TODAY -

Origin, migration and settlement: The Zeliangrong of NE
- Part 3 -

Budha Kamei *

Traditional dress and ornament of the Zeliangrong people as seen at Orange Festival 2013 at Noney Common ground, Tamenglong in December 2013
Traditional dress and ornament of the Zeliangrong people as seen at Orange Festival at Noney, Tamenglong in December 2013 :: Pix- Deepak Oinam



When the Zeliangrong people came to the present habitat (Manipur), it was not inhabited by any people. The Austric, Negrito and Mon-Khmer people, who might have occupied this land or wandered through, did so, long before they came to this area. There is no vestigial trait of any people or of the Nagas including Zeliangrongs to suggest that there was any encounter of the Nagas with other people.

But, it has been suggested by competent archaeologists that Manipur, being located in geographically and cultural corridor between south and south East Asia, holds premises for national and as well as global archaeological interests. The first concrete evidence of Haobinhian culture is found at Tharon cave in Tamenglong District in 1979. The edge ground pebble tools of the cave are similar with the finds from Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Philippines. In these countries these tools were used at about 7000-8000 B.C. Before the arrival of the present Tibeto-Burman inhabitants of this area, the Proto-Austroloid must have been in occupation of this cave. The proposed date is around 5000-4000 B. C.

The Zeliangrong people most probably entered "the western hills of Manipur in the second half of 13th century A. D. from southern side possibly by a more south-westerly route through which the Cambodian tribes like Mon, Khmer, Funan and Siami arrived on this land by about the 10th or 11th century A. D." W. I. Singh writes that the Zeliangrongs from their ancestral home, China arrived at some part of northern and eastern Burma in the latter half of 8th century A. D. It is probable that the Zeliangrongs sojourned in eastern Burma before entering to northeast India.

There is no historical record on the movement of the Zeliangrongs, but it may be assumed that the Zeliangrongs moved towards the west to Manipur from their sojourn. They possibly moved under the increasing Tai power in Thailand in the 12th century C. E. The earlier contacts suggest that they may have elements of Tai, and other Cambodian tribes.

The Zeliangrong people believe that their present habitat is their homeland since ancient times and they are the indigenous people of the land. But, their origin is surrounded in mystery and myth. According to legend, the Zeliangrongs originated from a cave called Taobhei. This mythical cave is believed to be located at Ramting Kabin, a place which is about 10 kilometers away from Oklong Liangmei village in Senapati District of Manipur.

Their faith in cave origin is also contained in a ritual recitation known as Mhunsoi (a ceremony to ward off the evils) which says, "Once upon a time, human being lived in a cave, the entrance of which was blocked by a huge stone slab. A mithun removed the stone slab with its horns and then, their ancestors came out of the cave." The Zeliangrong tribes, namely Zemei, Liangmei, and Rongmei have a common belief of cave origin. Every tribes or community living in different countries used to claim at least certain place or cave as the origin of human race to its own belief or legend. According to another legend, men after creation, as desired by Tingkao Ragawng, the Supreme God were sheltered in a cave.

In other words, the supreme God made a safe shelter for human beings and protected them from the wild beasts and other natural forces by keeping them inside the cave. The first man and woman who came out of the said cave were recognized as Pokrei or Dirannang and Dichalu.

The belief in cave origin is testified by a ceremony called Nam-Gutmei, village entry performed by them at the time of founding a new village. According to it, the leader (Nampou) of first settlers would enter into the new village site with a black mithun or bull. This is done with a conviction that the mithun or bull would negotiate with the spirits of the land for settlement as if their ancestors were helped by it while emerging out of the cave.

The concept of cave dwelling should not and cannot be treated literally, because it was usually used in all part of the world as the hiding place and a safe place for mankind before they could master the art of making a house for themselves. The earliest evidence of cave dwelling comes from a cave near Peking, China more than 300,000 year ago. In Europe, it was widely used between 70,000 and 10,000 years ago.

The boy and girl felt no shame with each of their nudity and lived innocently as brother and sister. It is said that one day an idea came to Pokrei (which is believed to be God's creation) that both of them should get married and have children, for which he asked the girl, Dichalu to address him as Apou instead of Achai (brother) as soon as she met him while coming round a raised earthen mound called Pungbut from the opposite direction so that she might become his wife. After going seven times round the Pungbut, Dichalu by the eighth round called him Apou as soon as she met him.

From that time, the boy no longer treated her as his sister and presumed the girl belonged to a different clan. Since then, the marriage between boys and girls of same clans are prohibited among the Kabui people. Thus, they were united and became first husband and wife on earth. As time passed, the couple was blessed with four sons, namely Nguiba, Sagee, Aneiu-wa and Chatiu and settled at Makhel, Senapati District.

So, Makhel is considered as the original home of the Kabuis. The other Naga tribes like Mao, Poumei, Angami, Lotha, Maram, Tangkhul, Sema, Chakeshang etc. refer to Makhel as their original homeland and from this place they dispersed themselves to different directions. They erected megaliths at Makhel in memory of their having dispersed from there to various directions such as to the frontier of western Manipur, Eastern Naga Hills and Barak valley. Even now the erected megaliths remain intact. At the time of dispersal they took oath that they would unite again in future and planted the tree called Chutebu.

A genna is observed if a branch of this sacred tree is broken and it is also a taboo to cut the branches of the tree. According to T. C Hodson, "At Makhel is to be seen a stone now erect which marks the place from which the common ancestors (of the Nagas) emerged from the earth, Makhel is regarded as the centre from where the migration took place."

From Makhel the ancestors of the Zeliangrongs went westward and took a temporary shelter at Ramting Kabin, old squeezed land. Then, they went south ward and settled in a place called Chawang Phungning or Gwang Phungning, where the concept of Chawang or Gwang meaning king or chief was developed in a rudimentary form. There are many references to the prosperity of Chawang Phungning in many ritual hymns.

From this place, some of the migrants took towards the northeast and arrived at Makuilongdi. Chawang Phungning is identified with the present village of Oklong in north Manipur. The ancestors of Zeliangrong ultimately came to occupy Makuilongdi meaning round big mountain. Nothing is known about Makuilongdi before the Zeliangrong migration. Many Zeliangrong lineages traced their origin from Chawang Phungning which was considered the main village of the cluster of villages, commonly known as Makuilongdi.

As the migrating people came in groups, they must have established separate settlements. Chawang Phungning was the main settlement and the settlers of this village built up Makuilongdi. There was cluster of villages or settlements under the jurisdiction of Makuilongdi that was adjacent to Chawang Phungning. The land, forest and water available at the new site and the rounded great mountain provided enough sustenance to the people.

The ancestors of Zeliangrong lived in Makuilongdi for many generations. The village became prosperous with enough land for shifting cultivation, which produced surplus food grains. From a small village it had become a cluster of small hamlets and settlements, which were established for organizing shifting cultivation, as they were quite distant from the original village. In fact, the Zeliangrong people built up a settled life based on shifting cultivation. The territorial extension of Makuilongdi was ubiquitously. At Makuilongdi, a polity was developed under a chief. Religious beliefs and social customs were developed and flourished.

Religious ceremonies and festivals were celebrated. Clans and lineages also grew up. It is said that the number of houses in Makuilongdi reached as many as 7777 and people enjoyed a long peaceful and attained the zenith of their socio-cultural life. Several migration teams were sent out to establish new villages in different directions. Makuilongdi became more or less the Jerusalem of the ancestors of the Zeliangrongs because; it is from there that they began to expose themselves to others.

To be continued...


* Budha Kamei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on April 15, 2015.


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