Inclusivity of Meitei Society and Arrival of Thadou Kukis - Part 2

/ Guest Column / Friday, 20 November 2020 19:04

By- L B Singh

Demarcation of Eastern Boundary.
King Kyamba conquered Kyam, a Shan principality in the Kabaw Valley in 1470 AD and extended the Eastern boundary of Manipur up to Ningthee or Chindwin River. Since then the Kabaw Valley had changed hands between Manipur and Burma a number of times. When the treaty of Yandaboo was signed in1826 AD, the Kabaw Valley was held by Manipur and the boundary was supposed to be Chindwin River.
The Kabaw Valley became a subject of dispute and the British in particular Captain Pemberton made a very sincere effort for seven years to make Ningthee River as the boundary. However, the Burmese Government considered ceding of the Kabaw Valley to Manipur as a humiliation.
On 16 March 1833, the Government made the final order “..that the Ningthee formed the proper boundary between Ava and Manipur, but that, in consideration of His Majesty’s feelings and wishes, and in the spirit of amity and good-will subsisting between the two countries, the Supreme Government consents to the restoration of the Kubo Valley to Ava and to the establishment of the boundary line at the foot of the Yoma Doung Hills.”
Captain Pemberton was ordered to proceed with Captain Grant to the Kabaw Valley with the distinct order to Keep Muring hills (Yoma Daung Range) as the Western border of Burma (Mackenzie, p176 to 185).
The British awarded a compensation of Rs 6000 per annum to Manipur for giving the Kabaw Valley to Burma. However, there were Meiteis (Kathe and Paona), Thadou / Chassad Kukis, Soktes/Sooties, Yos/Zous, Mizos etc. in the valley. Most of these tribes migrated from Chin and Lushai Hills except for Meitei. However, the possibility of further migration of some of these tribes into Manipur can’t be ruled out.
There were a number of raids along the border by various tribes, the Burmese and the Manipuri blamed each other for those raids. In 1881, the British appointed a Commission headed by Colonel Johnstone to lay down a definite boundary to replace the imaginary Pemberton’s line drawn Northwards from Kabaw Valley in 1834 AD.
It was found that Pemberton’s line neither agreed with the actual ground condition, nor with the terms of the treaty. The Commission, however, lay down a boundary which agreed as nearly as possible with the terms of the treaty and marked the frontier.
The Tsauba of Samjok repeatedly tried to interrupt the work of the Commission by instigating the Chassad Kookies to attack the expedition team but failed. As a result of the demarcation, some Chassad villages moved to the West and peacefully settled down as quiet subject of Manipur (Mackenzie, p208 to 210). Therefore, some Thadou Kukis migrated from the Kabaw Valley into Manipur.
Linguistic Affinity with Kuki.
There are about 66 and 56 tribes of Naga and Kuki respectively. All these Naga/Kuki tribes and Meitei are predominantly Mongoloid and speak Tibeto-Burman language. In the prehistoric time they lived in the upper courses of the Yangtze and Huang-Ho rivers (Grierson 1904, p6). The common origins of the Naga, Kuki and Meitei have been established beyond doubt by many writers and therefore, the same is not included.
The ancestors of the Meitei were among their kinsmen who migrated from China to the upper waters of the Irrawaddy and the Chindwin Rivers of upper Burma. They lived in the Hukwang valley, the present land of the Kachins before they moved to Manipur. The Kachin connection has been proved by the linguistic affinity between the Meitei and the Kachin (Hodson, 1904: p10).
Robert Shafer (1974) posited four taxonomic levels in his sub-grouping of Sino-Tibetan and treated Kuki-Chin languages as one on the second level groups under Kukish. Old Kuki, Meithei, Lakhar, Langet appears under Southern group; and Hmar, Zahao, Bom etc. under Lushai in central group etc. (Kenneth VanBik, Proto-Kuki-Chin.., p6).
Grierson (1904) classified the languages of Aimol, Anal, Chothe, Hmar, Kom, Chiru, Koireng, Lamgang, Purum in Old Kuki group and Thadou, Paite as Northen Kuki-Chin Group.
Burling (2003: 188) also noted that “A few groups whose language a linguist would without hesitation classify as “Kuki” have declared themselves as “Nagas”… (Pauthang Haokip, The Langauges of Manipur: A case study of Kuki-Chin Languages p5, 8to19). Classification of some tribes by other linguist is not included due to space limitation.
Salai and Jumnak; and Conversion from Meitei to Kuki/Naga and vice versa.
There were migration of individual Meitei or families to the hill and conversion into the society of Kabuis, Tangkhul and other unspecified tribes (Ch Manihar Singh, p12). Heiren Khunjan, a tribe in the South-West of Manipur was absorbed into the Ningthouja clan and assigned a surname, Heirang Khongjam. The adoption or conversion of hill tribes into Meitei society necessitated the assignment of Salai and Jumnaks to the converted tribes. This practice is still continuing (Gangmumei, p23,24).
Some of the Meiteis with the surname Soibam, Akoijam, Wahengbam originally belong to the Maring tribe, whereas, a large number of Asem and Nongthonbam are converts from Anals. A section of the Kha-Ngamba clan Meitei went to the North-Eastern hills and converted to Tangkhuls. Therefore, the Nagas and the Kukis of Manipur are ethnically closer to Meitei than the Nagas/kukis in the other states/countries.
The Thadou Kukis do not have the Salai and Yumnaks allotted to them by the king of Manipur unlike the Meitei, the Nagas and the Old Kukis. There is no record of the conversion of Thadou Kukis to Meiteis or vice versa.
Views of Experts on the Migration of Thadou Kukis.
The gist of the views of some experts on the migration of Thadou Kukis in Manipur is enumerated in the succeeding paragraphs to help in the analysis of their arrival:
Captain Pemberton (1835): Khongjuees (Khongsai) who under more generally known name of Kookies (Kukis), Koo-chung (Khochung) and Kuci (Kuki) stretch from Southern border of Manipoor (Manipur) valley to Northern limit of province of Arakkacan, …that the Kookies have gradually advanced for year in a Northerly direction hitherto established themselves on range which are originally occupied by more Northerly tribes.. (Comment: Pemberton came decades after the commencement of migration of Thadou Kukis. He was describing the advancement of the New Kuki tribes towards the North).
William Shaw (1923): The Kukis live in a large area of hilly country bounded by Angami Nagas of Naga Hill district in North, the province of Burma in East, Chin Hills and Lushai Hill in the South and the district of Cachar in the West. He continued that, they occupy hills of the state of Manipur on all sides of Imphal valley. (Comment: Thadou Kukis had spread in most of the districts of Manipur by 1890 AD and Shaw did not give an indication about their arrival)
CC Lowis (1945): The Tibeto-Burman came to Burma following two separate routes. Of Western group, Kuki-Chin are supposed to have entered first into Burma and spread into upper Chindwin, Chin and Lushai Hills down to Rakhine Hills to the South.
A Grierson (1967): Thadou who are also known as New Kuki formerly live in Lushai and Chin Hills after expelling Old Kuki Hrangkhol and Biete tribes. They were gradually ousted by Lushai between 1840 and 1850 AD.
R Thanhlira (1969): After reaching Tibet the Kukis divided into groups. One group moved to Burma through the Hukwang valley along the Chindwin River to the Kabaw valley and then along the Irrawaddy River till Bay of Bengal and returned to the North. The Thadou generally known as New Kuki moved to Lushai Hills and they were driven out of Lushai Hills around 18th century into Cachar and from there they moved to Manipur. During Lister’s expedition to Lushai in 1850 AD, the escape of 429 Tadoe Kookies to Cachar was recorded (p293-5, A Mackenzie) and the event supported this theory.
Mangkhosat Kipgen (1997): One group consisting of Anal, Lamkhang, Purum, Maring, Chiru, Kom, Aimol, Chothe, Tarao etc. called Khongjai by the Meitei separated from Burma and entered Manipur. Another group proceeded to Burma and Tripura. The core group moved to Chin State, Chittagong and Mandalay. The group then moved to Khampat and stayed in the Kabaw Valley for centuries. Then some of them moved to Manipur through the Chin State, while the majority group moved in the direction of South-West.
Jimmy Jamkhonang Thadou (1998): New Kuki group came to Manipur between 16th and 18th century. And Thadou migrated into Manipur from upper Burma (Chin Hill) and Lushai Hill in 1666 during the time of King Paikhomba and by 1778 eight big villages have been established viz. Chahsat, Jampi, Laijaang, Suongpi, Luiokhai, Pangsang, Khoungjaang and Longpi.
TS Gangte (2003): One group reaching Tibet on North where some of them stayed behind, while the other moved on Northward until they reached Burma in three waves. The Kuki-Chin group moved further towards South-West following Irrawaddy and Chindwin Rivers…reached the Bay of Bengal. Then turn back North and eventually fan out along the mountains of the existing Indo-Burma boundary.
Other Factors.
According to the Anals tribe who were staying at Thanlon and Zote village situated just opposite to Aizwal the (Thadou) Kukis came to Manipur in 1840 AD and reached the Khangbarol village in the Chandel in 1854 AD (L. Wolring TSE 30.12.12).
The Khongjai (Old Kukis) in temperament differ from Koupooees (New Kukis). The dancing of the Koupooees is that of lively nature which is laborious to its practice, while that of the Khongjai is more sober (BS Carey, p139).
Analysis of the Migration of Kukis and Various Factors.
Analysis of the migration of Kukis to Manipur and various other factors revealed that:
· Old Kuki language is classified as a separate group and some linguist even placed Meithei with Old Kuki language under the same Southern Kuki-Chin group. Grierson (1904) classified the Thadou under Northern Kuki-Chin group.
· The Old Kuki tribes have Salai and Yumnak like Meitei and Naga of Manipur. There was conversion from Meitei to Old Kuki tribes and vice versa.
· There are records of raids or conflicts or conquests of all the old Kuki tribes between 1432 and 1748 AD in the history of Manipur.
· The Old Kukis in temperament differ from the New Kukis.
· It is most likely that one group consisting of Anal, Lamkhang, Purum, Maring, Chiru, Kom, Aimol, Chothe, Tarao etc. separated from Burma and entered Manipur as suggested by Mangkhosat Kipgen (1997).
· Since, Cheitharon Kumbaba was rewritten after 1780 AD and the Kukis mentioned in the chronicle were likely to be Old Kukis as term indicated both Old/New Kukis at that time.
· Thadou Kukis do not have Salai and Yumnak; and there was no record of conversion from Meitei to Thadou Kuki or vice versa.
· There was no record of raids or conflicts or conquests of Thadou Kuki tribes during the zenith of the Manipur Kingdom. It is most unlikely that there was any Thadou village in Manipur large enough to be noticed between 1432 and 1748 AD.
· It is also possible that the Thadou Kukis came to Manipur in1840 AD, as stated by the Anals who were staying at Thanlon during the period.
· It is most possible that the Thadou, Nwite, Vaipe, and Yo Chins, who within the memory of man resided in the Northern Chin Hills, almost disappeared entirely recrossed (crossed) the Northern border either into the hills belonging to Manipur or to the South of Cachar as stated by BS Carey and HN Tuk in their book, “The Chin Hills. 1896, Vol.1”, p2, 3). The book was written in 1894 AD.
· It is most likely that the belief of the Thadou Kukis that “their origin was in the North” may be due to the custom of passing down the same orally for generations. The general direction of upper courses of the Yangtze and Huang-Ho rivers, Tibet etc. is in the North.
· The majority of the experts are of the view that Thadou Kukis migrated to Manipur from the Chin and Lushai Hills due to the pressure from the Southern tribes in the Chin and the Lushai hills.
· The assessment of Jimmy Thadou (1998) that “the Thadou migrated into Manipur from upper Burma (Chin Hill) and Lushai Hill in 1666 AD (17th century) during the time of King Paikhomba and …” can’t be totally ruled out as the Thadous Kukis have the habit of establishing small villages of 4 to 6 houses in remote areas. However, it is most unlikely that any Thadou Kuki village large enough to be noticed existed before 1748 AD.
· It is most likely that a small section of Thadou Kukis of the Kabaw Valley and the Thadou villages between the Tui Sa and Tui Pu from the South migrated into Manipur.
· No additional territory with the Thadou villages came to Manipur as a result of the Boundary Commission 1894 AD.
· The first historical record of the raid on the Kuki migration was after the repeated invasion by the Burmese 1758 to 1782 AD. Therefore, the Thadou Kukis migrated to Manipur in noticeable number only after the repeated Burmese invasion in 18th century.
· However, after the Seven Years Devastation, the Thadou Kukis who were facing pressure from the South in Chin and Lushai hills were welcomed to Manipur as the kingdom required more people for its security.
· The Great Kuki Exodus, which affected the demographic landscape of the hills of Manipur had taken place after the Seven Years of Devastation or 1830 AD as recorded in the history of Manipur.
The Old Kukis (Khongjais) have Salai and Yunmak like Meiteis and there were conversion from Meitei to Old Kuki and vice versa. Old Kuki language is classified as a separate group under Southern Kuki-Chin language and some linguist even put Meithei in the same group. The Old Kukis are temperamentally different from the New Kuki tribes. There are records of raids or conflicts or conquests of all Old Kuki tribes during the zenith of Manipur kingdom. Therefore, it is very clear that the Old Kukis migrated to Manipur, along with or soon after the Meiteis.
The above analysis conclusively indicated that Thadou Kukis did not come along with the Old Kukis. The Thadou Kuki villages large enough to be noticed were possible only after the reign of Maharaja Garibaniwaza and only very small, insignificant Thadou villages in remote areas were possible before 1748 AD. Migration of Thadou Kukis in noticeable number started after the repeated Burmese invasion (1758-1782 AD) and the Great Kuki Exodus to Manipur after the Seven Years Devastation or 1830 AD as recorded in the history of Manipur.
The majority of the Thadou Kukis migrated from the Chin Hills and the Lushai Hills. However, a small section migrated from the Kabaw Valley and the Thadou villages between Tui Sa and Tui Pu.
As stated earlier, every tribe is respected for their loyalty and contribution towards the development of the State; and being immigrant at a particular time would not affect the present status. Since the final objective is to bring out the truth without any ethnic prejudice the views of the historians and the scholars are welcome to correct any inaccuracy in this article. The truth would be respected by all the ethnic groups and would create an atmosphere conducive for peace and prosperity for everyone.

The writer is a retired Captain, NM, Indian Navy. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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