Anglo-Kuki War (1917-1919)

Published on January 4, 2006

By T.S. Gangte

 

Background

 

With the commencement of the First World War in 1914, the policies of Governments in Europe were obsessed with hate and suspicion and were blinded with powers of obstruction and resistance in their hands. The war became an inferno round and about the world, causing losses both to victors and vanquished out of all proportion to the issues.

 

The armies were millions strong and behind them entire population were organised for supply of food and munitions to the front. There was cessation of every sort of productive activity except such as contributed to military operations. All the able-bodied manhood of Europe were drawn into the armies and navies or into the improvised factories that served them. There was an enormous replacement of men by women in industry.

 

Probably, more than half of the people in the belligerent countries of Europe changed their employment altogether during this stupendous struggle. They were socially uprooted and transplanted. Education and normal scientific work were restricted or diverted to immediate military end, and the distribution of news was crippled and corrupted by military control and propaganda activities.

 

Manipur to contribute 2,000 non-combatants:

 

As part of British Empire, India was to contribute 50,000 non-combatant force in order to augment combatant force by those employed in labour battalions in France and to husband as much manpower as possible in France and England of which Manipur was to contribute 2,000 non-combatant force vide telegraph dated 28th Jan 1917 from the Secretary of State for India, London addressed to the Army Headquarters, Simla, followed by letter no. 110-14 dated 31st Jan 1917 from BC Allen, ICS, Special Officer, Shillong to Lt. Col. HWG Cole, Political Agent, Manipur asking the Kukis to join recruitment thereof. the Kukis took strong exception to the manner of imposition and refused to accept the orders, and, instead, decided to declare war against the British.

 

March 17, 1917: Red Letter Day (D.O. No. 5c dt. 17/03/1917)

 

As decided earlier, the Kuki chiefs declared war against the British according to their customs and traditions on March 17, 1917, sacrificing Mithun in token war-rite and oath-taking ceremony by four senimormost clan head chiefs. This is called Hansa-Neh and Sajaam-Lha. Colonel Cole, HGW, Political Agent, Manipur in his confidential D.O. No. 5c. dated March 17, 1917 addressed to BC Allen, ICS. Special officer, Shillong said that Mithun sacrificial war-rite was performed by the following four Kuki chiefs –

 

1. Chengjapao, chief of Aishan Village, Piba of Kukis.

2. Khotinthang (Kilkhong), chief of Jampi village and Piba of Sitlhou clan,

3. Lhukhomang (Pache), chief of Chahsad and Piba of Haokip clan and

4. Ngullen, chief of Khong-jang, Piba of Singson clan.

And so, was the war-cry of the Kukis performed by Tintong, chief of Laijang village, cutting the tail of sacrificial Mithun. He was declared commander of the Kuki warriors.

 

Anecdotes of war theatres:

 

The Mithun oath-taking war-rite ceremony performed by the above four chiefs was spread like wildfire that led to spread of attacks on the British subjects and their loyalist Kukis with intimidation, threat, harassment etc. beginning in April, continued in July and September that resulted in direct confrontation of the British forces and the Kuki warriors of Lonpi-Longja axis when –

 

a) The first battle occurred in September 1917 at (defeat of British) Chakpi river-crossing, near Sugnu, one mile before Lonpi, constructing a strong stockade right in the middle of the road. The British force led by the Political Agent, Manipur was under the command of Captain Halliday with a strength of 80 Assam Rifles. In the fierce fighting that ensued three British soldiers were killed whose bodies were left behind when retreated to Imphal. There were several wounded British soldiers who were taken along by the retreating column said Shakes-pear, LW Col. (1929: p213: History of Assam Rifles).

 

b) Oct 7, 1917 (Longpi burnt – turning point of event)

 

Not being satisfied with the defeat in the hands of Lonpi-Longja warriors in September, Higgins JC on his return from Octal meeting with the Western Kuki chiefs, marched against Lonpi once more where he was greeted with already evacuated village. Anger grip-ped him and sent emissaries to Ngulkhup and Ngulbul to surrender before him. The latter refused to comply with his command. Instead, they sent insolent reply to the effect that they have closed the Kuki country (hills) to the white men, being incensed, said Palit KD Major General, (1983: p 63: The Sentinels of North East). Under the situation, Higgins had no alternative, but had to resort to burning Lonpi on 17th Oct 1917. This incurred the anger of the Kuki warriors and their attacks on the British, their subjects and Kuki loyalitis intensified and widespread all over the hill areas of Manipur including Naga hills, North Cachar hills, Somra hills, Chin hills etc.

 

c) Lt. Molesworth killed and Lt. Kay Mauyatt seriously wounded: (Chahsad Theatre in March 1918)

 

In mid-March 1918, a combined columns of 150 strong of 2, 3 and 4 Assam Rifles under command of Captain Coote along with Lt. Parry and Mr Higgins, JC, ICS and one column of Burma military police under command of Captain Pattrick that met at Kongkal Thana on Mangha river marched together to attack Kamjong, principal fort of Pache where pitched battle ensued. In the course of fierce fighting, Lt. Molesworth was killed and Lt. Kay Mauyatt seriously wounded. But Pache could not be captured who made his escape to Somra hills.

 

After this, the entire scene became very tense. The Maharajah of Manipur, Sir Churachand Singh, in his letter dt. 22-5-1918 addressed to Cosgrave, WA Political Agent, Manipur described the entire valley as being gripped with fear-psychosis, tension, nervousness of attack and rumours of war and that panicky unrest etc. reigned in capital city of Imphal. All the same, anarchy prevailed in the hill areas. Even Imphal was being rumoured of beseized which prompted Higgins to rush back to Imphal from Bishenpur, abandoning his march against the south western Kuki chiefs. The Raja could not think anything as to what to do. His head reeled with sorrow and grief and asked Cosgrave to do whatever was considered best under the situation.

 

November 7, 1918 (Army took over)

 

The situation now completely went out of the hands of civil authority. The Chief Commissioner of Assam and the Deputy Inspector General of Assam Rifles rushed to Simla in June 1918, to meet the Commander-in-chief of the British Indian Army.

 

a) British Indian Army Formation: The meeting of the Chief Commissioner of Assam and the Commander-in-Chief of the British Indian Army resulted in the decision to hand over the entire operation to the army from the 7th November, 1918. However, actual movement of the troops could only start from November 25, 1918.

 

 

 

 

Accordingly, the operations were handed over to General Sir Henry D ‘U, Keary, KCB, KCIE, DSO as Burma Division Commander, controlling the operations, was posted at Kendet, Sagaing division, Burma, as his divisional headquarters. His Chief Staff Officer at Kendet was Lieutenant Colonel JLW ffrench-Mullen, CIE, IA. Similarly, he was assisted by Brigadier General CE Macquoid, DSO as General Officer Commanding, stationed at Imphal together with Colonel LW Shakespear, CB as Deputy Inspector General of Assam Rifles. He was also assisted by Political officers from civil authorities such as,

 

i. In India

 

1. J.C. Higgins, ICS, Imphal and

2. J H. Hutton, ICS, Kohima.

 

ii. In Burma

 

1. J.B. Marshall, ICS, Mawlaik and

2. H. Parker, ICS, Homalin.

The Division strength under his divisional command, called, Burma Division command, was 7,6050 combatant force with 208 officers other than the ones mentioned above. The areas covered under the operations were above 6,000 square miles with civil population affected around 35,000.

b) Kuki Warrior formation

(Higgins no. 705 Ms. dt. Nov 24/25. 1917)

 

The areas occupied by the Kukis are so widely scattered all over Manipur, Nagaland, Assam, Mizoram etc in India, Bangladesh, Myanmar (Chin Hills). Each area is under the control of one senior clan head among the Kukis. In consideration of the jurisdiction and influence extended in the area of each chief, Higgins, political officer, Manipur, divided formation of Kuki warrior as given below:

 

1. Eastern hills under Chah-sad area under command of Lhukhomang (Pache), chief of Chahsad assisted by Paokho-len, chief of Bongbal Khulen and Paboi, chief of Sita village.

2. North Eastern Hills under command of Chengjapao, chief of Aishan village covering the north easter areas including Somra tracts.

3. Southern Hills under Longpi areas under command of Ngulkup assisted by Ngulbul, chief of Longja. The area include south-eastern side of Imphal extending upto Chin hills area bordering on Myanmar.

4. South-western hills, under the command of Pakang, chief of Henglep assisted by Semchung of Loikhai, Haoneh of Nabil, Paosum of Songphu and entire chiefs of the Manlun and Manchong clans (Zous).

5. Western hills of Jampi areas under the command of Jampi chief assisted by Tintong of Laijang, Lhunkholal of Chongjang, Khupkho of Langkhong and Heljashon of Loibol. The areas cover that lie in the North-Western hills between Imphal valley and North Cachar and Naga hills.

 

Indian resistance to British imperialism:

 

Contemporary Indian Nationalists looked at it as Indian resistance to British Imperialism. Major General, Palit, DK said that the Kukis had been encourage by emissaries from Bengali Nationalists in Assam but any thought that the German had also had a hand in it did not occur to any one, that Prof Borpujari, HK an Assamese historian said that the German spies had a secret hand in formenting the war and that the Kukis were the influence of activists of the revolution from Bengal.

 

Similarly, Col. Shakespear said that it was the most serious military involvement in the NE and that Bengal seditionists in Sylhet and Cachar encouraged Kukis to rebel against the British and gave example of an instance that occurred in Tammu among the Indian sepoys where some of them were found to have possessed photographs of two German on the back of which were written that if captured the photograph would sage them when shown to the rebels.

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