Inclusivity of Meitei society and arrival of Thadou Kukis-Part 1

LB Singh
The Meiteis believed in their proverb “Puminaba yangbani and chaminaba haobani” meaning “We share the load, it becomes lighter and we share the food, it makes it testier” and welcomed many immigrants in the erstwhile Kingdom. The king provided land free of cost and in some cases, they were allowed to marry Manipuri women and settle in the Kingdom.
The aim of this article is to bring out the facts about the inclusivity of Meitei society and the arrival of Thadou Kukis in Manipur. Historical records, reports of individuals, views of experts on the migration of Thadou Kukis, and various factors have been logically analysed to establish the arrival of the Thadou Kukis in Manipur without any ethnic prejudice.  The origin of the word Kuki, migration of Kukis after 1894 AD and inferences from the myths are beyond the scope of this article.
Migration of Brahmins (Bamon Khunthok) and non-Brahmin Hindus
The Brahmins from Assam, Bengal, Gujarat, Kanpur, Vrindavan etc. migrated to Manipur during the reign of Kyamba (1467-1508 AD). The arrival of the Brahmins enriched the cultural life of the kingdom. They brought the knowledge of Sanskrit and astrology. There were also other, non-Brahmin Hindu migrants and they were employed as royal scribes. The Brahmin and the other migrants married Manipuri women and learnt “Meiteilon”.
The Brahmins were given revenue free land, Brahmangi Lugun Lou and Lai Rou. In 1891, the total of the above land was about 3000 hectares. Their arrival and settlement continued up to the close of the nineteenth century.
Though, the Brahmins formed a separate social group outside the Meitei society and they became very good citizens of Manipur [History of Manipur Pre-colonial Period, Gangmumei Kamei-2015, hereafter (Gangmumei, p234-5)].
Migration of Panghals (Manipuri Muslims)
In 1606 AD, during the reign of King Khagemba, the king of Cachar with the assistance of the Muslims invaded Manipur on the request of the rebellious younger brother of the king, Sanongba. The invading forces were defeated and Sanongba was captured. 1007 Muslims and Bishnupriyas were taken as prisoners. The prisoners included weavers, potters, blacksmiths, goldsmiths, stone artisans, brass makers etc.
The Muslim prisoners were given land free of cost by the king and they were allowed to pursue their religion. They married Manipuri women and constituted a useful community in the kingdom (Gangmumei, p251-2). The Meiteis regarded the Panghals as their blood related brother.
Migration of Gurkha/Nepali
In 1825 AD, Maharaja Gumbir Singh, recruited Gurkha from Sylhet and included in the Manipur Levy. In 1880 and 1891 AD, East India Company moved many more Gurkha soldiers into the kingdom. In 1917, Darang Military police was converted to 4th Assam Rifles. After retirement, many of these Gurkha soldiers settled in Manipur.
In addition, other Gurkhas also migrated to Manipur for farming and cattle rearing. The population of Gurkha in Manipur was 63,756 as per 2011 census. The majority of the Gurkhas are settled in the Senapati and the Kangpokpi district; and some in the Imphal West/East and other districts. The Gurkhas of Manipur are loyal to the State; and Subedar Niranjan Singh Chhetri sacrificed his life in 1891 AD to protect the freedom of the kingdom.
Migrants Respected
The people of Manipur have always treated the migrants with respect as their own brothers. Therefore, the people who were migrants at a particular time enjoy the same status and they are respected for their loyalty to the kingdom/State. The descendants of all the above people have greatly contributed to the development of the State.
One of the best examples of immigrants in this country is the Parsis. They migrated to India between 8th and 10th century and their population as per 2011 census was only 57,264.
 However, they have contributed immensely in every field to the development of the country. Some of the famous Parsis are JRD Tata, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, Dr Homi Bhaba, Godrej, Ratan Tata etc. Though the Parsis were immigrants to the country at a time, the community is very highly respected by the people of the country.
More than the glory of the past history, the Meiteis are proud of their inclusive society, which treated all immigrants irrespective of the religions as brothers. Unlike some tribes in Manipur, the Meitei custom does not prevent anyone from selling land to the people of the other villages. However, the Meiteis regretted the mistake of treating Nagas, Kukis and Panghals as untouchable in the past by some orthodox Hindus Meiteis due to blind faith in the religion.
Historical Records
Some Kuki tribes migrated to Manipur in the pre-historic times along with or after the Meitei. Greater migration occurred in the 18th century onwards due to the great Kuki exodus which affected the demographic landscape of the hills of Manipur and adjoining areas (Gangmumei, p27).
During the time of Political Agent, W McCulloch (1844-1862, 1863-1867), a large number of New Kukis had migrated to Manipur. The king was not able to give attention and sought co-operation of McCulloch. He settled the Kukis in suitable areas, mostly on the exposed frontier and gave large sums of money from his own pocket; and put some of them at the service of the State.
Thus within a short time thousands of Kukis were settled down in different parts of the State. It was a great contribution of McCulloch to the security of Manipur (Joykumar Singh: History of Modern Manipur Edited by Lal Dena, p34).
According to Lt Colonel J Shakespeare (1912), the Thadou and kin group Simte, Paite, Zou, and Hmar came to Manipur during the 18th and 19th century from Mizo and Chin Hills. They were termed as New Kukis and the Kukis who were in Manipur before that time were termed as Old Kukis (Geography of Manipur, Dr. Th Nabakumar Singh, p186).
Zenith and Decline of the Kingdom of Manipur
All the tribal villages in the hill districts of Manipur came under the Meitei King during the reign of Garibaniwaza (1709-1748 AD).
The tribal villages along the routes to Kabaw valley; the Kaihlam range in the South, the Ngaprum Chingjin routes etc. were closely controlled. Garibaniwaza even defeated the coordinated and simultaneous invasions by the Burmese from the Southeastern and the Tripuris from the South-West in 1723 AD (Gangmumei, p292).
From the conquest of Moirang in 1432 to 1748 AD, the history of Manipur described raids and the conquest of all the Naga and Khongjai tribes of Manipur. However, no record of raids or conflicts or conquests of any of the Thadou villages is found in the history of the above period.

(To be contd)