The Missing Link
By T.H. Robert
A year had passed since a two day seminar on ‘Manmasi Identity (Kuki-Chin-Mizo) in Northeast India’ was held from 15th to 17th October, 2004 at Bethany Home, Shillong. In that seminar Dr.Khuplam, Dr.Seilen and Father Peter Tongmang presented papers related to the aforesaid topic.
They vividly narrate and explain the concept of Kuki nationalism and some of the mythical tales, phrases and words that reflect the unique socio-cultural, lingual and religious practices of the Kukis which was appreciated by all. With all enthusiasm, the participants listened and interacted. Nevertheless, there was a mixed reaction among the participants when it comes to tracing of the origin of the Kukis beyond khul.
After a cursory glance of the basis of Dr. Khuplam’s hypothesis, history and migratory routes a couple questions keep my mind ticking. One of them, and of course the most important, is the missing link. The missing link literally refers to a hypothetical extinct creature halfway in the evolutionary line between modern human beings and apes. Likewise, I find a link that is missing between us (the Kuki-Chin-Mizos) and the Israelis.
The fact is that how a Caucasoid Manmasis become a mongoloid Kuki-Chin-Mizos (the lost Manmasis). This is a serious question which needs to be answered by this school of thought (Manmasi School). As a scholar/a school of thought, he/they must be able to prove the authenticity of his/their argument or hypothesis based on reason.
The Israelites faced so many invasions, witness their land devastated and being taken as captive. They indeed scattered around the world, in which most of them move toward Europe and America. Despite their separation from their homeland and irrespective of time span they do not forget or give up their customs and religion.
To justify this, an example can be given to the American Jews, who have a strong lobby in present American politics, do still remain as a Jew. But when it comes to the supposed Manmasi tribe in Northeast India they have lost almost everything, only made known about the land, people and culture of the Israelites after Christianization.
After having seen the pros and cons of the Manmasism, I would like to point out to a field which is more rational and which I take interest. This is the similarities in race, culture and religious practices of some of the ethnic communities in Northeast India with the people of Southeast Asia. Some of them indeed have Southeast Asian roots.
One such ethnic community is the Tai-Ahoms in Assam’s Kamrup District. The Tai-Ahoms or Ahoms are an offshoot of the Tai people who are called Shan in Myanmar, Thai in Thailand, Lao in Laos, Dai and Zhuang in China and Tay-Thai in Vietnam.
The Ahoms are not the only people of Northeast India with a Southeast Asian connection. The Khasis of Meghalaya had pioneered rice farming in Vietnam’s Red River delta before losing out to the Vietnamese. They then moved up the Red River across Myanmar into Yunnan before crossing into India.
In religious practices too, Balinese Hinduism and art forms of the Manipuri’s is closer to Southeast Asia than to those of the Hindi heartland. In Southeast Asia, there is a growing awareness of Northeast India. Many northeast Indian cultural figures too are drawn eastwards. For instance there is keen interest in Thailand in the culture of the Tai Ahoms of Assam.
Similarly, Tai-Ahom intellectuals in Assam are focusing on the cultures of their ethnic cousins in Southeast Asia. Indeed, the Government of India is recognizing these connections and is using it as a soft power resource in its Look East policy to develop and link Northeast India with East Asia.
There are several migratory routes through which several communities in Northeast India reached their present land. One such is the routes of Ancient Khasi Migration, which began in the Red River Basin of Vietnam and extended across Yunnan and Burma to the Gangetic basin as far west as Bihar.
I would like to put forward a question that, can we link pre-Khul migratory routes and history to Southeast Asia? Like some of the communities in Northeast India, we can also look towards Southeast Asia as our root. Basing the racial, socio-cultural and linguistic similarity between the Kuki-Chin-Mizos and Southeast Asians is more acceptable reason to trace our root than a racially and linguistically different Israelis.
* This article was written in reaction to the Kuki Students’ Organisation, Shillong seminar on “Manmasi Identity (Chin-Kuki-Mizo) in Northeast India” held from 15th to 17th October, 2004 at Bethany Home, Shillong, Meghalaya.
The author is a research scholar at the Department of Political Science in North-Eastern Hill University (NEHU), India.