TODAY -

Anglo - Manipur Relation, 1833-1891
- Part 2 -

By Dr. Lal Dena *



Another source of anxiety for Manipur was the Sukte or Kamhau tribe which lived to the south east of Manipur. The chief of Sukte was Kamhau and the tribe came to be known as Kamhau tribe. Manipur considered this tribe to be a much more formidable one than the Mizos. They were a constant source of trouble to them, and at times made the southern portion of Manipur uninhabitable.

Right from Nara Singh's time 1834-1 850, the Suktes made several raids upon Manipur villages. In 1 857, the maharajah himself led an expedition of 1 500 strong but was not successful because of the shortage of provisions. In April 1859, William McCulloch reported two serious aggressions by the Suktes on Manipur subjects in Sugnu area, not far from the southern frontier.

The administrative report for 1868-69 stated that after the expedition of 1 857, the Suktes became friendly and even traded freely with the people in Manipur valley. But this did not last long. The Manipur authorities reported about seven raids from Suktes between 1857 and 1871. The question was whether an expedition as proposed by the maharajah was to be sent against the Suktes again. The governor-in-council considered it impolitic to send any such expedition. It thus instructed thfe political agent to advise the maharajah to adopt the same policy towards the Suktes as he did towards the Mizos.

In October 1 878 the Suktes attacked two villages again within Manipur territory to the south of the valley. The maharajah proposed to send an expedition against the Suktes to punish them for these raids. In spite of the lukewarm attitude of British officials, the maharajah organized an expedition of 2400 strong which started on February 19 and returned on 1 4 April 1 875. After this, fewer raids were committed on Manipur territory by the Suktes.

Since McCulloch's time none has been more successful than James Johnstone who took charge in September 1 877 and continued till March 1 886 as political agent of Manipur. Johnstone was a very shrewd and enlightened administrator. He soon built up a very cordial relationship with the maharajah and his durbar members. Johnstone and the maharajah Chandrakirti met frequently and discussed almost every issue and problem of the state. Practically the maharajah and the durbar members depended on the advice of Johnstone. In fact, during Johnstone's tenure the political agency assumed greater importance than it had ever been before.

The first problem which drew the attention of Johnstone was the long standing boundary dispute between Manipur and the Naga hills. Johnstone took a map and drew a line including all those areas which Manipur was entitled to. This was agreed to by the maharajah and then confirmed by the government of India later on. In spite of this boundary settlement, the Angami Nagas continued to create problems on the border. In October 1877, the Angamis of Khonomah village attacked a Naga village within Manipur and another group of Angamis also tried to collect a tax from a Naga village near the border.

On hearing these raids, Jonhstone rushed at once to Naga hills with Balaram Singh, a principal minister of the maharajah. They brought with them an army of hundred soldiers of 35 native infantry assisted by Manipur soldiers. In 1 879 the Angami Nagas once again rose in rebellion against the British. With the support of the maharajah, Johnstone mobilized an army of 2000 strong which was commanded by Surchandra and Tikendrajit and without much difficulty they could suppress the Angami uprising.

Another important incident during Johnstone's agency was the Kongal Thanah incident which took place on 1 4 December 1877. The Kongal Thanah was a Manipuri outpost situated on the banks of the river Namia forming the boundary between Manipur and Burma, and is due north of the Kabaw valley. It was garrisoned by one jamadar and twenty sepoys. This thanah was attacked by about 100 Shans of the Kabo valley. Eight Manipuris were killed and the guard-house was also burned.

The primary cause of the incident was over the boundary dispute between the two neighboring countries. Johnstone proceeded at once to the Kongal Thanah to investigate the incident. It took him two years to complete the work. Johnstone sent a full report of the Kongal incident to the government of India, and a demand for reparation was made at the court of Mandalay. To solve the boundary dispute, a commission was set up. The commission laid down a new boundary line which was included in the terms of the treaty of 1 834.

The boundary thus fixed followed the base of the eastern slopes of Malain range, crossed the river Namia a few hundred yards south of Kangol Thanah, then turned east to the Talain river, followed that river upward to its source, and then proceeded down the Napanga river to where it passed through a gorge in the Kusom range. The point where the boundary intersected the Namia river and touched the Talain river was marked with pillars, and a road was cut connecting these two points. But in 1 884, the Burmese threatened to destroy the Kongal Thanah and the stone pillars again. With the outbreak of the third Anglo-Burmese war in 1885, the boundary dispute was kept in abeyance for sometime.

Closely connected with this incident was the attack of the border area of Manipur by the Chasad Kukis in 1 877. The Chasad Kukis left their old home in southern Burma and then settled in the hills bordering on the Manipur valley near the Kongal route to Burma. Their most important chief was called Tonggo who along with his tributary off-shoots declared that they were no longer under the control of the king of Manipur and decided to leave Manipur altogether In February 1883 the political agent and Manipuri troops took possession of Tonggo's village and finally suppressed the rebellion.

The part played by Manipur and the role of James Johnstone in the third Anglo-Burmese war of 1885 were remarkable. The war broke out in November 1 885. A few days before the commencement of hostilities, Johnstone was informed that three European employees of the Bombay Burma corporation-Allen, Roberts and Moncure were murdered by the secretary of the queen of Burma; while seven others were handed over as prisoners to the woon (governor) of Kendat.

Johnstone left Manipur on 19 December 1 885 with force of 50 men of his own escort of the 4th Bengal native infantry and 400 Manipuris and 500 Kukis to rescue the prisoners. By 5 January 1 886, Johnstone and his men could evacuate the Burmese stockade on the opposite bank of the Chindwin river and took possession of the whole areas. In this connection, Robert Reids comments thus: "The services he (Johnstone) and the Manipur state forces had rendered in restoring order in the Kabaw and Chindwin valleys... were considerable, and really appreciated by the British authorities".

James Johnstone was succeeded by Trotter as new political agent who died six months after his appointment. The situation required a very able political agent who could continue the process of needed reforms which Johnstone had started in keeping with the times. Unfortunately the foreign office of British India which had a long traditional knowledge of Manipur could not find a suitable and far sighted person of Johnstone's status to fill the post.

Later on, Grimwood, a junior officer of Sylhet, was appointed as the next political agent of Manipur. Grimwood's inept handling of conflicts among the ruling princes followed by British imperial policy based on 'might is right' finally led to the Anglo- Manipur war of 1 891 signalling the fall of independent Manipur after the famous battle at Khongjom on 23 April, 1891.

Concluded.....


Dr Lal Dena


* Dr Lal Dena wrote this article for "Manipur Today" - a journal published by DIPR, Govt of Manipur
E-pao.net thanks both Dr. Lal Dena and DIPR, Govt of Manipur for giving permission to webcast this article in the web. This article was webcasted on May 02, 2010.



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