Liangmai and Mt Koubru
Recently Mt Koubru has been claimed by different sections of people as their ancestral land after the Govt. of Manipur vide their office order No. 5/11/2008 (IAC) dated 26th November 2020, declared the site as a protected area under Sub-Section (1) of Sec 4 of the Manipur Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1976. Opinions are regularly published in different local papers claiming their ownership citing that their ancestors have been living in the vicinity of Mt. Koubru since time immemorial. On this matter the Government should deal with meticulous acumen taking into account the historical facts to avoid any adverse outcome in the future.
It is important for all sections of people irrespective of faiths and beliefs, to respect and acknowledge the historical facts and avoid any claims that may escalate communal tension. Therefore, it is necessary for us to look into history. It can aptly be said that Liangmai people have been living in the vicinity of Mt. Koubru since the beginning of human settlement. It was mentioned in Ningthourol Lambuda that King Naothingkhong (663-763 AD) conquered the Magang tribe and captured prisoners like Khunkucha (son of Khunku). Khunkhu is still a Liangmai village today. The Cheitharol Kumpapa recorded many incidents of Meitei invasion of Koubru Hill. In 1404 AD King Punsiba attacked Koireng in the areas of Kouparu (Koubru) in the northern part of Manipur; again in 1652 King Khunchaoba attacked Mahou in the month of Langpan (August/Sept).
Cheitharol Kumpapa also mentioned that King Khakempa in 1598 AD attacked Koireng and Makui. Koireng is not to be mistaken with the present Koireng tribe, it’s the misnomer used by different writers to mean Liangmai tribe, different writers McCulloch, Dr R Brown and TC Hudson etc in their books use the term such as Quoireng, Koireng to mean Liangmai tribe. King Khunjaoba in 1653 AD invaded Makhan, a Liangmai village and captured Achong Kasung, Maichoubou and Chamang, and other prisoners, further it was mentioned that King Garibniwaz invaded Liangmei village of Tokpa and inspected the Nagpram pan, further Gazetteer of Manipur 1886 by Captain E.W Dun mentioned Tokpa as one of the subdivisions and King Gambhir Singh invaded another Liangmai village Thonglang in 1664. The above mentioned historical events vividly teach us that Liangmai had settled in Koubru hill before any other tribe.
To my amazement, Mt. Koubru and its foothills have now been occupied by different tribes who have begun to claim as their ancestral land. If historical facts are to be taken into account one should clearly acknowledge that their claims are void with no historical evidence. In the year 1972 there were only 27 Kuki villages in and around Mt. Koubru. However, by 2020 the number of villages has sprung up to 94 which in the span of 48 years 67 new villages have been set up in the foothills of Mt. Koubru. Liangmai villages such as:- Makhou, Ngalong, Pengjeng, Tungluang (Tokpok), Lingmai, Chommun Takumluang, Manaipuram, the original settler of the areas were made to vacate their village due to aggressive land grabbing policy of other tribes. Only a few number of Liangmai villages are able to withstand it till today. Many Liangmais were forced to leave their villages in the vicinity of Mt. Koubru and few of the Liangmai villages which were abandoned due to aggressive policy of other tribes are:-
1. Makhou also known as Mahou
2. Ngalong (old Takou) now renamed as Mouhing
3. Pengjeng now occupied by Kuki and Nepali
4. Tungluang also known as Tokpa now occupied by Bungmol
5. Lingmai near Tulibari Kangpokpi
6. Chommun in the southern range of Mt Koubru
7. Takumluang now abandoned
8. Manaipuram presently occupied by Kharam Vaiphei
Mt. Koubru has played an important role in supplementing resources of the kings of Manipur in ancient time; Cheitharol Kumpapa has shed some light that different Kings of Manipur collected timber from Mt Koubru to construct their Palace and to make boats and even today the people of Makhan (Liangmai village) still acknowledge that there is a place in their village where Meitei Kings used to make their boat. Apart from supplementing natural resources to the Meitei and to the people in the vicinity of Koubru range, religiously it plays an important significance to the people. The Liangmai prior to their conversion to Christianity performed rituals with white cloths, and white fowls and rice beer to appease Koubru-Ra (Koubru God), as they believed that by such rituals Koubru-ra will grant them good rainfall, fertility to their agriculture land. It was also still narrated that Koubru deity married a Liangmai maiden name Wiranliu from Makhan village and some Meiteis till today make yearly rituals to appease the Koubru deity as to protect the land against sickness and death entering the State, in their Lai-haraoba they usually use white cloths along with tribal dress to appease the Koubru God. Mt. Koubru was thus considered religious/sacred sites to the Liangmai tribe as much as to the Meitiei. McCulloch (1859) wrote “when a snake of great size appeared in the presence of the king the displeasure of the God was indicated; a snake of smaller size indicated that he was pleased.” King Pakhangba who ruled Manipur for 120 years is believed to appear in the form of snake. Hodson 1910, wrote about Pakhangba appearing to men in the form of snake. Also the snake symbol appears in many guises, the coiled snake on the royal flag, the same pattern called Lainen Mathek is adopted as dance move use during Lai-haraoba. It is seen that snake is being given religious important by Meitei likewise the mythical/stories of Liangmai Naga still being circulated among the people about the spiritual warfare between two Gods Puichamiu and Koubou which always resulted in natural catastrophes, the resulting deaths of small creature like lizard, reptiles implied that Gods of Koubru is defeated just as the opposite if it resulted in the death of small birds. (Excerpt from interview with Z. Madenbou, Retd Headmaster).
The Liangmai still consider it a taboo to kill a snake/python in the vicinity of Mt. Koubru as it angers the Koubru Gods and brings natural catastrophes such as storms, landslide. Thus it is evident from the mythical point of view that Mt Koubru is considered a sacred place to the Liangmai and many places in the vicinity of Koubru Peak are forbidden as it believed that they are frequently used by Koubru Gods as their playground, for merry making and so on. However such important aspect of religious beliefs seems to have vanished with the coming of different tribes which give no importance to this sacred place.
Liangmai even though are the original settlers are being neglected, and attempts have been made on many instances to overlook and sideline the authentic historical bearing of the Liangmai Naga people who are the original inhabitants of the area. Such attempts by the Government or any organizations will just harbor and escalate undesirable discontentment and ethnic misgivings amongst the communities. Therefore it is important on the part of the Government to consider every possible step to bring all the communities on one platform before it’s too late. Furthermore, the steps taken up by the Government to preserve Mt. Koubru and its vicinity is very encouraging and should be supported by every community.
The writer is a freelance writer and based in Mumbai