A glimpse of selected writings/travelogues on Kuki areas (1850 – 1910)

Published on February 6, 2005

By Paominlen Haokip

February 6, 2005: TC Hodson, the then Assistant Political Agent of Manipur and Superintendent of the State in early twentieth century wrote interesting accounts about his travels in the tribal habited areas of Manipur state and wrote books like the Nagas of Manipur and the Meitheis, etc and the followings are a few information gathered from his original writings and those of Colonel J. Shakespeare, Dr R Brown and Mc Culloch.

In this article, the introductory on the Kuki settlements, sociological setting, and traditional beliefs of latter nineteenth century and early twentieth century are briefly discussed. Hudson in one of his writings, asserted the brotherhood of the Kukis, the Nagas and the Manipuris on the basis of the widely spread tradition and he wrote- This tradition, which is widely spread, agrees in its many versions in assigning the primacy of descent to the kukis, the next place being given to the Nagas, while the Manipuris are said to be the children of the youngest of these three brothers

 (TC Hodson, The Nagas of Manipur, DK Publishers and distributers, 1911,p.9)

He mentioned what he found to be a “ a variant of the legend” among the Mao Nagas which connected the hill tribes Nagas as well as Kuki with the Manipuris- Once upon a time there was a jumping match between the three sons of the common ancestor. The Kuki leapt from the top of one range of hills to the crest of the next, while the Naga, nearly as good, cleared the intervening valley, but his foot slipped and touched the river. Hence the limit on his ablutions, while the stronger Kuki to this day avoids all use of water. The Manipuri tumbled headlong, which explains his fondness for bathing (ibid.p.11-12)

The vastness of the habitation and settlements of the Kukis were evident from the following as noted by Hudson- Kuki settlements exist not only in the British District of the Naga hills in the vicinity of Henema but also far away on the north-east of the Manipur State, in the neighbourhood of Melome and Lapvome where the frontier has been delimitated and ascertained only within the last few years. Indeed the Kuki is to be found everywhere in the State except in the territory occupied by the Mao confederacy. (Ibid, P.1-2)

Regarding the uniqueness of the type of houses built by the Kukis of those days, Hodson observed- the houses of the kukis are totally distinct and though smaller than the Naga house which is not far evolved from the communal house of other early communities, are more comfortable according to the European ideas than even a large morang ghar of a prosperous Naga village. (Ibid.p.43)

Colonel W. McCulloch, the Political Agent of Manipur in 1850s wrote about the rice cultivation of the Kukis in the hills of Manipur. He stated the following, the rice grown in the hills is said to be very much coarser than the delicate varieties cultivated in the valley, and there is a tale current that the rice grown by the Kukis in their Jhums, which is undoubtedly superior to the ordinary hill rice, was given to them by Ching Thang Khomba, who was sheltered by them when driven out of the valley by the Burmese. (Mc Culloch, Colonel W., Political Agent of Manipur,”Account of the valley of Munnipore, Selections from the Records of the Government of India, Foreign Department,” No.XXVII, 1859,p.61)

Hodson without any shadow of doubt stated the linguistically based identities of a few groups of communities like Chirus, Aimol, Kom, Anal, Mhar (sic) etc., as stated below-

 The Chirus speak a language which belongs to the old Kuki subgroup of the Kuki-Chin languages, in which its fellows are Rangkhol, Bete, Hallam, Langrong, Aimol, Kolren, Kom, Cha, mhar, Anal, Hiroi-Lamgang and Purum.This last must not be confused with the Naga village of the same name, which belongs to the Maram group. (Ibid, p.18-19)

The indisputable authority of Chieftainship as the then prevalent mode of administration among the kukis was undoubtedly a secular one, as distinguishable from that of the neighboring clans, the Nagas. With regard to this, Hodson lucidly stated as follows-

    We are sometimes able to distinguish a Kuki from a Naga clan by the development of the Chieftain in the former instance into a secular leader who takes only a ceremonial part in the tribal rites, and in the latter case by the diminution of the secular authority of the gennabura, who remains the religious head of his village. (Ibid.P.20)

On analysis, this nature of the evolution of secular authority of the Kuki Chief, according to Hodson, was due to the urgency of the need among such communities of strong administration unimpeded by “turbulent priests”.

One of the most beautiful natural endowments upon the kukis, desirably alluring to those who had been in contact with them was their gift for music and songs. Dr R Brown had a lot to say on this and the following is taken from one of his records on the possible origin for divergent qualitative possession of the gift for songs among the kukis-

    “When the Deity distributed songs to the inhabitants of the world, some caught them in their hands, some secure them carefully in their clothes and thus retained them, but the Marrings unfortunately caught their share in a wide meshed basket, through which the songs escaped, never to be recovered”. This tale is told by the kukis, who explain their Superiority in this respect by the fact that on this occasion they caught their share of songs in their leather bag (khau) which they always carry. (Brown, Dr R, Political Agent in Manipur,”Selections from the Records of the Government of India, Foreign Department, No.LXXVIII, 1870)

The peculiar Kuki musical instrument in vogue those days, widely acclaimed was goshem (still featuring the AIR thadou-kuki program with its melodious introductory note).

In one of his travelogues, Hudson wrote, in a Chiru village near Thobal, in the valley, I saw the men playing on a goshem, or kuki reeded instrument, which is described by Colonel Lewin as in use among the Mrungs. Colonel J. Shakespear said, this instrument is distinctly kuki as opposed to Naga.I believe every kuki clan uses it. (Shakespear, Colonel J., C.I.E, D.S.O, Political Agent in Manipur, “The Kuki-Lushai Clans,”J.R.A.I.Vol.XXXIX, pp.371-385, “Journal of the society of Arts”, Vol.XLIII).