Manipuri Diaspora in Myanmar: Past and Present
- Part 2 -

Mutua Bahadur *

Myanmarese Manipuri bride in marriage costume
Myanmarese Manipuri bride in marriage costume

Date Dale, a Manipuri village, was at Nan Sayet (next to the palace on the eastern side) and it shifted near Amarapura after the British conquered Myanmar. There were around eight villages at Amarapura and Zecho is one of them. The word 'zecho' means 'cheap market' in Myanmarese language. Lots of silk clothes woven by Manipuris were available at this market. But, now-a-days, no sign of this market is left.

Manipuris have settled at Yangon division also. The localities inside it arc - Ma-oo-Gone, Yae-myae, Kama Yut, Mandalay street Pannazo and Pogodong etc. There were not less than four villages in Sagaing division (it was the capital of Sagaing division during 1315-1364) and the remaining villages are Moza (Bamon Leikai) and Kate zu etc.

Besides, Manipuris settled at Swebo and Katha villages of Sagaing division. Manipuri settlements are also found along the Ningthi river, and the areas sandwiched between the river and the boundary of Manipur.

The villages are - Homalin on the northern side, Kenta, Tekshikhong, Sayachan, Tanal, Miyudik, Maksha. Kondong, Kanjiwa (Tamu), Nanfalong, Nantanik. Samjok, Tayong, Molai, Aungchantha (inside Kaliwa) and Natchaung (inside Kalemyo) etc. The appearance of the Manipuris or Kates who have settled on along river bank of the Ningthi (Chindwin) river have changed a lot after the Second World War.

Some of them abandoned their original villages and settled around Moreh. Till 1968 there were around fifteen Manipuri households in Kanjiwa which is situated inside Tamu. But, now, no sign of the village is there. There is a Manipuri village named 'Katejuwa' near the Inle Lake of Shan state. The word Juwa means village or villages in Myanmarese language. There are Manipuri villages at Basin and Hinthada of Ayayarwaddy division.

There is a tradition of using two names among Myanmarese Manipuri-Kates and Kate-Paonas. The first name is given by the family themselves and the second name is of the Myanmarese language. The Manipuri name is used in the family and among Manipuri circles. In order to get opportunities in education and service, there is a compulsory tradition of adopting a name in the Myanmarese language.

There is no surname in a Myanmarese name. 'U' is prefixed before name of a male Manipuri elder while 'Daw' is prefixed before a middle-aged woman's name. Myanmarese Manipuri girls prefix their names with 'Ma'.

Those Manipuri-Kates and Kate-Paonas settled around Mandalay, Amarapura and Sagaing know their surname and gotras. Some of the Manipuri-Kates settled along the river banks of the Ningthi (Chindwin) river know their surnames and yek-salai (clan).

The custom of division among Myanmarese Manipuris into Brahmins, Kshetris and Sudras was prevalent strongly among the Manipuri society. Untouchability and discrimination based on religion still exists. Since the formation of a Manipuri society about 250 years ago, untouchability and discrimination have become causes for shrinking the original population of the Manipuris.

Around 1917, some Manipuris of Ahneiktaw socialized with the populace of some other communities and they were ostracized for visiting a temple of Ningthem Purohit. It means that they have become untouchables so they are not allowed to be a part of them. Even relatives became victims of this practice.

Fear, shame and anguish forced them to embrace Buddhism. After that they started mixing with those who follow Buddhism. It became one of the causes of forgetting their mother tongue. In this way the Manipuris merged with Myanmarese social system. Today they have forgotten that they were the descendants of those Manipuris who practised medicine there.

Perhaps, bachelors and spinsters between the ages of 30 and 84 are present in every household. The reasons for remaining unmarried for boys / girls are the lack of suitable brides or grooms, discrimination and casteism. They can be married to the Myanmarese but they want to remain as Manipuri-Kates, and Kate-Paonas.

There are girls who remained unmarried because they were burdened with parental care. Ostracism is very much common if a person marries a Myanmarese girl because of the unavailability of a suitable Manipuri girl. Remaining unmarried is one of the causes of decreasing population.

Those Manipuri-Kates settled along the banks of the Ningthi River can accept other community's brides after converting them to Hinduism since they couldn't find suitable brides from their own community. The number of spinsters outnumbers Manipuri bachelors.

Those children born out of marriage with other community's girls are not allowed to enter Hindu temples by the Manipuri-Kate Paonas, and those children are known as 'Kabiya' (Hybrid) in Myanmarese language.

The people of Myanmar took notice of them because Manipuri-Kate cavalry and soldiers fought by the side of the people of their adopted land, Myanmar. However, the Myanmareses' attitude of looking down Manipuri-Kates remained as they were brought there as captives.

On the other hand, Manipuri-Kate Paonas got respect because they served the Myanmarese king as consultants, purohits (king's priests) and astrologers. For the above reason some Manipuri-Kates wanted to be converted into Manipuri-Kate Paonas. Thus Kates residing inside Mandalay became Manipuri-Kate Paonas. Meanwhile those Manipuri-Kates who failed to become Manipuri-Kate Paonas embraced Buddhism and joined the Myanmarese society.

In this way Manipuri Myanmars are in a process of vanishing their language and their original settlements. There is an attitude of treating Manipuri-Kates as lower castes by Manipuri-Kate Paonas.

Kate-Paonas of Mandalay division are doing their best to preserve Hindu traditions by constructing temples and offering services to Hindu deities, celebrating annual festivals, offerings weekly evening prayers, and using 'Urik' (sacred bead) and 'Lugun' (sacred thread).

To be continued ....

** Proceedings of the Centre for Manipur Studies (CMS) Interactive Lecture Series, dated 17 September 2018, orgd. by CMS, Manipur University. Rapporteur: Aheibam Koireng, Asst. Prof., CMS, MU.

* Mutua Bahadur (Cultural Activist, Freelance Archivist and Museologist) gave this lecture at Centre for Manipur Studies (CMS) which was published at Imphal Times
This article was webcasted on October 04, 2018.

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