Cultural relation among the ethnic groups of Manipur

Dr Budha Kamei
Manipur, once an Asiatic Kingdom is located at the extreme northeastern corner of India. Manipur literally means the city or the land of gems. In the past, she was known by different local names such as Kangleipak, Poireipak and Meitrabak. But, the term ‘Manipur’ was first officially introduced during the reign of Garibniwaz also known as Pamheiba (1707-48). These local names seem 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. Once, it extended its territories to Kabaw Valley, now in upper Myanmar (Burma).
Manipur was not at all an isolated country in the past. She is the gateway between India and Southeast Asia. It is a great historical phenomenon in all over the world that Human migration from one place to another. Similarly, the migration of peoples into the small hilly state from the pre-historical times down to the present takes place. Manipur with a beautiful oval valley in the middle and surrounding hills attracted various peoples for trade, wealth and glory. No doubt, the ethnic groups of Manipur today are the descendants of those migrating peoples. They had contributed to the growth of the civilization in this state.
Despite the outer ethnic diversity, there are elements of affinity. Racially and linguistically, the valley Meiteis and the ethnic groups dwelling in the surrounding hills belong to Tibeto-Burman family. They speak different linguistic sub-group of the Tibeto-Burman family. Scholars of linguistic and anthropology have found and established the root of the Tibeto-Burman family. Among the ethnic groups, the valley Meiteis are more advance than the rest. They had the sense of history as they have script and recorded the events of the past in systematic way. They have developed literature; and it was recognized as one of the Major Indian Languages (MIL) and included in the 8th Scheduled of the Indian Constitution as a regional language. In language, there are affinities in the roots of the Meitei, and tribal languages. Because of the common origin of Tibeto-Burman family who migrated from somewhere Southwest China and upper Burma to the state of Manipur, there is also ethnic affinity among these communities of Manipur.
Manipur has its long history. In the course of their long history, there developed close cultural connection between the Meiteis and the hill tribes like Tanghuls, Kabuis, Anals etc. The folklore (myths and legends) prevailing in the hills and valley speak about the close contact between the hill tribes and the valley Meiteis; and it also tells their close get in touch with the kings. It is well known fact that there are ethnic and cultural relation between the Meiteis and Tangkhuls. The Tangkhul-Meitei tradition of origin from Khangkhui cave and the migration of the Meitei (younger brother of the Tangkhul) in the valley and presentation of Leirumphi is a popular tradition. The tradition of Nongpok Ningthou-Panthoibi and Tangkhul Saba in the Lai Haraoba festival is the living proof of the ancient bond between the Meiteis and Tangkhuls. The tradition of Kabui Salang Maiba of Ningthi village in the Khamba-Thoibi epic is supported by history. The relation between the Moirang principality with the Kabui, and Anals are all recorded facts. The intermarriage between the Meitei culture heroes (who were deified into gods) preserved in the tradition of marriage between Soraren of Koubru and a girl Harok Konthou tribe (now identified as Konthoujam Lairenma), Wangbren a Meitei God of Sugnu with an Anal girl of Anal Khullen village is indicative of the close connection.  In addition to the close cultural links the ethnic groups are bound by economic interdependence. The hill tribes came down to the valley for exchange of goods from the Meitei traders. They traded in the item of goods such as plantain leaves, cotton, cane, bamboo products, spear, clothes etc. The Khonjais obtained the crude gun powder from the Meitei traders. In turn the Meitei got it from the Chinese merchants who visited the state during the reign of Khagemba in 1630. The inhabitants of both the valley and the hills could freely exchange various goods according to their mutual agreement based on the needs and products without any restriction.  And this barter trade created a close social relationship.
After observing the above facts we can conclude that there is close relation between the hills and valley people. Therefore, it is necessary to include the tradition and cultural relation in the curriculum of the state so that the young people study and have familiar with it. The writer can be reached at [email protected]