TODAY -

An introspection to some dimension of compositeness and oneness of the settlers of Manipur
- Part 1 -

Dr Priyadarshni M Gangte *

The varied communities of Manipur
The varied communities of Manipur :: Credit - DIPR Manipur



Introduction :

This thesis is an attempt to deal with the historicity of relationship among the communities who have setting in Manipur since time immemorial. Knowledge of the past provides necessary information to be used in the present in order to determine how things may be in the future. What, then, does historical research involve? The major impetus in historical research as with other data-collection strategies is the collection of information and the interpretation or analysis of the data.

Specifically historical research is conducted for one or more reasons; to uncover the unknown; to answer questions to seek implication or relationship of events from the past and their connections with the present, to assess past activities and accomplishment of individuals agencies or institutions, and to aid generally in our understanding of human culture.

On the other hand, the transformation of a historical narrative about multiple strands of heritage into a blueprint for community cooperation, however, presents certain difficulties. Co-existence and cultural sharing at day-to-day level have often proved vulnerable to political manipulation and intervention as Javeed Alam argues is exactly what is happening in the history of Manipur. History should not be interpreted in different way to suit political views.

Nevertheless, as researcher and also student of History, we may examine as to how far are the settlers of Manipur who can be broadly divided into Kuki, Meitei and Naga, living in the valley and hills surrounding it are related to a great extend in consideration of their origin culture, tradition, customs, etc., etc.

Origin and Ethnic Affinity :

According to Grierson, 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 of language 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 closely related in terms of language. All the same, the Kachin connection has been proved by the linguistic affinity between the Meitei and the Kachin.

McCulloch, 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, he was prompted to advance a theory that the Meiteis are descendants of the Kukis and Nagas. Brown,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 no 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 organisation in village, in habits and manners the Meiteis were as the hill people now are". He further maintains that 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. Photographs of the Coronation Hall or Kangla show that the front beams of the roof have crossed and curved end which are distinctly reminiscent of the decoration of the houses of the Khullakpas of Naga Villages. 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 stock12. The song,

"CHINGDA TABA WAKONA, TAMDA TAGE MAHAIDO, WAKON TANOI NOI "

when sung in its indigenous and primeval tune significantly expresses inseparable 'one-ness' 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 categoriesed 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, 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 NongdaLairenPakhangba 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)). 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 was still existing in the valley. And in course of time, the elder brother nick-named the people of his younger brother MEITHEI people (the letter 'H" later omitted due to phonetical convenience).

The origin of these Meitei tribes is still obscured and complicated due to lack of information regarding their migration before their arrived 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 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, Kabui.

(To be continued .....)


* Dr Priyadarshni M Gangte wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is Associate Professor and Co-ordinator, Human Rights & Duties Education Centre, Damdei Christian College, Motbung
This article was posted on June 09, 2017.


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