Composite History Of Manipur
(A dose of minimizing ethnic conflict)
- Part 2 -

Dr. Dhanabir Laishram *

A statue of Pakhangba at Ningthem Pukhri Mapal on the Imoinu night on Dec 31 2006
A statue of Pakhangba at Ningthem Pukhri Mapal on the Imoinu night on Dec 31 2006 :: pix - Ranjan Yumnam


The Manipuris have close relations with the Shans. They are known as Pongs to the Manipuris. In Cheitharol Kumbaba the royal chronical of Manipur (written and recorded in the manner as the Glass Palace Chronical of Myanmar and Ahom Buranji of Assam) mention is made of the visit of Sam-lung-pha the younger brother of Ahom (Pong) King Su-Kan-Pha along with a large number of followers and stayed for ten year at Pong Ingkhol (homestead of Pong) situated at a stone's throw eastward of Kangla, the royal palace of Manipur. During their decade long stay in Manipur, considerable influence of Mao Shan culture passed to the Manipuri Society and vice versa.

Assimilation of Pong culture in Manipur continued and increased considerably thereafter. During the time of Meidingu Ningthoukhomba (1432-1467) and Meidingu Khagemba (1597-1662) the kings of Manipur, a number of Shans were migrated to Manipur due to the good governance of the Meetei Kings. Mention may be made of Pongkhul, a Manipuri hill village; Pong Ingkhol, the homestead of Pong; Pong- hawai a kind of bean of Pong; Pong-hei-ton, (Pungton), guava fruit of Pong and so fort. Even to-day we have been using the phrases like Mee-Pong Lakpra, Mee-Pong tani(Did Pong man come and Pong-man may hear)and so on. Further the name Chaoba a derivation of Shan name / title Swa-bwa or Chao-pha, equivalent to a chief or king of the Shans has become very popular in Manipur. In almost all the Meetei family, there is a person whose name or nickname is given as chaoba. Generally the name is given to the eldest son (H. Goshwami).

Thus, the people of Manipur both hill and valley is ethnic groups of Tai, whether it may be word-order reversed from Taimei. They belong to the same stock and same family members of same language. There is a consideration based on which the Tai /Ti could be taken as a people originally distinct from the Mei people, but became integrated, under certain historical circumstances, with the latter leading to the formation of the later Meitei ethnic group. The place and the time, and the process of ethnic formation of this compounded people are, nevertheless, yet to be historically ascertained. In the current state of the absence of the necessary historical buttress an alternative, but viable, recourse may be had to comparative ethnology which might pave the way for historical research on the problem.

On the subject of the trace of this phase of origin of the Meitei people, reference is directed to the Chinese classic 'Shu King'. The relevant quotation from a translated version of this source runs:
"There is a place called Mei,
in the north of the present district of Khi,
department of Wei-hui,
Ho-nan, a relic of the ancient name of the whole country.
The royal domain of Shang, north of the capital, was all called Mei...
(Max Muller 1970-174).

In book of 'Shu King' entitled, "The Announcement about Drunkeness" the people of Mei are described as one having great indulgence in wine. The same source mentions also about another tribe called Tai /Ti representing the people who made the historic introduction of wine to the Chinese for the first time during the reign of the great Yu, founder of the legendary Hsia Dynasty (B.C. 2205-1767).

About the Tai and their contribution to the historical Chou civilization Raymond Dawson (1971:214) says: "The striking change in the bronze art of the middle Chou period, however, was the direct result not merely of foreign pressure, but of the infiltration into the heartland of North China by the Tai barbarians of the north-west. They were expert in the use of leather and skins, in the plaiting of ropes and thongs and in the art of interlacing animal bodies in decoration – all of which were quite foreign to Chinese tradition."

On the basis of literary record of the Eastern Chou and Han periods, K.C. Chang (1978: 387) reports the Tai as a northern tribal people along with the Hu, or later, Hsiung-nu in the Yin-Shan area formed by the upper Liao Ho and the Ordos and the tract between them. There is also a record by Terrien de Lacouperis (reproduced in P. Gogoi.115) on the settlement of the Tai as a distinct tribal group at later historical period in Szetchuen.

Gerini (1974:340) furnishes a suitable case for ethnological comparison: " The country of Tonkin was in its earliest days inhabited by two populations distinct in habits and modes of life, at least, although probably issued from a common original Mon-Annam Stock, to wit: (1) a people of the plains, identified with the element of water and ascribed a Naga descent, either because of their dwelling on the border of streams and on that part of the delta subject to periodical inundations, or of their being addicted to serpent-worship; perhaps for both reasons at the same time; (2) a people of mountaineers, living in the hill-tracts on the west, about the celebrated Mount Ba-vi and identified with the element of fire , because of their worshiping this element, especially in its celestial form of thunderbolt and genius of mountains ( volcanoes), a cult of which traces still survive in that region ". Remnant of such cult is reported by the same author from Kamboja too.

This symbolic finery of the characteristic 'Oriental Dualism' can be observed in the Meetei /Meitei religio-cultural system too. Kangla, the politico-rituality pivotal seat of the Meetei kings, affords to illustrate the identical culture complex. The most sacred central points at Kangla are Nongjeng and Shurung. Nongjeng, a tiny pond, is believed to be the abode of Pakhangba, the most powerful snake- deity of the Meetei pantheon while shurung, the mouth of a dead volcano, is dreaded and, at the same time, revered as the mouth of Pakhangba. The fiery vapour emanating from the cave is supernaturally associated with the exhalation of this snake-deity. Many important myths and legends, and for the matter, ritual complexes of the Meetei royal families, including the royal coronation, centred round these two sacred spots. Nongjeng stands for the 'Water' element whereas Shurung symbolizes the 'Fire' element in their scheme of dualistic symbolism (Ch.Budhi: The Ethnonym "Meitei" ).

Here the proposition is that if the Meetei / Meitei is the combination of both the Mai and Tai they worship both fire and water. Still maximum number of Meetei population is worshiping both. But different waves of migration in our region make more and more complexity though most of them belong to Mongoloid stock and speaking Tibeto-Burman language. So they are always heeding to find out their own identity beyond the reality. Nevertheless, one should not discard the important studies of successive waves of migration and inhabited the long tract of the foothills of the Himalayas from Ladak down to Chitagong in Bangladesh and Burma by two routes, one route in upper Assam and another via Chin Hills.

The earlier Mongoloid came from the northern side. The later mongoloid in North Eastern India also came and settled in Assam, Bengal north, Arunachal, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Chachar, Sylhet and Tripura since the pre-historic days. The earlier mongoloids were totally mixed with other elements. Waves of mongoloid population migrated from further east of Tibet to Laos, Thailand and upper Burma. They differ from Tibeto – Mangoloids in their physical stature and language and but not much from the dalae Mongoloid except in language. The palae mongoloids are termed by some scholars as Tribeto- Burmans. The Tribeto- Burmans who originally migrated from northern China, their homeland area of upper Yangtse River and Howang-ho, came to Manipur through upper Burma and Chin hills.

Some of the Tibeto- Burmans settled in Chin Hills and others moved further south and south west. The waves which move south west were divided into two, one settle in Lushai Hills and adjoining areas while the other changed the course to north and entered Manipur from the south direction and settled in the hills of Manipur. After some time some of these settlers further moved towards north and settled in Nagaland and Tuensang region. Some of Naga population in Nagaland got mixed with Australoids while migrating from Manipur Hills. The Chenglei an extinct tribe of Meeteis belongs to the Chongli tribe of the Ao Naga. The Chengleis settled in the foothills adjoining the Imphal valley on the western side of the Loktak Lake. Their settlements later became known as Moirang (TG.Sharma). So far the nature of migration in the hills and plains of Manipur is concerned the earliest settlers were of mongoloid origin.


Apart from the differences in the time of arrival of the settlers, we need to examine why some of them chose the hill slopes and some the level plains for their permanent home. E.R. Leach in his attempt to identify the Shans Observes: "A second general criterion is that all Shan settlements are associated with wet rice cultivation… Shan settlements only occur along the river valleys, or in pockets of level country in the hills. Such settlements are always found associated with irrigated paddy land".(Leach,ER: Political System of Highland Burma,1964.30). On the contrary the Kachins were used to cultivate on the hill slopes and unlike the Shans they did not take the help of the buffalo and the harrow for cultivation. "Yet these Kachins who live close to the Shans or amidst them adopted wet cultivation." Apart from their contact in small groups the Kachins appear to have had most intensive relations with the Tai-speaking Shans of Burma. In certain localities various degrees of assimilation to Shan culture are found.

The hill people speak divergent dialects different from the Meetei language of the plains. Despite a common origin, the Tibetan and the Burmese languages are now unintelligible to each another. Then one can imagine the sorry state into which other languages in this family might fall. In the case of Tai however it is not so. "Wherever they have spread the Tai have acquired local appellations. In the four major areas of East Asia, namely Burma, Thailand, French Indo-China and Yunan they are known respectively as the Shan, Siamese, Lao and Pai… But the members of this great race, to whatever local groups they may belong, call themselves Tai." "Languages of the different Tai groups seem to have more common vocabulary than those of the Tibeto Burmese." (Dalton.T.E: Descriptive Ethnology of Bengal, 1872.317). "The Shans, So defined, are territorially scattered but fairly uniform in culture. Dialect variations between localities are considerable, but even so, apart from a few special exceptions, it can be said that all the Shans of North Burma and Western Yunan speak one language, namely Tai."

Therefore, we may now safely conclude that in prehistorical times, groups of people entered Manipur in successive waves, settled both in the hills and the plains. Maximum of them belong to Tai and speaking Tibeto- Burman Language. It is also undisputed fact that there might be settlers in Manipur too before the new migrants arrived. Recent discoveries of Neolithic weapons (1975-80) have proved that Manipur had been inhabited since very early time. And the Poireiton Khunthok speaks of the Chakpas as one of the earliest settlers of the valley.The Chakpa community in the valley of Manipur has their own cultural identity. They are sporadically situated in the valley of Manipur. Their villages are Awang Sekmai, Khurkhul, Koutruk, Phayeng and Leimram in the Imphal West District; Andro, Nongpok Sekmai in the Imphal East District; Thongjao and Chairen in the Thoubal District of Manipur.


In the early days, people, generally, used two important route systems for moving from Ava to Yunan ie inland waterways through river and land routes. The Chinese and the Burmese called them as Singai Ahoo and Bhamo Khyoung River respectively. The Singai Ahoo passes through important cities of Yunan like Talifu, Yungchangfu, Tengyechew and the Santa fu. It further goes through Maugaung, Bhamo and Awa and falls into the Irawattee river. It is also interesting to note that tribes between Manipur and Cachar were called by the Chinese as 'Ahoo'. People usually travel these inland water routs by using small canoes and even reached Manipur and Cachar. Chinese traders also used these routs from the 7th century till the beginning of 19th century as an important trade route. The distance between Ava and Bhamo is estimated 140 miles. In covering Bhamo to Mauguang it took twelve days and six days from Mauguang to Yunan. Altogether the whole journey took 30 to 35 days. (R.B. Pemberton, 1966). Thus it is strongly believed that the Chakpas might have started using these routes and others were also followed as their suits.

Thus we have better to trace back our genesis as from common ancestor. Unfortunately, no local scholars from both hill and valley have yet attempted any serious study of the aspects of this composite history of hill and valley. Lastly if the confederation of Manipur was formed by Nam-Mung, Tai-Pong – Nammu Taibangpan, maximum of us might belong to Tai Communities. In fact, the migration of people in various waves or successive waves from the common ancestor into Manipur had produced a far-reaching impact particularly in the social and economic life of the state. It had brought a cultural synthesis, which makes a very good raised area for making of the present Manipuri society. Though we have come across a series of overlapping cultural trapping, myths etc. the social and cultural amalgamation has produced a new ethos in the Manipuri culture.


- Mc Culloch, Major M: Valley of Manipur (1980) p9
- Grierson, Dr GA: Linguistic Survey of India, Vol.1 part1 (1967) P42.
- Pemberton, R.B.: Eastern Frontier of British India (1979) pp12-20.
- Johnstone, Sir James: Manipur and Naga Hills (1971) p97
- Gogoi, Lila: The Tai-Khamtis (1971) p15
- Singh, Moirangthem Chandra(ed): Poireiton Khunthok (1979) pp18-19.
- Kolb, Albert: East Asia (1971) pp2-3.
- Leach, E.R.: Political System of Highland Burma (Astudy of Kachin Social Structure) (1964) p30.
- Dalton, T.E.: Descriptive Ethnology of Bengal, App 69-70(1872) p317
- Malik, SC: Indian Civilisation: Formative Period (1968) pp.84-89
- Sardesai, D.R.: S.E. Asia: Past and Present (1981)p8
- Singh, Kh.Yaima (ed): Poireiton Khunthok (1971)pp29-31
- M.S: Chakpa Khunda Khunthok ( Source: N.Khelchandra Singh)
- Singh, Ibungohal and Khelchandra(ed): Cheitharol Kumbaba (1967)p9
- Lebar, Frank M: Ethnic Groups of Mainland S.E. Asia (1964)pp38-44
- Hudson, T.S: The Meitheis (1975) p55.
- Majumdar, RC: Hindu Colonies in the Far East (1974) p14
- Singh ,Ch. Budhi: A Social Anthropological Analysis of a Meitei Myth on Succession in Eastern Himalayas (eds) T.C. Sharma (1980)
- KC Chang: The Archaeology of Ancient China (2nd Edition)1978
- Max Muller(ed): Sacred Books of the East(The Sacred Books of China) transl. by James Legge Vol.11 Part 1.1970
- Singh O.K.: Archaeology in Manipur (Napaching: A Stone Age Site in the Manipur Valley) 1983.
- P.Gogoi: The Tai and the Tai Kingdoms, 1968.
- R.B. Pemberton: Report of the Eastern Frontier of British India, 1966, pp140-141.
- G.E. Gerini: Researches on Ptolemy's Geography of Eastern Asia (Further India & Indo- Malay Archepelago) 2nd Edition.1978.

Concluded ...

* Dr. Dhanabir Laishram wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at dblaishram(at)yahoo(dot)com
This article was posted on October 28, 2012.

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