E-Pao! Manipur - Trade and commerce of Manipur under the Political Agency 1835-1891

Trade and commerce of Manipur under the Political Agency 1835-1891

By:- Usham Dhananjoy Singh *

In the annual report dated 1st July 1868, Assistant Surgeon, R Brown FRCS, Political Agent, Manipur, wrote about a merchant, a native of Samarcand in central Asia who came to Manipur 12 or 13 years ago with a venture of cloth etc worth about Rs 3,000.

He proceeded towards Burma but while at Samjok the Rajah of that place offered to dispose of the goods and became responsible for the price thereof. This was agreed to, but after the goods had been parted with, much difficulty was experienced in realizing cash for them.

The name of the merchant was called Bahadoor Khan. Thus we see that merchant from far off countries even came to Manipur for trade and commerce.

During the cold season, number of Bengali traders, chiefly from Cachar and Sylhet pass through Manipur and enter Burma, they chiefly trade in buffaloes.

R Brown further says,

"parties from the Punjab - on one occasion 15 men - came in company and passed into Burma, they were by their own account, hakeems and intended practising medicine in Burma.

"Tea seed, which is found plentifully in the hilly tract north-east of the valley is eagerly sought for by the tea-planters of the Cachar and Sylhet district and commands a good price".

The value of the Manipur trade with Assam during the year 1877-78 was as follows:-
Exports, Rs 45,362 and imports, Rs 70,716. The actual revenue derived from custom duties is estimated by Colonel Johnstone as about Rupees 3,500.

Mc Culloch, the second Political Agent of Manipur (from 1844 to 1862 and from 1863 to 1867 and who married a Meitei girl named Thotpi) wrote in his 'An account of the valley of Manipur':
"The Principle import into Manipur is sooparee or betel nut of which the Manipuris consume a great quantity. It is paid for chiefly in rupees. Coarse cloths are exported but their manufacture decrease with the gradual increase in demand for cloth of English manufacture.

A very profitable trade in buffaloes might be established but the Manipur govt by interfering has driven the trader in buffaloes to Kubbo from which they have during the last seven or eight years drawn a very considerable supply.

Even with great disadvantage of an expensive land carriage the valley of Manipur is very favourably situated for commercial purposes, but the system of Govt is opposed to the development of commerce and the insecurity of traders in the Burmese territory is so great that I fear commerce must for long be confined to the present restricted scale. Private enterprise will effect much, but the obstacles opposed by half civilised Governments are not easily overcome."

Again RB Pemberton in his 'The Eastern Frontier of India' wrote:
"During the reign of Chourjit Singh a very brisk trade was carried on with the Burmese inhabitants of the frontier through the Kubo valley and Chinese merchants from Yunan used sometimes to visit Manipur for purpose of traffic bringing with them the same description of articles they take to Ava and carrying away in return the wax, ivory, clothes, cotton and ponies of the country."

BC Allen and others in their 'Gazettur of Bengal and North East India' also wrote
"At one time there was a brisk trade in tea seed, a considerable quantity of which came from Burma and merely passed through Manipur. The trade has, however, been killed by the depression in tea industry which has checked any tendency to extend the area under cultivation and big the unscrupulous conduct of the contractors who injured the reputation of Manipur seed by plucking and selling it before it was ripe.

Cattle and buffaloes are exported in considerable numbers, but restructions are from time to time imposed to prevent the state from being denuded of its live stock.

The principal articles of import are mineral oil, betel nuts, dried fish, salt and cotton pieces goods and yarn. Dried fish, oil and tea seed come from the Burma frontier, but the bulk of the state trade is with Assam.

Although the Manipur women are keen and energetic shopkeepers most of the whole sale business is in the hands of the Marwari merchants, who have practically monopolised the trade of Assam. The dealers in cattle and forest produce are generally Muhammedans from the Surma valley."

In 1868-69 ponies were not allowed to be exported from Manipur on account of a scarcity of grown up ponies.

The trade between Manipur and Burma was almost confined to the importation of small qualities of gold, precious stones (chiefly garnets of small size) and a little earth oil. In return the Burmese took away raw silk (this in rather large quantity) and clothes of various kinds. [Annual report dt 1st July 1868.]

On the occasion of the outbreak of cattle disease in 1870-71, the trade in cattle with Burma, buffaloes and ponies was completely stopped. However the trade was freely allowed in other articles such as gold, silver, wax, Burma boxes.

Occasionally Nagas from the Angami country passed through the valley on their way to Cachar for the purpose of trade. In 1872, a small trade sprung up in ponies purchased by the Angamee for convergence to Assam and for which they obtained remunerative prices [Annual administrative report 1873].

In 1873-74, the pony tax increased from Rs 20 a head to Rs 23-4 annas to Rs 23-8 annas. The Manipur authorities held a monopoly of the two articles: tea seed and India Rubber.

The following articles were not allowed to be exported from Manipur as these were meant as presents for services rendered to the state
  1. Khamen chatpa - coloured silk dhoti
  2. Namthang Kokyet - Laced Puggari
  3. Ningthou Phi - Shirt like Garnet
  4. Lai Chatpa - coloured sheet
[Annual Administration Report 1873-74].

In 1873-74, a number of Khamptee men from upper Burma passed through Manipur reaching Assam through Samuguting. They stated that they had gone from their country to Gauhati trading in metal article boxes from Burmah and were returning having crossed Khashi hills and passed through Sylhet and Cachar [ibid].

In 1877-78, some Naga horse dealers arrived and altogether 72 ponies had passed out of the valley in this direction. Besides these, iron, spirits, salt, cloth etc had been exported. The Angamis preferred to buy Manipur salt at two seers per rupee instead of 4 surs per rupee at Samuguting. Spirits were also brought by them to be carried away. The Angamis brought large quantities of brass vessels from Assam and also cornelians.

During the year 1978-79, the monopoly of four articles i.e bees' wax, tea seed, Ivory and Indian rubber were abolished, but the monopoly was again established in 1885.

The Administration Report of the Manipur Political Agency for 1889-90 wrote:
'The Darbar levies duties on everything which is imported or exported for trade... but probably it is not more than Rs 8000. I don't think even if willing to do so, the Darbar could give the figures, as it is the interest of every official not to disclose the exact amount of money passing through his hands, as not being in receipt of pay, a Manipuri official has to make his livelihood out of what he can pick up irregularly'.

'The betel palm will not grow in Manipur and as the Manipuris eat a great deal of the nut, it has to be brought from Cachar. On the Kohima road, the principal imports are atta, ghee, dal, and salt for the use of the troops. The Kohima Nagas also during the cold weather buy a good many clothes and yarn in the Manipur market.'

* Usham Dhananjoy Singh wrote this article on The Sangai Express.
This article was webcasted on 22 November 2007.

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