History of Manipur as refleced in the socio-cultural ties of hills & plain

History of Manipur as refleced in the socio-cultural ties of hills & plain

History of Manipur as refleced in the socio-cultural ties of hills & plain

Written By: / Articles / Wednesday, 03 February 2016 17:04

HISTORY OF MANIPUR AS REFLECED IN THE SOCIO-CULTURAL TIES OF HILLS & PLAIN

Introduction:

We may examine as to how far are the people of Manipur who can be broadly divided into Meitei, Kuki and Naga, living in the valley and the hills surrounding it are related or otherwise in consideration of their culture, tradition, customs, etc., more particularly so in view of the fact that while the Meiteis living in the valley profess Hinduism, the Kukis and the Nagas living in the hills surrounding the valley embrace Christianity.

Origin and Ethnic Affinity:

Grierson (1904), in his Linguistic Survey of India, Vol.II, 1904) stated that the Meiteis, Kukis and Nagas are all of Mongoloid stock belonging to the Tibeto-Burman Family, and their language is clubbed in the Kuki-Chin group which would have been a better appellation had it been given the Meitei-Chin linguistic group. This will enable the whole group divided into two sub-groups, the Meiteis and the various tribes which are known under the names of Kuki and Chin. By this, it only proves that the Meiteis and the Kukis and the Nagas are linguistically very close. All the same, the Kachin connection has been proved by the linguistic affinity between the Meitei and the Kachin

McCulloch’s The Valley of Manipur (1859)stated that in view of striking affinity in the language and culture of the people of Meiteis and the hill tribes of Manipur including their folklore, prompted to advance a theory that the Meiteis are descendants of the Kukis and Nagas. (R. Brown: A Statistical Account of Manipur, 1874) also subscribed to this view of tribal origin of the Meiteis and speculated that “should it be a correct view that the valley of Manipur was at not very distant period almost covered entirely by water, the origin of the Munniporees from the surrounding hill is the proper and only conclusion to be arrived”. Similarly, Hudson was bold enough to say, “Two hundred years ago, in the internal organization in village, in habits and manners the Meiteis were as the hill people now are. The successive courses of foreign invasions, Shan, Burmese, Hindu and English, each left permanent marks on the civilization of the people so that they have passed finally away from the stage of relatively primitive culture with one of comparative civilization but their ultimate homogeneity with the Nagas and Kukis of the hills is undoubted”.

An important feature is the indispensable Customary Law elements in regard to the parts played by each ‘Salai’ and to ensure participation of several ethnic and tribal groups in bringing and contributing different kinds of wood available in their regions which were used in the construction of halls in Kangla. Their participation in coronation-ceremony was essential. It was customary to collect water from different pools belonging to the seven different ‘Salais’. Use of different designs and colours on clothes both among the seven Salais of Meiteis and the tribal groups, a practice followed since the reign of Pamheiba, reveal the divergent cultural base. Wearing of Tangkhul customary dress by the King during the coronation ceremony was a demonstrative impact factor for the people to integrate. These are seen as attempts to depict characteristics of the occasion to project the King as supreme authority of all the people living, both in the Valley and the hills, in expression of solidarity and integration of societies.

To light the most important fact about the origin of the Manipuri, the Kukis, the Meiteis and the Nagas as having a common origin. A folk song often sung at the Laiharaoba – a festival of the Meiteis reveals – that whether it be the settlers of the hills or that of the valley, both are of the same stock.

“CHINGDA TABA MAHAIGE, TAMDA TABA MAHAIGE, WAKON TANOI NOI …”

When sung in its indigenous and primeval tune significantly expresses inseparable ‘oneness’ and deep relationship that existed between these groups of people.

That the Kingdom of Manipur, a segmentary state, had been in existence since the early Christian era constituted of the people belonging to the hills and the valley, cannot be denied the indigenous groups of people categoried as the TAM-MI (the people who settled in the valley) and the CHING-MI (the people of all groups irrespective of their indigenous ethnic divisions settled in the valley or those who remained in the hills) because of their customary laws and socio-political common terminology found in their respective administrative units is also a fact.

Meitei, Kuki and Naga Ethnonyms :

Jhalajit, ( R.K. Jhalajit: A Short History of Manipur, 1964) said that whatever be the genesis of its derivation, the ethnonym, Meitei, was historically found to have been applied to the Ningthouja clan-dynasty founded by Nongda Lairen Pakhangba and other groups absorbed by this dynasty politically and integrated into its social structure.

It is interesting to note what Shimray has maintained, regarding the term, MEITHEI, it is derived from the Tangkhul dialect Meithei (Mei = fire, Thei = saw) (W.A. Sothing Shimray, The Tangkhuls, Imphal, 2000). The Tangkhul legend indicates that at one point of time, one younger brother from the Tangkhul country retracted back to the valley his departure from the hill the elder brother asked to signal his existence in the valley by lighting up a fire. So whenever the elder brother looked down from the hill and saw the fire in the valley he used to think of his brother and knew that his younger brother still existed in the valley. And in course of time, the elder brother nick-named the people of his younger brother MEITHEI people.

The origin of these Meitei tribes is still obscured and complicated due to lack of information regarding their migration before their arrival in Manipur Valley. However, clan genealogies prepared by the Ningthouja royal court shows common origination from a single divine personality. This may be a later interpolation to create a myth of common origin of the Meiteis which was a necessary ingredient of nation building, said Gangmumei Kabui. As a matter of fact, sociologically, the Meiteis have absorbed many foreign elements and completely assimilated into their social milieu. Over and above this strong political and social pressure of assimilation, there is the dynamic and all absorbing Meitei language which turned out to be the backbone of the process of the Meiteinisation of indigenous elements. It is likely that the Meitei as distinct ethnic, linguistic, cultural and social entity was formed in Manipur valley which was a melting pot of culture.

“The Kuki tribes of Manipur are a branch of the great Kuki Chin family of people. They are linguistically related to Meiteis. Ptolemy’s Tiladae is identified with the Kukis by Gerini; and Kukis were included among the Kiratas. Kuki is a generic terminology. Some Kuki tribes perhaps the Chothe, Maring, Anal, etc. migrated in Manipur hills in the pre-historic times along with or after the Meitei advent in Manipur valley. Greater migration occurred in the 18th century onwards due to the great Kuki exodus which affected the demographic landscape of the hills of Manipur and adjoining areas, said, Gangmumei Kabui.

Some aspects of homogeneity:

In confirmation, their close affinity is still in manifestation in many aspects of the life-style of these people but for professing of Hinduism by the Meiteis which seemed to have pushed apart these homogeneous groups of Meiteis, Nagas and Kukis. Yet, it would be interesting if we can highlight some such life-cultures of affinity among them.

(1) Attention to genealogy: McCulloch said, “I have before noticed the circumstance of the Koupooees believing themselves to be occupying the sites of villages which once belonged to the southern tribes, and as this belief tallies with the Khongjai idea … the latter had formerly occupied the position now occupied by the Koupooees (Kabuis). …They pay great attention to their genealogy, and profess to know the names of their Chiefs in succession from their leader out of the bowels of the earth…”

Similarly, he said of the Meiteis that the attention of these tribes to their genealogy is curious, and the circumstance of “… the Munniporees preserving in each family a “Mei-hou-rol” or genealogical tree is a coincidence of custom worthy of notice”. Such is an instance of cultural relationship of the people of Manipur without explanation in detail.

(2) Disposal of dead culture: It needs hardly be overemphasized that when a person dies, the corpse is buried. This culture is prevalent till date since time immemorial without change despite the fact that the Nagas and the Kukis have embraced Christianity these days. This burial tradition among the Meiteis was prevalent till the time of Maharajah Garib Niwaz who ordered that the Meiteis should exhume the bodies of their ancestors which they used to bury formerly inside their compounds. It is well known that upto the advent of Hinduism, the dead were buried, and the chronicles mentioned that Khagemba Maharajah enacted a rule to the effect that the dead were to be buried outside the enclosures of the houses. This was altered during the reign of Garib Niwaz. It is said that he exhumed the bones of his ancestors and cremated them on the bank of Ningthi river. Since then, he ordered his subjects to burn their dead. This change took place sometime in the year 1724, said Hudson:

Regarding the death rites and rituals the Meiteis residing at places like Sekmai, Pheiyeng, Loitangkhunou, Khurkhul, Andro, Leimaram and Kwatha are more or less same as that of the Kukis. The Meiteis of Pheiyeng observed death rites even the same as are prevalent among the Thadou society. The female relatives of the deceased (Chanute) such as own daughters and grand-daughters are obliged to kill at least a pig of five wais (one fist) to observe exclusively the family members of the deceased in token expression of sorrow and grief. It includes persons who took part in digging the grave at the burial ground and those who are near and dear ones. The eldest son, though not the heir also has to perform in like manner to pay respect to the departed soul. Offering cooked rice to deceased is also one of the features performed in token expression of sympathy.

(4) Mera Houchongba Festival: Banned by Garib Niwaz on acceptance of Hinduism on ground of purity and impurity or touchable and untouchable between the hills and the plain, Mera Houchongba Festival as a common culture among the people of the hills and the plain is one glaring evidence that had been in existence for centuries together before it was forcibly made to abandon.

On this occasion all the people from the valley and the hills brought together their offerings to the King all varieties of new arrivals of the year’s crops and vegetables including paddy from their fields and made their festivities in the presence of the King and in praise of the Almighty for the abundance of blessings given to them and for a more rich harvests in the years to come. Unfortunately, with the embracing of Hinduism this was discontinued with a decree from the King. It was revived in recent years mainly with a view to bringing about a closer and better relationship and emotional integration among the people living in the hills and the valley. Yet, all the while, such a rich culture has been in vogue among the hill people which have now been officially declared as general holiday on the day of Kut for the Kukis and Lui-Ngai-Ni for the Nagas.

(5) Affinity in Vocabulary: Being under the Tibeto-Burman Family group speaking dialects of the same language, the Meiteis, Nagas and Kukis ought to have certain amount of linguistic affinity which should be manifested in their vocabularies. In this regard it will be relevant to note that –

(i) Kuki language is called in Manipur Thadou-Pao. This language does not have ‘L’ for ‘R’. Thus for a word that requires ‘R’ in its spelling it is substituted by either the letter ‘L’ or ’G’ as the case may be;

(ii) The Nagas do not have a common language unlike the Meiteis and the Kukis. Yet, the most outstanding advancement in developing a common language is the Tangkhul Nagas who adopted the Ukhrul dialect as their common language. So when language affinity is made on comparative study Tangkhul language will be used.

(iii) J.C. Higgins, the then Political Agent, Manipur said, “Manipuri and Thadou (Kuki) contain certain roots in common, but are quite distinct languages and a knowledge of one does not enable a person to make himself understood by persons speaking the other. Assam Government, therefore, grants a separate reward to Officers passing in both”.

(iv) According to Rev. Renghang Chothe, Former President of Ethno Heritage Council (HERICOUN), there are no less than 30(thirty) percent vocabularies of the Chothe dialect with the Manipuri language which are also similar to the Thadou language. Few examples of the following words are:

No

Manipuri

Chothe

English

1.

Sangbai

Shangpaai

Paddy basket

2.

Chairung

Chainarung

Cheek

3.

Tathak-Yakha

Yathak-Yakha

Upper and lower jaws

4.

Pomphi

Pawnphi (Pawn = cloth; phi = joining)

Cloth (thick blanket)

5.

Nahong

Nao-pawn

Baby cloth to carry on shoulders

No.

English

Meitei

Thadou (Kuki)

Tangkhul Naga.

1.

Head

Kok (Lu)

Lu

Kui

2.

Neck

Ngak

Ngong

Khanao

3.

Shoulder

Leng (Lengban)

Leng (Lengkou)

 

4.

Hair

Sam

Sam

Sam

5.

Eye

Mit

Mit

Mik

6.

Saliva

Tin

Chil

 

7.

Nose

Na-ton

Nak-kui

Kha-na

8.

Tongue

Lei

Lei

Lei

9.

Tooth

Ya

Ha

Ha

10.

Hand

Khut

Khut

Khut

11.

Knee

Khuk-u

Khup-bu

 

12.

Leg

Khong

Keng (Phei)

Phei

13.

Nail

Khu-jil

Khut-tin

 

14.

Chin

Kha-dang

Kha-lhang (Kha-tang)

 

15.

Face

Mai

Mai

Mai

16.

Thigh

Phei-gan

Phei-pi

Kaphei

(a) Numerals :

1.

One

A-ma

Khat

A-kha

2.

Two

A-ni

Ni

Kha-ni

3.

Three

A-hum

Thum

Ka-thum

4.

Four

Ma-ri

Li

Ma-ti

5.

Five

Ma-nga

Nga

Pha-nga

6.

Six

Ta-ruk

Gup (K) or Ruk

Tha-ruk

7.

Seven

Ta-ret

Sagi

Si-ni

8.

Eight

Ni-pan

Get

Chi-sat

9.

Nine

Ma-pan

Koh(k)

Chi-ko

10.

Ten

Ta-ra

som

Tha-ra.

(b) Miscellaneous :

1.

Wood

Shing

Thing

Thing

2.

Song

I-sei

La

La

3.

Dead

A-si-ba

A-Thi

Ka-Thi

4.

Alive

A-hing-ba

A-Hing

Ka-Hing

5.

Go

Chat-pa

A-Che

Ka-Chat

6.

Cry

Kap-pa

A-Kap

Ka-Chap

7.

Name

Ming

Min

Ming

8.

Laugh

Nok-pa

A-Nui

Nga-Nu

9.

Shout

Lao-ba

A-Ao

Kha-Vao

10.

Call

Kou-ba

A-Kou

Ka-Ho.

               

These are few of the original vocabularies that stand the winds of change that were experienced in the languages of Meitei, Kuki and Naga. While that of the Kukis and the Nagas remain more or less unchanged, a lot of sanskritization had taken place in the case of Meitei language that had distanced their homogeneity. It is to be seen as to how long the relic remnants of linguistic homogeneity would survive.

(6) Adoration of Sanamahi and Leimaren : As far as the household deities like Sanamahi and Leimaren is concerned the Chothe, Kabui, Koireng, Kom had practised the worshipping of such deities like the Meiteis did at one point of time i.e. before the advent of Christianity. It will be pertinent to note that the Chothes also followed the same custom giving emphasis to local deity worship. It is one customary law other than they have such several similar customs and tradition with other fellow tribes. It is obligatory for a newly married daughter-in-law as soon as she enters the house of her husband for the first time, to pay homage to Ima Leimaren and then to Sanamahi. Adoring of Sanamahi is still retained among the Chothes.

(7) Seven Clanned Societies : The system of clan arrangement among the Chothe, Maring, Anal, Tangkhul, Kom, Moyon-Monshang, Koireng societies are divided into seven clans like the Meiteis and the Kabuis, such as also Mangang, Luwang, Khuman, Angom, Khaba-Nganba, Moirang and Sarang Leishangthem practices of marriage restriction within the same clan is also practised among the Chothes and Kabuis.

(8) Wangbrel – Shangnu Tradition : Wangbrel, one of the nine deities who protect the south direction married an Anal lady named Shangnu of Anal Khullen Wangbrel was the God of Water even today homage is regularly paid at the Shrine, erecting two stones of which the bigger one symbolises Wangbrel while the smaller symbolizing Shangnu. Gangmumei, a noted historian maintained that on the basis of Wangbrel-Shangnu tradition, some claim is made of the village as having a hoary antiquity of 2000 years which appeared a conjectural work. Thus, this legend plays a significant role in the historical development as well as in the socio-cultural ties among the inhabitants of Manipur in particular.

Reasons for drawing such conclusion may be attributed to the – tradition of common origin prevalent among the hill tribes that the Meiteis were their descendants; the linguistic affinity between the Meitei, Naga and Kuki-Chin people that exists as established by Grierson; close connection of some Meitei clans that exists with the hill tribes who were in close proximity of their habitat; striking similarity of the coronation costumes of the royal couple with that of some Naga tribes; and architecture of the coronation halls of the Kangla with the ritual houses of the Chiefs of the Naga tribes.

Tribal origin of the Meitei clans was strongly opposed by some writers in the 19th and 20th centuries mainly on the ground that there was no legend or tradition among the Meiteis to substantiate their common origin with the tribes. Nevertheless, instances are galore that there are migrations of some individual Meitei heroes or families in the hills who absorbed themselves into the societies of tribes in whichever they might choose to be converted into.

CHIKIM-MEITEI Relationship:

Of all Tibeto-Burman peoples the Meitei of Manipur were the people linguistically closest to the CHIKIM and they settled together as one group in the Chindwin Valley. Historical materials of the Meiteis have shown the presence of CHIKIM people in the Chindwin Valley after the beginning of the Christian era. Lehman in his book – The Structure of Chin Society: Urbana, 1963, puts the CHIKIM’s occupation of the area well into the middle of the first millennium A.D., in which period the Meiteis conquered the Andro-Sekmai group of people, who were inhabitants of present day Manipur.

Hudson has maintained that the Meiteis were descendents of surrounding hill tribes. Their traditions have remained similar and even today they retain many customs of the hill people. He wrote, in 1900 that the organization, religion, habits and manners of the Meitei of two hundred years before were the same as the hill people of his own era.

There are legends and traditions, which tell of early relationships between Meitei, Naga, and CHIKIM – the three ethnos. A Tangkhul (Naga) tradition says that Naga, Meitei and CHIKIM descended from a common ancestor who had three sons. These were the progenitors of the tribes. This tradition puts the CHIKIM as the eldest and the Meitei the youngest. Hudson wrote, “The Tangkul legend is to the effect that one day a sow, heavy with young, wandered from the village of Hundung and was tracked to the valley by the younger of the two brothers who had migrated from the village of Maikei Tungam, where their parents lived, and had founded the village of Hundung. Oknung, the pig’s stone, where the sow was eventually found, is situated on the banks of the Iril River. The sow littered there and the young man stayed to look after her; and as he found the country to his liking, he decided to settle there. For a time he kept up friendly relations with his brother in the hills, who made a practice of sending him every year gifts of produce of the hills and in turn received presents of the manufacture of the plains. The younger brother became well-to-do and proud, and abandoned the custom of sending presents to his brother in the hills, who promptly came down and took what he had been in the habit of getting.”

It is also pertinent to mention that the blood brotherhood as claimed by NSCN(IM) top brass may draw our attention to the Ritual History of Manipur ancestor which claimed that Meitei were originated from a common pool of three kin brothers namely –

(1) Tangkhul Saram Pakhangba (origin of Ukhrul and Valley tribes);

(2) Nongda Lairen Pakhangba (wherefrom the lineage of present royal family of Manipur descended);

(3) Chothe Thangmai Pakhangba (wherefrom the Kukis were believed to have descended);

Two dissimilar societies emerged from a homogeneous but complex society on account of the British manipulations who emphasised upon dissimilarities instead of similarities in cultural traditions, language and religious rites and rituals. The policy of divisiveness created a psyche for differences amidst the tribal groups. These two groups were further alienated when Hindu Vaishnavism was accepted in Manipur which gradually developed strong grip over the Meitei society under the royal patronage. Subsequently the King declared Hinduism as State religion during the reign of King Charairongba in the 17th Century and converted the Meiteis into a part of the pan-Vaishnava culture. This alienation was further aggravated when the hill people adopted Christianity in the early part of 19th Century. By this time orthodox Hinduism was firmly entrenched in the Meitei society.

With the advent of Christianity the traditional belief system that had provided the hill people with a link, albeit tenuous, with Meitei society ended. The new religion discouraged the hill people from observing their traditional ceremonies and festivals as they were considered by the Christian Missionaries to be ‘Paganistic and primitive’. The rich culture and traditions of the hill people became relics of the past. The role of religion in shaping the present and future of the people were denied thereafter, in one way or the other. Though Christianity did not pose any challenge to the dominant Meitei society, the latter refused to acknowledge the new and alien religion. The ‘new’ ways of life of the Christianized converts among hill people was ignored by the dominant Meitei society, and these societies diverged on different parts ignoring their common traits in their cultural history.

Thus, the two great world religions contributed in no small measures in the causes for ‘drifting away’ of the two groups of blood-fraternity. Politics, subsequently kept them at ‘daggers drawn’ against each other despite their inherent ‘one-ness’, traditionally, culturally and linguistically.

Thus, culture, tradition and custom with the passage of time became part and parcel of the Meitei and other communities’ social systems. It is high time to change our minds that we should realize of our being from a common origin. Our Meitei brethren should always continue to have that accommodative thinking, such as, support extended to the appointments of Yangmasho Shaiza, Mohd. Alimuddin and Rishang Keishing; Chief Ministers of Manipur. Well, as that of Rajya Sabha M.P. seat given to Rishang Keishing. Thus we can maintain the Meiteis, the Nagas and the Kukis have a common origin, they have shared the same territory and had evolved political authority, shared perception through give and take of progressive society, their future stand is not isolated but in togetherness.

 

Dr. Priyadarshni M. Gangte

Associate Professor, Department of History,

Damdei Christian College, Manipur.

About the Author

Maheshwar Gurumayum

Maheshwar Gurumayum

Maheshwar Gurumayum, Sub-Editor of Imphal Times is a resident of Sagolband Salam Leikai. He has been with Imphal Times since 2013. An avid adventure lover, writes mostly travelogue. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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