The Kukis in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT)

Published on December 17, 2005

The earliest people of the CHT were the Kuki group: Lushai, Pankhu, Mro, Kyang, Khumi and Bonjugi. A second migration came from the Tripura group: Murung and Tripura. Then the Chakmas came from the plains of Chittagong. The last group was the Arakanese: Ryang and Marma.

The Tanchangyas are a subtribe of the Chakmas who, with the Marmas, were the last Mongolian people to enter the Chittagong Hill Tracts a century later. The Chakmas exerted the greatest influence and their kings exercised almost total control over indigenous society.

The Chakmas migrated from a place called Champaknagar and settled in Chittagong. Once they had a king named Shakhya, a Kshatrya king descended from a Kshatrya Royal lineage from the solar kings who reigned in a city called Champaknagar. He had two sons, Bijoygiri and Udoygiri. The elder brother Bijoygiri went out of Champaknagar towards the south and conquered the countries of the Tripuris, Arakanese and the Kukis.

 

As he was about to return to Champaknagar, news reached him that his father had died and his younger brother Udoygiri usurped the throne and was prepared to resist his return. Bijoygiri then settled in the newly conquered country. He and his followers married local women who were Buddhists. He came to terms with the Arakanese kings and lived on the bank of the Naaf River, south of Chittagong district.

 

After Bijoygiri’s death his successors faced frequent attacks from Arakan and lost part of the territory. In the course of time they decided to move to the north and conquered the region which is now called the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Even then the Chittagong Hill Tracts was the home of the other indigenous people like Kukis, Mros, Bawmse etc.

 

The coastal plains of Chittagong have always been coveted by the peoples of the region, the Chakmas, the Arakaneses and the Tripuras. In 1666 the Chittagong area was annexed by Shaista Khan the Mughal governor of Bengal. Fighting broke out between the Mughals and the Chakmas. In 1713 an agreement was reached under which the Mughal Emperor granted the right to conduct trade and commerce with the adjoining areas in the plains to the Chakma Raja on payment of a small tribute in cotton.

 

At the Battle of Plassey, on June 23, 1757 the British East India Company defeated the army of Nawab Siraj-ud-daulla with the collaboration of his deputy Mir Jafar the ‘traitor’. As a result of this victory, the British East India Company became the virtual rulers of Bengal. In 1760 Mir Jafar was replaced as Nawab of Bengal by his son-in-law, Mir Kasim, who, in a secret treaty, ceded the three districts of Burdwan, Midnapore and Chittagong to the British. Once the British extended their authority to Chittagong, the Chakma Raja agreed to pay his yearly tribute in cotton amounting to nine maunds (about 35Okgs) to the British in order to enjoy the privileges of trade in the plains.

 

The first contact between the Chakma Raja and the British East India Company was in 1763 when Mr. Henry Verelest, the Chief of the Chittagong Council, issued a Proclamation recognizing the jurisdiction of the Chakma Raja over “All the hills from the Pheni River to the Sangu, and from Nizampur Road to the hills of the Kuki Raja“. In April, 1777 the Chief of Chittagong wrote to the Governor General, Warren Hastings, complaining that Rono Khan (who was a general of the Chakma Raja) was “committing great violence on the Company’s landholders by exacting various taxes and making several demands without authority or legality”.

 

In November, 1777 the Chief of Chittagong asked Captain Ellesker, the Commander of the Twenty- second Battalion of sepoys, to send some of his men to protect the people from Ronu Khan’s ravages. It is interesting to note that many of the Chakma Rajas had Muslim names and adopted the title Khan though they continued to be Buddhists and never embraced Islam.

 

Rono Khan the general of the Chakma King formally declared war against the British in 1777; the war lasted for ten years until 1787. In 1784 under instructions from the British authorities Mr Irwin, who was then the Chief of Chittagong, conducted negotiations with the representative of the Chakma Raja for a peaceful solution without any success. The war ended in 1787 when the British had imposed an economic blockade and forced the Chakma Raja Jan Bakhsh Khan for a negotiated settlement. This was the beginning of the British hegemony over the Chakma Kingdom of Chadigang (Chittagong).

 

In 1791 the Board of the East India Company authorised the Collector of Chittagong to replace the cotton tribute by a cash payment which was fixed at 1,775 rupees. In 1829, the Commissioner of Chittagong, Mr. Halbed in his report clearly stated:

“The hill tribes of the Chittagong Hill Tracts are not British subjects, but merely tributaries, and we have no rights on our part to interfere with their internal arrangements”.

 

Sources:

 

    1. All That Glisters: by M.K. Khisha

    2. The Chittagong Hill Tracts: Militarization, Oppression and Hill Tribes, Anti Slavery International, 1984

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