Inclusivity of Meitei Society and Arrival of Thadou Kukis
- Part 1 -

L B Singh *

 Thadou Dance at  Manipur Sangai Festival at BOAT, Imphal :: 29th November 2018
Thadou Dance at Manipur Sangai Festival at BOAT, Imphal in November 2018 :: Pix - Bond Thokchom

The Meiteis believed in their proverb "Puminaba yangbani and chaminaba haobani" meaning "We share the load it becomes lighter and we share the food it makes it testier" and welcomed many immigrants in the erstwhile Kingdom. The king provided land free of cost and in some cases, they were allowed to marry Manipuri women and settle in the Kingdom.

The aim of this article is to bring out the facts about the inclusivity of Meitei society and the arrival of Thadou Kukis in Manipur. Historical records, reports of individuals, views of experts on the migration of Thadou Kukis, and various factors have been logically analysed to establish the arrival of the Thadou Kukis in Manipur without any ethnic prejudice. The origin of the word Kuki, migration of Kukis after 1894 AD and inferences from the myths are beyond the scope of this article.

Migration of Brahmins (Bamon Khunthok) and non-Brahmin Hindus.

The Brahmins from Assam, Bengal, Gujarat, Kanpur, Vrindavan etc. migrated to Manipur during the reign of Kyamba (1467-1508 AD). The arrival of the Brahmins enriched the cultural life of the kingdom. They brought the knowledge of Sanskrit and astrology. There were also other, non-Brahmin Hindu migrants and they were employed as royal scribes. The Brahmin and the other migrants married Manipuri women and learnt "Meiteilon".

The Brahmins were given revenue free land, Brahmangi Lugun Lou and Lai Rou. In 1891, the total of the above land was about 3000 hectares. Their arrival and settlement continued up to the close of the nineteenth century. Though, the Brahmins formed a separate social group outside the Meitei society and they became very good citizen of Manipur [History of Manipur Pre-colonial Period, Gangmumei Kamei-2015, hereafter (Gangmumei, p234-5)].

Migration of Panghals (Manipuri Muslims).

In 1606 AD, during the reign of King Khagemba, the king of Cachar with the assistance of the Muslims invaded Manipur on the request of the rebellious younger brother of the king, Sanongba. The invading forces were defeated and Sanongba was captured. 1007 Muslims and Bishnupriyas were taken as prisoner. The prisoners included weavers, potters, blacksmiths, goldsmiths, stone artisans, brass makers etc.

The Muslim prisoners were given land free of cost by the king and they were allowed to pursue their religion. They married Manipuri women and constituted a useful community in the kingdom (Gangmumei, p251-2). The Meiteis regarded the Panghals as their blood related brother.

Migration of Gurkha/Nepali.

In 1825 AD, Maharaja Gumbir Singh, recruited Gurkha from Sylhet and included in the Manipur Levy. In 1880 and 1891 AD, East India Company moved many more Gurkha soldiers into the kingdom. In 1917, Darang Military police was converted to 4th Assam Rifles. After retirement, many of these Gurkha soldiers settled in Manipur.

In addition, other Gurkhas also migrated to Manipur for farming and cattle rearing. The population of Gurkha in Manipur was 63,756 as per 2011 census. The majority of the Gurkhas are settled in the Senapati and the Kangpokpi district; and some in the Imphal West/East and other districts. The Gurkhas of Manipur are loyal to the State; and Subedar Niranjan Singh Chhetri sacrificed his life in 1891 AD to protect the freedom of the kingdom.

Migrants Respected.

The people of Manipur have always treated the migrants with respect as their own brothers. Therefore, the people who were migrants at a particular time enjoy the same status and they are respected for their loyalty to the kingdom. The descendants of all the above people have greatly contributed to the development of the State.

One of the best examples of immigrants in this country is the Parsis. They migrated to India between 8th and 10th century and their population as per 2011 census was only 57,264. However, they have contributed immensely in every field to the development of the country. Some of the famous Parsis are JRD Tata, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, Dr. Homi Baba, Godrej, Ratan Tata etc. Though the Parsis were immigrants to the country at a time, the community is very highly respected by the people of the country.

More than the glory of the past history, the Meiteis are proud of their inclusive society, which treated all immigrants irrespective of the religions as brothers. Unlike some tribes in Manipur, the Meitei custom does not prevent anyone from selling land to the people of the other villages. However, the Meiteis regretted the mistake of treating Nagas, Kukis and Panghals as untouchable in the past by some orthodox Hindus Meiteis due to blind faith in the religion.

Historical Records of Migration of Kukis.

Some Kuki tribes migrated to Manipur in the pre-historic times along with or after the Meitei. Greater migration occurred in the 18th century onwards due to the Great Kuki Exodus which affected the demographic landscape of the hills of Manipur and adjoining areas (Gangmumei, p27).

During the time of Political Agent, W. McCulloch (1844-1862, 1863-1867), a large number of New Kukis had migrated to Manipur. The king was not able to give attention and sought co-operation of McCulloch. He settled the Kukis in suitable areas, mostly on the exposed frontier and gave large sums of money from his own pocket; and put some of them at the service of the State.

Thus within a short time thousands of Kukis were settled down in different parts of the State. It was a great contribution of McCulloch to the security of Manipur (Joykumar Singh: History of Modern Manipur Edited by Lal Dena, p34).

According to Lt Colonel J Shakespeare (1912), the Thadou and kin group Simte, Paite, Zou, and Hmar came to Manipur during the 18th and 19th century from Mizo and Chin Hills. They were termed as New Kukis and the Kukis who were in Manipur before that time were termed as Old Kukis (Geography of Manipur, Dr. Th. Nabakumar Singh, p186).

Zenith and Decline of the Kingdom of Manipur.

All the tribal villages in the hill districts Manipur came under the Meitei King during the reign of Garibaniwaza (1709-1748 AD). The tribal villages along the routes to Kabaw valley; the Kaihlam range in the South, the Ngaprum Chingjin routes etc. were closely controlled. Garibaniwaza even defeated the coordinated and simultaneous invasions by the Burmese from the Southeastern and the Tripuris from the South-West in 1723 AD (Gangmumei, p292).

From the conquest of Moirang in1432 to 1748 AD, the history of Manipur described raids and the conquest of all the Naga and Khongjai tribes of Manipur. However, no record of raids or conflicts or conquests of any of the Thadou villages is found in the history of the above period.

After the death of Garibaniwaza and consequent quarrels among his successors, Manipur ceased to be strong power and the centre of political gravity in the region (Gangmumei, p312).

The First Record of Migration of Kukis to Manipur (18th Century).

During the reign of Bhagyachandra, the Burmese repeatedly invaded Manipur between1758 to 1782 AD. It severely depleted the resources and population of the Kingdom. A large number of people were taken away to Ava. The Kukis had started penetrating into Manipur.

After the return to normalcy (after setting up the palace at Langthaban), the King sent an expeditionary force towards Tuivai, the border of Manipur and the present day Mizoram; and defeated the Kuki intruders. A stone inscription was raised to mark the victory over the Kukis (Khongjais). (Gangmumei, p313, 317 to 321).

Cheitharol Kumbaba.

The Royal Chronicle of Manipur, "Cheitharol Kumbaba" mentioned names of two Kukis, Kuki Ahongba and Kuki Achouba, at the time of coronation of King Nongda Lairen Pakhangba in 33 AD. The Chronicle keeping stared during the reign of King Kyamba in1484 AD and during that time the term Khongjai was used to describe the Old Kuki.

The former copy of the Chronicle was not available after successive Burmese invasions between 1758 to 1782 AD. The Chronicle was rewritten in 1780 AD by the order of the King Bhagyachandra. Therefore, the use of word Kuki for Khongjai was possible during the rewriting, as the terms Kuki indicates both Khongjai and New Kuki tribes at that time (Gangmumei, 41, 44).

The Consequences of the Seven Years Devastation (1819-26).

The population of Imphal was reduced to about 10,000 after the Seven Years Devastation (Gangmumei, p339). R B Pemberton said that Manipur was ".... to the devastating visitation of Burmese armies which have nine to ten times swept the country from one extremity to the other with the apparent determination of extirpating a race whom they found it impossible permanently to subdue" (Lal Dena 2015, p8).

A large number of Meiteis also fled to Cachar and the hill districts. Some of them converted to various tribes to save themselves. After driving out the Burmese with the help of the British, there was requirement of more people to ensure the security of the Kingdom.

The Kukis (Thadou Kuki and kin tribes) arrived in Manipur in large numbers during the reign of King Nar Singh in 1830 and 1840 AD. They were driven out by more powerful groups in Burma (Myanmar). They sought for shelter and land to live in from the Manipur King.

The King entrusted the work of settling them to the Political Agent, McCulloch. The King allowed them shelter by giving land free of cost at the exposed frontier. The king employed them in the Manipur Army. Thus the Kukis became good subjects of Manipur (RK Jhalajit Singh 1965, p228). It mutually benefited both the Meiteis and the Kukis.

Major MacCulloch reports on 18th July 1861 AD included the following "..The late Rajah, Nar Singh, made over the superintendence of these tribes to me. This arose from the first proceedings in connection with them for the establishment of a line of villages of the Koupooees...Beyond the Manipur boundary are the Soote and Loosai tribes. These are both powerful and dangerous...The Raja and I have established in the South villages of Kookies, to whom are given arms and whom we called "Sepoy Villages" (Mackenzie, p157).

In 1877-78 AD, Colonel Johnstone reported that over 2000 persons belonging to Sooties or Helot race living in villages of their own with the Sooties migrated during the year to Manipur (Machenzie, p171). These people were Nwite living around the present site of Tiddim, who for the last 18 years have steadily moved North. Wnite are also known as Malte and Tornglorngte. They are related to Soktes by marriage and through intercourse with the plains. They became friendlier with Moirang and Shugnu; and thus became a buffer between the Soktes and Manipur (BS Carey 1896, 125).

After the Lushai expedition 1871-72 AD, about 373 Sooti or Sooktie and 392 Khongjais were rescued from the captivity of the Lushai chiefs. The Maharaja allowed them to settle in the Thanging hill range (According to R Brown, 649 Khongjais, p56). In addition 962 people, including children under the escort of Kamhow chief Nokatung were allowed to settle in the valley. (Prof. Lokendra Singh, A brief note on Manipur and Lushai Expedition 1871-72 part2).

Nokatung is regarded by the Meitei and the British as a Kamhow Chief. However, some are of the view that he was a Wnite from Mwelpi or a Guite guide Chief. The numbers of these migrants were significant at that time as the total population of Manipur in 1873 AD was only 74,000 in the surrounding hills and 65,000 in the valley (R Brown 1873, p1).

Raids by the Soktes and Migration of Thadou from the Northen Chin Hills.

The Soktes took possession of Molbem from the Thadou during the reign of Maharaja Nar Singh in early 1830 AD. The first well known Soktes Chief was Mang Kim's son Kantum. In about 1840 AD, Kantum subdued Nwite, who then occupied the tract we now know as the Kanhow tract, the Yos, the Thadou, who then still inhabit the hills fringing the plain of Manipur and the Kabaw valley and the Vaipes, a tribe which has entirely disappeared from the Chin Hills. Only the Thadou offered a good resistance to Kantum (BS Carey, p118-9).

Guns began to find their way into the hands of Soktes at the end of Kantum's reign. In 1856 AD after his death, his son Kanhow became Chief; and he raided hill villages of Manipur. In response an expedition was undertaken by Maharaja Nar Singh. Kanhow received information about the preparation of the expedition and collected all the forces, including Sokte Chief Yapow and the Siyins tribes at Tiddim. When the Manipuri forces were a few miles from Tiddim, Kanhow led out his forces. After a few minutes of heavy fire the Manipuri forces retreated and many of them were killed/drown in the Manipur River (BS Carey, p120).

After the death of Kanhow his son Kochin became the Chief and he took part in the Lushai Expedition (1871-72). When Kochin was actively assisting the British troops by attacking Lalbur in the rear, the action of the Manipuri in arresting Nokatung alienated him. After obtaining the bones of Nokatung who died in the prison in Manipur, Kochin raided the hill villages. In 1875, Manipur sent an expedition headed by a Major. The Soktes were not desirous to fight and the Major never intended to fight. The negotiation ended with the exchange of captives and promises of peace in the future (BS Carey, p124).

The Sootie Kookies again committed a number of atrocities on the frontier, but it was observed that a considerable number of them came to Manipur and took up cultivation there (Mackenzie, p206). However, the raid by Soktes became less fierce and less frequent and ceased after 1892 AD (BS Carey, p124).

The Nwite, Vaipe, and Yo Chins, who within the memory of man resided in the Northern Chin Hills, have now almost disappeared entirely recrossed (Thadou believe that their place of origin was in the North) the Northern border either into the hills belonging to Manipur or to the South of Cachar. The Thadou and the above tribes have almost disappeared from the Northen Chin Hills, and reference need only be made to them while dealing with the Sokte tribe (BS Cary, 1896 p2, 3).

Although occupants of the hills of the South of the valley of Manipore, their (Thadou Kukis) traditions do not give the Southern hills as the place of origin, but rather lead them to belief that it was in the North (BS Carey, p136).

None of the beliefs of Khongjais, Nagas, Meiteis and records in the history of Manipur agree with it. However, the belief may be due to the custom of passing down orally for generations that their origin was in the North. The general direction of upper courses of the Yangtze and Huang-Ho rivers, Tibet etc. is in the North.

Most of the Thadou and kin tribes have already migrated in Manipur before the Boundary Commission 1894 AD. In1892, the Political Officer of Chin Hills made a short Gazetteers of Thadou, Yo and Wnite and many of them was found on the Manipur side of the boundary.

It is mentioned that the above villages were awarded to Manipur (BS Carey, p140). However, it would be cleared from the succeeding paragraphs on the demarcation of Southern boundary that BS Carey gave Thadou villages between Tui Sa and Tui Pu to Burma and no additional territories with Thadou villages were awarded to Manipur in the demarcation.

Demarcation of Southern Boundary (Boundary Commission 1894).

The British Government of India directed the Commission to select the boundary with reference to the natural features in about the latitude of Pemberton's line, but drawn to exclude Lenacot from Manipur and then run west so that no compensation was required to be paid to either Manipur or Burma.

B S Carey helped a young 20 years youth, How Chin Kup, to become Chief of the Kamhow (Kanhow) tribe despite serious claims by his uncles. He provided him with old British weapons and encouraged him in maintaining peace among the tribes in the South of Manipur (Pau Pum Khan, 2006).

How Chin Kup and the Chiefs of Thadou villages Haulkam and Hianzam who pay tribute to him were present on the site at the time of the demarcation. A Porteous, the Head of the Manipur team may not be aware of the relation between BS Cary and How Chin Cup.

The Tui Sa was selected instead of the Tui Pu (which was probably 1834 AD Pemberton's boundary, namely Namsailung) in order to keep the above Thadou Villages in Burma. In about 1834 AD, there used to be five villages called Pinzin, Haulkam, Hianzam and two other villages between Tui Sa and Tui Pu. However, according to Pau Pum Khan (2006), after the demarcation, six Thadou villages remained with the Chin Hills.

As in February 1894 AD, during the actual demarcation, there were only two villages namely Haulkam and Hianzam constituting 8 and 60 houses respectively. The possibility of migration of the remaining Thadou villages between Tui Sa and Tui Pu into Manipur can't be ruled out.

On the Western side of the Manipur River, the rivers marking the boundary line ran through the uncultivated and uninhabited areas. There, were no villages closed to the new boundary and at the junction with Tui Vai, the boundary was a few hundred yards to the South of Chibu Salt Spring (Naoroibam Indramani, 2019). Therefore, no additional territory with Thadou villages came to Manipur as a result of the Boundary Commission 1894 AD.

The Tuibai (Tipai) river was made the boundary of Manipur from the time of King Garibaniwaza. In 1735 AD, the king set up a stone at the junction of the Kwai, Tuibai (Tipai) and Tanganglok rivers. It is inscribed with the Manipuri character on the stone that the land on the Northern side of Tuibai or Toowai belongs to the king of Manipur. The inscription is still legible. In 1786 AD, Maharaja Bhagyachandra went to Tipai and settled the boundary of Tripura and Manipur (Naoroibam Indramani, 2019).

* L B Singh wrote this article for
The writer is a Retired Captain, NM, Indian Navy and can be contacted at bimollaishram(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on November 09 2020 .

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