TODAY -

Meiteis & Meiteilon never been Tibeto-Burman : Never mind the guess work

Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh *



The joy of Independence Day permeated all over Manipur on August 14 1947. I was there. But, Manipur had an Achilles Heel, the Manipur State Congress. Another fatal weakness for the superficial was the inherent silliness of the premise that Meiteis and Meiteilon are Tibeto-Burman.

The aesthetic offence of the 1950's educational revolution, seduced by Grierson, was to dupe young Meiteis into believing something that is not true.

Like Meitei insurgents my love for Manipur remains undiminished. The coming of August 14, 2017 has bolstered my faith in the singularity of Meiteis and Meiteilon. The combination of realism and fairytale in its antithesis, plotting against each other, is so baroque that it gives a novelistic impression. As rationality remains a super tool with which to investigate our ethnic origin which is uncalled for, and language, even the most adherent fan of the Tibeto-Burman genre should carry on over any linguistic hurdles, and stop being Don Quixote, and believing in The Arabian Nights .

The beginning began with a couple of British ethnologists, and linguists like Grierson. Like early 19-century geologists who struggled in vain to reconcile their findings with religious biblical accounts, they had a wave of fashionable interest with unfulfilled intellectual appetite to turn a small-scale analysis into big-picture speculation, such as Meiteis and Meiteilon are Tibeto-Burman.

Some people will have to suspend their belief, though many won't struggle to do so for their minds have been opened by whatever kind of key causes people to believe. I've begun to avoid looking into the mirror as I always think: Wow … that's a big head. We need to be lost to find ourselves and not rely on old yarns of who we are.

I keep bringing up this subject with intermittent vigour because of newer evidence that crops up while the subject is still faced with the same runaway vehicle, carrying the old story clearly and cheerfully, with just the right speed and a whiff of adult satire of pedantic pretensions that might cause Grierson to squirm in embarrassment.

Meiteilon as Tibeto-Burman, abounds in literary allusions, with frequent references to linguistic bigwigs, such as Benedict, noting that, since Benedict's manuscript of 1941 and reconstruction in 1972, Meiteilon has been flipping on its head. There's now more evidence of linguistic immaturity in classifying Meiteilon, from the 9th International Conference on the Northeast Indian Linguistic Society, Tezpur University, Assam in February 2016.

Linguistics as a discipline has leapt to academic prominence since only 1960s. Knowledge of language is an inherent part of human beings. By the time we are three years old everyone can speak the native language. This leads some writers down the garden path to have the delusion that he/she is an expert in dealing with something as universal as language.

There are fables of Tibeto-Burman migrations, such as that of Meiteis coming from you know where; or the nonsense of a recent study (2015) that went as far as to posit Sherpas of Nepal, who have lived for thousands of years in the Himalayas, as being the ancestors of Tibetans, simply because of their adaptation to low atmospheric oxygen at higher altitudes. In 1994, a study concluded that the Sherpas migrated from Tibet about 600 years ago.

What's not outrageous is the new genetic proof that Meiteis are not Tibeto-Burman. A genetic study by 11 Indian researchers, including 4 Meiteis: Sanjembam YM, Devi KN, Nongthombam AD and Khangengbam SM at the Department of Anthropology, Delhi University, published in 2009, proved that Meiteis are not Tibeto-Burman; probably an Austroasiatic like the Khasi but with a mixed gene pool.

Another genetic study by 7 researchers including 2 Meiteis: Sanjenbam Yaiphaba Meitei, Khagenbam Somibabu Meitei at the Department of Anthropology, Vidyasagar University, W Bengal and Biochemical and Molecular Anthropological Laboratory, University of Delhi, published in 2012, independently confirmed that Meiteis are not migrants from Southeast Asia.

Endlessly reproduced, parodied and ripped off is the legendary work of Grierson that interleave Meiteilon as Tibeto-Burman. What bristles against this circumscribed linguistic fantasy is the logic that, if Meiteis are proven non- Tibeto-Burman, their native language cannot be Tibeto-Burman.

There are footnotes and endnotes, and our ambiguous narrative in the present tense, germinated from a motley few English-educated Meiteis in post WWII, with their approach to literacy that stressed the acquisition of appropriate verbal and cognitive skills. At the heart of this scholastic reasoning lies the inadvertent theme of 'betrayal' of the true nature of Meiteis and Meiteilon, like all John Le Carre's spy novels.

In post-WWII, a few Meiteis having read citations from books written 100 years ago by colonialists, who after looking at our facial physiognomy (Mongoloid), conveniently clumped Meiteis and Meiteilon together with Tibeto-Burman, lost reason-d'etre of the uniqueness of Meiteis and Meiteilon. Unlike our Meitei forefathers who did not have the propensity to radicalise self-invention, they fell hook, line, and sinker for the fabricated Meitei origin and Meiteilon. There are linguistic experts, but all academic publications aren't trustworthy. New findings may later supersede them.

There are some in the Brave New World, who challenge conventional beliefs. One is Heath Robinson, English cartoonist, who invented a contraption 'to overcome the difficulties of conveying green peas to the mouth'. Understanding that, by using observation and critical thought it is often possible to discover the truth, rather than searching for answers in fantasy, I propositioned in my book (2008) The origin of the Meiteis of Manipur & Meiteilon … that, as a genetic and geographic subgroup "Meiteis were just here" in Manipur as yelhoumee – autochthons, from time beyond memory.

My hypothesis fits in with Graham Thurgood, professor Emeritus of California University, Ohio, US and Randy J LaPolla, professor of Linguistics, Nanjing Technological University, Singapore. They write in their book 'Foreign Language study' (2006. p188): "As with Karbi, it seems safe to leave Meitei (Meiteilon, Manipuri) by itself.

LaPolla says: "We should constantly challenge our most basic assumptions with arguments presented with a view to convincing us to change our conception of Sino-Tibetan [Tibeto-Burman] and to change the name of the family. The amount of research on them, both diachronic and synchronic, has multiplied in the last few decades."

Robbins Burling, an American professor of anthropology and linguistics found that, "The people of Northeastern India often construct migration stories in an attempt to explain the history and the present distribution of tribes. 'Where did the so-and-so come from?' is a question that has no meaning. While people certainly migrate, they rarely do so as coherent tribes. Westerners should understand while contemplating Northeastern Babel [Babel in the Bible as a source of single language], it is hard to avoid the suspicion that languages have been manipulated in order to be different."

The fundamental of my thinking against Grierson's is narcissistically a monster of debate but not without apologists, such as Prof Sobhana L Chelliah, University of North Texas, Sohini Ray, Prof (Emeritus) of Anthropology & Linguistics, University of Michigan, and Prof Robbins Burling, who has a deeper understanding of Northeast languages.

Recently, I read an article (April 2011) by Pauthang Haokip, Linguistics, Assam University, Silchar. He writes scholarly that, "Manipuri is often regarded as constituting a genetic subgroup within the so called Kuki-Chin-Naga group. But Burling and Thurgood in 2003 pointed out that there is no clear evidence to show that. Manipuri shares only some lexical similarities with the Kuki-Chin languages and Tangkhul due to prolonged contact between these languages. The position of Manipuri within Tibeto-Burman is yet to be properly determined.

The exact number of Manipuri dialects is somehow not made clear by previous researchers working on the language. According to Yashwanta (1995), there are four major Manipuri dialects, though Thoudam (1980) lists eight dialects. Chelliah (1997) suggests the list of dialects given by Thoudam is just geographical names rather than dialectal names of Manipuri."

Chelliah hit the nail on the head. I think Yashwanta is a scholar and Thoudam is pedantic. As for pragmatic competence, Chelliah wrote to me: "the position of Meiteilon is still uncertain. It needs a PhD thesis". It is for the linguistic department of Manipur University, to research but, with the predicate that Meiteilon is NOT Tibeto-Burman.

Burling has scoffed Matisoff and Grierson: Matisoff for "a laudable admission of ignorance for grouping Northeast Indian languages as 'Kamarupan' as there is nothing like any convincing genetic classification, and Grierson "for nonsensical classification as 'North Assam branch' which was no better substantiated."(having an interest in Meiteilon I went to see Matisoff in 1989 at Berkeley by the undersea train across San Francisco Bay).

Burling emphasises that "When reliable comparative phonology is lacking, as it generally is in Northeastern India, even judging cognate status often requires an uncomfortable amount of guesswork. In the absence of reliable phonological analyses or good description of morphology and syntax, we have no choice but to rely primarily upon the lexicon for tentative judgements and to toss languages together under arbitrary geographic labels that do more to hide than to clarify the relationship among languages."

Meiteilon is enigmatic, and the most enduring Manipuri literature like the legend of the Holy Grail, Christ's cup of the Last Supper. It is searching for the elusive truth. We haven't heard the last about Meiteilon.


* Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is based in the UK. Website: www.drimsingh.co.uk
This article was posted on August 12, 2017.


* Comments posted by users in this discussion thread and other parts of this site are opinions of the individuals posting them (whose user ID is displayed alongside) and not the views of e-pao.net. We strongly recommend that users exercise responsibility, sensitivity and caution over language while writing your opinions which will be seen and read by other users. Please read a complete Guideline on using comments on this website.


LATEST IN E-PAO.NET
  • Bandh demanding VC removal #1 : Gallery
  • Greater Nagaland or Mini Nagaland ? #1
  • We just need a little bit of luck
  • Naga Peace Process :: News Timeline
  • Cry of a Dying River - 37 :: Poem
  • Manipur : Context & Structural Violence
  • Procrastinations and protests
  • Protests against MHRD at New Delhi
  • Scientists from NASA during IIT Techniche
  • Mission 'Go to Village'
  • Even Monkey falls from the tree
  • Lim divide : Strong statement from CM
  • DESAM Protest- remove MU VC : Gallery
  • Konung Kang Chingba #2 : Gallery
  • Unbiased Retake Manipur University Issues
  • BoSEM Imbroglio: Educational smuggling
  • Jobs available in NIELIT centers
  • Commanding Officer-i-c must be punished
  • Public official's escorts assault lawyer
  • Is Govt underestimating MU Community
  • MU impasses : Getting uglier
  • Art Exhibit @Imphal Art College #1 : Gallery
  • HSLC students @ Chalwa, KPI : Gallery
  • Arambam Modhu Kalabhusan-Lairik Haiba
  • Interferences in private school affairs
  • Diagnostic Testing Phases -complexities
  • The Kite Runner :: Poem
  • Call for joint mass protest at New Delhi
  • Manipur CM warns of extreme steps
  • Naga civil society playing key role
  • This will be an Acid test for N. Biren
  • Best option : A graceful exit ..for Pandey
  • Kang Khichri chaba @Kwakeithel : Gallery
  • Plastic Surgery Day @RIMS : Gallery
  • Kang Chingba @Keishampat : Gallery
  • Human rights of women in our society
  • AFSPA Gesture and Better Alternative
  • Leisure :: Poem
  • Restore Life After Burns : Plastic Surgery
  • Konung Kang Chingba #1 : Gallery
  • Dont waste searching for word/phrases
  • Hill People & Merger of Manipur
  • Manipur State Constitution Act 1947 #5
  • U-Mangra for biofuel for economic devpt
  • Painting competition on environment
  • Condemn Moreh terror attack
  • Climbing Shirui Hills, Ukhrul #3 : Gallery
  • Ichangthoubi, Thotmungchan :: eMing
  • Kang Chingba - Rath Yatra : Book
  • Why the impasse at Manipur University
  • Condolence Message for Tamenglong
  • Maharaj parleys Bizando
  • Opt for fruit/vegetable beauty product
  • DG Assam Rifles meets Governor
  • Recreation - a Serious Business
  • Tuilha Kolt waterfall @Kpi #1 : Gallery
  • Eyek Tamba :: Learn Manipuri script
  • Lamjing Meira Ningsing Numit #2 : Gallery
  • Who Created the Border Pillar Conflict ?
  • EEVFAM amidst Numbness and Noise
  • Special Olympics Unified Cup 2018
  • Path for youth's bright future
  • Addressing core issues
  • Students Vs Centre's man : MU
  • Thangjam Manorama Anniversary: Gallery
  • A reflection on POCSO Act, 2012
  • Fear :: Poem
  • War veterans laboured to clean compound
  • Free Career Counselling Program
  • NEFIS writes to University bodies
  • Sit-in-Protest Against House Search
  • 50th World Population Day celebrated
  • Something worrying
  • Congress : 2 days session too short
  • Jadugi Chei :: Funga Wari
  • Tribal protest for MU normalcy : Gallery
  • Framework Agreement: What is it ?
  • Some cairns from the way: Artist's retake #2
  • Cry of a Dying River # 36 :: Poem
  • Overview on Manipur University imbroglio
  • Tribal Students memo to HRD on MU
  • India-Vietnam Film Show 2018 at Delhi
  • Why the CM is helpless ?
  • No end in sight to MU crisis
  • Indo-Myanmar Pillar 81 @Kwatha #1: Gallery
  • Global Bamboo Congress @Beijing : Gallery
  • Manipur State Constitution Act 1947 #4
  • Kamesh Salam : Speaker at BARC, Beijing
  • Career in Cooperatives
  • Nagaland CM's speech at NEC
  • NPF Rejoinder to JD (U) of July 9
  • The Killing Fields - 2013-18 : News Timeline
  • Unfair Game
  • Expecting documentary proof from villagers
  • Lamjing Meira Ningsing Numit #1 : Gallery
  • Woken Youth Clubs in season of World Cup
  • Converting tourism potential into reality
  • Let me live in your heart :: Poem
  • D-Jent.... Djentleman... Anyone ?
  • Socialism or destruction of humanity ?
  • Inner Line Permit (ILP) Demand :: Timeline
  • Demand action against KSO activists
  • Ichangi Laidhi #3 :: eRang
  • Modernizing Manipur University Library
  • In the grip of nothingness :: Poem
  • Password protection - I
  • Congenital Heart Defect operated
  • Hill area bandh relaxed temporarily
  • State & central govt must stop conflict
  • Cohesion is sports
  • Explain 'devious purpose'
  • Willong Khullen, Maram #2 : Gallery
  • Manipur merger agreement 1947
  • Wari Jalsa at New Delhi
  • Congress grass menace in North-East
  • M A Thomas National Human Rights Award
  • What does worry do to us ?
  • Is Manipur a part of India ?
  • Rumours of child lifters : Dangerous
  • List of MLA (Jan 2018) #3 : Gallery
  • Forest Rights Act 2006 -context of Manipur
  • Supreme Court Hearing on EEVFAM case
  • Cry of a Dying River - 35 :: Poem
  • Terirama Th. met South Korea's first lady
  • Securing security cameras: invisible eye
  • Rejoinder to Nagaland CM's statement
  • Meitei Mayek - are the scales tipped now
  • Patronising non-locals : Nail the insiders
  • Tribal University @ Senapati : Gallery
  • Rally to remove MU VC #2 : Gallery
  • Some cairns from the way: Artist's retake #1
  • Manipur State Constitution Act 1947 #3
  • UN experts on 'fake encounter' killings
  • Nagaland CM Rio statement on July 4
  • Condemns inhuman eviction by Govt
  • Trainees Certificate of RPL at Kamrup
  • Minor reunited with mother after 26 days
  • Non-Operative Closure of "hole in the heart"
  • We are for the people, for the society
  • Over 30 days : Centre sleeps, MU 'burns'
  • Thokchom Brindashabi Devi :: Profile
  • Kshetri-bengoon Eviction Protest : Gallery
  • Successive pay commissions: It's impact
  • Research Support @ R-Square Design
  • leingakki thouwong - state terrorism
  • Rebuttal: Interview of Ranju Singh
  • Different forces pulling Manipur : Lim
  • Pakhangba Cheng Hongba #3 : Gallery
  • Some ideas for prevention of flood
  • Satisfaction :: Poem
  • Supreme Court hearing on EEVFAM - 2 July
  • Dark lips .. causes and care
  • Training on Handloom Weaver at Hojai
  • CME on 'Congenital Heart Diseases'
  • Nagaland CM should make his stand clear
  • 2019 LS polls : BJP on the offensive
  • Great June Uprising @Kekrupat #4 : Gallery
  • Naga American conference in California
  • Life of an army officer's daughter
  • The Winter Blues :: Poem
  • 16th Mega Miss North East
  • NDPP on Naga integration
  • Allegations against VC holds no ground
  • Rally to remove MU VC #1 : Gallery
  • July Calendar for Year 2018 :: Tools
  • A Washed-Out Summer Vacation in MU
  • Manipur State Constitution Act 1947 #2
  • My short interaction with Penna Donna
  • 9th Men Mega Mister North East
  • Memo submitted to Kiren Rijiju
  • India- no interest to protect its boundary
  • Idea of who is a citizen of the land
  • Poumai Purul Hiimai Paoki #3 : Gallery
  • Dr Thingnam Kishan Memorial : Gallery
  • Black sheep in movement for ILPS #3
  • Our Common Crisis: What are We to Do #2
  • Jackichand Singh signs for FC Goa
  • No co-operation to MU VC
  • Nagaland CM contradicting himself : NPF
  • Career Guidance Workshop at Ukhrul
  • The tales of a forgotten University
  • Pulling at idea of Manipur : Lim, ATC
  • Climbing Shirui Hills, Ukhrul #2 : Gallery
  • Moirangthem Arup: 90 Km Marathon, Africa
  • Pitfalls on land acquisition for Mapithel Dam
  • Chinese dominance in 21st century
  • Caring for the elderly
  • IIT-G's Technothlon prelims at UAE
  • Mass Rally from Manipur University
  • Nagaland CM releases book by teenager
  • Why trying to dictate media time & again
  • MU, border pillar, Citizenship Bill
  • Oinam Dilip's Painting Exhibition
  • Intl Day Against Drug Abuse : Gallery
  • The Manipur Merger Agreement 1949
  • A road to Mandalay
  • Keeping up: medical diagnostics tech
  • The mother of all preventive strategies
  • Relief camps for Flood affected families
  • The dark side of Indian democracy
  • From three time CM to Oppn leader
  • Khumang Pokpa Haraoba #1 : Gallery
  • Great June Uprising @Kekrupat #3 : Gallery
  • Mova Cave, Hungpung, Ukhrul #1 : Gallery
  • Tribal Cultural Festival #2 : Gallery
  • General Thangal Eco Park : Gallery
  • Dzuko valley #4 :: 360 Panorama View
  • Manglandasu Nang - OST :: e-pao Radio
  • HSLC 208 Exam Toppers : Gallery
  • Front Page Photo 2018 #2: Gallery
  • Class XII Exam Toppers : Gallery
  • Temples of Manipur : Gallery
  • Recipients of Akademi Awards for 2014
  • Old Manipuri Movie #1 :: eRang Classic
  • SPONSORED ADS