Origin of the Kuki People
By T.S. Gangte
The origin of this group of people is shrouded with myths and mythologies. One of such was the traditional account that had been handed down through generation in that the kukis came out of the bowels of the earth or a cave called Chinlung or Shionlung or Khul, the location of which was believed by some to be somewhere in China, but others claimed it to be in Tibet.(Ginzatuang, 1973:5).
McCulloch (1857:55) contended that the kukis were also known as Khongsai in Manipur, and that they:
…. Bring their progenitors from the bowels of the earth, and they relate the manner of their reaching its surface thus: one day their king’s brother was hunting hedgehogs, when his dog in pursuit, entered the cavern, and he waiting for its return remained at the mouth of the cave. After a lapse of time, the dog not having returned, its master determined to go in and see what had become of it. He did not find the dog, but observing its tracts and following them, he suddenly found the surface of the earth. The scene presented to his view both pleased and astonished him. Returning to his brother, he related about his adventures and council him to annex the new country to his territory, which the king did.
By way of explanation of their amalgamation with the tribes who speak different languages, they relate:
…the three grandsons of the chief, while one day all playing together in their house, were told by their father to catch a rat. They were busy about it when being suddenly struck with a confusion of tongue; they were unable to achieve their object. The eldest son spoke Lamyang, the Second the Thado, the Third, some say the Vaiphei and some the Manipore language. Thus, they broke into distinct tribes.
Shaw (1929:24) had his own version of the origin of the kukis which he recorded from the collected verbal information as follows:
The story of their origin is that they used to live under the earth, or rather inside it. Noimangpa was the chief of this subterranean region. One Chongthu, a relative of Noimangpa, when hunting porcupine in the jungle with his dog, discovered a large hole. He perceived through this that the upper crust of the earth was un-inhabited and there was a great darkness. This darkness, which lasted for seven days and seven nights, is called “Thimzin” by the Thadou. Chongthu so rejoiced at this discovery that he gave up his hunt and went back to his house.
He conjured up ideas of forming a village of his own on the earth and planned accordingly. Just about them, Noimangpa the Chief of the underworld was performing the ‘chon’ festival in which every one had to attend, including Chongja, elder brother of Chongthu. Noimangpa’s son, Chonkim, was also present. During this feast Chongthu started waving his sharp sword so vigorously that he injured some of the folks present, at which all became angered. This action of Chongthu was premeditated as he thought that by doing so he would be turn out from the underworld and thus has an excuse for going out to the upper world and forming a village of his own.
The news of Chongthu’s behavior became known to Noimangpa who said: Chongthu had better live in heaven meaning their by that he better be killed. Chongthu hearing of Noimangpa’s wrath at once prepared to migrate out of the hole in the earth which he saw and which is spoken of as ‘khul’ by the Thadous. So, Chongja and Chongthu killed many pigs, fowls etc. and feasted in preparation for their departure.
There is many more stories about it. The story further relates that somehow Chongja’s party delayed, but Chongthu’s party moved on followed by Chongthu himself. On reaching the ‘Khul’ the leaders found that a great snake called Gulheipi was in possession of it and when they endeavored to pass over it, the snake killed them with its tail. Chongthu, on reaching the spot, was not to be thwarted in his ambition . He tight his cloth around him and place a ‘Phoipi’, a thick cotton cloth, over his head and attack the great snake which he cut into seven pieces.
At the same time, a Lhaw, a lion also attempted to block the way of Chongthu’s egress. The lion withdrew and Chongthu’s party moved up to the ‘khul’. They founded that it was covered with stone and one of Chongthu’s party, called Vangalpa, lifted it up. While he could do so, only seven persons were able to get out and then the stone dropped and all further attempts to raise it ended in a fiasco. The seven persons who thus emerged were Chongthu, Vangalpa, the stone lifter, Khupngam, the keeper of the dog and four other whose names are not known. These four persons are said to be the progenitors of Manipuri, the Naga, the foreigner and the Burmese. However, they are not definite about the last three although they are quite emphatic about the numbers being seven.
In the genealogical tree from Chongthu to Thadou, the persons are mythical and therefore, when festivities entailing repetition of the genealogical tree of the Thadou became necessary, the Thempu starts from Thadou and not from Chongthu.
Further, from Chongthu to Thadou there were no different languages, and animals and spirits, as well as mythical ancestors lived in peaceful co-existence.
The hole in the earth called ‘khul’ is said to be at the source of the ‘Gun’ river which seems to be identical with the Imphal River in Manipur state. Etymologically, the word ‘gun’ in the Thadou means the Imphal River. All the stories and legends of the Thadou, the river ‘gun’ is frequently mentioned and is of a great fame (Shaw, 1929:24-26).
Hutton (1929:14) said:
….the story of the Thimjin with slight variation is found in Shakespear’s Lushai-Kuki clans, Chapter V, Mills’- The Ao Nagas, p 314, the Lotha Nagas, pp 176,193. Molola, in Man in India, 11,100 had similar story of the Chang Nagas, and versions are found among the Hos and Santhals of Bengal, the Shans, and the Ami of Formasa, while similar stories pervade the Indian Archipelago generally in Frazer’s Folk-lore in the Old Testament, I,iv, which said that the Thadou version of Thimjin story is “he knew of was that” …. The great darkness was preceded by fire and accompanied by flood, and it was this flood which drove the ancestors of the Thado proper to take refuge in the hills, where they found Lenthang, whom they forbore to kill as he knew the gods of the country accordingly, it was Lenthang who caused a white cock detainer of the sun to come and look, whereby the sun escaped and came out again restoring like to the darkened world.
The story is obviously suggestive of a separate racial origin for the Thadou proper, the Changsan and allied clans, who presumably were in occupation when the Thadou arrived in the hills. Hutton further contended that such cultural version of the Kuki affinity was found in Naga Hills among the Sema tribe who speak a Naga language which is something of a ‘pidgin type’, lacking the inclusive and exclusive duals and plural and similar subtleties of most Naga languages.
It was a political system turning on an automatic secular chief, with follower who are guards, serfs or similarly bound retainers, known as’Mughemi’ (literally, Orphans). It has other cultural items strongly suggestive of Kuki affinities and has lost the institution of the bachelor house. It lacks in for the most part the sentiment which binds most Naga villagers so strongly to some particular site, or at least to stones, earth or water brought from that site.
The author is the former Director of Education and Chairman of Council of Higher Secondary Education, Manipur, India. He is one of the first to have done extensive research work on Kuki history.