E-Pao! Essay - Well intricated people

Well intricated people
By: Thokchom Joykumar Singh*

1. Introduction
It is a well-known fact that the hill and plain people (Ching-Mee and Tam-Mee or Meitei) have been cohabiting side by side like brothers for the time immemorial. Both the people share the food products and professionals. Plain people have been depending on the food grains, vegetables and meats produced by the hill people. And the hill people have been depending on plain people for the "Ngari" (Fermented Fish) and "Thum" (Common Salt) etc. Plain people cannot live without consuming the delicious dishes like "Soibum Iromba" (Delicious dish) for which the main ingredient, soibum (Fermented Bamboo Shoot), is produced by the hill people of Chandel District. Plain people also need to be spiced up with the "Umorok" (Hot Chilly) grown by the hill people. Hill people have been depending on the professionals like teachers and doctors mostly from plain though many of them are non-deserving candidates appointed under dubious means. Most pathetic is that there are cases where those people never go to the intended places but keep on drawing the salaries in the name of the hill people.

2. Common history
According to the history, all the different ethnic groups of Manipur are of the same Mongoloid group ( Chin-Tibeto-Burman family of tribes), and have very close similarities in their culture and traditional habits. The legend of all tribes including Meiteis claim that they originated somewhere in the north from a "kom" (cave). The hill people are closer to the plain people geographically and economically, and most of them are more closely related to plain people ethnically. In terms of history and languages, the hill people of Manipur are more closely related to the plain people than the people of Nagaland. As such for the people of Nagaland, there is no clear cut and well-written history. Anthropology and history of Naga people are not very clear and still various studies are being made on them. Most studies and books on Naga are written in English but sometimes their contents vary from one to another, confusing readers. For example, one of Naga tribe mentioned in one book never appear on another, or sub-groups are divided differently depending on different books. Historical studies shows that different group of these tribes must have arrived to the present day settlements in different waves of time and routes from China/Inner Mongolia. Moreover, in recent times some of the human genome researchers have found out the various tribes of Nagaland do not even belong to the same "genetic make up" or "genetic pool".

Some of the festivals of Manipur like "Mera Haochongba" and "Lai Haraoiba" shows the kind of inseparability of the hill and plain people. The origin of the festival is that the gods held the first Lai Haraoba on the Koubru hill, so that their descendants should imitate them and perform the same as it had been done by the deities so that they will never forget the secret and sacred story of the creation of this universe and the birth of the different lives on this earth. Not only this, at the early times, at the time of the coronation of Meitei king, he had to wear the custumes similar to the hill people.

Some common traditional semantic rituals are worth pointing out. The Meiteis believed in scape-goats to cure illness by freeing a chicken away in the woods just as the Maos and other tribes in the north did.

In the Meitei martial arts "Thang-Ta', the Ta (spear) is primarily hill people's weapon although Meiteis developed and perfected their own war technics and skills in using them. All the tribes of Manipur including Meiteis were indulging in the notorious head hunting practices at one time of their history.

Some of the common history for the hill and plain people is worth mentioning here. Before the British came, the people of the valley and the hill interacted among themselves and depended on each other for their needs though at times turbulent and other times peaceful. During the 7 years of the Burmese occupation of Manipur (1819-1925 AD), the Meiteis ran to the Tangkhuls and Kabuis in the hills and many were absorbed within them. When the Meitei king (King Gambhir Singh) with the help of British soldiers was expediting to drive out the Burmese occupiers out of Manipur, swarms of hill people joined his armies en-route to the valley.

When British was leaving India, there was a plan to keep those "Excluded Areas" (Naga Hill District) comprising of the present day Nagaland as "British Colony". That time those Nagas had refused to be so. Without settling this issue British left India. They neither wanted to join Indian Union and have been opposing Indian rule with the message "Leave us alone" since then. They also hold a local plebiscite to say "no the Indian Constitution" in 1951. Then they were attacked by the hordes of Indian Army and forcefully captured those opposing areas. None of the hill people of Manipur took part in that plebiscite, as they were happily part of Manipur. By that time Manipur had already become a part of Indian Union by signing the merger agreement (Oct. 15, 1949) under duress pressure. Nagas proudly claim that M. K. Gandhi (June 19,1947), the father of nation, had promised them the free Nagaland but it is wrong to infer that the hill people of Manipur was in his mind. All these historical records show that the hill people of Manipur were never a part of the Naga movement and they were quite settle to be part of Manipur.

3. Wrong side of the religions
The difference among the hill and plain people came only in later parts of the history after Meiteis were converted to Vaishnavism (During the reign of King Charairongba, 1704 AD) and the hill inhabitants became Christians (Rev. W. Pettigrew, 1901). After the conversion of Meiteis to Hinduism, the valley people treated the hill tribes as untouchables and called them "Hao" a derogatory meaning "uncivilized". This led to a creation of a gigantic barrier between the hill and valley people - one accepted Hinduism and the other Christianity. This kind of inhuman treatment humiliates the "proud hill people" and led to the alienation. It was a blunder from the part of Meiteis to commit such kind of divisive attitudes towards them. Continuation of this kind of alien custom will only shake and widen the time tested social fabric and fraternity among the various communities of Manipur.

Let us not divide people in the name of religions. All these religions came much latter and all are foreign to the various communities of Manipur. All the communities have been co-existing for centuries in harmony and peace. Religions can be changed but not the neighbors. We need each other's help and cooperation in fulfilling our common destiny of a making our state a developed and prosperous one. Let the people of Manipur adopt the religion of their choice but to divide people in the name of religion should be stopped on time. At the same time the people Manipur should not shed their old traditions and cultures completely by adopting the new religions. It is always better to assimilate the new religions by keeping the best of the old customs and traditions. Let us stop thinking that we are different people and antagonist to each other after adopting the alien religions. Let the true meaning of religions i.e. humanity, love and peace be prevailed in the culturally, traditionally and religiously fertile land of Manipur.

To be continued ...

* The writer can be reached at

Senior Research Fellow
Department of Physics
Indian Institute of Science
Bangalore -560 012, INDIA

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