The Lushai Expedition, 1871-72 and Manipur relations with the Lushais and Suktes

Research and Preservation of Zo Identities *

The Lushai Expedition, 1871-72 was a British Expedition in the Lushai Hills to punish and subjugate the Lushai chiefs for their frontier raids. Such major expedition was dispatched in late November, 1871 in two columns- Left or Cachar Columns under Brigadier-General G. Bourchier, with Edgar as civil officer and Right or Chittagong Column under Brigadier-General C. Brownlow, with Lewin as Civil Officer. Edgar, who was also the Deputy Commissioner of Cachar left Silchar to join the troops on the 6th of December, 1871.

The goal of the Cachar Column was to reach, if possible, the village of Lalbura (Champhai), who had been mainly responsible in the raids of Monierkhal. This Column marched via Tipaimukh to Kholel (Lalhai's Village), Selam/Chelam (Poiboi's village), Champhai (Lalbura's village) and then to Chumsin (the village of Vanhnuailiana's (vonolel) mother, where the Expedition was concluded and terms of peace were made in February 1872. The only intervening tribes at those times were the Suktes.

Position of Manipur and Chivu Camp:

The Maharaja of Manipur supplied a contingent of about 2000 men to assist in the Expedition, acted under the orders of Major-General Nuthall, the then Officiating Political Agent of Manipur. The Contingent occupied an extended line of posts along the southern boundary of Manipur for the purpose of watching the Lushais and to secure the fidelity of Kamhau (Kamhow). (Alexander Mackenzie: The North East Frontier of India, Rep. 2005, p. 166).

This "troops should confine themselves to the protection of their own frontiers, and to opening out roads and maintaining communication through their own territories". (E.B. Elly- Military Report on the Chin-Lushai Country, Rep. 1978, p. 8). Accordingly, the Manipur Contingent was "moved down towards the south, with orders not to invade or attack the Lushais, but merely to serve as a threatening demonstration against them and as a support to the Soktes." (Reid: Chin-Lushai Land, p. 15).

But contrary to the orders, Gen. Nuthall moved down the Manipur Contingent as far as Chivu, where the troops stationed there for almost two months until they withdrew on 6 March, 1872 when Bourchier had concluded his Expedition. The troops were also prevented from doing anything due to sickness in the Camp, lack of provisions and stress of weather. R.G. Woodthorpe wrote, "The Manipur Contingent was prevented by stress of weather from doing anything, and thus ended this Expedition, from which such great results had been anticipated." (The Lushai Expedition 1871-1872, 1873, p.31).

Position of the Kamhau-Suktes:

Reid also wrote that "the withdrawal of the Manipur contingent from the front owing to sickness, had set free the Sokte Kukis, old enemies of the Lushais, who seizing the opportunity and knowing the panic caused by the advance of the British column, made fierce onslaught on Lalbura under the guidance of Kamhow their chief." (Chin-Lushai Land, p. 26).

"The next day, General Bourchier's column marched into Champhai, and the following extract from the Pioneer of the 7th May 1872 bears out the Chin story:-- "On the 17th February, they (the left column) reached the village (Champhai). But other invaders had been there before them; and signs of war and slaughter greeted them on every side..." (Carey & Tuck: The Chin Hills Vol. 1, Rep. 2008, pp. 122-23).

However, Carey and Tuck themselves wrote "Kanhow was dead; Kochim (Khochin) was now Chief." "Kanhow died in 1868…his youngest son, Kochim, succeeded to the chieftainship of the Kanhow clan." "As Kanhow died in 1868 and our Lushai Expedition took place in 1871-72, Kanhow did not take part in the war as stated in the Manipur records. Kochim, his successor, was Chief in 1871." Carey and Tuck continued-- "The first event of interest in Kochim's reign was the part he played as our ally in the Lushai campaign of 1871.

He furnished assistance at the instance of the Maharajah of Manipur. The Soktes say that the Manipuris sent a large brass pot to Kochim at Tiddim, and asked him to help them in their war with Vanolel. He joyfully assented, collecting a huge raiding party, which number several hundred men and accompanied by his brothers, set out from Tiddim, and marching two days and one night reached Champai."

Raja Goukhothang Guite, a Scapegoat:

"During the Lushai expedition Nokatung (Goukhothang), who had gone north, fearing for the safety of his relations, crossed into Lushai and persuaded the emigrants to return with him to settle down in his village (Mualpi). On their way to Mwelpi (Mualpi) they saw the Manipur encampment and, considering the Manipuris as friends, they entered the camp and were treacherously seized and carried off to Manipur, where Nokatung died in jail in 1872." (Carey & Tuck: p. 19).

Mackenzie also wrote, "The Kamhows came into the camp of the Manipur Contingent apparently not expecting to be treated as enemies, but were all made prisoners by the Contingent and taken to Manipur and placed in irons in the jails." (The North East Frontier, p. 166; Also FPAP August 1872, Nos.70, Appendix C; From Edgar to Bourchier, 21 March 1872).

It must be asserted that Goukhothang (Nokatung) and his followers were not a party of Kamhaus (Kanhows) as stated by some British officers and the Manipuris. Goukhothang was a Guite chief and infact, the Principal Chief of the Guites who were a different clan/tribe from the Suktes (Soktes) or Kamhaus. Goukhothang and his men had gone to the adjoining Lushai Hills of Selam (Poiboi's village) and Teikhang (Damvum/ Dumboom's village) to bring back his relatives (not his captives) who had emigrated to the Lushai Hills during the previous years.

It obliged him as a result of the turbulence caused by the British expedition of 1871-72. Even if Goukhothang was taken for the Kamhaus, they were but ally to the Manipuris as well as the British during the Lushai Expedition as stated above. The reasons for the act of deceitfully capturing him would have been best known by the perpetrators.

It may be mentioned that Nuthall and the Manipuris concertedly blamed him for a raid in a Manipur village early in 1871. "When referred to about a raid committed on a Manipur village by the Kokatung section in 1871, he declared that it was done without his authority, and that he had very little control over the clan in question." (Mackenzie: p. 165).

It was true that Goukhothang was Chief of Guite, who was different from Kamhaus or Suktes with different spheres of influence. Moreover, not only the Kamhau-Suktes plundered Manipur villages, the Eastern Lushais did the same during 1871, which was the main reason why Pauboi (Poiboi) was gravely sought by the British. Nuthall, on the other hand, had commanded a futile Expedition in the Lushai Hills in 1869. It adversely affected the prestige of the Company (British) as it failed to achieve any of its objectives.

Similar to this, in January, 1857, the Maharaja of Manipur commanded an expedition of 1,500 strong against the Kamhaus, which "nevertheless ended in the disgraceful flight of the Manipur troops… The troops basely left their Rajah, who with some twenty followers, arrived some days after they had reached the valley." (Mackenzie: p. 164). Consequently, both the Political Agent and the Manipuris were apparently craving for a success and exploited the situation deliberately towards either the Lushais or the Kamhaus during the Lushai Expedition, 1871-72.

Contrary to Nuthall assertions, the Kamhaus/Suktes wanted peace with Manipur. "In the Administrative Report for 1868-69, it was stated that a month after the Manipur force returned from the expedition of 1857, the Sooties sent messengers to Manipur and promised Colonel McCulloch not to molest the Maharajah's subjects further, that this promise had been adhered to, that they were then decidedly friendly, and traded freely with the valley, and that Kamhow reported regularly any suspicious doings amongst the Lushais, and would remain neutral, or even give assistance…In the beginning of 1871, while the fighting men of the Lushais were raiding on Manipur and Cachar, the Sooties entered the Lushai country and killed and carried off a large number of Lushais.

The Sooties sent the heads of four of the men killed on this occasion to Manipur. It would thus appear that they were not openly hostile to Manipur." (Mackenzie: p. 156) Chivu (Chibu) came to limelight as a result of the said Lushai Expedition. Suhas Chatterjee wrote, "Nuthall advanced eastward to break the Kamhow and other cognate tribes, and contrary to the instructions, advanced beyond Tseklapi to Chibu. Upto Tseklapi, the Manipur garrison was successful but at Chibu the disaster followed." (Mizoram Under the British Rule, 1985, p. 73) While the troops encamped themselves at Chivu, local tradition held that a great number of the Manipuris perished as they tried to drain away the lake water of Chivu.

The only significant event that took place at Chivu was the "treacherous" capturing of Raja Goukhothang and his men when the troops were about to depart. Gen. Nuthall had left in advance and was not directly responsible for the act but he justified and "approved what the Manipur Majors had done, and thus became responsible for their act." (Mackenzie: p.167). "Edgar was profoundly shocked at the treachery and brutality of the Manipur contingent. He charged the Manipuri Majors as liars and Nuthall as a coward. Bourchier also denounced the action of Nuthall and put squarely the blame upon him in connection with the reverses at Chibu Valley." (Chatterjee).

Edgar said, "The charge of wishing to attack the camp was probably afterwards invented by the Majors to excuse their own conduct. It is evident that the latter could not resist the temptation of getting possession of the refugees, for the Munipuris are even more eager than the hill-chiefs themselves to get hold of Kookie and Naga subjects."

Woodthorpe also stated as, "There seems no doubt that the armed Soktes did not go in with the intention of attacking the Manipur depot. This appears to be evident from the fact of their small number, and the absence of any attempt on their part at a surprise. On the contrary, they went in apparently in full reliance on the friendliness of the Munipuris, the chiefs allowing their weapons to be discharged by the Majors without any suspicion of bad faith." (The Lushai Expedition, pp. 332-333)

Distorted Account of Cheitharol Kumbaba, The Royal Chronicle:

It could well be disputed from the above few records and writings that what has been recorded or documented about the events at Chivu Camp either by the Manipuris or Nuthall as half truth. The "well documented event" in Cheitharol Kumbaba, The Royal Chronicles of Manipur, edited by L. Joychandra Singh are mere exaggerations of minor events, many of which are not found in any other records, either official or unofficial.

Though it was stated that the Maharaja supplied a contingent of about 2,000 men (not force), but in nowhere else, there was no mention of another 4000 coolies. The 2,000 men appeared to have included the force, coolies and others together. The actual number of armed force appeared to be 500 as Woodthorpe had written- "The Rajah of Munipur volunteered to assist the last Expedition with a contingent force of five hundred men, under the command of two Munipur officers; and the Government of India, in accepting his services, directed him to place the contingent under the orders of General Bourchier." (The Lushai Expedition, p. 48)

Woodthorpe continued to write, "While still at Chelam, we heard that the Munipur contingent had been obliged to retire from Chibu, in consequence of the ever increasing difficulty of getting up supplies, and having lost more than half their number from sickness and desertion." Woodthorpe accompanied the Cachar column as Topographical Survey Officer and therefore, provided authentic and first hand information.

Again, the Chronicle contradicts itself in stating forward that "on 11 January 1872, Sagwaijam Major, Kangba Major the 2000 sepoys, the 3000 Khongjais and 4000 coolies collected stones in a pile near the Maharaj's foot print." Where and how did the 3000 Khongjais appear from when it did not mention earlier? The total coolies assigned to Bourchier's Column were not even more than 2,764 and that of the other 2,791. Similarly, doubtful names and villages of Warunggel, Larakhul, Helhing, Larakhundol, Hawbiran, Thanthou, Lamshaow etc were hardly known in history. The 32 Naga villages consisting of 1126 houses brought in 1st day of moon Saturday Fairel and the Kamhow Nagas as given in Cheitharol were inexistence in the area or within the tract. There was also no Kamhow Nagas and it impossibly is. It could probably mean Goukhothang and his followers.

There was no 2nd Expedition in the history of Lushai Expedition, 1871-72 as was recorded in the Cheitharol as, "On 9 February 1872, 5 guns were fired announcing 2nd expedition against the Lushais." The validity of the manufacturing or digging of Chibu Salt well still need to be checked which is not known except in this (Royal Chronicle) record. It may be mentioned that Chivu was/is a natural lake which sprung from a salt spring as its source, and there is no sign of man made well in the area.

Prof. N. Lokendra Singh in his "A Brief note on Manipur and the Lushai Expedition, 1871-72", published in The Sangai Express, June 10-13, 2020 has described about those events surrounding the Lushai Expedition vis-à-vis Manipur based on available sources and records including the Cheitharol Kumbaba, The Royal Chronicle edited by Joychandra. While it is much appreciated as a constructive gesture, it may be pertinent to discuss more on at least some points.

The Expedition and Historical Distortions:

The Cachar Column under Bourchier arrived at Tipaimukh in mid December, 1871, and after marching through a very difficult country, the force reached Selam, Pauboi's (Poiboi) stronghold on 2 February after evacuating Kholel (deceased Vanhpuilal/Vonpilal's village) on the 26th December, and arrived at Champhai, Lalbura's chief village on 17 February, Vanhnuailiana/Vonolel (his father) having expired.

Lalbura was mainly responsible for the plundering of Munierkhel tea garden, Cachar. The troops set out for Chumsin, the village of Vonelal's widow, who sued for peace and readily accepted the terms of Bourchier. The next morning, on the 18th February, peace was concluded. The other villages of Lalbura were spared. Three hostages should accompany the Column to Tipaimukh. The Lushais should restore all firearms taken at Monirkhal and Nudigram. They should deliver as a fine, a war drums, a set of gongs, an amber necklace, two large tusks, livestock and husked rice. On the 20th February, the conditions were complied with, and on the next day, the force set out on its return and reached Cachar on the 10th March.

The Chittagong Column subdued 22 chiefs in all, and then withdrew after the last troops reached Saipuia's (Saipoiya) village on 12 February. The number of chiefs the Cachar Column subdued was much lesser in number as can be ascertain from the above. Under such circumstances, even when the British did not in anyway, subdue as many as 112 villages, there is no issue which could arise on the part of the Manipuris to subdue such a large number of villages when they did not even participate in the warfront or penetrated into the Lushai Hills.

There was no chief or village captured and subdued by the Manipuri troops taking into account the historical fact that they neither fought the war nor enter the Lushai country but stationed their troops at Chivu, which is the last point of their reach. Those few chiefs mentioned in the inscription were of course, subjugated by Bourchier forces but not in anyway by the Manipuri troops.

Pauboi (Poiboi) had deserted his village, Selam and did not in anyway submit himself to the British forces when Bourchier arrived at his village. Edgar stated that this was a part of failure of the Expedition. However, according to the Pioneer, 7 May, 1872, he sent emissaries probably under Dharpong to Gen. Nuthall and the manipuries at Chivu camp. It was also probable that he sent another friendly embassies in Manipur (by the end of March) as per the report of the Political Officer, "Since my return, I have heard that some of Poiboi's headmen were going into Manipur towards the end of last month, and that it was the intention of the Political Agent to advise the Rajah to enter into an alliance, offensive and defensive, with Poiboi…." (Report of the Political Officer with the Left Column of the Lushai Expedition, From J.W. Edgar, Civil Officer with the Cachar Column of the Lushai Expeditionary Force, to the Commissioner of Circuit, Dacca Division,-- No. 548, dated Cachar, the 3rd April 1872).

However, Damvum (Damboom) visited the camp as well as Manipur more than once. What has been mentioned in the Cheitharol as revealed by Prof. Lokendra as Dambam, Damboom and Tamboom Ningthou are one and the same person. According to the Political Agent's report, the Lushai Chief Damboom paid a visit to Manipur in 1872. The Manipur Authorities tried to keep it a secret, but Dr. Brown, the Political Agent sent for him privately as he heard the Chief's arrival. He was but hurried out of the capital without meeting with the Agent.

Brown sent for him and Damboom again arrived. Brown then took the opportunity to ask him to "explain to the Lushais that it was the desire of the British and Manipur Governments to remain at peace with them, that every protection would be afforded them should they desire to trade with Manipur, and to assure them that trade and free communication were most desirable." (Mackenzie, p. 161). "But all was not well with Manipur. Though after the expedition of 1872 the Lushai raids into British territory entirely ceased, with regard to Manipur it was not so… Manipur sent deputation to the Lushai country in 1877 with a view to negotiate peace with the tribal chiefs, and some success was attained." (Chakravorty: British Relations with the Hill Tribes of Assam, 1964, p. 61; Mackenzie, pp. 162).

In Conclusion:

It may also be stated that some of the Political Agents in Manipur like Gen. Nuthall, the Officiating Agent during the Expedition gave one sided and favorable reports for the Manipuris to the disadvantage of the hill tribes like the Kamhaus, Suktes and Lushais. When an embassy was sent under Kikoul by the "Kamhows" to obtain Goukhothang's release in April 1872, who also brought ivory tasks as either present or ransom, it was the Political Agent who was determined, though the Maharaja apparently wanted his release.

It can well be worked out if a thorough study on Mackenzie's book and some others including Official reports is carefully made. Mackenzie's work is however, a valuable and exhaustive source of history on Lushai Expedition, 1871-72 with that of R. G. Woodthorpe's work. Though extensively based on Mackenzie's, Carey and Tuck's Chin Hills is another important source of history.

We may conclude that with regard to the record found in the stone inscription, Carey and Tuck has stated as, "the Manipuris claim to have done more conquering than our records credit them with." As such, the State government may reconsider about its project at Chivu, either by abandoning the scheme or shift the monument somewhere in the valley area. It may kindly do so with necessary adaptation in the inscription. It is the right and high time for such a positive nod for the good of all.

* Media & Publicity, Research and Preservation of the Zo Identities(RPZI), Lamka wrote this article for
The writer are based at Lamka, Manipur and can be contacted at rpzicore(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on June 27, 2020.

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  • Looking back at first case, shutdown 1.0
  • Winning Covid-19
  • Arambam Samarendra Anniv #1 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 10 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Manipur's Draft Bamboo Policy
  • Sanjita Chanu cleared of doping charge- IWF
  • On reopening of schools in Manipur
  • Research & Project Associate at IBSD, Imphal
  • Concern with Oil Spill at Baghjan
  • Prison spell : CM bang on target
  • Even diarrhea kills human sometimes
  • Relief Services in 5 dists #2 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 09 June : Govt of Manipur
  • 4th delimitation in Manipur : Impact analysis
  • Sunzu Bachaspatimayum - Secretary of MFDS
  • Yes, Homecoming ! :: Poem
  • Speed up COVID-19 Test in Senapati IQC
  • Sales & Client Support @ R-Square (Imphal)
  • Curfew Violators [09 June] : Police Dept
  • Looking at cluster transmission
  • Is quarantine centers hotspot for COVID-19 ?
  • 2nd Barak Festival @ Senapati : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 08 June : Govt of Manipur
  • With Four Prime Ministers :: Book Review
  • Meeting with youth of Manipur amidst lockdown
  • COVID-19 Memo - Govt of Manipur [08 June]
  • Delimitation: Redrawing political ambitions
  • Quarantine @ JNV Yaralpat: Gallery
  • MA (Manipuri) in Meetei Mayek from 2020
  • Quarantine @ UNACCO School: Gallery
  • Motsillaba Mingsel :: eRang Photos
  • Laibi Oinam : Lady Auto Driver ...
  • Train @Jiri [May 28] #2 : Gallery
  • Geographical Indication, Leirum Phee & others
  • Thang Ta at Sangai Fest #3 : Gallery
  • I Rise :: Film Synopsis & Biography
  • Measures @ Imphal Airport - 25 May : Gallery
  • M.K Binodini Devi's Sense of Beauty
  • Phisakol #3 :: eRang
  • Eyek Tamba :: Learn Manipuri script
  • Featured Front Page Photo 2020 #2: Gallery
  • The Princess & the Political Agent : eBook
  • Tangkhul Forum vegetable for valley: Gallery
  • Items distributed to Tarao -Apr 23 #2: Gallery