The Kukis under contemporary political scenario

Published on August 17, 2004

By Dr. T.S. Gangte

August 18, 2004


McCulloch (1857:56-57 Valley of Manipur) said that inhabitants of the hills surrounding the valley of Manipur are known in the west.

“… under the general appellations of Naga and Kukis, that in Manipur, the Manipuris use the term ‘HAU’, to embrace that all, and that the term ‘Khongjai’ is used to denote the KUKIS”.

Similarly, Shakespeare, J., Lt. Colonel (1912: Introduction, The Lushai Kuki Clans, Part I) said,

“ the term’KUKI’, like Naga, Chin, Shendu and many others, … has come to have a fairly definite meaning, and we now understand by it certain closely allied clans with well marked characteristic, belonging to the Tibeto-Burman stock. On the Chittagong border the is loosely applied to most of the inhabitants of the interior hills beyond the Chittagong Hill Tracks’ in Cachar it generally means some family of  the Thado or Khawtlang clan, locally distinguished as New and Old Kukis. In the Lushai Hills, now aday the term is hardly ever employed, having been superseded by Lushai. In the Chin Hills and generally on the Burma border all these clans are called Chin”.


The traditional political life of the Kukis as a separate institution cannot be studies in isolation. The institution is closely intertwined with other institutions, such as, social, religious, economics, etc., they appear over lapping with one another, and one may be tempted to drew a conclusion that there is no political institution among the Kukis. As it is true in all tribal societies, political system among the Kukis is based on kinship structure, that it revolves round the concept of Chieftainship and that of territorial jurisdiction over which its authority is wielded, and that the village is the highest political unit.

(a). Chieftainship:

Each clan has a hierarchical order of Chieftainship with the senior most lineal Chief as head of the Chiefs among a particular clan. Based on such Chieftainship hierarchy, each clan being constituent unit, the political institution, the institution of Chieftainship occupies a very important role to play.

Chieftainship among the Kukis is acassociated with the ‘Upa’ or ‘senior man’. The term ‘Upa’ is conferred on a person by way of reverence, and a great deal of veneration is attached to it. ‘Upa’ are the only persons who can become Chiefs. Thus, Chiefs are synonymous with ‘Upa’’ and the office of Chieftainship is called ‘Haosa’ which is hereditary, passing from father to youngest son, called, ‘Naopa’ who cannot become ‘Haosa’ without permission.

Village is the highest political unit, and the office of ‘Haosa’ or Chieftainship’ which is being assisted by a Council of Ministers called’Semang-Upa’ or ‘Semang-Pachong’ members of which are nominated by ‘Haosa’, functioning as the prime administrative machinery within the village jurisdiction welding its political authority and prerogatives over the villagers in absolute terms, is the supreme political power.

The institution of ‘Haosa’ or Chieftainship is indeed very firmly entrenched among the Kukis. Notwithstanding the inherent defects associated with the ‘Haosa’ system which the Kukis cannot do away with, there is some merit also to set-off the evils in it.

(b). Chieftainship in action:

The ‘ Haosa’ system as an indispensable political institution among the Kukis has come to stay as a perennial source of custom and tradition, in that, in spite of the onslaught of modernism and advancement in all walks of life, they are able to inherit a rich cultural and traditional heritage. The Haosa system, be it on matters relating to economical, political religious, judiciary, etc., has its power bases on the proper interpretation of the customary law and enforcement of culture and tradition through the ‘Haosa’.

It should be understood that the ‘Haosa’ are not without internal dissensions which are at times surfaced in serious inter-clan rivalries. Tension and hostility often dominate in place of peace and tranquility in their internal relationships. However, in times of external attack they bury their hatchet and stand united to fight their common enemy, mainly in expression of their kinship solidarity, loyalty and identification as could be seen during the Anglo-Kuki War, 1917-19.

The Kuki Chiefs resisted the expansionist colonial design of the British imperialist regime when the Maharaja of Manipur extended assistance without prior consultation with the Kuki Chiefs as was the usual convention. The necessity of fighting the British openly arose when the Kuki Chiefs refused to assist the British during the First World War in their War efforts.

Despite their scattered nature of living, the British authorities were surprised to find how the Kuki Chiefs could mobilize so swiftly their strength and unity at a very short notice to face a far superior power of the British Empire. At long last, the British Officer, Mr. Higgins., J.C., acts as political Agent, Manipur and also as political Officer in-charge of the Anglo-Kuki War from the civil administration to co-ordinate with the British Army during the military operation against Kukis as part if the World War.

I regretted to have not understood the underlying strength of Kuki Chiefs. He came to know that their strength was hidden under the cover of their age-old tradition of ‘Sajam-Lhah’, ‘Hansa-Neh’ and that of the ‘Thingkho-Malcha-pom-tawl’ culture heralding declaration of ‘War’ against enemy, by killing ‘Mithun’ in token expression of decision to be at war, distributing pieces of the flesh of the animal thus killed for the purpose to each and every village Chief. He apologized for the mistake he had committed to underestimate the ability of the Kuki Chiefs to united, and could, at last, observe that the reason behind the solidarity of the Kuki Chiefs was kinship ties that bound them together through their age-old cultural and tradition.

On the same spirit, the Kuki Chiefs took part in the freedom struggle of Indian people to free themselves from the yoke of the British imperialism during the World War II under the leadership of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. The Government of India, after attaining Indian independence, awarded ‘Tamra Patra’ to more then 300 Kuki veteran freedom fighters under Indian National Army (INA). The Kukis were the highest number of recipient community of the award in the North-East Region of India.


The territorial boundary of the Kukis extended from the Naga Hills in the North down into the Sandaway district of Burma in the South; from the Myittha River in the east, almost up by hills and mountain ridges, separated by deep valleys.

Geographical Note:

Dr. Grierson described Kuki country in 1904 as “ … A great chain of mountains suddenly rises from the plains of Eastern Bengal, about 220 miles north of Calcutta, and stretches eastward in a broadening mass of spurs and ridges, called successively the Garo, Khasi, and Naga Hills. The elevation of the highest points increases towards the east, from about 3,000 feet in the  Garo Hills to 8,000 and 9,000 in region of Manipur.

“This chain merges in the east, into the spurs which the Himalayas shoot out from the north of Assam towards, enclosing the alluvial valley of Manipur and thence spreads out westwards to the south of Sylhet. It then runs almost due north and south, with criss-ridges of smaller elevation, through the district known as the Chin Hills, the Lushai Hills, Hill Tipperah, and the Chittagong Hill Tracks, and the Arakan Yuma, until it finally sinks into the sea of Cape Negrais, the total length of the range being some seven hundred miles”.

“ the greatest elevation is found to the north of Manipur. Thence it gradually diminished towards the south. Where the ridges enter the north of Arakan it again raises. With summits upwards of 8,000 feet high, and from a mass of spurs is thrown off in all directions. Towards the south the western off-shoots diminish in length, leaving a track of alluvial land between them and the sea, while in the north the eastern off-shoots of the Arakan Yuma run down to the banks of the Irawady”.

“ this vast mountainous region, from the Jaintia and Naga Hills in the north, is the home of the Kukis tribes. We find them, besides, in the valley of Manipur, and, in small settlements, in the Cachar plains and Sylhet”.

Related Posts


Share This

1 Comment

  1. JalenchaThe need of the hour is a revolution aasingt the feudal setup of our society. Any form of revolution(preferably armed Socialist) with active participation of the common Kuki people will be far more better than all those clan based gangs put together.