A brief note on Manipur and the Lushai Expedition, 1871-72
Prof N Lokendra Singh
Continued from previous issue
Mackenzie went on saying: “When the Manipur troops were returning after the conclusion of the expedition they fell in with a party of Kamhows under the Chief named Kokatung, who were carrying away 957 captives from two Lushai villages. The Kamhows came into the camp of the Manipur Contingent apparently not expecting to be treated as enemies, but were all made prisoners by the Contingent and taken to Manipur and placed in irons in the jail. The 957 captives were also taken to Manipur, but not as prisoners; they were settled in the valley. General Bourchier stigmatized this as an act of “treachery” on the part of the Contingent, though it had been admitted that Kokatung had committed a raid on a Manipur village in 1871".
He went on saying that Kamhows were anxious for the release of prisoners and sent embassy to Manipur in April which was denied. It was after the return of this embassy that Kokatung died in the prison. In August 1872, the Political Agent heard that Manipur was intending to attack the Kamhows and the latter on the other hand “had given out that they would require 100 human heads to perform the funeral obsequies of the late Chief”. The British government was averse to any war. In October 1872, the Kamhows sent another embassy who came with four captives and elephant tusks. The officiating Political Agent, Col. Mowbray Thomson “endeavoured to effect a reconciliation between the Manipur and Sooties”. He was eventually successful, for in December 1872, the deputation returned with 26 captives, which was exchanged with similar numbers of prisoners.
The following month another 14 captives were brought where further exchange was affected. Mackenzie went on saying:
On this occasion, Colonel Thomson proposed that the tribe should swear allegiance and fealty to Manipur, to which Kikoul agreed, and said they wanted peace with Manipur, but stipulated that the son of their late Chief, Kokatung, should be released, and the skull and bones of his dead father made over to them. This request was complied with by the Manipur authorities, and March 1873 peace was sworn between Kokatung’s son and Manipur, and the whole of the Kamhows released then their departure for their Native hills. (p. 168)
Mackenzie went on saying that “the peace thus brought about did not last long”. In October 1874, the Kamhows attacked two villages of Kumsol and Mukoong to the south of the valley. In February 1875, Manipur sent an expedition against the Kamhows but it was “not much felt by them”. So from 1876 “they seemed to be becoming more aggressive and arrogant than before”. So, he went on narrating a series of raids thereafter.
3. Account of B.S. Carey and H.N. Tuck
(Source: The Chin Hills, Vol. 1, 1895, p. 19, fn. 1)
Carey and Tuck discuss the case of Kokatung arrest at Chibu and provided the version of the Chins on the subject.
“The following is the Chin version, which we have received from Kokatung’s sons and the man named Kikoul (who recovered Kokatung’s bones) and from persons who were arrested at the Chibu Camp by the Manipuris”.
“Kokatung’s correct name was Nokatung; he was a Nwite and not Kanhow, and he lived at Mwelpi… During the Lushai expedition Nokatung, who had gone north, fearing for the safety of his relations, crossed into Lushai and persuaded the emigrants to return with him to settle down in his village. On their way to Mwelpi they saw the Manipur encampment, and, considering the Manipuris as friends, they entered the camp and were treacherously seized and carried off to Manipur, where Nokatung died in jail in 1872".
We have seen the different accounts of Manipur’s column in the Lushai Expedition and the events that follow. It is evident from those accounts that the Manipur’s column was encamped at the Chibu salt-spring and from here took control of its frontier as had been expected. It was here that memorial stones were erected and inscription endowed in the name of the Maharaja as was the usual practice during that time. The recent public discourse had questioned the lines written on the stones as false and exaggeration. It should be remembered that judging the past events and writings from today’s point of view would be a mistake we had often done than not. It is felt that the past should be understood from its own context so is the inscription they laid down.
Here, we have had a precolonial state system which had their own way of doing things and an understanding of the kingdom, territory and population which differed much from what we know of the same today. Erection of memorial stone was one such state activity to mark an important event. It could be done only with the permission of the king and can only be done in his name. Such stones were erected in a certain courtly fashion that naturally praised the king and his achievements in a highly stylized fashion. The language has to be panegyric in character. The terms like loichanbaa or loichalakpa (translated as, “subjection”, “subdue”, “submit”, etc.,) are the usual courtly language that needs to be understood from that context only, not otherwise.
Given all circumstances into perspective, one may look into the whole episodes at Chibu in the context of the Manipur-Lushai Treaty of 1872 that centre on “mutual friendship”. We suggest that this aspect needs to be emphasized by all rather than banking on the controversy and egoism that corrupted the colonial officers. In the spirit of “mutual friendship” which had concluded the expedition, the present government, which is now creating a Park in the name of the king, may also take steps to heal the hurt feeling meted to Kokatung’s clan/tribe. Such a healing touch may work a long way in ensuring peace and prosperity in the state.
Prof N Lokendra Singh is Head of Department of History, Manipur University