Ideological aspects of Zale’n-gam
By P.S. Haokip
November 21, 2004: Zale’n-gam is the ancestral land of the Kuki people. Prior to the advent of British colonialists, there was complete self-rule and independence in Zale’n-gam. Chieftainship, the form of traditional governance also served as an institution embodying Kuki culture and tradition. Semang and Pachong, councils of ministers, aided the chief in government. Our forebears lived gloriously by themselves in Zal’e-gam; other peoples were not a part of the population.
Tales of legendary folks such as Galngam, Khupting and Ngambom, Pujil and Langchal, Benglam, Jonlhing, and Nanglhun have been passed down through generations. The prosperous land was resplendent with varieties of exquisite flora and fauna. Customary rites Sa-Ai, Chang-Ai, Chon le Han, Hun, Kut, Semang were observed without any hindrance or interference from foreign elements.
In present-day terms the areas of Zale’n-gam are as follows: Eastern Zale’n-gam, in Burma, includes the river Chindwin covering regions towards the west bordering India; in the North, the river Nantalit; and to the South, the region stretching to the Chin State. In India, the Manipur Hill Districts; in the state of Nagaland, Kanjang and Akhen in Phek District, and the Athibung Sub-Division in Dimapur District; in Assam Karbi-Anglong, North Cachar Hills and Halflong; Tripura; and in Bangaladesh parts of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The people of Zale’n-gam are listed in Zale’n-gam: The Kuki Nation.1 Today, Zale’n-gam remains divided among India, Burma and Bangladesh.
Other aspects of Zale’n-gam:
1. Zale’n-gam folklore abounds with Kuki warriors courting heavenly beauties Moultinchan, Ahsijolneng, Jollhing and Jolphal.
2. Imprints of Galngam and his various animals are evident in the length and breadth of Zale’n-gam. Zale’n-gam: The Kuki Nation lists 24 such locations. The pugmarks left by Galngam’s dogs and mithuns are featured in the balladic lyrics in Lakawi La,2 authored by Pu Paokhohang Haokip (Ex MLA).
3. Tax and tributes:
The Kuki chiefs received tax and tributes from their Naga subjects in Manipur, who originally arrived from upper Assam and northern Burma. These people engaged continually in intra-village conflict. The underdogs sought and received refuge among the benevolent chiefs, who accommodated them in Zale’n-gam. An example of this is the Tangkhuls in present-day Ukhrul district, which was an integral part of Zale’n-gam. The Tangkhuls paid regular tax and tributes to Chassad chief, who also served as king. As a mark of deference it was customary to carry the chief on a palanquin during tours. In the Chassad kingdom, Tangkhuls managed efficiently various departments, such as fishery. They always ensured there was plentiful supply of meat, vegetables and other food items for the chief’s kitchen, too.
The Chassad chief also received customary tax from his younger brother, the chief of Joujang (in Burma), also known as king of Twikol. (The yearly tax was half of the total that the chief collected from Joujang’s kingdom, Somra Tract. This tax amounted to a sizable bundle, which was carried wrapped in a huge blanket.) Similar customary tax was received by the Chassad chief from his other brothers: the chiefs of Lonpi, Longja, Sita in present-day Chandel district; Loikhai, Henglep, Songpi in present-day Churachandpur district; Laijang in present-day Tamenglong district; Loibol, Tingkai, Saitu in the Sadar Hills in present-day Senapati district; Molnoi, Khotuh, Phaisat, Khomunnom, and Joujang.
The chief of Aisan reigned in present-day Chingai in Ukhrul District Sub-Division and Pochury in Nagaland, which were part of Zale’n-gam. The chief of Aisan also received tax from his younger brothers: the chiefs of Sangnao, Leikot, Jampi, Tuisom, Tonglhang, Beheing, Dampi, Hengtam, Khongjang, The’njang, and Chonjang. The chief of Bombal reigned in Peren Sub-Division of Nagaland. Other domains of Zale’n-gam, where Kuki chiefs reigned include the following: Laijang, Tujang, Jampi, and Sangnau, which are in present-day Tamenglong district.
4. Defence of Zale’n-gam:
Significant Kuki offences against the British started in 1760s. Carey and Tuck3 refer to an event that took place a hundred years on: ‘the year 1860 saw the great Kuki invasion of Tipperah [Tripura], and the following year a large body of police marched to the hills to punish and avenge.’ Of this war, Col Elley4 wrote, ‘in 1845, 1847-1848, 1849-1850, and 1850-1851 there were raids culminating in what is called the Great Kuki Invasion of 1860s….’
5. In the twentieth-century Kuki featured in both WWI and WWII. The period of World War I marked a momentous Kuki movement against the British, which is recorded as ‘Kuki rising, 1917-1919’,5 and also referred to as the first Kuki War of Independence. Shakespear6 and Palit7 record the event as ‘Kuki Rebellion, 1917-1919’. This war is most notable because it is the only one of its kind in which an ethnic group withstood the might of the British imperialist power continuously for three years. In WW II, in a bid to regain Zale’n-gam’s sovereignty from the British, Kuki sided with the Axis powers to which the Indian National Army was a part.
During the war Pakang, alias Japan Pakang, various Kuki leaders and many warriors were actively engaged with the Japanese in expeditions against the British. Jamthang Haokip’8 writes about the details of the war. There are over one hundred and fifty INA pensioners, of whom as many as eighty are listed in Freedom Fighters of Manipur.9 Nakakisa, a Japanese intelligence officer, who served in the Imperial Japanese Army, makes a critically perceptive observation that Kuki is a nation, as are India, Burma, and Japan.
6. The KUKI INN at Imphal was built to commemorate the Kuki War of Independence, 1917-1919. Displayed in the hall are portraits of the war leaders Chengjapao Doungel, King of Kuki and chief of Aisan; Lhukhomang Haokip, chief of Haokip and Chassad; Tintong Haokip, chief of Laijang and Chief-in-Command, Kuki Army; Enjakhup Kholhou, Dy Chief-in-Command, Kuki Army; Khotinthang Sitlhou alias Kilkhong, chief of Jampi. Every year 19 December is observed as Memorial Day of Kuki War of Independence, which is organized by the War Committee Members.
7. In 1949 the Meitei chief of Manipur signed the merger agreement to join the Indian Union. Kuki chiefs opposed this move because it would entail ceding Kuki territory, which was annexed by the British and administered with Meitei’s territory, the Imphal plains. Over 250 Kuki warriors10 were deployed at the palace gate to support the Meitei chief, who initially considered not merging with India.
8. At Phaikoh, in Eastern Zale’n-gam, where Jamkhai,11 a Kuki king and his descendants reigned, there still exist a great stone cave, where the king held daily court. A similar type of cave exists in Westarn Zale’n-gam, in Tamelong District of Manipur. The Kukis, in order to preserve the integrity of Zale’n-gam, carried out various expeditions. An encounter, in which Thanglet, a Kuki prince took Ningthi’s (Shan king) head is recorded.12 Kuki Picket13 or Kuki kitla refers to the location, where an encounter with the Angami Naga at Kohima, in present-day Nagaland. 1,200 Kuki warriors fought against the Chin king, Kamhou Sukte, who had once captured Chandrakirti, king of Manipur. The Kuki warriors returned Chandrakirti to his throne.
Zale’n-gam: Land of the Kukis (1995, reprint 1996) was published, which was followed by Zale’n-gam: The Kuki Nation (1998). Eastern Zale’n-gam (2000) was written and published in the Burmese language. These publications have helped to articulate and disseminate the Zale’n-gam ideology to the wider world.
The preceding accounts tell of Zale’n-gam, the ancestral land of the Kuki people. As mentioned above, the British took control of Zale’n-gam and divided it between India and Burma. The Kuki people have remained in these two countries for the last fifty years with the hope that due acknowledgement would be accorded by way of statehood, one in Burma and the other in India. Given Kuki history of vehement opposition to colonialism in defence of Zale’n-gam, this is an exceedingly rational and legitimate expectation.
Till date, however, Kuki expectations have not been fulfilled. Neither has there been any positive initiative from either government (of India and Burma) to begin to address the needs of the Kukis and thereby attempt to dispel their plight. The Kuki people have the right to ownership of their land with dignity and enjoy a status that befits their forbears’. The prevailing state of affairs belies our people’s unique history. Therefore, the Kuki National Organisation avows to restore in Zale’n-gam a state of freedom and self-rule, a status, which the British colonialists deprived of our people.
1 Haokip, PS (1998), Zale’n-gam: The Kuki Nation, KNO publication for private circulation only
2 Haokip, PK (1997), Khanglui-Khangthah Lakawi la (Lakoi la), published (in the Thadou-Kuki vernacular) by Ms. Aneng (Veijaneng), Imphal
3 Carey, BS & Tuck, HN (1976, first published in 1932)), The Chin Hills, Vol. 1, Firma KLM Pvt. Ltd., Calcutta
4 Elly, EB (1978, 8 (first published in 1893)), Military Report on the Chin-Lushai Country, Firma KLM (P) Ltd., Calcutta
5 British Library, Burma and Assam Frontier, ‘Kuki rising, 1917-1919’, L/PS/10/724, Oriental and India Office Collections (OIOC)
6 Shakespear, LW Col (1977) (first published in 1929)), History of the Assam Rifles, Firma KLM Pvt. Ltd., Calcutta
7 Palit, DK (1984), Sentinels of the North-East: The Assam Rifles, Palit & Palit, New Delhi
8 Haokip, J Manipur a Gospel le Kuki te thusim, published by the author
9 Freedom Fighters of Manipur, published in 1985, Congress Centenary Year, by Freedom Fighters Cell, MPCC (1)
10 Annexation of Manipur 1949, Published by People’s Democratic Movement (1995, 182)
11 Op cit, Haokip (1998, 17)
12 Ibid, 46
13 Thompson, J (2002, 149, 154, 156, 164), The War in Burma 1942-45, Sidgwick & Jackson, Pan Macmillan, London