It is an obvious fact that if ignorance and prejudice rules in the minds of two neighbors living next to one another, there can never be good neighborly relationship between the two. Tragically, I think this is the Naga mindset in relationship to most of her neighbors in the North East. The same however may also be true about our neighbors in relation to us. One major reason for this tragic state of affairs is primarily because of India’s divide and rule policy to keep us divided and at one another’s throats so that she can quietly go on exploiting and sucking away our mineral wealth from underneath our feet. India has done this very effectively by keeping us ignorant of our own histories while subtly permeating our minds and memories with Indian history that, in the first place, has nothing to do with us. After all, neither Akbar nor Ashoka were North Eastern Mongolian Kings to whom we owe any allegiance or historical fidelity. Neither were the Mauryan or Mughal
dynasties of India part of our history in any sense. But we were made to study these foreign histories as our own history right from our primary schools all across our college and university studies. That being the case with most of us, for all these years, we have been living as neighbors with very little historical knowledge about one another.
It is therefore in the light of this tragic state of affairs that I wish to give a brief historical treatise about Naga Manipur histories.
Space and readers time, will not permit me to give a detailed historical account. What is presented here is just an outline focusing on some major events that have shaped our histories from the ancient past to the present.
Ancient Naga and Manipur histories:
1. Naga history:
The Nagas, Kachins and Karens are considered as blood brothers who came in the same migratory wave from Southern China during the building of the Great Wall of China (403-221BC). Their forefathers probably ran away from the forced labor that was used for building the wall. The Chinese have a word for the Nagas which means “The runaway people.” Before these events, their forefathers along with the Kachins and Karens migrated from Mongolia along with the other Mongolian Asian races in 2617 BC and entered the Yunan Province of China in 1385 BC.
This was after their migration across Turkistan and Tibet. Nagas do not posses any written historical records about these events but are connected to this historical events through their oral traditions and legends which are corroborated by written documents of their neighbors who had learned the art of writing long before them.( The Karen history by Saw Aung Hla; The Royal Karens of Burma by D.M. Smeatom MA; The Travels of Marco Polo by John Measefield etc.)
The next mention of the Nagas inhabiting their present lands was done by the Greek traveler Claudius Ptolemy when, in reference to Indian historical records, he mentions the Nagas as “Nagalog” in AD150. The Nagas were mentioned again in some detail by the Chinese traveler Huan Tsang when he visited the Varman Dynasty in Assam in 645AD.(For details see “The Naga Saga” pp4&5). To cut a long story short, by 1228 they were fighting fierce battles with King Sukapa’s Ahom army as they fought their way across the Patkai range of Nagaland to settle down in their present settlements in Assam. In their cheaquered history of
neighborhood with the Ahoms of Assam, the Nagas fought with this kingdom for nearly seven hundred intermittent years without surrendering one single Naga village to Ahom suzerainty (1228- to the end of the 19th century).. As for their neighborly relationship with their other neighbors like the Meeteis of Manipur , Tripura and Cachar kingdoms, alas, they were almost all the times at war with these neighbors. These wars were not for territorial gains but because of their headhunting forays into these lands! The coming of the British in the early part of the nineteenth century and especially the Treaty of Yandabo in 1826 was a defining moment in Naga Manipur relationship because the British supplied their now Manipuri subjects with over 3000 muzzle loading guns and demanded a yearly tribute of over Rs 300,000
from the Manipur king to the British Crown. The Manipuri kings freely used this new weaponry for ransacking many Naga villages including Kohima village in 1852.They also perhaps collected some taxes from some Naga villages and gave it to the British as taxes of the Manipur kingdom to the British. Beyond this treacherous coalition between the Manipur King and their British colonizers, there is not one shred of historical evidence to show that the Naga ancestors ever asked any Manipuri king for land to settle down and became Manipuri subjects or British subjects or Indian subjects. On the contrary irrefutable historical reports show that long before the Meeteis settled down in the present Imphal valley, the Nagas were already firmly settled in the mountains and hills of what is presently called the Indian and British
created Nagaland, Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh States and also Burma.
Writing about the Nagas (now put under the Manipur state by the British and Indian colonizers), even as late as the end part of the nineteenth century, Sir Robert Reid the Governor of Assam (1883-1941) wrote: “The state of Manipur consist of a central valley some 700 square miles in area surrounded by 8000 square miles of hills. In the valley there lived 300,000 Manipuris and a few Hillman, while the hills are inhabited by 160,000 Hillman and no Manipuris. The contrast between the almost fanatically strict Hindus of the valley and the beef eating, dog eating tribesmen of the hills cannot be too strongly emphasized. The boundaries of the state does not enclose a cultural unit.” P.B. Pemberton, another British administrator writing in 1827 under the caption, A Singular Race, wrote about the Naga tribes thus: “Various attempts were made by the Rajah of Manipur, Kachar and Tripperah to reduce this savages to a state of vassalage, but uniformly without success. They steadily refused to acknowledge allegiance to either power.”( Varrier Elwin, Nagas in the Nineteenth Century, p42). Sir James Johnstone, Political Officer of Manipur, writing in the 1870’s also wrote: “There was a long boundary dispute between Manipur and the Naga Hills. The boundary has been most arbitrarily settled by us when the survey was carried out, so far as a certain point, beyond that it was vague. Manipur claimed territory which we certainly did not possess, and which she had visited from time to time, but did not actually hold in subjugation.” (Manipur and the Naga Hills, Sir James Johnstone, p93) In the light of these historical facts, on August27, 1948, when some Nagas of Manipur were staging a peaceful procession refusing to pay taxes to the Manipur King and refusing to be a part of Manipur, they were fired upon by the Assam Rifles. On that tragic day, Asusu Heponi, Modo Kholi and Mahrili Lorhu were shot to death and another four were seriously injured.
2. Manipur History.
Some Kangleichas or Meeteis may object to the use of the word Manipur because this Hindu word came to denote the original name of the Meetei kingdom Kangleipak only in the 18th century when the 50th King of Manipur converted his whole kingdom into a Hindu kingdom. The original Meeteis are not Aryans or Dravidians but our own Mongolian race. King Meitingu (Garibaniwaz 1709-1748), who brought about this change of name and religion, was fooled by some Brahmin Hindu Pundits into believing that he was a true descendent of Arjuna of the Mahabarat. The present word Manipur probably came from the name of a place called Mainpuri in Uttar Pradesh which is associated with the Mahabarata.
Some modern historians like O. Tomba assert that the Manipur kingdom came into existence only in the 14th century as the whole Imphal valley was under water for nearly five centuries before that. Other historians like Wangkhemcha Chingtamlen, quoting the Cheitharol Kumbaba, comes up with Kangleicha kings dating as far back as 33 AD. If one were to accept Wankhemcha list of Manipur kings; from the first Meetei King Pakhangba (33-154AD) to Bodchandra Singh (1941-1955AD) there were 76 kings who had ruled Manipur. Whatever the case may be, the Manipur kingdom has a great history behind it and were probably one of the first Mongolian nations in the North Eastern sector of the south Asian regions to develop the art of writing. Their original script called Meeteilon/Meeteiron had only 18 alphabets. They were also quite advanced in mathematics and astrology from a very early period as compared to other neighboring nations. They were also great horseman and the Polo game has its origin in Manipur or rather Kangleipak. Their original religion which is called Sanamahi also resembles many Christian beliefs like man being created in the image of God.
During the height of their history, some of their Kings (eg. Rajah Pamheiba) had marched even to the borders of the Ava(Burmese) Kingdom. Also, the whole of Kabaw(Kubo) valley was once under their suzerainty. In their cheaquered history, they were also attacked by the Chinese in 1250 and the Burmese in 1819. They were very badly defeated in this Burmese attack and sought shelter and help from the many Naga tribes of the surrounding hills.
The present Manipuris of today are a mixed lot. This was because, though the Meetai Kings soundly defeated three determined attacks on their kingdom by Low caste Hindus and even Muslims in the 14, 16, and the17th centuries, their Kings granted amnesty to these defeated foes and instead absorbed them into Meetei society by giving them Meetei wives. These absorbed peoples are the Bishnupriyas and the Pangans.
Most of them are of Bengal origin but have become Meeteis through intermarriage and adoption of Meetei culture. These combined Manipuris as they are known today, merged with the Indian Union in 1947. As for the rest of the Nagas who were, against their wishes, dissected into the British and Indian created Manipur state, they have been fighting for their sovereignty and independence along with the rest of the Nagas in Nagaland, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Burma for the past six decades .
-Kaka D. Iralu
June 1, 2010