Kabaw Valley : A Historical Perspective
- Part 1 -

By Budha Kamei *

Kabaw Valley
Kabaw Valley - Pix :: DocNelson/Flickr

Manipur is located at the extreme eastern corner of India. With an area of 22,327 sq kms, the Manipur of today is bounded on the north by Nagaland, on the east and south by Myanmer (Burma), and south-west by Assam. A very charming hilly State which had once separated Assam and Myanmar before the creation of present Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Mizoram out of Assam, Manipur had enjoyed the fortune and glory in the past and experienced sorrow and vicissitudes of her long history.

It saw the transformation from a primitive tribal State to an independent kingdom and later from princely State of British India to a State of the Indian Union. Three major ethnic groups namely; the Meiteis in the valley and the Nagas and Kukis-chin group of people at the surrounding hills occupy the State. These ethnic groups belong to Mongoloid racial stock and speak Tibeto-Burman languages.

Manipur literally means the city or the land of gems. In the past she was known by different indigenous names such as Kangleipak, Poireipak, and Meitrabak. But the term 'Manipur' was first officially introduced during the reign of Pamheiba also known as Garibniwaz (1707-48). [Gangmumei Kabui: 1991, History of Manipur Vol. 1, New Delhi, p.1]

These local names seemed to have signified certain portions or areas of the present State during various phases in the early period. It had been a long march for Manipur in her historical development from a small clan principality at Kangla, Imphal to a most powerful kingdom including the surrounding hills. Once it did extend its territories to Kabaw Valley, now in upper Myanmar (Burma).

Kabaw Valley, a track of land, lies between Manipur sector of Indian's boundary and the western bank of the Chindwin River also known as Ningthi to the Manipuris. In other word, it lies between Kalewa and Tamu, down to the Chindwin River which forms the eastern boundary of Manipur. [Gangmumei Kabui: 1988, The Lost Territory of Manipur: Cession of Kabaw Valley, N. Sanajaoba (Ed.), Manipur Past and Present, New Delhi, p. 23; A.C. Benerjee: 1943, The Eastern Frontier of Britsih India, Calcutta, p. 261]

According to a colonial writer, "Kabu Valley lies between the Heerok or Yoma range of mountains, which bounds the eastern side of the Manipur Valley, and Ningthee or Kyendwen River. It commences from the foot of the hills in latitude 240 30 north and extends south to 220 30, where it terminates on the left bank of Kathe Khyoung or Manipur river, which falls into the Ningthee, and marks the southern limit of the Kule Raja's territory". [Alexander Mackenzie: 2007, The North East Frontier of India, New Delhi, p. 175]

The valley is divided into three subdivisions of Samjok (Thandent), Khumbat (Khambat) and Kale. The Shan holds control over the valley. Gangmumei Kabui, a renowned historian of North East writes, in the 19th century, the valley was a subject of dispute between Manipur and Burma which is a large territory covering 3000 sq. miles, now forms a part of upper Chindwin District of Burma. [Gangmumei Kabui: 1988 The Lost Territory of Manipur: Cession of Kabaw Valley, N.Sanajaoba(Ed.), Manipur Past and Present, Vol.1, New Delhi, p.23]

The name Kabaw is a Manipuri word for Shan, reflects the present of different cultures in Kabaw Valley. [Josheph R. Castile: 1988, Chin and Burmese Landscapes in the Kabaw Valley of North West Burma, Proceedings-AAG Middle States Division, Vol.21, p. 26] In the first haft of 19th century, the inhabitants of the valley were mostly Shans, Manipuris, Burmese and tribes who were culturally and ethnically related with the people of Chandel District of Manipur.

In the valley, the Shans are in majority and there are also Manipuris who had settled down here from very early times. The valley is rich in natural resources; stand-stone, slate, hornblende, ironstone, lignite coal etc are found at the Angoching Hills. [Gangmumei Kabui 1988: 24]. The products of forest are teak, fir, bamboo and keo.

In the 19th century, gold washing was widely done in the Chindwin and the small rivers flowing through the Kabaw valley had gold clay. [RB Pemberton: 1835, Report on the Eastern Frontier of British India, Calcutta, Pp. 13, 28, 30; NN Acharryya: 1988, Manipur in the Eyes of Foreign Historians, N. Sanajaoba(Ed.), Manipur Past and Present, Vol.1, New Delhi, p. 41]. Considered as a rich forest produce, possession of the valley was taken indispensible for border security by both Burma and Manipur. Obviously both the countries had endeavoured to extend their sovereignty over the valley. And this had resulted in frequent border dispute between the two countries.

The settlement history of the Kabaw Valley is so filled with a mixture of fact and legend that sometimes separation of the two is all but impossible. [GER Grant Brown: 1960, Upper Chindwin District, Burma Gazetter, vol. A (Rangoon Superintendent, Government printing and stationary, 1911; New reprinted 1960), Pp. 31-32] However, the arrival of the Shan people during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries is well-documented. [DGE Hall: 1960, A History of South East Asia, London: Macmillan and co. Ltd, p. 133]

They settled first at Kale Valley because it has better soils. The Kabu Valley is semi independent and the northern and middle portions are ruled by raja of Samjok whose raja is hereditary in his family. In olden days, Kabu Valley was sometimes under Manipur and sometimes under Burma. It was in the possession of Burma on the outbreak of the first Burmese war (1824-1826), and had been so for twelve years before. For about the same preceding these twelve years it had been in the possession of Manipur. [Alexander Mackenzie 2007: 176]

The chronicles of Manipur speak about the invasions of Kabaw Valley by the Manipuri kings and conquest the same country from the first haft of the 15th century. R. Brown writes, about 300 years ago, a raja called Pakungba who is credited for the consolidation of Manipur power occupied the Kabaw Valley. [2001:59] But no detail is mentioned. Cheitharol Kumbaba records, during the reign of Khumomba(1263-1278), the Kabaws invaded the Khuman and Khuman with the help of Khumomba drove out the Kabaws.

Some of them were captured as prisoners. In the year 1443 Ninthoukhomba (1432-1467), a powerful ruler with a determination to expand territorial limits of the kingdom, raided Alka inhabited by Shans of Kabaw Valley (Tamu) in Chindwin basin of upper Burma and conquered it. [I. Ibungohal Singh& N. Khelchandra Singh (Ed.): 1989, Cheitharol Kumbaba, Imphal, p. 19; Oinam Bhogeswar Singh (Ed.): 1966, Ningthourol Lambuba, (up to Pamheiba), Imphal, p.219]

It was an early attack on Shan principality of Kabaw Valley by a Manipuri King. Then, king Kyamba along with Choupha Khekhomba, the king of Pong invaded Kyang, a Shan principality of Kabaw Valley and conquered it. Since he conquered Kyang, the Meitei king was called Kyamba, the conquered of Kyang and the two kings celebrated their victory with great pomp, and demarcated their boundaries under the treaty of 1470 concluded between the two rulers. This was the first ever treaty Manipur had entered into with a foreign country.

Manipur boundary extended up to Mungkhang Muwai and the land of the dwarf mango groves was for Pong; in the east, it was up to Loijiri Hills, in the south up to Miyatong Hill. It was pointed out that regarding Samjok, the eastern portion was for Pong and the western portion was for Manipur. [R.K. Jhalajit Singh :1965, A Short History of Manipur, Imphal, p.73; B. C Allen: 2002, Gazetter of Naga Hills and Manipur, Mittal Publications, N. Delhi, p. 13; R. Brown: 2001, Statistical Account of Manipur, New Delhi, p.58; also see Cheitharol Kumbaba 1989: 19- 20]

Thus a major portion of Kabaw was made to Manipur. Pemberton also records, the joint forces of Manipur and Pong made campaigns in the Kabaw valley and defeated the raja of Khumbat in 1475 and divided the conquered country between the two countries and Kubo was annexed into Manipur in 1475. [Gangmumei Kabui 1988: 24; Lal Dena: 2008, British Policy towards Manipur (1762-1947), Imphal, p. 21]

Shan chronicles also record the event. [Acharyya 1988:43] This treaty and demarcation clearly showed international recognition of Manipur Kingdom by a power in upper Burma as the former exercised full fledged sovereign power having internal and external independence in the true sense of the term. [Gangmumei Kabui 1991: 195- 196]

Manipur did not rule the conquered territory, Kabaw Valley directly. The Shan princes were left to rule their respective territories with a wide measure of internal administration subject however to payment of annual tribute which they paid in silks and paddy. The obligations of Manipur were to protect the Kabaw Valley from Burmese invasions and to prevent armed conflicts among princes.

To fulfill these obligations Manipur maintained a network of intelligence in the Kabaw Valley perhaps unknown to the Shan princes. [RK Jhalajit: 2010, History of Medieval of Manipur in Souvenir Chahi Taret Khuntakpa Ningshing Numit, Hojai, Assam] According to Gangmumei Kabui, officials from Manipur were constantly posted in strategic positions in Kabaw Valley like Tammu and Angoching Hills on the west bank of Chindwin River.

Meitei villages were established in strategic points of Kabaw Valley and the route connecting the valleys, the first important village being Kwatha, a betel nut planting village of the Meiteis established by Kyamba. Since the political relation between Manipur and Shan principalities in Kabaw Valley was important the vassal states were to be clearly watched and controlled. [1991:210-211] This was done mainly to integrate Kabaw Valley with mainland Manipur. After Kyamba, Manipur sent a number of military expeditions to Kabaw Valley and Chindwin basin. In the first haft of 16th century, the successors of Kyamba could not continue to maintain strong political grip over Kabaw Valley. Due to physical distance from the capital of the kingdom and the absence of direct administration over them, these tributary principalities tried to be free from political control of Manipur.

They were also encouraged by the bigger States in upper Burma and the central political power of Ava. However in the second half of the century, Mungyamba reestablished his control over them. The name Mungyamba literally means the conqueror of Mungyang. It is said that Mungyamba (1562-1597) invaded Mungkhong Mung-yang in the eastern fringe of the Kabaw Valley and defeated Shan ruler.

He captured guns, a golden statue of a cock and five chiefs including two with the title of Chaopha (Sawbawa) like Chaopha Mangtra and Chaopha womsing. Ningthourol Lambuba has recorded that he captured one hundred chiefs including the chief of Akla. Mangsha was also defeated and its chief Khangcheng was taken prisoner. In 1578, the Khamram was fixed as the boundary between Manipur and Shan states. In the year 1571, he conquered Samjok and in the next year 1572, the Kabaw Shans were defeated. Again in 1582, Mungyamba raided Samjok and in 1597, he conquered Kyang and Shan Yathek in Kabaw valley. [Cheitharol Kumbaba 1989:29; Gangmumei Kabui 1991:205]

Considered as one of the most famous rulers of medieval Manipur, Khagemba (1597-1652) who had acquired a proper training in the fields of military warfare, and diplomatic skills from his father conquered more areas and expanded the State territory further besides consolidating his sway over the whole Angoching and Kabaw Valley. In 1602 Khagemba invaded Kyang and 177 prisoners were captured. In 1607, Samjok was invaded and 60 prisoners were taken.

In 1614, he made another raid in Kyang in which he captured a white horse called Maramba and invaded Samjok again. In 1649, he conducted last raid to Samjok and devastated. He also made invasion Chakpa village, Angoching Hills on the bank of Chindwin River. [Cheitharol Kumbaba 1989:37, 41; Kabui 1991:211-13; Jhalajit 1965:102] Thus, Kha-gemba consolidated his position in the Kabaw Valley.

To be continued ....

* Budha Kamei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on September 16, 2011.

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