A brief note on Manipur and the Lushai Expedition, 1871-72

Prof N Lokendra Singh
Continued from previous issue
During the absence of the troops at Chibu, the Kamhows “threw two forces across the frontier to attack the Looshais, against Lalboorah’s clan in the south and Boomhang’s clan in the north”. On 13 February 1872, “373 Sooti or Sooktie refugees (with 18 muskets) from Poiboi’s northern villages” arrived at Lultubboong camp. The next day, 392 Koongjai Kookee who escaped from Poiboi’s northern villages were also brought to the Camp. On 20 February 1872, the Maharaja himself arrived at Moirang at the head of sufficient forces and proceeded the next day to Lultubboong and then to Koongshangkool. On 27 February 1872, Chibu Camp was re-occupied. On 1 March 1872, a letter from Brig-Gen. Bourchier was received informing that “the expedition had been brought to a conclusion, and he no longer required the services of the Contingent”. The Manipur’s column was then withdrawn from Chibu to Situl Subhum, a depot 9 miles north-west of Chibu, on 6 March 1872. On the morning of 7 March 1872, a large group of people (962 persons – 302 men, 311 women, and 349 children) under the escort of chief Kokatung party was passing near the camp. They were invited into the camp where a conference was held with the two Majors. Nuthall remarked:
“The Majors were determined at all hazards to disarm and capture the force. With this end, they got the chiefs into familiar conversation, handed them a percussion musket to try, and asked to try theirs, and having by this means discharged the three muskets of the three Chiefs at once had them seized, whereupon Kokatung putting his forefingers in his mouth gave a whistle and his whole force stood to arms. A momentary struggle ensued, in which his force was overpowered, and besides the three Chiefs fifty-three of their followers were made prisoners, and fifty-four muskets taken. Four of the Contingent were wounded”.    
Nuthall wrote to Maharaj Chandrakirti Singh on 16 April 1872, saying that he had “the good fortune to intercept a force of Kamhow’s carrying off to their hills 962 of the inhabitants of Looshai villages, which they had completely devastated”.
II.    Controversy over Kokatung’s imprisonment
The arrest of Kokatung (Goukhothang) and his men sparked a good deal of controversy among the British officers who were involved in the operations. It centres on two points: first, the authority of Maj-Gen. Nuthall; second, the relationship between Manipur and the Kamhows. While Nuthall justified his position at Chebu as a strategic point to secure the fidelity of the Kamhows in the ongoing operations, the Cachar officers felt that he had not obeyed order to encamp at Tseklapi, the southern frontier post. This conflict of authority led them to defend their own position that centre on the arrest of Kokatung. Nuthall defended the arrest of Kokatung and his party at Chibu although he was not there at the time of arrest. He argued that since the 1830s the relationship between Manipur and Kamhows was hostile, citing the cases of raids on Manipur’s territory till about 1871 and on the Lushai villages during the Expedition.
This justification was repudiated by the Cachar Officers, arguing that Kamhows (Suktes) were in good terms with Manipur before and during the Expedition and hence the arrest was “an act of treachery”. The fact that Kokatung entered the Chibu Camp with a friendly gesture, argued J.W. Edgar, the Political Officer of Lushai Expedition, was a proof of peaceful relationship that existed between them at that time. Alexander Mackenzie (1884) later tried to bring all the facts together and explained that the question of whether the Suktes (Kamhows) were at this time in good terms with Manipur was “a disputed one”. He was later joined by B.S. Carey & H.N. Tuck who, after collecting information from those Chins who were among those arrested at Chibu, presented their view, saying that the chief and his party were “treacherously seized’.
We like to bring these official narratives in brief here for the readers.
1.    Account of Mr. J.W. Edgar, the Political Officer, Cachar Column
[Source: NAI, FP, August 1872, No. 95: Edgar to Bourchier, 21 March 1872].
Mr. J.W. Edgar, the Political Officer, Cachar Column of the Lushai Expeditionary Force, informed that the bone of contention between Lushais and Suktes at this time was the “detention” of several villagers of “Sotes or Pytes” by the former in Vonolel’s country and that these Suktes now “took advantage of the presence of our force and the disorganization of the Looshai villages to escape to their own country”. Hence, on the 3 March 1872 “about one hundred armed men from Kamhow’s villages” had come to the Looshai villages “for the purpose of protecting the Sotes who wished to leave”. On the 5 March 1873, Edgar was informed by Durpong that “nearly one thousand Sotes had gone off to Kamhow under the protection of the armed party sent by the latter, and that they had taken with them all their property”. Edgar said that “these were the people who appeared two days later at the Munnipoorie camp”. He went on reporting that “Kamhow has acted as the ally of Munnipoor all through the campaign, and that the Munnipoories have never expressed the slightest doubt of his fidelity”. He described the incident at Chibu as:
“The armed men of Kokatung’s party were outnumbered by the Munnipoories in the proportion of at least three to one, probably much more. They evidently went into the midst of the camp in perfect reliance on the friendliness of the Munnipoories, for, as the result showed, they put within reach of the latter the women and children as well as the property of the refugees. Their suspicions were not even aroused when the Munnipoories officer fired off the muskets of the Chiefs and when each armed man was surrounded by a group of three sepoys. I do not believe that the Sotes had the slightest intention of attacking the Munnipoorie camp. The charge was, in all probability, afterwards invented by the Majors to excuse their own conduct”.
2.    Account of Alexander Mackenzie
[Source: The North East Frontier of India, 1894, pp. 165-71].
Mackenzie in his book brought together all facts into account and concluded: “The question whether, up to this time, the Sooties [Kamhows] were really friendly or hostile to Manipur, was therefore a disputed one”. He said this because he found that there were 7 Kamhow raids between 1857 and 1871 and two during the Lushai Expeditions which the latter had repudiated the later raids before 1872 was done without his authority. On the other hand, he found that at the beginning of 1871 the Kamhows sent 4 heads to Manipur after their successful raid on the Lushai country which Mackenzie said as an evidence that “they were not then openly hostile to Manipur”. When Kamhows were asked to assist the expedition at the end of 1871 by the Maharaja of Manipur, the Chief sent a deputation to Manipur and informed him that he cannot leave his country due to fear of attack from the Lushais but given his “friendly assurances.”  To be continued
Prof N Lokendra Singh is Head of Department of History, Manipur University  (to be continued)