. Easterine Kire is one such important writer whose work heavily rely upon both the world of nature and folklores. Her two short novels Don’t Run, My Love and When the River Sleeps are abundant in natural elements as well as metaphors that are drawn from local folklores. One unique characteristic of Kire’s stories are that they act as a point of convergence between nature and folklore. Kire creates a universe where the ‘otherkins’ and ‘therianthropes’ emerge from the world of folklores and become a part of the world of nature. The natural and the supernatural world combine to conjure a world that is real as well as surreal at the same time.

Easterine Kire, a prominent writer from Northeast India turns back to local folklores in her novels Don’t Run, My Love and When the River Sleeps. These tales inhabit a precarious terrain that lies between supernatural and real. The lush green forests and hills of Nagaland becomes the setting in which the narrative unfolds. One important feature of both these tales is the presence of therianthropes and otherkins. Therianthropes refer to the individuals who express either a spiritual or a psychological identification with an animal. Very often mythological tales as well as folktales are replete with humans who possess the incredible ability to metamorphose into a different non-human form. Otherkins, on the other hand, are a part of subculture that socially and spiritually identifies with the non-human universe. They can either share a psychological or spiritual affinity towards an animal, mythical creature or a supernatural being. Therianthropes can be considered as a subtype of otherkins to refer to those who identify strictly with an animal. Werewolves are a popular kind of therianthrope. These terms like therianthropes and otherkins have been popularized through the cyberspace. Internet is replete with people who identify themselves either as therianthropes or otherkins. Psychological studies have been conducted to resolve what they believe as some sort of “species dysphoria”4. However, in Kire’s fictional universe, these so-called delusional beings become agents of the natural world that impart important ecological lessons. We also learn how certain “others” that are demonized and ostracized by the human world are in reality misunderstood beings that can impart valuable lessons regarding nature and its strange ways.

Human beings are extremely self-centered species who tend to ostracize objects or phenomena that have no valid explanation or are different. With our negligible share of knowledge, we tend to analyze the world of nature from a point of anthropocentric privilege. Both the novels Don’t Run, My Love and When the River Sleeps serve as cautionary tales that warns us about the perils involved in this process. At the very onset Kire ushers us into a lush green universe where human beings exist in perfect harmony with nature. But soon we realize that this peace is just a façade and that hides mysteries that unfolds gradually. These mysteries materialize in the form of weretigers, witches and other supernatural beings. However, in the course of the narrative demystifies these creatures who are demonized by human beings for being different and are often ostracized. Banished from the human society, these beings seek refuge in nature. She brings them to justice in her novels. There is an ecofeminist undertone in these narratives that talk about witches and mysterious women who have the power to afflict as well as to heal. From an anthropocentric viewpoint one may consider them as personification of evils or cautionary tales about human follies. But each of these creatures that Kire refers to represent a state of oneness with nature that ordinary human minds are unable to fathom.

In the novel Don’t Run, My Love, Kire narrates the story of Atuonuo who falls in love with a young man named Kevi only to later discover that he is a were-tiger or tekhumevimia. Atuonuo is the young daughter of a widow by the name of Visenuo. They live a secluded life in Kija which is an ancient village of the Angamis. Kire acquaints us with the simple life that these tribes lead. They derive what is needed from the world of nature without exploiting it mindlessly. However, things take a very different turn when Atuonuo falls in love with a were-tiger. After an eventful stormy night, she discovers his truth and runs to the Village of the Seers in an attempt to seek a route to escape him. However, she is informed that they have no possible remedy for the situation. Pfenuo explains the powers of the mysterious Tekhumevimia or were-tigers who have a foot in both the world of men and the tiger. She describes them as mysterious beings that possess immense powers and prowess. Her statement, “When the tiger eats, the man eats…, when the tiger dies, the man dies.” (Kire93) suffices her explanation. However, the limited human understanding prevents Atuonuo from getting a grasp over complete knowledge regarding these creatures that have been marginalized since time immemorial. The old seer’s remark that humans only know how to kill again becomes a reminder of the shallow nature of human beings who seek to eliminate everything that they don’t understand. It is quite symbolic that it is the woodcutter who has the sole right to kill a were-tiger. The wood cutter who is a symbol of destruction of nature becomes the one who slaughters Kevi at the end. However, it is very evident that Kevi is not as menacing as he fears that Atuonuo harbours in her heart. During the stormy night sequence, we realize the pain that Kevi hides in his heart. The pain of being marginalized becomes evident in the brief conversation with Atuonuo about his reality. All his apprehensions materialize when she gets terrified of his true self.

Kire develops this mystical universe filled with Therianthropes and otherkins in her subsequent novel entitled When the River Sleeps. The narrative of this novel explains a bit more elaborately these “others” that have been introduced to us in the previous story. However, in this story we understand the story behind these marginalized creatures. This tale of the lonely hunter Vilie to seek the heart stone from the sleeping river takes many interesting pathways through were-tigers and witches. During the course of Vilie’s journey, he encounters the darkness that human beings harbor within their souls when he witnesses a brutal murder and gets falsely accused of committing it. This darkness with the known human beings leads him to seek shelter in the Rarhuria or the unclean forest. Vilie’s claim that the forest was his wife solidified after his stay in the unclean forest that seemed more welcoming than the hideous murderer of Pehu. However, one can never completely unearth the mysteries of nature. Vilie too understands this after his encounter with the spirits in the unclean forest. While this might be considered as superstitious beliefs but it can also be viewed as a form of acknowledgement about the presence of a power that is beyond the ordinary human realm.

The process of the creation of a were-tiger is an interesting account that gives us useful insight regarding these therianthropes. The were-tigers commonly known as the tekhumiavi in Naga folklores are described as “men whose spirits had metamorphosed into tigers”(Kire 26).  A man may willingly allow his soul to metamorphose his spirit into a tiger.  Further, one also needs to stoically stick to his decision to of metamorphosing his spirit into a tiger. The ones who wish to retrieve their human spirit back has to endure a painstaking process that only a few can withstand. This serves as a deterrent to them and they remain in the form of a were-tiger forever. However, we also realize that there are others like Kevi who are destined to carry their lineage forward as a therianthrope. They are represented as marginalized ‘others’ in Kire’s stories. Unlike the commonly held notions regarding therianthropes as malicious beings or mentally disturbed humans, Kire’s tales unveil the humane side of these beings who chose to be different from ordinary human beings. However, fear and ignorance lead towards their ostracization. There can be multifarious ways in which these tekhumiavies can be interpreted. However, she problematizes their identity by blurring the distinction between the human and the animal world. One can exist in the human as well as the animal world at the same time and can equally be a part of the both.

Kire repeatedly asserts the fact that it is not the were-tigers but the human beings that one needs to be wary of because they only know how to kill. The selfish interests of human beings are the main evils of the world. The brutal murder of Krishna and his wife proves this very fact. In a rather interesting turn, the were-tiger comes to Vilie’s rescue in his final struggle with the murderer. The murderer becomes a symbol of human lust to dominate nature. The selfish greed of possessing the heart stone leads him to commit the heinous crime of murdering two innocent human beings. The climatic rescue of Vilie by the were-tiger strengthens the statement that Kire seeks to make throughout the course of the novel. We finally understand the distinction between the good and the evil. Vilie, the Forest Man merges with the were-tigers thus unearthing the superficial boundaries that separate man and animal. The therianthropes attain an entirely new position as a state of highest ecological consciousness. They emerge as beings that are scared as they have transgressed the worldly limitations that are imposed upon ordinary human beings.  However, it takes an ecologically sensitive person like Vilie to understand this state where a being dwells in the precarious terrains between the human and the non-human.

Apart from the presence of Therianthropeslike were-tigers, Kire’s fictional universe is also inhabited by otherkins. These otherkins are depicted in the form of Kirhupfiimia. They are women who are believed to possess poisonous powers and are greatly feared. Vilie’s encounter with the spiteful Zote and soft-hearted Ate draws our attention towards the injustices that these women face. Unlike many Kirhupfiimia who embrace their poisonous abilities, some like Ate are victims of an unjust society. The descriptions of these women have strong ecofeminist undertone. Vandana Shiva, a renowned Indian thinker and ecofeminist mentions about the close bond that women share with the world of nature. The women are more likely to share a closer bond with nature. The Kirhupfiimia women also possess this sense of kinship with the world of nature. They are well-versed in many natural remedies for various ailments. There is no doubt that they possess special power and this power in simple words can be described as the knowledge about the world of nature. Through Ate’s transformation, the writer tries to humanize these women who are ostracized from human society for no valid reason. We realize that just like the were-tigers these women too are victims of unfortunate lack of understanding on the part of the human beings.

One important part of the Kirhupfiimia women is the “womb”. In a particular instance Ate informs Vilie about their poisonous womb that have no ability to carry children. She states that they lack the ability to nurture life in any form and this reduces their position in the society. It is very evident that the womb is an important reason behind their banishment. The analogies behind their banishment and various ecofeminist arguments becomes quite clear. We are reminded of Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva’s arguments in their book entitled Ecofeminismregarding the connection between a woman’s womb and nature and the subsequent systematic destruction of the both. The destruction that Zote unleashes upon her ancestral village can also be interpreted as the fate that awaits a race who is indifferent and unjust towards women as well as nature. Further, this alsoserves as a reminder about the witch-hunting and various atrocities that are committed upon innocent women.

Thus, Easterine Kire combines the natural and the supernatural in a surreal universe. She imbibes the folk elements of fantasy and supernatural to retell the forgotten as well as and misunderstood sections of the society. The real blends with the supernatural. The descriptions of the therianthropes and the otherkins reminds us of the surreal paintings of Salvador Dali. The descriptions of the ‘unclean forest’ and Vilie’s encounters with the other-worldly beings add to the surrealistic nature of Kire’s fictional universe. It cannot be denied that Kire’s employment of the surreal is very different from writers like Franz Kafka who uses it to convey the absurd and the incomprehensible nature of the modern world. Kire uses the surreal to comprehend the mysterious ways of nature. It becomes a tool through which the readers engage themselves with the mystical world of nature. The mere juxtaposition of the tangible world and the supernatural world evokes this surreal nature of the narrative.Kire,by means of naturalizing the supernatural tries to humanize these ‘others’ who have often been marginalized due to the lack of adequate understanding. She revives the folklores of her land to narrate a tale about the downtrodden. We realize how nature lends a place in her arms to every human being regardless of their identity. The therianthropes and otherkins are the outcasts of the human society who seek refuge in the world of nature. One can dismiss them as individuals who suffer from certain psychological issues. But contrary to the modern science, Kire’s tales that are infused with folklore imparts the lesson that they too possess a spirit that deserves respect and love like any other human being. Only a person like Vilie who shares a close bond with nature would understand beings like Ate and were-tigers whom the society detests. People like Vilie are the need of the hour when we are confronted with an impending ecological crisis. Kire’s tales are an attempt to create people like Vilie who understands the fact that every entity of nature has a spirit that needs to be honoured and revered.


  1. Ecocide is the destruction of the natural environment of an area or a very great damage to it. Jessica Schmonsky in the lecture “The Ecological Importance of Folklore” uses the term “ecocidal denominator” to imply the anthropocentric menace unleashed the human actions.
  2. Ecopsychology is a new approach that studies the underlying psychological process that effect the relationship between humans and nature. Thinkers like Theodore Roszak, David Abram and Paul Shepard explored this approach to study the relationship between ecological issues and ecopsychological experiences.
  3. Deep ecology is a term introduced by Arne Naess that promotes the philosophy that promotes the inherent worth of living beings regardless of their utility to human beings.
  4. Species dysphoria is a term used to denote the state of mind in which a human being believes they are born in a wrong species. This reductive approach is an underlying reason that labels the ‘otherkins’ and ‘therianthropes’ as mentally unstable that leads to misunderstanding.

Bibliography :

Abrahams, Roger D. “Folklore.”Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups. Cambridge: Belnap Press, 1980, pp 370-90.Ghuman, Sartaj. “Indian Folklore and Environmental Ethics.” Ecologist: The Journal For The Post-Industrial Age. Nov, 2018.

Kire, Easterine. Don’t Run, My Love. Speaking Tiger Publishing Private Limited, 2017.

—. When The River Sleeps. Zubaan Books, 2014.

Mies, Maria, and Vandana Shiva. Ecofeminism.Zed Books, 2014.

Schmonsky, Jessica. “The Ecological Importance of Folklore.” Ecology Webinar Series. Oct, 2012.

About Drishti: the Sight

Drishti:the Sight is a National refereed Bi-annual Research Journal in the disciplines of Arts and Humanities founded in the year 2012 publishing articles in the subjects of English Literature, Assamese Literature, Folklore, Culture.The journal has been enlisted in the UGC-CARE list (Sr.No. 42) in Arts and Humanities section.The journal is dedicated to the cause of young upcoming scholars of the nation.The journal publishes only authentic research articles. It tries to follow the research ethics to the core.