In the Quaint Leikai-Village of Kwatha

Kapil Arambam *

In the Quaint Leikai-Village of Kwatha


Students of political science must be familiar with the terms like 'Nation-State' and 'City-State'. Both of these organised political bodies are interchangeably called a country or simply a nation, though there are subtle differences as in the former is a term that we use every day for a political body defined by government, sovereignty, population, territory. This includes, for example, India, Burma and Bangladesh. On the other hand, a city-state is an independent State that consists of a city—and it can be within another country—and that has the common distinguishing features of a State. Examples include Singapore, Monaco and Vatican City.

In a similarly different way, we have 'village' and 'leikai-village'. The former is the usual term, which we use for a place smaller than a town and is typically associated with certain rustic elements. A leikai-village is also a similar rural place. But it is even smaller and could have been a ubiquitous leikai within a locality but nonetheless exists autonomously and hence the name, a leikai-village. Perhaps we can use a 'hamlet' except this term carries a sense of temporariness while a 'leikai-village' is inherently complete in itself for good.

Today, we have a leikai-village: Kwatha, which from hearsay has existed from the days of King Senbi Kiyamba (1467–1508). This piece is a recollection from a recent trip to the leikai-village, with its quaint characteristics that invite exploration as well as appreciation in the broader context of Manipur.

Moreh Way or the Highway

Kwatha is nestled in one corner of South-east Manipur, bordering Burma and located in the recently carved out district of Tengnoupal. If we are travelling from Imphal—which is a three-hour drive that stretches around 103 kilometres and Moreh that is 12 kilometres further away—we have to plunge left into a winding and descending dirt road just a couple of hundred metres before the Khudengthabi checkpoint manned by the Assam Rifles. The distance from the highway to the leikai-village is hardly seven kilometres but you'd doubt whether the surveyor was high while assessing the distance. It takes forever to reach there, thanks to the condition of the road that has as well been accentuating the isolation of Kwatha.

Until we reach the entrance of the leikai-village, it is difficult to see any signs of civilisation if not for the few unimaginative tin signboards and culverts along the route. The first half of the route descends to an obscure woodland and then ascends to the mountainside Kwatha through the pitiable serpentine road. Further midway en route, there is a way that descends onto the right, and which opens onto Kundaung, a township in Burma in the district of Tamu in Sagaing Region from where, as we found later, the villagers buy recharge cards for their mobile phones with literal Burmese connection. It is located within a walking distance. Meanwhile, the people of Kwatha speak a highly accented Meiteilon, which is stressed like those of Kakching people.

Soon, as we drive straight towards Kwatha, it will be an understatement to say that the place is wonderful. It has an appeal that completely obscures the first few bad impressions.

When we are around the leikai-village, all the discomfort of riding in over-aged SUVs that ply in the area and the fatigue of long journey are entirely concealed, just as the surreal clouds do over the region. No classy hill station elsewhere is a match for Kwatha's unsophisticated charm. Add to this attraction, the feeling of nostalgia and unsurpassed natural beauty of Kabaw Valley, which spreads over the eastern panorama, and is up close flanked by Chin Hills on our left and a hillock on the right side that takes us down to Moreh and the result is out of the world.

For that matter, Kabaw Valley will always remain significant for us as long as Mahatma Gandhi is called the father of India. Sometimes history can be beautiful though all we had learnt in schools and colleges were merely about people like Shah Jahan and Mahatma Gandhi and places like Kanpur and Plassey that are not only impersonal and misrelated but also serve, for us, as a symbol of neo-colonialism.

Well, back on the ground, in the most recent time the existence of this secluded leikai-village was brought to public's attention last year with the holding of a successful socio-cultural and art festival. This was quite significant on many counts. Despite its popularity, for instance as a 'soiboom stronghold', people are wary about visiting Kwatha albeit it is no surprise seeing the condition of life in this part of the world, which in addition to its physical isolation is riddled with all sorts of back-breaking issues that are rife in remote corners of an armed conflict zone.

If we talk about wariness, the Meitei villagers of Kwatha are more affected as both artificial and natural dangers—out of inter-ethnic loathing, animosity between state and non-state actors, and an inhospitable terrain—lurk in their environments. Besides, again from hearsay, the Meiteis who have converted to Christianity are somehow 'balanced' in the ethnic equation, yet religion has been a matter that can make or break Kwatha. For the community, Imphal valley seemingly offers various privileges by virtue of being the majority however life is hard in a faraway and remote corner like Kwatha.

As far as the authority is concerned, it will be a blessing for the villagers if the latter has access to a paved road—for a starter. Without this basic infrastructure it is hard to believe that we are into 21st century, not only for Kwatha but also for the whole Manipur, which has been bogged down by its dismal transport and communication system.

Signal from Burma

We were in for some surprises when we reached Kwatha. All of those are worth remembering no matter how memory and reality are a totally different ball game.

A woman was standing by on the way as we passed through the unpaved orange-y road coloured by red soil that is commonly found in Manipur and beyond. She said how Imphal is just too far away and the medical facilities in Moreh or farther Kakching are literally inhospitable and she went to Tamu to deliver her baby. A primary health centre stands at the middle of this leikai-village but it is nothing more than a skeleton, existing merely for the namesake.

Just as the lack of a paved road, there are no newspapers in Kwatha. No newspapers! In this age of information, the joke goes on how we turn into Neanderthals when our Wi-Fi is down. See the memes all over the Internet. Yet you enter a whole new world where there is no basic means of mass media. But you might mistake the leikai-village to be some sort of a primitive society, which it is not. Many villagers, especially the youth, are armed with smartphones and familiar with Facebook but again they have to go to Kundaung for recharge. They call the area within the mobile-signal range as the zero mile.

Incidentally, once we drove closer to Kwatha, we started receiving SMSes about mobile roaming that we get usually while landing in or reaching a new city. Only this time, we were still in Manipur and getting the texts that welcome us to Burma.

In a way, technology is a way of saying India's writ does not run long and until recently, Sajik Tampak, which falls in the same district of Chandel that is now bifurcated into Tengnoupal, was considered as a de facto entity or a liberated zone. De facto implies Sajik Tampak was considered a separate region outside the so-called State—in real albeit without legal authority. The existence of such regions in neighbouring Burma is quite an open secret today, with the closest link to us being NSCN-K-dominated area in Upper Sagaing.

Meanwhile, nobody knows the legality of using a mobile phone service from a neighbouring country but it comes with security concerns. In fact, mobile phones were introduced in Manipur comparatively late around the mid-2000s and one of the reasons for the delay, unsurprisingly, was the very security risk. A man from the leikai-village said nonchalantly that the army and paramilitary personnel are suspicious at times. When you have a phone with such a connection, you can easily sneak into Burma, you know, like after completing 'a' task. That's the reason.

Upon asking, another man replied that radio is available but the signal is feeble. To bring life to a common time frame for all of us and as is done in some leikai around the Imphal valley, a Manipuri-custom community radio, which is played over a loudspeaker from a traditional radio, will be a good start in Kwatha. The folks should just hope that they get to listen to Taretmakhai Pao and other informative programmes on the Sangai and Kangla channels and do not end up tuning into pop music of the radio stars from Tamu. This 'conflict of interest' might be possible just like the mobile phone services.

Seeing the availability of only government-funded radio services in the state, the questions of incumbent government using public media, including the electronic media, or Doordarshan, in addition to the All India Radio as its mouthpiece, are bound to come up but that's another issue. For now it is crucial that Kwatha has access to, at least, the mass media services that are paradoxically freely available.

Path from the Past to the Present

For a leikai-village that has been in existence for six centuries, Kwatha's internal dynamics will balance the good and the bad for its own welfare despite the prevailing dangers. From its physical location, it resembles a historical frontier or hill outpost at an extreme end. In the past, even when the boundary of the erstwhile kingdom of Manipur or Kangleipak was marked at the western bank of the River Ningthi (Chindwin), Kwatha was most likely a Meitei's frontier settlement territory, which traversing the Chin Hills, descends to the Kabaw Valley*.

* Kabaw Valley means the 'black' or 'death' valley in Burmese.

In this regard, when the Treaty of Yandaboo was signed on 24 February 1826, the Ningthi was assumed as the boundary between Manipur and Ava (Burma), and by default Kabaw Valley was a part of the former kingdom, which had also then become a British protectorate. In direct contrast to this kind of simplified observation, the Agreement and the narratives of both the lands and the people in the ensuing decades and centuries are as complex as the Burmese language for us.

Well, today, the history of this leikai-village has always been ignored while discussing the issues of Kabaw Valley, which in itself is fraught with contestation, emotion, historical dissonance and grievances. The matter is that, as in any discussion of the Kabaw Valley, any historical accounts related to Pemberton Line, the amended Pember-Johnstone-Maxwell Line, the Yandaboo Treaty and others must have a direct connection with the people of Kwatha. That's a given. This is deduced from an observation that these people were not, by nature, Zomian, who had proceeded to master the 'art of not being governed'.

The only problem is the absence of any reliable source to ascertain the facts. And this is a problem for the whole Manipur. Despite being a literate society with a well-established language system, the state suffers from an acute deficit of documentation and hence its narratives are fraught with lack of clarity. To add insult to the backache, the onslaught of Hinduism had played a fundamental role in completely de-establishing the Manipuri polity over and above sabotaging its tradition and culture. This was further aggravated with ploys like, amongst others, forced proselytisation, physical and cultural destruction of local deities, and setting books and documents on fire on a large scale that we now commemorate as the Puya Meithaba Numit. Religion is such a bitch.

Closer to Kwatha, the lack of clarity exists is in its name too. Kwapaambi are grown sporadically, mostly by the sloppy mountainside than in the comparatively flatter area of the leikai-village, which in fact is most popular for its soiboom than anything else.

By the way, 2017 is going to be a bad year for Kwatha with the onset of bamboo blossom this season and it is going to cost the villagers dearly. In this leikai-village, soiboom provides a means of livelihood for many people, who survive on such little source of sustenance they can find from the vicinity. The second most important stuff of trade is charcoal. Both of these businesses are time consuming as well as highly disproportionate to the income they generate from trading but then that's how life is in this world—unfair and unjust as the rich worry about diet schedule and the poor about hunger.

A majority of the people in Kwatha also live on shifting cultivation, which is another area that needs major intervention for the leikai-village to help come out of its cocoon. The people are aware about sustainable farming—in the same manner that they have talent but no exposure—yet they have little means to turn the ideas into initiatives. So, even if they need alternatives to this unproductive form of farming, they just choose the more accessible means or a lesser evil.

It might be common for people who practise shifting cultivation to do farming in steep regions, but a mountain that walls Kwatha on its north—and which could be of anywhere between 10 to 20 kilometres in length from a guesstimate—inclines at about, with exaggeration, 80 degrees. As obtrusive it is from one of the commons, the mountainside flaunts freshly maintained saplings. The fact that they are going to go harvest at such a location is daunting to say the least.


Many things that are possible in hilly areas are simply unimaginable for a valley dweller. If there is a term that could describe the shifting cultivation of Kwatha, then it should be 'danger' and it does not end there. Owing to its low sea level, the place is humid and notorious for tropical issues and pestilence though it is much better than Moreh, which that looks no different from those sweaty and sticky corners in Southeast Asian countries that we can see most stereotypically in Hollywood movies.

Going for a trip now and then is good for us. It does not only break the monotony of everyday life but also offers you insight like nobody in Kwatha would care about if their home is categorised under a village or a leikai-village but they do about a good life. Besides, going for a trip to Kwatha is even better for all the good reasons and hopefully someday, this leikai-village will be able to tell the world, regardless of its present situation or physical location, what it is worth of.

* Kapil Arambam wrote this article for
The writer can be reached at kupelderanged(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on July 14, 2017.

* Comments posted by users in this discussion thread and other parts of this site are opinions of the individuals posting them (whose user ID is displayed alongside) and not the views of We strongly recommend that users exercise responsibility, sensitivity and caution over language while writing your opinions which will be seen and read by other users. Please read a complete Guideline on using comments on this website.

  • Mera Men Tongba :: Gallery
  • Liberation War And Merger : Part 1
  • Diwaligi Ahingdo :: Wari
  • Exploding cyber crime in India
  • Manipur National Day- 18 October 1948
  • Greetings on Diwali & Ningol Chakkouba
  • TSA DJ Theme Song , DJ icon audition
  • Meghalaya Venue & Daywise Lineup
  • Tasked to monitor talk: Koijam-Himalay
  • Looking beyond the tough words
  • Rejoinder to deserted NPF Group Longleng
  • CM honors U-17 WC Footballers :: Gallery
  • Yinmajo, Thotchui, Daithaorei: eMing
  • I don't want to die before I am dead : Poem
  • Is the 'Fear for Qur'an' Being Traded ?
  • MUTA Series 4 : Who supports Whom?
  • What ails Manipur ?
  • Old Age pension Scheme details uploaded
  • Increased privilege for responsibility
  • Indo-Naga Talks 2017 :: News Timeline
  • Culturals @ Mera Houchongba #1 :: Gallery
  • Seven Years Devastation: Book Review
  • Prelude to what we need to know 2!!
  • Matos bhai & our FIFA boys "bravo"
  • Trafficking vis-a-vis Domestic Work
  • An open letter to Chief Minister
  • DG Assam Rifles calls on Chief Minister
  • Nagaland press firm against intimidation
  • No Aadhaar, No Mid-day Meal stand
  • The good, the bad and the ugly
  • Footballer: U-17 World Cup :: Gallery
  • Kwak Tanba #3 :: Gallery
  • Night Plaza: Outlook of a developing Manipur
  • Biased national media
  • Agri-volatic: boosting agricultural income
  • Natural skin glow for Diwali
  • Eleven LPG refills in 4 months !
  • 'No change in territorial boundary of States'
  • MaiOn (scenes) #1 :: eRang
  • Tune out within dark
  • Loktak: Storm brain before blasting barrage
  • Gojilove : Now In Manipur
  • Fighting a losing battle
  • A Poem for My Wife :: Poem
  • October 15 retrospection
  • E Sonamani: Jnangarima Manad Alankaran
  • 11th Mega Marathon Manipur #5 :: Gallery
  • Langbal Keithel @ Kangjeibung #4 :: Gallery
  • Geo-politics & Skill Devlp in Act East Policy
  • Wildlife Week: Working together for wildlife
  • Letter to ATSUM (Reply to rebuttal)
  • A rebuttal to "Imprudence of ATSUM"
  • Don't sleep with minor wife ruling: Rapist
  • Awaited expectation
  • Journey of Amur falcon #2
  • Irabot Day - March Past #2 :: Gallery
  • Buddha's Metta & Karuna #2
  • Hei-kak: An aquatic cash crop in Manipur
  • Flood prevention and mitigation
  • Unearthing gems: Northeast Diva 2016-17
  • Nagaland Whip issue hearing in the court
  • Film screenings on NE held in Estonia
  • Of Leikhom Leinang & Uphul Waiphul: NH-2
  • March: Mera Houchongba #2:: Gallery
  • AMAND Pune: Annual Cultural #2:: Gallery
  • Langol Tourist Watch Tower #7 :: 360 ° View
  • .. end AIDS by 2030: Are we on track ?
  • Career in Tourism - Part 2
  • Which one should precede- ILPS or ST ?
  • Comedian Audition during Night Plaza
  • Seizure of Dried Fish Grenet (Tirkiya)
  • LPG diversion: Non-local in subscribers list
  • For a little bit more
  • Pot Lannaba: Houchongba #1 :: Gallery
  • Crowd @ World Tourism Day :: Gallery
  • Moreh PWD complex controlled by militants
  • FIFA U-17 : A milestone for NE football
  • Post submergence impacts of Mapithel dam
  • Cry of a Dying River - 4 :: Poem
  • Program on World Mental Health Day
  • Out but not down :: Needed : A strong Cong
  • Redefining 'Manipuri'
  • Imphal Evenings- Night plaza #2 :: Gallery
  • FIFA U-17 Profile :: Kh Ninthoinganba
  • Keithel Lairembi Ima #3 :: Gallery
  • Observation of World Mental Health Day
  • Ruskin Bonding - VI
  • Life - A Bubble :: Poem
  • Mapung fana chathari
  • Surgical Closure of 'Hole in the Heart'
  • Inferred or in B/W? Integrity Vs integration
  • Imphal is changing but traffic a menace
  • Kwak Tanba #2 :: Gallery
  • FIFA U-17 Profile :: Thounaojam Jeakson
  • Langbal Keithel @ Kangjeibung #3 :: Gallery
  • NE Fashion Week @ Dimapur:: Gallery
  • Journey towards Breaking the Shackles
  • The Man Who Saw Tomorrow :: Poem
  • Free Medical Camp at Lilong
  • From Nobap to World Cup: Magnificent 8
  • Journey of Amur falcon #1
  • FIFA U-17 Profile :: Nongdamba Naorem
  • Lamyanba Irabot- Birth Anniv #2:: Gallery
  • 11th Mega Marathon Manipur #4 :: Gallery
  • FIFA U-17: US won but we were lauded more
  • Imprudence of ATSUM
  • Tonsuring the nature
  • March: Mera Houchongba #1:: Gallery
  • FIFA U-17 Profile :: Dheeraj Moirangthem
  • AMAND Pune: Annual Cultural #1:: Gallery
  • Research Line : Book release Function
  • 100 Yrs Of Tangkhul Naga Football
  • Make RIMS shining
  • Another NE Youth Missing in the Capital
  • AMAND, Pune : 6th AGM / Annual Cultural
  • Sadar Hills District Demand: News Timeline
  • Nungshibi : Social Networking :: Website
  • Seeking 2 years time: Too early to judge
  • Let Holy books be replaced by Constitution
  • FIFA U-17 Profile :: Amarjit Kiyam (Captain)
  • FIFA U-17 Profile :: Thangjam Boris
  • FIFA U-17 Profile :: Wangjam Suresh
  • FIFA U-17 Profile :: Md Shahjahan
  • Loktak Folklore Museum- for fishing
  • Opening: Imphal Evenings :: Gallery
  • Mayanglambam Gourachandra: Awardee
  • Win the hearts if not the FIFA Cup
  • Cry of a Dying River #3 :: Poem
  • For the 8 football players of Manipur..
  • Article 342 makhada furup amana ST ki list
  • Manipur to set up land bank
  • Hosts India set to make FIFA WC debut
  • ATSUM against ST: Let the experts decide
  • A matter of concern for the future
  • Irabot Day - March Past #1 :: Gallery
  • Bor khoiramba @ Hiyangthang #2 :: Gallery
  • Manipur Have done it again
  • Hingchabi Changba: Possessed/ Exorcism
  • Tourism as career option
  • Hydro Electric Power: A must for Manipur #4
  • The Killing Fields :: News Timeline
  • Financial assistance to heart patient
  • Four tribe apex bodies question Naga Hoho
  • NPF asks NSCN-K to shun guns
  • Panel for NE water management
  • VIPsm on the roads of Imphal
  • So far so good; criticism should be welcome
  • Imphal Evenings- Night plaza #1 :: Gallery
  • Keithel Lairembi Ima #2 :: Gallery
  • Doren: 'Theatre of the Earth' wins in Kerala
  • Solo Album Launch of Awarthanga Chiru
  • How Manipur missed internal autonomy..
  • Whispering of Heart :: Peom
  • Hiring for real estate firm @ Gurugram
  • Manipur Govtgi warol taramna ok ee, adubu
  • Make stand known on Manipur youth killing
  • Promoting night life in Imphal Night Plaza
  • Look before you lift
  • Kwak Tanba #1 :: Gallery
  • Nitya Raas, Ras Leela Fest #1 :: Gallery
  • 11th Mega Marathon Manipur #3 :: Gallery
  • Manipur Assembly Elections 2017 #2
  • Brother :: Poem
  • Manipur State League: Table - 1st Oct
  • Defence Secy visits Manipur
  • Rajkumar clinches chess title
  • Mary Kom, Sarita in Asian Championships
  • Feeling heat from UNC : Next round of talk
  • Expanding live of Imphal: need of hour
  • Lamyanba Irabot- Birth Anniv #1:: Gallery
  • Vanishing pottery craft & Livelihood: Chairen
  • Irabot Day Celebration at New Delhi
  • Bare-footed Nobab players becoming Pele
  • Infertility: The real issues #2
  • 3rd Sunfeast Cup football tournament
  • North East Fashion Week- Nagaland edition
  • Scheduled Tribe Demand : 1 Oct Statement
  • Inner Line Permit (ILP) Demand : Timeline
  • Muslim body 'socially' boycotts Deputy CM
  • Rajkumar leads table with 7 pts
  • Cracking down on LPG hoarders ..
  • World Tourism Day- Inauguration :: Gallery
  • Hathoikim Chongloi, Gold Medal Taekwondo
  • Blending Chords : DU Music Album Launch
  • When rock music is more than a noise
  • O My Son :: Poem
  • Commemorates Irabot on 121st Birth Anniv
  • Tourism matters
  • Bor khoiramba @ Hiyangthang #1 :: Gallery
  • 11th Mega Marathon Manipur #2 :: Gallery
  • Lamyanba Hijam Irabot - A rare photo
  • Research Line : Book Preview
  • Irabot Day Celebration (2017)
  • Mourns the death of Dr. Aryo Shishak
  • Manipuri World Cup footballers to get 5 lakh
  • Urgent Appeals Program- celebrate 20 years
  • Night football: Promoting the 'beautiful game'
  • Right beginning
  • Food Stall at Phayeng #1 :: Gallery
  • Shri Shri Govindaji Temple #3 :: 360 ° View
  • World Heart Day 2017
  • Irawat the Legend #3
  • Exposing our treasure
  • 'Maniwood' vs 'Haolywood' Football :: Gallery
  • Death Anniv- Bhagyachandra #5 :: Gallery
  • Keithel Lairembi Ima #1 :: Gallery
  • Lucifer-X : debut EP 'Project Xtermination'
  • ... trail of fake encounters by Supreme Court
  • Wabgai Keithel :: Gallery
  • Death Anniv- Bhagyachandra #4 :: Gallery
  • Featured Photo for 2017 #4 :: Gallery
  • Nangna Helli Nungshiba #1 :eRang
  • Yumnam Yaima : Manipuri Sahitya Parishad
  • A trip to Moreh #1 :: Gallery
  • Manipur Sangai Festival 2016 #6 : Ooba
  • Traditional Ritual @Khurkhul #4 :: Gallery
  • Priyogopal : Senior Film Artist :: eRang
  • Hathei Phanit @Sirarakhong :: Gallery
  • 239th Heikru Hidongba #2 :: Gallery
  • Heitha Leithaba @Kekrupat #2:: Gallery
  • Eyek Tamba :: Learn Manipuri script
  • Kang Tournament #2 :: Gallery
  • Old Manipuri Movie #1 :: eRang Classic
  • Landscape of Manipur #7: Wallpaper