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Anglo-Kuki War 1917-1919: The war that changed the Kuki History!

Thangboi Haokip *



The Anglo-Kuki War 1917-1919 has now become a household name among every knowledgeable person not just in the North-East but beyond. In between the recorded facts and figures of the War and actual firsthand accounts, many notable information of the event are missed in the records, which is only expected considering the fact that the available references today of the War are authored by anyone except the Kukis.

The war was fought across all areas occupied by the Kukis, who were widely scattered all over Manipur, Nagaland, Assam, Mizoram etc in India, Bangladesh, Myanmar (Chin Hills). As is recorded rightly by Higgins, the then Political Advisor of Manipur, "Each area is under the control of one senior clan head among the Kukis. The Kukis were leaded in the Eastern hills under Chah-sad area by Lhukhomang (Pache), chief of Chahsad; in the North Eastern Hills by Chengjapao, chief of Aishan village; in the Southern Hills under Longpi areas by Ngulkup assisted by Ngulbul, chief of Longja; in the South-western hills by Pakang, ; in the Western hills of Jampi areas by Jampi chief assisted by Tintong of Laijang".

The British army Division had 7,6050 combatant force with 208 officers headed by General Sir Henry D U and his Chief Staff Officer at Kendet was Lieutenant Colonel JLW ffrench-Mullen, CIE, IA. Similarly, he was assisted by Brigadier General CE Macquoid, DSO as General Officer Commanding, stationed at Imphal together with Colonel LW Shakespear, CB as Deputy Inspector General of Assam Rifles. The level of preparedness, men and weapons engaged, expenses incurred, volume of destruction and total British casualties even by their counts as documented in the Assam Rifles record was nothing short of a war.

Anglo-Kuki war also known as Kuki Rebellion or Kuki uprising has seen for the first time the Kukis unitedly fighting albeit taking a customary vow called "Thingkho-Malcha" and "hansa-neh" after Lonpi was ransacked and attacked on the 17th of October by the British . It would later turned into a full scale war with few battles won by the Kukis and some by the British army, but eventually the Kukis were out-numbered after the British army took reinforcement by recalling the Labour corps serving in France and were subdued only after three long years of brave defiance and their leaders were captured and sentenced to rigorous imprisonment and deported to Myanmar and Assam even as the British failed to kept their words of providing amnesty. The British army had faced huge losses both physically and economically and the war was considered the largest military engagement in India after 1857 revolt by Shakespear, DIG, Assam Rifles.

These heroic tales of the war were passed down to generations of the Kukis and is a story every growing Kuki kid today knows in detail, devoid any filtration to suit the interest of any king or queen. In the words of Pu Shemthong Haokip, an INA Freedom Fighter, as told to him by his father Pu Doulhun Haokip, one of the men serving under Pu Tintong Haokip C-in-C of the Kukis during the Anglo-Kuki War, "Prior to the rebellion and subsequently the war, five Britisher soldiers would regularly come to our Village to collect taxes in the form of crops and domesticated animals.

This was tolerated regularly with much persuasion by the elders, who believed in violence as only the last resort and one of a necessitated retaliation in self-defence. It so happened that, on one such occasion when even the villagers were facing huge shortage to meet ends meet due to crop failure that season, the British with no consideration and compassion whatsoever grabbed whatever was the produce the villagers had at that time. These similar incidents were shared by nearby villagers and so on, which prompted the then chiefs to hold a conclave.

The relentless defiance of the Kuki chiefs to ignore the British demand for enrollment to fill a 2000 labor corps that will fight for the British in France during the 1st World War and their courageous display of being an independently governed people by dishonouring taxes and levies had gravely enraged the British as expected. It was only after the Jampi conclave March 1917, did the Kukis realised that they were harassed not on one-off occasion and the ill-treatment not confined to a particular village but there was a carefully orchestrated and meticulously planned invasion to annihilate the very idea of self governance of the Kukis in their ancestral land by people who were the lords of all that they surveyed during those time, and hence the war"

Firsthand accounts of the war, when contrasted with some of the documented references revealed the fact that the mighty British, in whose reign the Sun was said to never set, when challenged by those supposedly primitive race of people, had significant impact on the way the event was recorded as the war had shamed their much famed reputation and affected the undisputed-Master tag they enjoyed during those time. While the British helped draft a letter to the Simon Commission for some group of tribes, the Kukis found themselves written off in many fronts. Their heroics would rewrite their history backwards.

The erstwhile Kuki independent country would be advertently avoided being referred in most colonial writings. GA Gierson's is an exception. The Assam Rifles record of the Anglo Kuki war though useful for academic references for official version of facts and figures, failed to however include the prevailing social, cultural and political circumstances leading to the Anglo-Kuki War.

The same is with those written by W.L Shakespear. Many contemporary writers including historians wrote mostly to suit their agendas and to toe in line with the Britishers' effort to minimise the scale of event. A story only 100 years old is illy documented. But this short span of only a century has rewarded few honest efforts to know in depth the multi-dimensional factors of the war by way of firsthand accounts, which is deliberately lacking in most colonial writings.

The idea of Divide and rule policy in one hand and the stiff defiance and heroics of the Kukis much to the dismay of the Britishers on the other hand motivated colonial writers to record only what they desired and to the best disadvantage as possible for the Kukis, to hid one of their most humiliating experiences during those time. The result is an incomplete and distorted history as far as recording of the Kuki history is concerned. The hills remained divided and ruled. Somewhere somehow, a strong and authoritative hand is involved in advocating a stratagem to erase all histories involving the heroics of the Kukis as if to convey, "This for messing with the British".

The Indian Government too failed to acknowledge these heroics of the Kukis who fought the mighty British to protect their ancestral land. The Kukis revolted not because they are strong and well-equipped to fight but because their freedom was challenged and their land invaded. Instead of the Govt. being a British vehicle for crusaders of Divide and Rule policy and manipulator of the history of the Kukis, an honest effort should be initiated to collect, record and educate the true facts of the Kukis and their great war of Independence. At present, the heroics of the Kukis are forgotten to the mainland Indians or their history distorted. For instance, the Anglo-Kuki War 1917-1919 is recorded by many leading publishers of renowned circulations as being led by Rani Gaidinliu, who is a non-participant in the war and not connected whatsoever with the Kukis.

Taking into account all these facts, the Govt.of India should now acknowledge the recognition and honour due to the Kukis, robbed already for a century now. Colonial writings though very informative for academic works, a glorious event like the Anglo-Kuki War should be understood and recorded in its true sense by also taking into account firsthand information of the Kukis, whose version had been deliberately silenced, to really understand the multi-dimensional factors leading to the war and most importantly its consequences, to which the Kukis till today are politically and economically shattered by it.

It is time Anglo-Kuki war is accorded its due share in the History of Indian freedom movement, for the Kukis were true fighters of independence in all sense. It is time the uniqueness of the Kuki history is recognized and the aspirations of the Kuki people acknowledged if at all India considered them as Indians.

This finest moment of the Kukis when they fought the mighty British to protect their independence has been and will always be a reason for the Kukis to held their head high. They may be defeated in the war, but they have won the cause. They may have lost many men but history itself is their greatest achievement.

As commemoration of the centenary year of Anglo-Kuki war, on the 17th of October this year, the Kukis will pay tribute to the Kuki bravehearts and observe an event which marks the moment the Kukis chose pride and honour over bonded labour, the time when the Kukis chose to fight than accede, the time when the Mighty British realised that they do not have authority over the hills and the Kukis, the time when one of the fiercest war of Independence against British-India was fought.


* Thangboi Haokip wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at thangboiofficial(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on October 11, 2018.



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