Trade and Commerce under the Political Agency of Manipur
- Part 2 -

Usham Dhananjoy / Dr. O. Rudrababu *

Women Market (Ima Keithel) in olden days  :: From RKCS Art Gallery
Women Market (Ima Keithel) in olden days :: From RKCS Art Gallery
Warning: These images CANNOT be reproduced in any form or size without written permission from the RKCS Gallery

Administration Report of the Political Agency, Manipur for the year 1895-96" reads:-
" The statistics of trade between Manipur and Cachar are collected at Jhirighat and Lakhipur. From these statistics we learn that the exports were valued at Rs. 36,374 and imports at Rs. 54,896, against Rs. 3,761 and Rs. 83,457, respectively, in the preceding year.

I doubt if the collecting officers are sufficiently wide- awake, for in two important instances I am in a position to challenge the returns. Under heading Tea Seed, the exports are shown as 877 maunds valued at Rs. 22,768, whereas one merchant alone weighted 1,107 maunds of Manipur tea seed at Lakhipur, and more than double this quantity was exported from Manipur by the same route.

Again, under head, "Treasure" the column is blank, while Manipur received from Cachar, via Lakhipur and Jhirihgat, Rs. 73,000 in silver and a sum of one lac in rupees came from Cachar through Manipur for the Naga Hills.

The following table compares the principal imports registered on this route for the past two years.

- 1894-95 (Rs) 1895-96 (Rs.)
Mineral oil 4,132 4,405
Betel Nuts 14,803 12,944
Dried fish 417 2825
Salt 39 414
Piece-goods 34,424 14,247
Yarn 16,093 6,575
Metals 2,341 2,238
Miscellaneous 11,208 11,148
Total 83,457 54,896

The large decrease in the year under report is almost entirely connected with heads betel- nut, nearly Rs. 2,000, piece goods Rs. 20,000 and yarn Rs. 10,000.

The cart road to Kohima was opened for traffic in February and it is quite possible that the new road diverted some of the trade from the Cachar route.

A more likely reason, however is that until quite the year the price of rice in the valley was very low, and when food is plentiful, no Manipur ever labours for hire and money was not circulating freely. It may be contrary to the tenets of political economy, but in Manipur cheap food does not mean spare cash for luxuries, it means an idle and satisfied existence, lots of smoking and dancing and holiday- making which cost little or nothing.

Only when food prices are high do the people bestir themselves and by the high rate of wages ruling in Manipur, do they find themselves in a position to purchase luxuries. As every Manipuri is an agriculturist, he gains also by the high price of rice, though not perhaps to the extent he would, were the demand not limited to the valley and the small population of Kohima.

The two principal articles of export were tea seed, Rs. 22,768 and cattle Rs. 10,292. As mentioned before, the value of tea seed exported was much larger than shows in the returns. This article, however, is with the exception of 100 maunds annually, not grown in the state, but merely passes through Manipur from Burma, it is really an export from the upper Chiudwin district.

Local manufactures are of very small importance; earthern pots for cooking and brass vessel for the domestic use are made in large numbers, and daos and agricultural instruments in small numbers to meet the local demand, these latter are to be obtained more cheaply at Lakhipur in the Cachar district, whence the greater supply comes.

Every household in the valley prepare the wearing apparel of the female inmates.

The salt industry is declining for the reason given in last year's report. It is supported mainly by the elderly people, who are too conservative to change their habits, but even here in many instances they are checkmated by bazar sellers, who prepare liverpool salt in the same circular saucer-like cakes as Manipur salt, and are thus able to practise the deceit successfully".

Captain H.W.G. Cole. I.S.C., officiating Political Agent in Manipur and Superintendent of the state in "Administration Report of the Political Agent, Manipur for the year 1896-97" writes on Trades and Manufactures as follows: "The statistics of trade between Manipur and Cachar, which are collected at Jhirighat, show that exports from Manipur were valued at Rs. 1,86,886 and imports at Rs. 67,593, the corresponding figures for the past two years being Rs. 3,761 and Rs. 36,374 and Rs. 83,457 and Rs. 54,986, respectively. It is doubtful whether these statistics are of very much value and the surprising variations in the returns from year to year more probably correspond with the varying watchfulness of the registering authorities than with any changes in the flow of trade.

The figures for the past three years of the principal imports are given for what they are worth

Articles 1894-95 (Rs.) 1895-96(Rs.) 1896-97 (Rs.)
Mineral oil 4,132 4,405 11,314
Betel nuts 14,803 12,944 15,027
Dried fish 417 2,825 9823
Salt 39 414 1,112
Piece goods 34,424 14,347 15,138
Yarn 16,093 6,575 7,440
Metals 2,341 2,238 3,338
Misc. 11,208 11,148 4,401
Total 83,457 54,896 67,593

The increase of over a lakh- and - a- half of rupees in the value of the exports is due entirely to tea-seed, 4351 maunds of which were valued at Rs. 1,74,049. With the exception of a few maunds sold by the state, the whole of this seed only passes through Manipur in transit and is purchased by traders from Silchars, in Burma.

No statistics were taken of on the Kohima cart- road. Arrangement has been made to open a registering statics at Mao- Thana to check the trade by this route. If the above statistics are in any degree correct, it would seem that a portion of the trade in piece-goods and yarns has been diverted from the Cachar to the Kohima road. When once the railway is open to Dimapur, the bulk of trade must, of course, follow the cart road, but for many years Manipuries will, no doubt, continue to use the Cachar route for their betel- nut and dried fish.

The manufactures of Manipur are not of any importance and are confined to cloths, brass and iron vessels and implements and small household articles. But some of Manipuri embroidered silks, especially- the older ones, are of exceptional beauty. Now that there is no Royal court at Manipur there is little demand for them and there is danger of the arts, both of embroidery and the weaving of good quality silks, dying out.

With a view to creating a demand and giving an impetus to the industry, I have arranged, through the society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Indian Art, to exhibit a couple of cases of Manipur silks and other curios, which might find a sale in England, at the forthcoming Victoria Era Exhibition at the crystal place. Two lakhs of rupees were imported during the year. I calculated that since our occupation of Manipur the state has absorbed over five lakhs of rupees, the rate of absorption has been about one lakh per annum, which is a fairly good criterion of the prosperity of the people".

To be continued...

Read the first part of this series here

* Usham Dhananjoy Singh / Dr. O. Rudrababu Singh wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao
This article was posted on September 25, 2012.

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