Merger of Naga (Southern) Territory with Manipur
Z. K. Pahrii | BTC, Pfutsero
Introduction: Manipur, an erstwhile Princely State of the British Raj, is situated in the extreme north-eastern corner of India. The present Manipur State (created by Indian Union) is bordered by Nagaland on the north, Mizoram on the south, Myanmar (Burma) on the east and Assam on the west. Manipur State can be sharply divided into two parts: the valley which home to Meiteis (The words Meiteis, Meeteis, Meitheis and Manipuris are used by different authors referring to the valley dwellers of Manipur excluding tribal people), and the hill territory which is the homeland of the various tribes. The State is divided into nine districts—Imphal West, Imphal East, Bishnupur, Thoubal, Ukhrul, Churachandpur, Senapati, Tamenlong, and Chandel. Four of the districts cover the entire valley, which probably made up the former independent Kingdom of Manipur before its annexation by the British. The remaining five districts were added to Manipur at different stages of the State’s organisation in the colonial period and after the independence of India [Gam A Shimray, et al, An Introduction to the Ethnic Problem in Manipur, (Nagaland: Naga Students’ Federation, Kohima, reprint, ny), p.1]. However, according to some meitei scholars like Hareshwar Goswami (2004), it was the British who ruled from 1891 to 1947, who placed a wedge amongst the people of Manipur [Hareshwar Goswami, History of the People of Manipur (Imphal: Kangla Publications, 2004), pp. 7,8,103,104 ]
I. Probable Names and Extent of the Territory of Ancient Manipur: Some confusion exists about its ancient name. The nomenclature “Manipur” is not found in the oral traditions or recorded history of the early Meiteis. The Burmese called this country Katha; the Shans called it Kasse; the Cacharies described it as Mogali, and the Assamese called it Mekheli [C.U.Atchitson, A Collection of the Treaties, Engagements and Sanads relating to India and the Neighbouring countries, Vol.XII (Delhi: Mittal Publication 1983, reprint, p.14]. Prof. Gangmumei Kabui writes: ‘in ancient times the Meiteis called their land as Kangleipak, Poreipak and Meitrapak’[Gangmumei Kabui, History of Manipur, Vol.1. Pre-Colonial Period, New Delhi: National Publishing House, 1991, p.1]. He adds that in the first recorded treaty between East India Company and Jai Singh, Raja of Manipur in 1762, the Kingdom was recorded as “Meckley”. Later on it appears that Raja Jai Singh and his successors adopted the title of ‘Manipureshwar’, the Lord of Manipur and discarded Meckley. The adoption of Manipur in the 18th century seems to be a consequence of sanskritisation. The author of this article is convinced that the name of ancient “Manipur” described by various writers is composed of the valley area whose population has been sanskritised and not the whole of the present day Manipur which includes the hill areas.
Moreover, ancient Manipur did not have a distinct territorial boundary. B. Pemberton observes: “The territories of Muneepor have fluctuated at various times with the fortunes of their princes, frequently extending…beyond the Ningthee or Khyendwen river and west to the plains of Cachar” [R. B. Pemberton, Report on the Eastern Frontier of British India, Gauhati: 1966, Reprint, pp 22,23]. Sir James Johnstones made a similar remark when he said, “the territories of Manipur varied according to the mettle of its rulers. Sometimes they held a considerable territory east of the Chindwin River in subjection, at other times only the Kubo Valley, a strip of territory inhabited not by Burmese, but by Shans” [Sir James Johnstone, My Experience in Manipur and Naga Hills, New Delhi: Mittal Publication, reprint 1971, p.81; O. Tomba, A Need to Rewrite Manipuri History, 199]. If these written histories are valid, it would mean that the fluctuating territory of the ancient Manipuri kingdom was mainly confined to the areas bordering the Burmese (Kubow Valley) and the Assamese (Brahmaputra) Valley. The hill areas of modern Manipur were not part of the ancient Manipuri kingdom.
II. Ethnic Composition: 1. The Meiteis and Pangans: The Meiteis (Manipuris) are the dominant ethnic group of the State. They are confined to the Valley. As Prof. Jyotirmoy Roy says, “The valley is the abode of the largest and the most advanced community known as the Meitheis. Ethnically, culturally and linguistically the Meitheis are an organised and consolidated community having distinctive traits of a sub-nation. They can be clearly distinguished from the people living in the hills” [Jyotirmoy Roy, History of Manipur, Calcutta: Eastlight Book House, 1973, p.188]. Before their conversion from their indigenous religion Sanamahi Laining to Hinduism in the 17th century the Meiteis were meat eaters, sacrificed animals and practised headhunting. Today some of them abstain from a few types of meat but they eat fish. Those who abstain from some meat, do not drink alcohol, observe rigid rules against ritual pollution, and revere the cow [Meithei” in The New Encyclopaedia Britannica VoI. VI, Chicago: Encyclopaedia Inc., 1977, p.764]. The Manipuri-Muslims, commonly known as Pangans, are roughly 17 percent of the state’s population. They are believed to have been brought originally from Cachar as prisoners of war by the Meiteis during the reign of King Khagenba (1597-1652) [Gam A Shimray, Op.cit., pp 3,4. Also see Hareshwar Goswami. History of, Op.cit., pp. 289,290]
There seems to have no clear traditions about the origin and migration of the Meiteis to the present site. They have a chronicle claiming Pakhangba to be their first king who ascended the throne of Manipur in 33 A.D. at Imphal Kangla. The chronicle continues till the 14th century [Hareshwar Goswami, History of the People, Op. Cit., p. 235].However, many historians doubt the authenticity of this chronicle. For example, O. Tomba, a noted Meitei scholar, says, ‘this is a concocted history because the Meiteis did not settle in Manipur before the fourteenth century’ His claim has the support of geological excavations which suggest that the entire Manipur Valley was under water till about 500 years ago. Over the years, this large wetland shrank to the present Loktak Lake due to siltation and geological uplift [O. Tomba, A Need to Rewrite Manipuri History, Imphal: Author, 1993, pp.2, 3]. Prof. Jyotirmoy Roy says that though the sea receded from that area, the valley portion of Manipur remained under water for a long time [J. Roy, History of Manipur, 1973 edn. , New Delhi: Author, 1973, p. 3].
2. The Nagas: According to oral tradition and some written records the hill tribes of Manipur were the first to come to Manipur. T. C. Hodson opined that the tribes, especially the Tangkhuls, had settled in the areas they now occupy at an early date, when the Meiteis, now their masters, were untouched by the finer arts of life [T. C. Hodson, The Naga Tribes of Manipur, op.cit., pp. 3, 4]. When the hill tribes migrated to this valley, they found it unfit for habitation because it was under water and was infested with mosquitoes. This discussion suggests that the Meiteis came later than the hill tribes did but developed themselves rapidly due to their topographical location. The Naga Tribes of Manipur have in many ways ethnic and cultural affinity with the people of Nagaland. The Kuki-Chin tribes of Manipur have affinity with the Chins of Burma (Myanmar) and the Mizos of Mizoram [Rev. R. R. Lolly, The Baptist Church in Manipur, A Historical Survey of the Mission Strategies and Development of the Baptist Church in Manipur North East India, 1894-1983, Imphal: Mrs. R. Khathingla Lolly, 1985, pp. 5, 6. Also, see T. C. Hodson, The Naga Tribes.Op.cit., 26]. While the majority Meiteis have been converted to Hinduism, a majority of the tribal people have converted to Christianity from their traditional religion, commonly known as Animism.
III. Merger of Naga Territory with Manipur: Fairly reliable records exist of the alternating relationship of hostility and friendship between the independent Naga village-states and the Meitei Maharaja. According to the Royal Chronicles of the Meiteis, in 1717-18, the Raja Garib Nawaz welcomed all the Naga chiefs and established friendship with them. The Raja entertained the Naga chiefs with good feasts and wine, and requested them to help him to attack Samjok. In 1758-59, when Burmese troops attacked Manipur and took possession of the Manipuri palace, the Manipuris fled to the Naga villages for protection, returning to their original homes after the Burmese left the country [Issues Relating to the Territorial Integrity of Manipur- A Naga Perspective, np. United Naga Council Working Group, 2002, p. 18]. It is probable that there was much interaction between the valley dwellers and the hill dwellers for centuries.
With the coming of the British, the contact between the Nagas and Meiteis intensified. In 1819, the Burmese invaded Manipur and occupied it for seven years and committed severe atrocities. The British extended help to the Meiteis and drove out the Burmese. Gambhir Singh was made the independent ruler of Manipur [Manipur Fact File 2001, Imphal: All Manipur College Teachers’ Association, 2nd edn. Aug.2001), pp. 36,37]. With the combined forces of Raja Gambhir Singh of Manipur, by 1832 the British began to intrude into the Naga territory. The Raja of Manipur gave safe passage to the British to go to Burma. In return, the British not only tolerated Raja Gambhir Singh but also assisted him with weaponry to annex a large area inhabited by the Nagas. That appears to be the starting point of a more systematic subjugation of the Nagas to the Manipuri Kingdom. The process of conquest did not happen all at once. There are many oral stories of how the Meitei Rajas invaded the villages of the Nagas. The last Poumai Naga village to be conquered by the Meitei rulers was Liyai village, probably in the late 1870s. In spite of fierce resistance, the Nagas were defeated by the more advanced and better-armed Meitei troops. In 1891, war broke out between the British and the Meiteis. The Meiteis were defeated and the British took over the whole administration of Manipur. The systematic and complete merger of the Nagas (Southern Nagas) took place after India got Independence in 1947 followed by the subsequent surrendering of Meiteis into Indian Union in 1949 and the formation of Manipur State in 1971.
In conclusion, I would like to make it clear that to suppress the historical truth by any individual or group is unjust and unwise. The unique identity and distinctive culture of each group/nation needs to be acknowledged sufficiently. It is equally important for people/group trying to assert their rights to be cautious enough so that no untoward incident/situation is created. A time has come for all us to think seriously whether to reconstruct our life and society based on the ‘past’ histories or on the experiences of the ‘present’ reality. Which way?