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The Cave Born Tribes of Manipur and Tangkhul Literature

by williamgurumayum
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O, tui hi lânijilo
 Lâ hi tuinijilo,
O, sâkazaklo,
(C. Chiphang)
Free Translation in English
O, say word is song,
 O say song is word (History),
O Western educated girl!
O, sing merrily,
Continue to sing till the end of the world.
The Tangkhuls live mainly in Ukhrul district. They also scatter in the neighbouring districts like Senapati, Thoubal,Chandel in Manipur and Somra tract in Myanmar. Geographical area of Ukhrul district is about 4544 sq.km. which is bounded by Myanmar on the east, Nagaland on the north and Chandel district of Manipur on the south. According to T. Luikham (1961, reprint 2013: 41-42), the Tangkhuls were originally living in Mongolia and migrated to Hsawnghsup (now Thaungdut) or Samsok and came to the present land. There are a number of folk songs relating the migration of the Tangkhuls from Samsok to their present habitat. A folk song, Miwurla (song of Origin) runs thus:
O khilitunglo…?
O Ava Samsoklitungthuiya
O Makanganailiphungshok,
O Makunganailipangthang,
O Ngakanganasafasingmiya
 O mala mangmilaga
O ili rai phamiya
O rom ungaphei
O Shokvaoliunghoyam   
O ungkanloinaoshang
O Meizailungli O meingayar
O HunphunAvakhararwo
O LongpiKajuipavoRonravo…
O Thisom (Tusom) raravapeiya
    O MaremKalhang
    (Sung by C. Sareo, T. Luikham, R. Luikham and others)
Free Translation in English
    O where are you from (originally)?
O we originated from Burma Samsok
O Makanga carried me on the back
O Makunga supported me by the  hand O Ngakanga handled the Hound
 O leading the way as an archer
O guarding me in front
Reached the Manipur valley
O opened the packed rice (and shared)
O shouted at Shokvao
O cross the ocean my son Ashang
O distributed fire at Meizailung
O HunphunPatriach
O you LongpiKajui and Ronra…
O Marem and Kalhang (villages)
O reaching ThisomTusomrara.
From the above Tangkhul folksong when the Tangkhuls passed through the Manipur valley, they did not come across any human settlement in it. The migration wave theory according to M. K. Shimray (1967:6-8), Shokvao-Hungphun-Meizailung Group (trans. mine) “… reached Marem, but as land was too small for the large group, some group went towards the south and passed through Luithar and assembled at Khambiching.  Again since land was too limited for the big populace, the chief of the group called the clansmen and told them that they had to search for more lands. Those who excelled in arrow shooting went towards the south and those went towards the south were the Marings and Anals. It is said that to mark that they reached the north and made U-turn they performed Kapâkhayang ritual, observing the omens whether good or bad from the splits of bamboo and Harkhokhayang observing the position of the feet a cock or a hen, they performed the ritual on the left hand.
Another group who went towards the north reached Makhel, the Maos and Marams settled there but the Tangkhuls went towards the east and settled at Phungcham and dispersed from there. The Kabuis were divided into two: those who went towards the south were called Rongmei and towards the north Liangmei.  And the Kabui who went towards the east with Tangkhuls were called Kambiron who once settled near the present Sirârakhong village but after some years they moved again to join their group and settled near the Liangmeis in the present Tamenglong area.”
In the tales and songs of the Nambashivillage it is said that they were originally living in Mongolia. When coming out of Mongolia they were a large group of people, so they divided themselves into groups and moved group by group and passed through Thailand. The first group/groups left some signs for the next group/s, but many went to some other direction and the groups could not come together in one place. So the phrase ‘Dardouy Lam-mong’ (Dardouy losing track), the first known track of the Dardouy was reaching Burma and came to KulkungKuirel and Inching valley (Ningthi river) then reached Angkoching and then reached Samsok, then crossing Kontang country and from here to Mongsa valley and then finally came to Phungrei hills, Manipur. Crossing the Tuyungbi river and Taretlok the Dardouy chief buried an axe on the ‘Hailokthiil’ the crossing road of the present Khunthak village and Tarong village as his boundary and moved towards the north to see if they could find a better place, and reached Imphal valley. Here is a tale which claims that the Nambashi people were once living at KomKeithel near the present Nungou thong (Samumakhong, the king  and the elephant’s statue), they erected a stone there (they claim the stone on the southern side of the present Johnstone Hr. Sec. School and in front of the State Museum). When the king constructed the bridge, the god of the river asked for a Hungyo (Luwang in Meitei clan) man. The king invited the Hungyo chief in the foundation laying ceremony and tricked him to retrieve a smoking pipe from the pit which was dug for the main pillar. When the innocent Hungyo chief tried to do as he was told, he was pushed inside the pit and became a sacrificial animal. Then the wife of the Hungyo chief called her clansmen and people and told them that they could not any longer live there as it was also infested by mosquitoes and wild animals and pleaded that they should go up to the hills. And one day the Nambashis went to the river for fishing, the wife who lost her husband found a stone, Shumpan which can be used for pounding rice. If a basket of paddy was pounded on the stone Shumpan, the wife would get the wife would get double. Thereafter the people went up to the hills and established a village at Leishi. Since land was too limited for the big populace, the chief of the group called the clansmen and told them that they had to search for more lands. Those who excelled in arrow shooting went southwards and who were good at spear throwing went towards the north. The stone Shumpan which was found at Nungou thong was left at Leishi village. (This group is better known as Kham-Lungphaof Khambi village which include the Tangkhuls living in the south and theMaring, Moyon, Monsang, Lamkang, Anal, Aimol, etc. of Chandel District which have the Kham element of calling their first born son as Moba, second son as Koba, third Thamba, fourth Miba, fifth Tiba and sixth Yomba. And the eldest daughter as Tinu, second Tonu so and so forth. The Kham-Lungpha group called themselves as MoTi people. The legend has it that Poireiton journeyed along the southern Tangkhul, Maring and Anal areas as they were his kinsmen.)The people who moved out of this place lovingly murmured Leishi, Leishi (meaning love in Tangkhul), so the village was called Leishi. They reclaimed the Nambashi hill ranges which they marked during their journey from Samsok up to the Imphal valley by crossing the Tuyungbiriver. Today old Maring folk songs which they themselves could not understand the meaning are clearly understood by the Nambashi people.The Meitei king called the Dardouy people as Leimashel but when the British camped at Leimashel village, the name of the village was changed to Nambashi village.The Inpuicommunity of Zeliangrong group and the Nambashi village of Ukhrul District have close cultural affinity.
Thereare tales which claim that the early Tangkhuls came out of a cave. There was a tiger at the gate of the cave and killed every man who came out. There was a brave man who killed the tiger with his arrow. After the tiger was killed all the people came out of the cave. In old books of the Tangkhuls other Naga tribes of Manipur which came out of cave include: Maring, Kabui, Mao, Aimol, Anal, Chothe, Lamkang, Moyon, Monsang, Tarao, Thangal, Maitei (originally the Tangkhuls called Maitei for Meitei and Matei by Hungdung village meaning ‘our people’), etc. According to Y.L. Shimmi (2013:5), “Three Tangkhul Naga villages namely, Khangkhui, Raashoeram and Enouram, the last two, in Hungdung village tell the legends of Mongsor cave and the Mangva cave… The Kathur Tangkhuls have managed to identify at least caveman called Mangsor. The legend runs that Mangsor lived on earth while his neighbour, the king of the sky world lived above his dwelling. They lived near each other. This is known as Pro-Australoid concept as South-east Asia was generally the earth where humans live… In pre-history, the Mongoloids were regarded by Proto-Australoids to be the people of the sky world.Then the legend of Mangva reveals that Mangsor had relatives in the south. It is therefore believed that the cavemen originated from the south and probably belonged to the Anyathian culture of the Ningthi valley in Burma. Moreover as the three villages are able to tell the legends of the two caves, it is believed that the Proto-Australoids cavemen were absorbed in the local populations.”The Angom clan of Meitei community traced their origin from Khangkhui cave of Ukhrul District.

Y.L. Shimmihas also traced the origin of MoirangLaiharaoba saying the affinity of Moirang with the Tangkhuls is the LungkaTangkhul village. He says (2013:61), “Tangkhul legend tells that a deer, a dog and a man were devoured by a large stone. In distress, the second wife of the man stood nude in front of the stone. That was the origin of the MoirangLaiharaoba ritual…the stone laughed at the nude appearance of the woman. But the laugh means the mouth of the cave was opened. The legend tells that the man, the dog and the deer came out…”
It may be too much to say but the Tangkhuls claim that the legendary king of Manipur, Pakhangba who ascended the throne of Kangla in 33 A.D. was born of a Tangkhul woman. M.K. Shimray (1967:59-64) tells a story (trans. mine): “When the Tangkhuls migrated from Makhel, they settled at Rainam. The chief of Rainam village had a beautiful daughter called Chihui who was married to a man. Unfortunately after the birth of a son, her husband died. One fine day, Chihui took bath in the village pond which was in the middle of the village and lo! the river god in the form of a good looking man came out and took her as his wife. In course of time, a son was born to her and Chihui brought up the two boys lovingly. There was no boy in their peers who could defeat the two brothers in every game they played. In their frustration to defeat the two brothers, the village boys would often call them fatherless children. So they asked their mother to show them their father. Their house was neatly cleaned, spread a mate and told the boys not to be scared. When the Python god came out, the elder brother was too scared and ran away. But the younger brother hugged the Python god and from then onward he was called, ‘Pakhangba’. The Python god went to the ChihaiRunrei (Irilturrel) and went towards Imphal valley.  The Meitei said that Pakhangba came down from the north. When the Python god left the Rainamriver, Pakhangba was told in a dream that their father had left the place. So the two brothers left Rainam village and settled at Khongrei. The younger brother went down to Seiphung and settled there. He followed his pig which went down to the valley to give birth. The place where the pig gave birthher pigglingswas called Oknaopokpi, now renamed as Yaingangpokpi. From Oknaopokpi, he moved down to Phaknung which is near Chingâlen and south of Seihomphung. Phaknung was the first settlement of Meiteis. Seed sowing, LairouHouba was first done wearing Tangkhul dresses, baskets and implements. The elder brother would often go down to see his younger brother and whenever he went down to the valley he carried some vegetables and the younger brother would often ask him to bring vegetables from the hills. And in course of time, this gift turned into ‘Shai’ paying tribute. When the Meitei king became powerful, the hill people were called to carry paddies from his fields. So the Tangkhuls would often say, ‘What to do! From olden days the elder brother was giving Shai to the younger brother.’”
In the similar vein Y.L. Shimmi(2013:65-69) has claimed that, “Meitei tradition tells that Pakhangba’s ancestor was Hung Shitaba. In the dialects of Mao and Tangkhul, the word ‘hung’means ‘red colour’. Traditionally according to Hungpung village… the term ‘hung’ is applied to the clan of the Hungdung Chief to mean the ‘Red Clan’. However, Meitei clan has translated its name into another language as Mangang clan. As the word ‘Ngang’ means the ‘red colour’, Mangang clan means ‘Red Clan’… Hungdung and the Meitei clan have a tradition in totemistic belief which tells that they both descended from the mythical serpent. The Meitei clan always refers to Lairembi as Pakhangba’s origin which is totemistic. Hungdung tradition says that they descended from the second son of the mythical serpent. Meitei tradition of the Mangang clan tells that their ancestors migrated from the Koubru Hill, which is almost the same as Maram area.
While the ancestors of Hungdung said that they once lived at Hokvashom, meaning the place of the pig, which is the same place where MayangkhangThangal village…Meiteis particularly belonging to the Magang clan are the descended from the younger brother of Hungdung Chief… the younger brother used to get all necessary provisions from Hungdung Chief. But as time went on, the younger brother developed a tendency to forget his elder brother, who, therefore went down to the valley, demanding what he ought to get from his younger brother… Because of this event, originated HaoChongba. It is the feature of HaoChongba that Hungdung people with the permission of Meitei maharaj, would ransack Sana market in every HaoChongba celebration. So on that particular day, Meiteis would sell only edible articles, notably fried paddy (kabok). In reality, there was exchange of gifts. More than that, Hungdung tradition says that in every generation the Meitei king gives a buffalo to Hungdung Chief…from the very beginning there had been rivalries for securing the throne of Kangla. Though the Khumanscould have been the strongest in the valley, Poireiton was unsuccessful in his attempt to secure the throne and why; there was something behind Pakhangba… Hungdung Chief, so powerful and so near, was living only 40 miles away from Kangla. He could anytime go to help his kinsmen, the Mangangs… In ancient period, Hungdung was the most populous Tangkhul village, which a terror to other communities. At that time there was no such Meitei community as in the present.”
A Tangkhul village possesses well defined land boundaries. Encroaching on another’s boundary invites inter-village dispute/war. Although the Tangkhuls, they practiced head hunting; collecting/taking human heads and fought inter-village wars amongst themselves but they had never fought wars with the Burmese and the Meitei kings and also never thought of any invasion from them. They had cordial relationship with their immediate neighbours like Burmese and Meitei kingdoms. Hereis a Tangkhul poem which tells the story of a Tangkhulbeauty who became Queen of Manipur and brought Tangkhul-Meitei ties through her:
O ngalâYaozâlâ, O kongmakânngareichapshona,
O ngareichapshona, O navânaKonsânglovâiya,
O Konsânglovâiya, nakongsângkhaireopheirâna.
(Into Verse translation by the author)
Once there lived a lovely girl who was called Yaozâlâ
The beautiful daughter of the wise chief of Champhung village
There’s none in Wungram and in Manipur as sweet as Yaozâlâ
The beauty of Yaozâlâ reached the ear of Manipur king
He enquired Meiteis who went up the hills about Yaozâlâ
Meiteis who were earning their livings in the hills told their king,
‘Sanâkhyâ, there is no defect from head to toe in this woman
There’s none as beautiful as she even in Meitei kingdom.’
The king went up to Champhung to see the beautiful woman –
To see the beautiful woman with his own eyes, Yaozâlâ
Indeed she was beautiful and would want to make her his wife
So the king asked the Champhung chief for the hand of Yaozâlâ.
‘Sanâkhwâ, how can a hill woman become a plain woman?
Above all, how can you marry my daughter who’s a mere girl?’
‘Give me Yaozâlâ, I’ll make her Maharani!’ asked the man.
‘If she gives me a male issue, I will make king after me.’
How can a Champhung chief resist the pleadings of the king?
‘Give me Yaozâlâ and I will make her son king after me.’
The MaiteiMaharaj gave his bride-price a Kongsângsâjui
Looking back and thinking of her people, Yaozâlâ oft’ cried
Her father was accused, selling her for a Konsângsâjui.
She was named Ningthanglembi as Manipur Maharani
When the Champhung chief went down to Keithei everything was free –
‘Collect what you desire’, the king’s word to please Maharani.
When the people saw the Champhung chief went down to the Valley
Many men followed him – Meiteis  sell vegetables only
Tangkhuls taxed Lamlong Bazar when they went down to the Valley –
Many sons and grandsons might have been born from queen Yaozâlâ?
True to his word, the king might have made her son king after him
But no word was leaked out about the hill beauty, Yaozâlâ!
In the most immediate recent past, the Tangkhuls said that during the Burmese invasion of Manipur valley kingdom generally known as the ‘Seven Years Devastation’ (1819-1826), a large number of Meitei populace including grown up youths went up to the Tangkhul villages and took refuge there. Some Tangkhul villages still retained the name ‘Khunthak’ (meaning feeding village) saythe present Sirârakhong village was also previously called Khunthak for feeding the Meitei refugees. The following song tells how in course of time, the Meitei girls and the Tangkhul boys had fallen in love with each other and some of them were married and settled there. Thissong was sung by Meitei girls who had fallen in love with Tangkhul boys but had to return to the valley when normalcy was returned to their land(trans. by the author):
Meiteilâvasitmahui, Wungramkashanglaleishiya;
O nathanvalâthishunglo.
Free Translation in English
Meitei girl is sad,
How lovely is the rich Wungram;
How sad to remember the land.
The cooking of soya bean in your house,
Stirring the soya bean shall we two sing and dance;
 Stand up O
your beloved is waiting.
Wungram is the original name of Tangkhul. In olden days, the northern Tangkhuls were called Luhupas by Meiteis. Tangkhuls were called Tushukla in Meitei Puyas and Akhangba by the Burmese. According to the legend, said above, the younger brother living in the valley called his elder brother’s village as ‘Tadagi Khul’. Another story of M.K. Shimray (1967:14-15), “… on the north-east (Chingkhei) of Manipur at Somra, there is a hill range which was called Nongpokthong by the Meiteis. The people living in the hill range were the follower of the man called Tangkhu who was a dance master. When the then king of Manipur heard of his art, he was called to his kingdom and made him the jakoi (dance) master. His dance form was known as ‘Chingkheirol’ “. And in olden days, the Tangkhuls were war-like people and a Tangkhul man was always seen carrying his spear and made earth-hole, ‘Ta- khul’. From the etymological words ‘TadagiKhul’, ‘Tangkhu’ and ‘Ta- khul’, the people are eventually called Tangkhuls by the Meiteis.

(To be contd……………)

Courtesy: Centre for Manipur Studies, Manipur University
By: Dr. H. Shimreingam
Asst. Professor, Dept. of English
William Pettigrew College, Ukhrul

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1 comment

deben bachaspatimayum December 30, 2015 - 1:37 pm

This speaks well of an authentically ethnic and alternative perspective on cultural history and socio-political landscape of the hills and valley under the state o Manipur


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