Rhetorics of Kuki Nationalism

Published on February 27, 2010

Rhetorics of Kuki Nationalism

By Seilen Haokip

Identity is such a simple notion it is hard to see why it gives rise to such baffling problems: Bertrand Russell[1]

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Seilen Haokip

Kuki identity and nationalism are discussed in their heyday context, as well as in the phase when they virtually became a relic of the past. British colonialism, which spurred Kuki nationalism, was also an ‘external factor’ that led to its decline, following the division of Kuki territory and subjugation of the people. The situation became worse after efforts to restore their freedom in WWII by joining the Indian National Army and collaborating with the Imperial Japanese Army failed, when the Axis powers lost to the Allied groups.
Authority of the chieftains had considerably declined and there was no cohesive agency to harness the reigns of the Kuki community. The absence of visionary leadership and lack of acknowledgement by the Government of India concerning Kuki’s historical opposition to colonialism fell short of realising an honourable political status for the people. Consequently, the socio-political condition of the Kukis in the post-independent era was extremely vulnerable. The existing circumstances prompted clannishness to assert itself to the detriment of the entire community.
Where feelings of Kuki nationalism ceased to exist, clannishness prevailed. Accordingly, clan-centrism has been deduced as an internal cause, which gravely affected Kuki unity and created conditions for the collective status of the identity to decline. Some examples are, objection to candidacy for nomination of a hill minister in 1947 because of representation from a lesser population, and the unsavoury remarks of Shaw[2] and other discriminatory comments suggesting superiority of one clan over another. Tribe recognition in 1956 on a segmented basis, following removal of ‘Any Kuki Tribes’ and recognition of Thadou, a sub-clan from amongst a group speaking the same dialect, led to contestations with proponents of Kuki. It is important to clarify that this group of Kuki relates specifically to those who speak the same dialect opposed to recognition of the sub-clan in question.
This section of Kukis is distinct from the larger Kuki of antiquity, which represents the ethnic whole. Further division within this group quarrelling over genealogy and clashes of a section of them with Hmar in 1960s and latterly with Paites or Zomi in 1997 made things go from bad to worse. As a result, the last decade witnessed intense cases of fratricide, which seriously disturbed the public from leading a normal life. Development has been minimal and the economic condition of the people utterly deplorable. Such state of affairs has also made it difficult to pose a unified an effective deterrent to discourage aggressions on our lands and people by neighbouring communities. Till date human casualties of indiscriminate explosive devices planted in our lands by valley-based insurgents totals 44[3] (Please see Annexure 1). Kuki National Organisation signed the Deed of Commitment with Geneva Call on total ban of 9 August, in the Alabama Room, in the City Hall of Geneva, Switzerland.[4]It is fair to profess that a good deal of introspection and reflexive analysis has led to this bare conclusion.
In all fairness, positive aspects of the identity are also being highlighted. Kuki image, once tarnished, is in the process of being mended through efforts of social bodies, revolutionary organisations and individuals. An objective assessment of the identity is therefore paramount.
As an apologist for the Kuki identity, the following line of reasoning is put forward for the public’s consideration:
First of all, Kuki acknowledges the identity Mizo as representing sections of our ethnic group. Identifying as Mizo in Mizoram is an accepted norm. Whether this will be reciprocated by Mizo once there is political settlement for Kuki is yet to be seen. In the backdrop of ‘Kuki country’ delineated by Grierson (1904), Mizoram covers a considerable portion of the land mass. The map of the Mizo National Front movement also identifies a significant part of land in the name of Kuki (see map in Annexure 3). The late Demkhoseh Gangte, the leader representing the Kukis in the MNF, was able to lead the first and only successful MNF mission to China in 1974[5] because of Kuki habitats established en route. Grierson and MNF both highlight the historical importance in regard to territory and people in the name of Kuki.
Secondly, in the context of India, the people are uniformly recognised under ‘Any Kuki Tribes’ in Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur, and in Nagaland simply as Kuki. Re-introduction of ‘Any Kuki Tribes’ in Manipur in 2003[6] reunited the Kukis with their brethren in the other Northeast states. Hmar is recognised separately in these states, too, but there is no denial that they are ethnically Kuki. Paite, too, for example, recognised as a tribe in Mizoram, also identifies as Mizo. In Tripura, Paite is recognised as Kuki, but in Manipur they espouse Zomi as an identity. Zomi National council is a political party in Myanmar, but it does not have legal standing in India because it is not a recognised tribe, which makes it politically inexpedient. Zo is considered the ethnic people’s progenitor, and mi refers to citizens. Therefore, Zomi would mean ‘Zo people’. Zofest, a cultural event in which the various ethnic groups participate, has been held annually at Aizawl in Mizoram. Zomi, is an indigenous terminology and so appropriate in regard to an identity for the entire ethnic people. However, it is conceivable onlywhen there is the assent of Kuki and Mizo.
Third, Chandel district of Manipur is populated one hundred percent by ethnic Kukis. The Kukis of yore in the district, who identified as ‘politically Naga’, are now returning to their roots in groups, which immensely boost’s Kuki nationalism. The groups include United Minorities Liberation Front and Pakan Reunification Army. The former comprise Khoibu, Maring and Kharan; and the latter Anal, Lamkang, Moyon, Monshang, Chothe and Tarao.
Last but not least, the focus of this paper concerns the Kukis of Manipur, which politically concurs with the ideology adopted by Kuki National Organisation. KNO signed Suspension of Operations with the Indian Army on 10 August 2005 and with Government of India and the state Government of Manipur on 22 August 2008. The purpose of SoO is to hold a tripartite dialogue for a viable political settlement for the Kuki people, within the Constitution of India. This is an unprecedented development in the history of the Kukis in independent India. At this vital juncture, it would be extremely impractical to dwell on finding an alternate identity to Kuki. Instead, it would be prudent to set aside internal quarrels that have crippled our community for the last half century or so and converge on the identity Kuki for the benefit of our future. Kuki is not being proposed because it sounds like a good name, but because of its potential as leverage for actuating what is politically achievable for our people.
Kuki has drawn a lot of flak in the past, but it also has its plus points as an identity because of documented facts available in prominent libraries. There is no other name for our people with these kinds of assets. The world knows our people more as Kukis, and less by any other name. To consider an alternative at this juncture would not only prove futile, but would be incalculably inopportune. Its historicity and the fact that it is the only identity we have all shared at one time also makes it more tenable. If we all agree to identify as Kuki, that unity can only serve to our advantage in many practical ways. Perhaps it is worth risking this leap of faith, trusting that political stability, which will engender development and economic prosperity, will also help us rise above petty and unwieldy internal differences.
Accepting the Kuki identity would not only be an altruistic gesture that demonstrates magnanimity on the part of those formerly aggrieved, but will also be a stimulus for a healthier environment that generates hugely beneficial returns. Rejection of Kuki was a result of clannish motives, and all of us have suffered for it – no one has ever gained from it. However, continued resistance to it will tantamount to bearing old grudges at the cost of what it can achieve. This is a luxury none of us can afford. It would be an absolute waste, as the saying goes, to ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’ and miss out on an opportunity of a lifetime.
Intellectual honesty plus wisdom, which comes with compassion, are qualities that need to be exercised against temptations of scepticism, egocentrism and meaningless guile. Seizing the moment would put an end to an environment where disunity and deprivations have prevailed. It is time we shed old baggage from the past and concentrate our efforts to establish a brighter future for generations to come; a future in which peace, prosperity and unity are the hallmark, not disunity, poverty and shame.
The pains caused by clannishness must be healed. Chauvinism in any shade, party, or group has to be completely uprooted so that as a nation of people we may realise our full potential and become a complete whole. We are at the crossroads; we have the moralresponsibility to make a choice that will either take us forward or keep us shackled to the mistakes and grievous conditions of the past. Amongst other gains, Kuki unity will also promote political stability, which will increase chances of a symbiotic relationship with our neighbours. The decision we make today holds the key to a better future. We must make a discerning choice now and ensure such a future does not elude our children and youth. This is the purpose of expressing a sense of nationalism and embracing an identity, which is our birthright.
It is perhaps apt to draw on Hobsbawn’s[7] quote of Hegelian philosophy that the owl of Minerva which brings wisdom flies out at dusk.[8]
An excerpt that provides a glimpse of the enormous length and breadth of ‘Kuki country’, demarcated in 1904 by GA Grierson, Superintendent of the Linguistic Survey of India:[9]
The territory inhabited by the Kuki tribes extends from the Naga Hills in the north down into the Sandoway District of Burma in the south; from Myittha River in the east, almost to the Bay of Bengal in the west. It is almost entirely filled up by hills and mountain ridges, separated by deep valleys. A great chain of mountains suddenly rises from the plains of Eastern Bengal, about 220 miles north of Calcutta, and stretches eastward in a broadening mass of spurs and ridges, called successively the Garo, Khasia, and Naga Hills. The elevation of the highest point increases towards the east, from about 3,000 feet in the Garo Hills to 8,000 and 9,000 in the region of Manipur. This chain merges, in the east, into the spurs, which the Himalayas shoot out from the north of Assam towards the south. From here a great mass of mountain ridges starts southwards, enclosing the alluvial valley of Manipur, and thence spreads out westwards to the south of Sylhet. It then runs almost due north and south, with cross-ridges of smaller elevation, through the districts known as the Chin Hills, the Lushai Hills, Hill Tipperah, and the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Farther south the mountainous region continues, through the Arakan Hill tracts, and the Arakan Yoma, until it finally sinks into the sea at Cape Negrais, the total length of the range being some seven hundred miles. The greatest elevation is found to the north of Manipur. Thence it gradually diminishes towards the south. Where the ridge enters the north of Arakan it again rises, with summit upwards of 8,000 feet high, and here a mass of spurs is thrown off in all directions. Towards the south the western off-shoots diminish in length, leaving a track of alluvial land between them and the sea, while in the north the eastern off-shoots of the Arakan Yoma run down to the banks of the Irawaddy. This vast mountainous region, from the Jaintia and Naga Hills in the north, is the home of the Kuki tribes. We find them, besides, in the valley of Manipur, and, in small settlements, in the Cachar Plains and Sylhet. 
The Mizo National Front adopted a similar map projection as Grierson’s Kuki country during its movement from 1960s to 1986 (Please see map in Annexure 2). However, as mentioned above, the Mizo Accord, signed with the Government of India in 1986, relates only to the erstwhile Lushai Hills, which represents a fraction of Kuki country. 
Nationalism has more than one definition. It is usually associated with a state of independence, formation of nations, particularly during WWI and WWII. Nation also has several meanings, such as ‘State’, ‘nation-state’, ‘state-nation’, as well as ‘people’. In regard to Kuki, ‘nation’ stands for the people and nationalism is referred to ‘conceive’[10] identity, except when referring to the era prior to, and during British colonialism. In other words, the concept of nationalism is emphasised in relation to unification under a common identity. Identity, as a basis of nationalism is stressed because drawing on Smith’s[11] observation, ‘they add to one’s psychological sense of security.’ Nationalism is also important because ‘it is about “land”, both in terms of possession and (literal) rebuilding, and of belonging where forefathers lived and where history demarcates a “homeland”.’[12]
Kuki nationalism was first manifest against British colonialists’ inquest into Kuki territory in the eighteenth-century. Similar to the concept that India was a colonial contribution, the fiercely independent Kuki chieftains’ unity was spurred by compulsions to preserve Kuki territorial integrity. Kuki chieftains ruled their village republics much like the Indian princes and warlords ruled their principalities. Kuki, a generic terminology, pre-dates the British inquest, but became better known through items of literature written by colonial academics and officials.
Another generic terminology that refers to Kukis in the twentieth-century is Mizo. Kuki and Mizo comprise numerous agnate clans with shared cultural roots. Kuki is referred to and followed by Mizo, based on its historicity, not due to any sense of fanaticism. Kuki predates Mizo by over two millennia. This is corroborated by the Pooyas,[13] the original script of the Meitei people of Manipur, which refer to ‘two Kuki Chiefs named Kuki Ahongba and Kuki Achouba were allies to Nongba Lairen Pakhangba, the first historically recorded king of the Meithis [Meiteis], in the latter’s mobilisation for the throne in 33 AD.’ Mizo became an official terminology when the Lushai Hills district of Assam was changed in 1954 to the Mizo Hills district.
In regard to the Constitution Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe recognition of India, Kuki and Mizo are termed as ‘tribes’. Ethnologically, tribe denotes an entity with distinct culture, customs and language. ‘Clan’, on the other hand, is a composite part of a ‘tribe’. Kuki and Mizo clans who share a similar culture can technically be termed a tribe, but not as separate ‘tribes’. For example, Lusei or Lushai is a clan, and Mizo, a tribe; Lusei cannot be recognised separately as a ‘tribe’. Similarly, in Manipur the various Kuki clans can be a tribe, but not separate tribes. A clan designates descendants of a progenitor and his particular lineage. A tribe cannot become a part of a clan or another tribe. Lusei, a clan, in this sense can be a part of Kuki tribe, but Kuki, a conglomerate of different clans, cannot become Lusei. Hence, Shakespear entitled his book, Lushei Kuki Clans (1929).[14]
The Kuki ‘tribes’ in the Constitution Scheduled Cast and Scheduled Tribes Modification Order of 1956 are composed of a mix of sub-clans. For example, Anal, Lamkang, Hmar, Gangte, Vaiphei, Simte, Paite, Kom and Zou are each a mix of sub-clans because of a relative preponderance of Guite, Hangshing and Haokip among them. These are, therefore, group identities as none of them are descendants from one ancestor. Thangsing and Tonsing are part of the Haokip sub-clan. They are respectively amongst Simte and Paite. Hangzo/Hangshing is also among Paite. Among Hmar are Saimang, who are from the Haokip sub-clan. Guite, Hangshing and Haokip are sub-clans and respectively their progenitors.Chawngthu is their progenitor and head of clan of the sub-clans, which collectively represents them.
With regard to the tribe recognition, a misleading notion that has unsettled the minds of a section of people is that Kuki is a national identity and should not be recognised as a ‘tribe’. The argument: ‘this renders Kuki on the same status as tribes.’ Clarification: in the context India, which is a nation-state, Kuki can only be a tribe, not a national identity.
The section of people who identify with either Kuki or Mizo, normally consider those that associate with the other an intrinsic part of the identity they espouse. This is possible because, as indicated above, each of the identities is composed of a similar mix of sub-clans and clans. This integrating characteristic is reflected in the basic cultural elements they share, e.g. symbols, values, memories, myths, and traditions, which embody recurrent dimensions of cultural community and identity. The most important of these are,[15]
a)   a sense of stability, and rootedness, of the particular unit of population;
b)      a sense of difference, of distinctiveness and separateness, of that cultural unit;
c)      a sense of continuity with previous generations of the cultural unit, through memories, myths and traditions;
d)      a sense of destiny and mission, of shared hopes and aspirations, of that cultural community.
Till date, a lingua franca has developed among Mizo, but not with Kuki. Prior to the advent of the British, the people were more a Kulturnation (largely passive cultural community) rather than Staatsnation (active, self-determining political nation), based on the example of Greece. Greece was a collection of city-states with their respective sovereignty, although politically, as with the Kukis, a Greek ‘nation’ did not exist.[16]
Chieftainship continues among the Kukis in India. The institution has been abolished in Mizoram state in India, and in independent Myanmar (Burma). The people’s ancestral lands are within Northeast India, Northwest Myanmar and the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh, where the Bawm people represent Kuki.[17]
An excerpt: The Bawm people are one of the Kukis of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. They are among the numerous ethnic Kukis also identified by their clan or named after their habitat. Kuki has persisted from antiquity as the collective terminology to identify the clans and groups irrespective of geographical divisions initially created by the British colonialists, and latterly reinforced by international boundaries in the post-colonial era.
The Kuki group in Chittagong Hill Tracts are Tlangmi or hill people (they are Bawm, Pangkhua, Lushai, Khumi, Mro, Khyang).
Zo-Reunification Organisation (ZORO), with headquarters at Aizawl, Mizoram advocate integration of the entire ethnic people as a single entity under Zo. Zo is considered the people’s progenitor, mi refers to citizens; therefore, Zomi would mean ‘Zo people’. With regard to historical references to Zo, in Gereni’s record, ‘according to Longhena these [people] would be the Kuki of the North Kachar and of the hills near* Manipur, who have a god Thilha among their deities. Kuki is one of the terms by which the Chin-Lushai tribes are collectively designated, whereas they call themselves Zhô.’[18]
As this paper mainly refers to Kukis in present-day Manipur state, it is important to note that prior to the advent of the British colonialists, Kukis were an independent people ruled by their chieftains. The present political map of the state of Manipur is based on the creation of the British. The term Manipur ‘is not used at all until the British period.’[19] According to Cheitharon Kumpapa: The Court Chronicle of the Kings of Manipur (2005, 23), Taotingmang, the third Meitei king’s (Sakabda 186 (264 CE)) territory was ‘only up to Lilong, seventeen miles from Kangla’, which is located at the heart of Imphal, the capital of Manipur. Kangleipak or Manipur, the Meitei kingdom comprising the valley was conquered by the British in 1891. Following ‘Kuki rising, 1917-1919’,[20] ancestral Kuki hills were brought under British India and British Burma.
A number of theories exist regarding the identity Kuki and its origins. Two contrasting premises are referred to here: i) a popular and most erroneous view that Kuki was introduced by the British in the latter-half of the nineteenth-century; ii) Pooyas, thetraditional records of the Meitei people, date Kuki in 33 AD, and according to Cheitharol Kumaba (Royal Chronicles of the Meitei Kings), in the year 186 Sakabda (AD 264) Meidungu Taothingmang, a Kuki, became king.
The historians Majumdar and Bhattasa1i[21] refer to the Kukis as the earliest people known to have lived in prehistory India, preceding ‘the “Dravidians” who now live in South India.’ According to Prof JN Phukan:[22]
If we were to accept Ptolemy’s ‘Tiladae’ as the ‘Kuki’ people, as identified by Gerini, the settlement of the Kuki in North-East India would go back to a very long time in the past.  As Professor Gangumei Kabui thinks, ‘some Kuki tribes migrated to Manipur hills in the pre-historic times along with or after the Meitei advent in the Manipur valley (History of Manipur, p24).’ This hypothesis will take us to the theory that the Kukis, for the matter, the Mizos, at least some of their tribes, had been living in North-East India since the prehistoric time, and therefore, their early home must be sought in the hills of Manipur and the nearby areas rather than in Central China or the Yang-tze valley.
In the second century (AD 90 – 168), ClaudiusPtolemy, the geographer, identified the Kukis with Tiladai who are associated with Tilabharas, and places them ‘to the north of Maiandros, that is about the Garo Hills and Silhet.’[23] Stevenson’s[24] reference to Kuki in relation to Ptolemy’s The Geography also bears critical significance to its period existence. In the Rajmala or Annals of Tripura, Shiva is quoted to have fallen in love with a Kuki woman around AD 1512.[25] The Encyclopaedia Britannica[26] records, ‘Kuki, a name given to a group of tribes inhabiting both sides of the mountains dividing Assam and Bengal from Burma, south of the Namtaleik River.’
It is essential to define the people Kuki represents before Kuki nationalism can be explained. In the context the Constitution Scheduled Tribes Order,  the Government of India, based on common ethnicity recognised ‘Any Kuki Tribes’ in Assam (1950), Tripura (1950), Meghalaya (1950), Mizoram (1951) and Manipur (1951). In Nagaland (1970), they are recognised simply as Kuki. (Please see list of ‘tribes’ for ‘Any Kuki Tribes’ in Annexure 1)
The Constitution Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Lists (Modification) Order, 1956, Manipur, removed ‘Any Kuki Tribes’ along with ‘Any Mizo Tribes’ and ‘Any Naga Tribes’, and their places recognised twenty-nine tribes. Twenty-two of these are ethnic Kuki groups. The ‘Any Naga Tribes’ are i) Angami, ii) Kabui, iii) Kacha Naga, iv) Mao, v) Maram, vi) Sema, and viii) Tangkhul.
A state of identity flux has ensued among Kukis since 1956. A number of the ethnic groups disillusioned by clannishness among Kuki leaders dissociated from the identity. A few, in fact preferred identification as ‘politically Naga’ although officially there are no Nagas in Manipur following the removal of ‘Any Naga Tribe’ in 1956. With regard to the new development concerning identity, a distinguished Naga academic stated the Anals are ‘culturally Kuki’, but ‘politically Naga’.[27] Preceding events besides the 1956 tribe modification order are attributed to the socio-political condition that induced this state of flux among Kukis. These events are discussed under a) external and b) internal factors.
a) External factors
Kuki nationalism demonstrably opposed British colonialists’ interference in Kuki territory, which began in 1777[28] during the time of Warren Hastings, Governor General of India. ‘The year 1860 saw the great Kuki invasion of Tipperah [Tripura], and the following year a large body of police marched to the hills to punish and avenge.’[29] ‘In 1845, 1847-1848, 1849-1850, and 1850-1851 there were raids culminating in what is called the Great Kuki Invasion of 1860s.’[30] ‘Early in 1860, reports were received, at Chittagong, of the assembling of a body of 400 or 500 Kookies at the head of the River Fenny, and soon the tale of burning villages and slaughtered men gave token of the work they had on hand. On the 31st January, before any intimation of their purpose could reach us, the Kookies, after sweeping down the course of the Fenny, burst into the plains of Tipperah at Chagulneyah, burnt or plundered 15 villages, butchered 185 British subjects, and carried off about 100 captives.’[31] On the term ‘raids’, a description of the Kuki offensives, Hangshing wryly remarks (1997):[32]
Once again the British show the Kukis as being the villains of the piece and as being invaders into British territories, whereas nothing could have been more distorted or falsely projected. It was in fact the other way round. It was the Kukis who resented, resisted, and were eventually forced to fight the British invasion into areas of their sovereignty.
In the twentieth-century, WW I marked another momentous offensive against the British known as ‘Kuki rising, 1917-1919’. For the sake of the record, the event is also referred to as ‘Anglo-Kuki War, 1917-1919’.[33] Shakespeare,[34] Palit,[35] and a recent publication The Assam Rifles,[36] term it as ‘Kuki Rebellion, 1917-1919’. One of the significances of this war is it reflects Kuki unity, which is it was possible to make a concerted offensive against the imperialists. A ‘Minute Paper’ reports there were ‘23 principals involved, 13 in Manipur under Assam, 10 in the Somra Tract under Burma’.[37] Sir HDU Kerry, General Officer Commanding, Burma Division wrote in a confidential despatch: ‘I therefore decided to put an end to the Kuki revolt by force of arms, break the Kuki spirit, disarm the Kukis, exact reparation and pave the way for an effective administration of their country’.[38] After 1919, Kuki ancestral lands were brought under British India and British Burma.
In the aftermath of 1917-1919 rising, there was landscape change in Kuki history. A patriotic and independent people were now victims of colonialism. The rights of the chiefs were reduced and house tax had to be paid to the British. Their lands were brought under civil authority, the first being Sub-Divisional Offices opened at Tamenglong, Ukhrul and Churachandpur,[39] which are now hill districts of Manipur. Chassad and Laijang, respectively in Ukhrul and Tamenglong were centres of Kuki hegemony. In the late Gangte’s[40] words, these new administrative posts achieved two major objectives: a) ‘containment’ of Kuki activities to prevent another rising and b) ensure Naga domination in Ukhrul and Tamenglong sub-divisions. These major set backs did not seem to dampen Kuki nationalism.
In the wake of WWII, Kukis joined the Indian National Army, and together with the Imperial Army of Japan, fought the British again. There are about 150 Kuki INA pensioners. 80 of these are listed in Freedom Fighters of Manipur.[41]Defeat of the Axis group, however, dashed the hopes of Kukis to be restored to their pre-British state of freedom. This left them deeply demoralised and vulnerable. The characteristics once exhibited to preserve Kuki territorial integrity perceptibly diminished in post-independent India. In the light of opposition to colonialism to protect Kuki territory – as did the people of India – anticipation of a suitable acknowledgement from the Govt of India was high. However, the status accorded to them was contrary to expectation, especially having conceded in September 1949 to become part of the Indian Union, along with the state of Manipur. The expectation and sentiment of the Kukis is reflected in Kuki National Assembly’s demand in 1946: [42]
Taking into consideration the various aspects of the vexing problems of the hills and the valley it is the desire of the Kuki National Assembly to announce that the Kukis should come under the Durbar provided the conditions are satisfactory, but failing to obtain satisfactory conditions, the Kukis regretfully, will have to follow the footsteps of their hill brethren in demanding for full secession.
In the post-independent era KNA proposed a separate state for the Kukis within India, but yielded no response from the Government.
When the Government of India Act 1935 put the Naga Hills and Lushai Hills in the ‘excluded areas’, the hills of Manipur remained within the native State, which was under British regency from 1891 to 1908. The hills came under the State Durbar when Manipur became a constitutional monarchy in 1908, but separate Rules for the Administration of the Hills were framed the same year. The Manipur Hill Peoples (Administration) Regulation – 1947[43] introduced the Village Authority, consisting of the chief or Khulakpa (headman) of the village and the council of elders, which was accountable to the Sub-Divisional Officer, in accordance with Section 6 of the Manipur Hill Peoples (Administration) Regulation – 1947. The Village Authority officially replaced the traditional role of chieftainship. Descent in the status of the chieftains, who opposed the might of the British, contributed to the pervasiveness of clannism and sectarian politicking. The state of the Kukis grew increasingly worse.
After India was liberated from British rule, Kukis, rather than pursue independence opted to accept being loyal citizens of the country. This choice may be stated as motivated by anticipation that Kuki history would be recognised and the integrity of their ancestral lands duly preserved within the Indian union. However, contrarily, the status of other communities was elevated, e.g. the neighbouring Naga people, whose nationalism was promoted by the British:  ‘shortly after the War – in which many Nagas fought with bravery for the Allied cause’, Sir Charles R Pawsey, Deputy Commissioner of the Naga Hills, formed the Naga Hills Districts Tribal Council in 1945, which in 1946 became the Naga National Council.[44]
The feeling that the status quo established by the British has been perpetuated to the detriment of the Kuki people is strong. Creation of Naga statehood in 1963, for instance, provided incentives to a number of Kukis to identify as ’politically Naga’. Creation of Mizoram statehood in 1987 also provided similar incentives, which enticed Thadou and Gangte to identify as Mizo. The pathetic condition the Kukis were left in clearly must have been a disincentive for those already disgruntled to continue identification with Kuki. The ensuing fissures in Kuki identity effectively made Kuki nationalism a virtue of the past, and the plight of the Kukis mounted immeasurably. This aspect of Kuki identity is examined in ‘internal factors’. 
b) Internal factors
Following the WWII, the state of the Kukis was tense and sensitive. Unity was perceptibly at stake. They were also at a stage of adapting to transition from rule of chieftainship to a state of democracy. It was also a crucial juncture to deliberate on the political future of the Kukis. At the time, relationship with the Naga people in the hills of Manipur was not at its best because of contesting claims over ownership of land. In this scenario the objectives of the Kuki National Assembly included: a) maintain unity of the Kukis, b) maintain cordial relations with the Nagas, and c) maintain close co-operation with the valley people.[45]
KNA also planned to establish a pan-Kuki platform for the Kukis of Manipur. In May 1947 a Kuki Naga Unity Committee was formed to resolve the problems between the two communities.[46] This intention met with little success. Although there were efforts ‘to enlist the sympathy and sharing the sentiments of the Nagas and also recognising a long standing fellowship with them, the leaders of the KNA were aware of unauthorised occupation of their land by the Nagas which ultimately helped to develop their anti-Naga political attitude, and finally the KNA became “a symbol of Kuki opposition to the Nagas”’.[47] In 1947 KNA formally opposed Nagas’ claim to the land of the Kukis.[48]
At this point in time, in accordance with the Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947, the President of the Manipur State Durbar was to nominate two ministers to represent the hill peoples in the Constitution Making Committee of the Interim Council of the Manipur Interim Government. R Khathing was sworn in on 12 September 1947 as the Naga minister. However, there was no consensus over the nomination of a Kuki minister. The KNA, of which Zavum Misao was President and Thangkhopao Kipgen the Secretary (who was Special Officer during the time of FF Pearson, President of the Manipur State Durbar), objected to the candidacy of TC Tiankham of Paite National Council, and Teba Kilong of Khulmi National Union, on grounds that they (Paites, and Koms and Anals) represent no more than thirty per cent of the Kuki population.
In a democracy where ‘majority wins’, albeit through free exercise of franchise, was still not a part of the mindset of a people previously governed by the culture of chieftainship. Minority rights in a democratic set up was yet to be consciously inculcated. In this circumstance, the attitude of KNA, which was dominated by ‘Thadou’ chieftains, was perhaps perceived as autocratic and out of sync. Shaw’s (1929, 30) remark that the Kuki clans were ‘under the wing of the Thadou clan’ did not help improve the situation. In an attempt to soothe frazzled nerves, on 28 June 1947 a resolution was taken at a meeting of the Khuga Valley Chiefs Committee condemning Shaw’s remark. A copy of the resolution was duly submitted to SL Lunneh, the second president of KNA.[49] However, there was no sign of improvement. Unsavoury utterances, ‘Kuki-siki’, ‘Kuki-makhai’ (quarter-Kuki, half-Kuki) by the Secretary of KNA over the candidacy of a Kom and Paite for a Kuki minister, added fuel to the fire. A rival party called Khulmi National Union was formed of various clans, excepting those associated with Thadou. (Khulmi stands for the mythical origins of the Kukis. Khul means cave, mi people)
In July 1947, at the Thanlon Area Chiefs Conference, votes were cast to choose a national identity from amongst Khul, Kuki and Mizo. The results: Khul 111, Mizo 32, and Kuki 14.[50] In the 1948 Manipur Legislative Assembly, seven Khulmi National Union candidates were elected, as against two ‘Kukis’. However, the success of Khulmi National Union was short lived.[51] Further splinter groups from Kuki National Assembly emerged: the Hmar Congress (1954) and the Hmar National Union (1962), the Paite National Council (1956), the Gangte Tribal Union (1958).[52] The ground was set for a multitude of other splinter groups to mushroom. Assertion of segmented identities over a collective one became the norm. The Constitution Tribe Modification Order, 1956 reinforced these identities. Kuki identity was clearly at risk.
After 1956, Kuki seemed to represent just a genealogically linked group, speaking the same dialect and who is amongst those that trace their origins to the Chawngthu clan. These include Mate, Lhungdim, Baite, Lenthang, Changsen, Guite, Doungel, Kipgen, Haokip, Thadou, Chongloi and Hangshing. Exacerbating the predicament of Kuki identity was another division amongst this group, i.e. between those opposed to recognition as Thadou tribe in 1956 and those who favoured Kuki.[53] This divergent stance also existed within the lineage of Guite, Doungel, Kipgen, Haokip, Thadou, Chongloi and Hangshing. The reason being, Doungel was dispossessed of the title of the eldest in the lineage by Thadou, the youngest.[54]
According to Kuki custom and inheritance law, Doungel, the elder’s position cannot be usurped by Thadou. Therefore, although the 1956 tribe modification order recognised Thadou instead of Doungel; Doungel, Guite, Kipgen, Haokip, Chongloi and Hangshing cannot be Thadou. Thadou consists of Sithlou, Lhouvum, Singsit and Singson. A unique feature of Kuki custom and tradition, which the British found difficult to deal with was deposing a family of their inheritance rights. For example, were Doungel’s family, as claimed by Thadou, actually extinct, his younger brother Haolai would automatically be the next to continue the lineage. The view that Thadou is not a person, but an expression, i.e. Tha means ‘to kill’, and dou ‘to defend’ is not substantiated by the oral tradition or folklore. Oral tradition and folklore are critical sources of knowledge on the people’s past, especially in the absence of known written accounts.
Furthermore, in Kuki custom, Kipgen and Haokip are elder to Thadou because they were born of the second wife of their father and Thadou was born from the third wife. On 19 December 1997, Haokip observed the traditional custom of giving Sating to the elder brother Doungel. This was followed by Kipgen giving Sating to Guite in 1998, clearly indicating they are not Thadou.
Implicit in the Scheduled Tribe recognition is the dialect in question being accordingly named. Both advocacies, i.e. Thadou or Kuki are equally objectionable for two reasons: a) the former is the name of a sub-clan, and b) the latter, being a generic terminology represents more than those speaking the dialect in question. From Chawngthu, the progenitor of the clan to which Doungel is a descendant, seven generations are said to be missing. Theoretically, if the dialect were to be named after a person, Chawngthu is the most senior and so the appropriate name. However, naming a dialect after a progenitor inevitably implies those not part of the lineage spoke somebody else’s dialect. Besides, there is the possibility of some group claiming seniority over Chawngthu because of the absence of contemporaneous genealogical record. In a wider perspective, identifying a particular dialect to the generic term Kuki accords the status of the lingua franca. Without a process of consensus involved, this renders the dialects spoken by other clans ‘not Kuki dialects’. Any dialect ought to become the lingua franca of a people through consensus, not imposed.
Another rather disturbing facet is the religious bodies’ schematic thinking adding to, rather than helping to abate the Thadou-Kuki imbroglio. Thomson’s translation of the Bible in the vernacular ‘Thadou-Kuki Bible’ was published in 1922. This was a time when amongst the Kukis reading and writing was the prerogative of Thadous who were first to convert to Christianity, which followed on the heels of colonialism. Most other Kukis were unable to read and write. Therefore, the public in general was unaware of the translation and so there was no opposition to the ‘translation in Thadou’. The priority of these spiritually enlightened few appears to have been promotion of clan status rather than truth, which is the essence of religion. These early converts were not unaware of Kuki customs and tradition or the incontrovertible genealogical tree. An overwhelming sense of clan-centrism kept at bay any sense of nationalism.
It was mainly the Christians amongst Kukis who were recruited in the Labour Corps to fight in France. In 1918, when WWI ended and they returned home, their kith and kin were deep in war with the British. Letkholal Singson, son of the chief of Kangjang and Onkai Sithlou, chief of Songdo, who were both in good relations with the British persuadedSongchung Sitlhou, the chief of Sangnao to surrender. Sangnao village was subsequently spared from being destroyed by the British, but was fined five mithun, six guns, one dahpi (gong) and one thousand rupees by the Government. This provoked the deeply-stressed chief of Sangnao to express his emotion:
U le nao vin Solkar douuh hite eitin,
Sum-minthang kavan mang kalha tai.
(Free translation)
Our brothers asked us to join hands against the Government
But alas, this has cost me dearly.
Khotinpao Sitlhou, the chief of Taloulong, who was not converted to Christianity and still engaged in fighting replied:
Sum minthang le navan mang nachanle,
Kei toi kamkei hoija vaitham hitai mo?
(Free translation)
If you lament the loss of your worldly wealth,
What of my sons, who gave their lives fighting, like young leopards?
Regrettably, had the returnees from France taken the path of negotiating with the Government for the Kukis, rather than the surrender of a few, a pact like Suspension of Operations leading to political dialogue could have been reached. That would have averted the arrests of many prominent chieftains and entailed a tenable status for the Kukis.
With regard to Western education being introduced, amongst others, Haokips were one who was most opposed. This was because of the love of traditional values and culture. There was deep apprehension that conversion would be on the heels of education, which would corrupt Kuki culture. Lamentably, the early Kuki converts to Christianity were allies to the British during the Kuki rising of 1917-1919.
Predictably a second translation, ‘Kuki Holy Bible’[55] followed in the same vernacular. The translation by an eminent Reverend was a tremendous feat. It was an excellent work of literature achieved in a remarkably short span of time, but it proved politically counter-productive. While proponents of Thadou and those preferring Kuki quarrelled over the dialect’s name, ‘Kuki Holy Bible’, written in the contested dialect implied the dialects of other clans was not Kuki. This did not help consolidate the Kuki people or their identity. Protestantism and Print capitalism is attributed to the creation of Europe’s first major ‘non-dynastic, non-city states in the Dutch Republic and the Commonwealth of the Puritans.’
Wycliffe’s vernacular manuscript Bible of 1382, which is English: a fusion of Norman French (language of the foreign ruling class) and Anglo-Saxon (language of the subject population) possibly instilled a sense of English nationalism.[56] Ironically, in the case of the Kukis, the two translation of the Bible in the vernacular, sharpened disputes over ownership of the dialect. It also provided another reason to reinforce the other ethnic clans’ apprehensions of domination by Thadou. Notwithstanding, the Kuki Literature Society filed a writ petition in the Guwahati High Court claiming Kuki or Khongsai as the legitimate language.[57] Disintegration appears an appropriate word to describe the state of Kuki identity. Ironically, on the communities of Manipur a publication of ‘Incredible India’ refers to Meitei, Meitei Pangal, Naga, and relegates Kuki with a sobriquet ‘other colourful people’.
The discontentment caused by Thadou’s usurpation of his elder brother’s title and its recognition as a tribe has remained unsettled to the present-day, and consequently divisions persist. ‘Any Kuki Tribes’ reintroduced in 2003 has effectively resolved the issue of tribe recognition. However, the controversy over the name of the dialect lingers. This particular segment of people being numerically the most amongst the Kukis in Manipur, their divisions has significantly affected Kuki unity. They are also responsible for the break up of the Kuki identity. An initiative – ideally taken by Thadou – to amicably reconcile the issue regarding the name of the dialect would not only help in subsiding clannish tendencies in general, but also promote Kuki nationalism in the larger interest of the people. As explained above, neither Thadou nor Kuki is appropriate as the dialect’s name. An alternative, Khochungte, which might prove to be a panacea, is proposed in this paper. It must also be stated that given Thadou’s charitable act, responsibility in regard to forging unity lies with the other groups of Kukis, too.
Clannishness must completely fade for Kuki community to thrive. Two instances of clanism related to the section of Kukis referred to in the preceding paragraph are cited to illustrate this position:
One, sections of these people engaged in clashes with Hmars in the 1960s. Attributed to the unfortunate event was a process of change taking place in the social system, where Singson chieftainship among Hmars was the norm. SL Lunneh, in a local new paper, Sim le Mal, wrote Thadou and Hmar were at war. An anecdote worthy of mention is Paolen Haokip and Paokhogang Haokip, senior Kuki leaders, who were opposed to clashes between kith and kin, slaughtered a mithun (bison) at Siden, a Hmar village to make peace. This gesture by the duo incurred the wrath of the late self-styled Gen Nengkholun Haokip, who ordered their assassination. As evident in this episode, Haokips have had the unique ability to champion opposing stands on critical issues, including in the Thadou and Kuki imbroglio. However, higher education amongst the younger Kuki generation and increasing exposure to the wider world, coupled with a growing sense of nationalism over clanism, this element, thankfully, is fast-fading, including among the Haokips.
Two, in 1997, a similar, but a more far-reaching clash took place with Paites, following an attack on Saikul village in Churachandpur district by cadres of Kuki National Front (P). This resulted in the killing of eight Paite men on the impulse that they belonged to National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Isak & Muivah. In a bid to make redressal, KNO deputed the late Brig Khaimang Haokip alias Vipin to meet with Khaijasong Paite. The two men charted a road map that finally ended the fratricidal killings in 1998.
Two episodes are also cited to show the strong bonds of clansmen in juxtaposition to the preceding instances of clanism. During British rule a greater part of the hills of Churachandpur was accorded the status of ‘Haokip Reserve’. Selmat, where the Rev Rochunga Pudaite, who is Hmar, has set up a college and a hospital was part of the Haokip chief, Teisheng pa’s land. Among the Kukis, a custom is observed in which zu (traditionally rice beer) plays a central role when a chief gives land to kindred (Saimang, for instance, who are among Hmar, belong to the Haokip sub-clan).
On the occasion, normally, zubel, a tall earthen jar filled to the brim with zu is brought by the party to the chief and drunk together. In the instance of Selmat, reputedly, a bottle of rum served the place of a jar of zu. In Kuki tradition monetary transaction does not figure unless the land is being purchased by a non-Kuki, or vice-versa. Pearson Veng, inhabited by the Paite community, where the late Tiankham Tonsing’s eldest son has established a school in memory of his mother was similarly given by the Haokip chief of Songpi. Tonsing, as mentioned above, belongs to the Haokip sub-clan, but identifies with Paite. These specifics are cited not only to pass on information, but also to highlight the bonds of clansmen and common ethnicity. 
In the past Simte and Hmar people used the term Khochungte to refer to the group of Kukis, who were known as Khongsai or Khongjai among Meitei and Burmese people. Khochungte, colloquially means people of the north. In Khochung parlance Simte and Hmar werereferred to as Sim le Mal, i.e. people of the east and south, respectively. The term Khochungte is also substantiated in Kuki folklore: Pu Chawngthu le amite Noikhopi a kon in ahung doh un ChungkhopiKkhochung asat uve. When Pu Chawngthu and his followers surfaced from Khul (subterranean dwelling of the Kukis), they cleared a settlement Chungkhopi/Khochung. A number of Kuki elders have endorsed Khochungte as a suitable alternative to ‘Thadou-Kuki’. To name a few, they are Paoneikhai Vaiphei, Paojakhup Telien, late SNG Haokip and Lhukhopao Kipgen in Myanmar, who is keen on Kuki folklore and literary subjects.
Following the 1956 Tribe Modification Order, a sub-clan, from amongst the people who speak the same dialect, but do not belong to the Thadou lineage adopted Khongsai as their identity. Some who belong to this group suggest the name Vanthang as an alternative because Khongsai refers to a wider group. 
A conglomeration of various sub-clans emerged to advocate Zomi as an alternative to Kuki. T Gougin founded the Zomi National Congress in 1972. Zo-Reunification Organisation (ZORO) was formed following an ‘historic agreement’ signed on 5 March 1988 by T Gougin of Zomi National Council and Brig (Rtd) T Sailo of People’s Conference, Mizoram.[58] The first Zomi Convention was held on 19 – 20 May 1988 at Champhai, in Mizoram.
An extract from the proceedings of a meeting between members of Zomi and the Kuki National Organisation reflects the latter’s political aspirations:
Q. Zomi leaders: The problem is nomenclature. We want ‘Zomi’, while you want ‘Kuki’. What is your opinion?
A. The late SNG Haokip, chief public relations officer of KNO: No Government owes anything under the identity ‘Mizo’ because their issues have been politically settled. However, in the name of ‘Kuki’ – for those not included within Mizoram state – both India and Burma owe us a great debt.[59]
The Mizo National Front was formed in 1963 to demand creation of ‘Mizoram’ as an independent and sovereign state. It was a major political movement of the ethnic people since India gained independence. In 1964, Kuki National Assembly supported the Manipur Mizo Integration Council (MMIC) for a single administrative unit.[60] The Mizo People’s Convention was held at Kanpur in Churachandpur from 15-18 January 1965. The main agenda was ‘Territorial Integrity’ and creation of one Administrative Unit for the Kuki-Mizo people called ‘Mizoram State’.[61] The organisations represented were i)  Paite National council, ii) Vaiphei National Organisation, iii) Simte National Organisation, iv) Zoumi National Organisation, v) Mizo Union, Mizoram, vi) Mizo National Front, vii) Chin National Union, viii) Mizo National Union, ix) Hmar National Union, x) Kuki National Assembly, xi) Gangte Tribal Union, xii) Kom National Union, xiii) Baite Convention Council.
The late Demkhoseh Gangte represented the Kuki contingent as leader in MNF. He led the first and only successful MNF mission to China in 1974.[62] After returning from a three-month long mission in China, Demkhoseh surrendered to the Government of India at Imphal on 30 June 1975. The circumstances leading to the surrender is murky. According to Bareh, Rev Zairema met Demkhoseh in Manipur. The Reverend is supposed to have enquired whether it was proper for Demkhoseh to utilise funds and material collected on behalf of MNF from China for his personal benefit. The reply was: if Laldenga could use all the money received from Pakistan for his personal use, why should he not use small amounts received from China for the survival of his team after the 3000 mile march, ‘longer than the long march of Mao Tsetung.’[63]
In the view of the MNF cadres who returned with Demkhoseh from China he had no option but to surrender. Laldenga, the MNF chief, apparently had taken the decision to eliminate Demkhoseh. This was revealed by his personal Lusei body guard, who was ordered to carry out the errand. Following this revelation, there was a near stand-off between the Kuki and Mizo parties, who were not only brothers in arms, but blood brothers, too. It appears Laldenga was ‘considerably engaged in eliminating other leaders who were coming up in the party [in order] to retain his position and hold. He did not hesitate to get rid of his old colleagues and one time friends who had left him and returned to Mizoram to live a peaceful life.’[64]
The revelation by Demkhoseh’s body guard took place at Molvailup, in Ukhrul district, bordering Burma. Molvailup is the village of late Brig Khaimang alias Vipin, Chief of Staff of the Kuki National Army. According to people present at the scene the incident nearly created two opposing camps, Kuki and Mizo, and almost sparked an encounter. Curiously, the wives of four MNF leaders, and Kapthuami, the wife of Demkhoseh, surrendered to the DC at Lunglei in Mizoram along with her children on 11 May 1973, almost two years before her husband’s surrender in 1975.[65] This suggests Demkhoseh had become aware of Laldenga’s subversive intentions and had to relinquish himself to the authorities upon his return from China. Demkhoseh’s surrender is often quoted as ‘betrayal’ of the MNF cause. In the opinion of those who participated at Kawnpui convention in 1965, Laldenga’s 1986 Mizo Accord is a bigger betrayal because it did not achieve the Miff’s main objective of territorial integration and a single administration for the Kuki-Mizo people. MNF’s relation with Naga hostiles in 1967-1968 was ‘friendly and cordial.’[66] This is a peculiar revelation given the adversarial relationship between Nagas of Manipur and Kukis at the time.
In 1986, the Mizo Accord was signed between MNF and the Government of India. The Accord failed to achieve the principal objective of ‘Territorial Integrity’ and one Administrative Unit. Only the former Lushai Hills became the state of Mizoram. The fall out of this lack of MNF leaders’ political vision is immense, particularly in Manipur. Just six years after 1986, from 1992, the NSCN (IM)-led Nagas carried out a massive pogrom against the Kukis, which lasted until 1997. Justification for their heinous activity was based on an historical amnesia, which is a convenient and effective means of constructing one’s history that readily forgets what would be detrimental to one’s own political end. The Nagas claimed that Kukis committed ‘severe atrocities’ in the past. 
According to Kuki elders, had it not been for the Kuki chieftains’ intervention to subside intense internecine clashes, for example, among the Tangkhul Nagas, their population today would be much less. These are opposing versions of ‘atrocity’ in which people suffered and that is regrettable. However, the reason the Kukis normally intervened was because they were requested by one Tangkhul party, who was the underdog on the verge of total annihilation by another Tangkhul village. On record, over 900 souls perished (mainly women, children and the elderly), 350 villages uprooted and in excess of 50,000 were rendered refugees in their own land. Two major reasons are attributed to this catastrophe: a) having surrendered with arms to the Government, after the MNF capitulated, Kukis were defenceless; b) it was clear that a conscience-singed MNF, who sacrificed Kukis for their immediate interests, would not come to their rescue. Tlawmngaihna (doing good deeds to others without expecting anything in return) had no significance. The casualties of 1992-1997 Kuki genocide are of tremendous proportion, but it is the MNF betrayal which is ‘Kuki tragedy’.
The state of the Kuki mind from 1986 to 1992 can be best described as stupefied. NSCN (IM)’s aggression was rather a surprise. There was no coherent thought about what steps to take following MNF’s capitulation, and so there was no organised group to face the onslaught. Each village set up its own defence force to protect themselves. After NSCN (IM) signed a ‘ceasefire’ with the Government of India in 1997, the incidence of armed encounters became less frequent. The Kuki village defence forces then formed independent organisations to prevent further aggressions. Rather than come together to pursue a common goal, these organisations preferred to assert their own purposes. The condition of the Kukis seemed to go from bad to worst. NSCN (IM)’s onslaught had a cumulative effect on the dismal socio-political condition of the people, owing to external influences colonial days and internal discrepancies in post-independent period. However, a new dawn was imminent.
In 2003 ‘Any Kuki Tribes’ was ‘reintroduced’. Signs of reversal from a state of near disintegration to reunification of the Kukis have followed since. The Amendment Act provided an avenue for any Kuki to receive a tribe certificate, irrespective of whichever clan she or he belongs to, without being subjected to applying for one based on the tribes listed in the modification order of 1956. Kuki, which officially ceased to exist in Manipur, following 1956, was back as a legitimate entity in 2003. Crucially, too, it re-integrated the common bond with the brethren in other Northeast states of India recognised as ‘Any Kuki Tribes’, rather than by separate clan names.
A timely development fomenting Kuki unification was the formation of Kuki National Organisation in 1988. KNO’s ideology, articulated in Zale’n-gam, The Kuki nation (1998), set out to unify the people by adopting an inclusive Kuki identity based on its pre-British status. KNO also adopted principles of federalism in its Constitution to ensure equal status of all constituents. KNO’s inclusive and unified ideology established a firm base for the clans to return to their roots and embrace their birthright identity. Seminars on Kuki identity and nationalism have been held in the last decade in Delhi, Shillong, Guwahati, Imphal, Moreh, Churachandpur and Sadar Hills. These seminars have helped to dispel former doubts of clan domination, which repelled many from identifying with Kuki.
The stage for unification set in place, it must be made clear that no single clan can assume to be exclusive or synonymous to Kuki. Kuki of antiquity cannot be confined either to Khongsai or the sub-clans Mate, Lenthang, Lhungdim, Baite, Doungel, Guite, Kipgen, Haokip, Thadou, Chongloi and Hangshing, who speak the same dialect. Such synonymy practically narrowed Kuki identity to represent only this group. The original Kuki of pre-British period comprises the agnate clans of ‘Old Kuki’ and ‘New Kuki’, introduced by the British to perpetuate their ‘divide and rule’ policy. Dismissing this categorisation, Prof Lal Dena points out there is no scientific or ethnographic basis for distinguishing between ‘Old’ and ‘New’ Kukis.
Zale’n-gam: The Kuki Nation[67] lists Kukis in Manipur from A–Z (Please see Annexure 2).[68] An occasion of great revelry takes place annually on 1 November, a state holiday, when these people celebrate Kut, a harvest festival. Cultural troupes representing the clans perform traditional dances in the day section of the celebration. Interspersed with the cultural dances, musicians, accompanied by bands and soloists with backup recordings, perform to regale a throbbing audience. A pageant of beauties in which other communities, such as the Meitei people also participate, takes place in the evening shift. Live music is performed by different bands as a panel of judges choose from the various contestants, who with confidence and grace stride the catwalk. At the end, the lucky contestant is declared Miss Kut of the year, along with other winners from a variety of categories that epitomizes beauty of God’s creation, e.g. ‘beautiful eyes’ and ‘beautiful hair’.
Kuki identity, refashioned nearer to its historical status, also sets the grounds for tangible deliberations for a stable political future for the people. Besides ‘Any Kuki Tribes’, an important factor augmenting Kuki unity is ‘Suspension of Operations’ signed on 10 August 2005 between the Army and KNO, followed by another SoO on 22 August 2008 signed among Government of India, KNO and the state Government of Manipur. Consequent to SoO, twelve armed wing, representing every Kuki clan, now share the KNO political umbrella. They are, i) Kuki National Army, S Robert Haokip, CAS;  ii) Kuki National Front (Military Council), TH German, C-in-C; iii) Kuki National Front (Zogam), Joshua Haokip, C-in-C, v) United Socialist Revolutionary Army, L Vaiphei, C-in-C; vi) Hmar National Army, LS Lungtrau, C-in-C; vii) Zomi Revolutionary Front, PS Hangshing, C-in-C; viii) United Komrem Revolutionary Army, T Karong, C-in-C; ix) United Minorities Liberation Front, K Khaling, C-in-C; x) Zou Defence Volunteer, Pakap Anthony, C-in-C; xi) Kuki Liberation Army, K Wilson Touthang, C-in-C, and xii) Pakan Reunification Army, Zecky Anal, C-in-C. Kuki unity of this nature is unprecedented. It is the first of its kind in nearly half a century. A map published by KNO shows Zale’n-gam, the land of the people (Please see Annexure 2).
The United People’s Front, formed in 2006, is another umbrella organisation comprising the same ethnic people. As evident in the organisation’s name, ‘unity’ is the proclaimed motto. UPF’s members are i) Zomi Revolutionary Army, Jackson Paite, C-in-C, ii) Kuki National Front, T Samuel Haokip, President, iii) Kuki National Front, Rocco Thangboi Kipgen, President, iv) United Kuki Liberation Front, SS Haokip, President, v) Kuki Revolutionary Army, David Hangshing, Chairman, vi) Hmar People’s Convention (D), Ropuia, President,  vii) Kuki Liberation Army, Timothy Khongsai, C-in-C. UPF is dominated in number by groups who profess Kuki as their identity, even though all the groups are ethnically Kukis. Sensitivities to the advocates of the terminology Zomi and sentiment of Hmars appears to be the motive for adopting a neutral term ‘United’ to represent the organisations.
UPF’s political objective is identical to KNO’s in terms of the people and land. On the one hand, pre-occupation with an alternative to the terminology Kuki, and on the other hand, considerations of regional issues seems to be an obstacle in the two umbrella organisations shaking hands to forge unity. It has yet to dawn upon the minds of the various leaders that the ideology of land and ethnicity is paramount over nomenclature. No matter what one may identify herself or himself as, at the end of the day ‘blood is indeed thicker than water’. It would not be untrue to state that enough fratricidal blood has been shed owing to unbridled priority given to regionalism over nationalism. 
An inherent co-relation exists between a cohesive identity and extent of nationalism. This is amply evident in the case of Kuki. A combination of ‘external’ and ‘internal’ factors rendered Kuki identity in a state of flux from 1940s to 2003. During this phase the people have experienced immense socio-political and economic deprivations. This negative condition exhibits a corresponding equation between identity and nationalism. Following the reintroduction of ‘Any Kuki Tribes’ in Manipur and Suspension of Operations signed among Government of India, Kuki National Organisation and the state Government of Manipur, the ‘colourful communities’ have begun to crystallise back to Kuki. Just as a state of identity flux created an environment of conflict, poverty and strife, it is self-evident that an intact Kuki identity will engender peace, prosperity and strident development. This tautological logic is the basis for consolidating Kuki unity and ensuring history does not repeat itself. This can be done by representing the people collectively in political dialogue with the Government to find a proper political settlement for the Kukis.
Truth, Justice and Peace
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Annexure 2: In alphabetical order, ‘Any Kuki Tribes’ in Manipur includes the ethnic group  Aimol, Anal, Baite, Chiru, Changsen, Chongloi, Chothe, Doungel, Gangte, Guite, Haokip, Hangshing, Hmar, Kipgen, Kharan, Khoibu, Koirao, Koireng, Kom, Lamkang, Lhungdim, Lunkim, Lupheng, Lupho, Mate, Maring, Mayon, Misao, Monsang, Paite, Purum Ralte, Simte, Sukte, Tarao, Thadou, Thangal, Thangeo, Tuboi, Vaiphei and Zou.
Annexure 2: Map of Zale’n-gam, land of the Kukis in Manipur
Annexure 3: Map of Mizo National Front
[1] Cited by Gallois, A (1998, 1), Occasions of Identity: A Study in the Metaphysics of Persistence, Change and Sameness, Clarendon Press, Oxford
[2] Shaw, W (1929), Notes on Thadou Kuki, published on behalf of the Government of Assam
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[4]Press release by Geneva Call: The Kuki National Organisation (KNO) of Northeast India commits to the anti-personnel mine ban
Geneva, 9 August 2006 – Awareness and support to Geneva Call’s action in India progresses as a second armed Non-State Actor, the Kuki National Organisation (KNO) and its armed wings– the Kuki National Army, the Kuki National Front (Military Council), the Kuki National Front (Zogam), the Zomi Revolutionary Front, the United Socialist Revolutionary Army, the Zou Defence Volunteers, the Hmar National Army and the United Kom Rem Revolutionary Army, committed today to a total ban on anti-personnel mines by signing Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment (DoC) on 9 August, in the Alabama Room, in the City Hall of Geneva.
[5] Bareh, HM (2004, 161), Encyclopaedia of North-East India, Vol V, Mizoram, Mittal Publications, New Delhi
[6] ‘Any Kuki Tribes’, Register No. DL 33004/2003, The Gazette of India Extraordinary, Part II, Section I, Published by Authority, New Delhi, Wednesday, January 8, 2003, Ministry of Law and Justice (Legislative Department), Subject: Scheduled Cast and Scheduled Tribe Orders (Amendment Act, 2002), No. 10 of 2003 (J) in Part x – Manipur, p 6
[7] Hobsbawn, E (1997 (1990), 192), Nations and Nationalism Since 1780, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
[8] A reminder that one can be wise only after the event. In a local saying, avoid Haokip khonung lim
[9] Grierson, GA (ed) (1904), Tibeto-Burman Family: Specimens of the Kuki-Chin and Burma Groups, Linguistic survey of India, Vol. 111, Pt.111, Published by Office of the Superintendent, Government Printing, India, Calcutta
[10] Calhoun, C (1997, 86), Nationalism, Open University Press, Buckingham; Guibernau, M (1996), Nationalisms: The Nation-State and Nationalism in the Twentieth Century, Polity Press, Cambridge and
[11] Smith, AD (1991), National Identity, Penguin, London
[12] Op cit (1991, 72-74)
[13] NP Rakung, Reader, in The Telegraph, 17 January 1994, Letter to the Editor, Imphal, Manipur
[14] Shakespear, J Lt Col (1912), The Lushei Kuki Clans, Macmillan & Co., Ltd., London
[15] Smith, AD (1995, 131), The Formation of National Identity, in Harris, H. (ed.) (1995), Identity, Clarendon Press, Oxford
[16] Friedrich Meinecke’s distinction between Kulturnation and Staatsnation, cited by Smith, AD (1991, 8), National Identity, Penguin, London
[17] See full text in The Kuki People at www.kukination.net
* Note: ‘near’ Manipur, not in Manipur
[18] Gellner, E (1994), Nationalism and Modernization, in Gereni, GR (1909, 744), Researches on Ptolemy’s Geography of Eastern Asia (further India and Indo-Malay archipelago), Published in conjunction with the Royal Geographical Society, London. (see also the Upper Burma Gazetteer Part 1, Vol. 1, p. 452)
[19] The Court chronicle of Manipur The Cheitharon Kumpapa, original text, translation and notes Saroj Nalini Arambam Paratt, 2005, Notes 5, p14, Routledge, London and New York
[20] Burma and Assam Frontier, ‘Kuki rising, 1917-1919’, L/PS/10/724, Oriental and India Office Collections (OIOC), British Library, London
[21] Majumdar, RC & Bhattasa1i, N (1930, 6-7, fifth revised edition), History of India, Shyam
Chandra Dutta, Dacca
[22] Phukan, JN, The Late Home of Migration of the Mizos, International Seminar, Aizawl, Mizoram, studies on the Minority Nationalities of Northeast India – The Mizos, 1992, 10
[23] Gereni, GR (1909, 53), Researches on Ptolemy’s Geography of Eastern Asia (further India and Indo-Malay archipelago), Published in conjunction with the Royal Geographical Society, London
[24] Stevenson, EL (ed) (1932), Claudius Ptolemy: The Geography, (2nd Century), Translated and Edited by Edward Luther Stevenson, Dover edition first published in 1991 (p.xiii), an unabridged republication of the work originally published by The New York Public Library, NY, 1932, Dover Publications, Inc New York
[25] Dalton, ET (1872, 110), Descriptive Ethnology of Bengal, Government Printing Press, Calcutta
[26] EB (1962), Vol 13, 511
[27] Kabui, G (1981), Anal: A Transborder Tribe, Mittal Publishing House, New Delhi
[28] Chakravorty, BC (1964, 53), British Relations with the Hill Tribes Bordering on Assam since 1858, Calcutta
[29] Carey, BS & Tuck, HN (1976, first published in 1932)), The Chin Hills, Vol. 1, Firma KLM Pvt. Ltd., Calcutta
[30] Elly, EB (1978, 8 (first published in 1893)), Military Report on the Chin-Lushai Country, Firma KLM (P) Ltd., Calcutta
[31] Mackenzie, A, The North-East Frontier of Bengal, (2005, 342 (first published 1884, History of the Relations of the Government with the Hill Tribes of the North-East Frontier of Bengal)), Mittal Publications, New Delhi
[32] ‘The Kukis Then and Now: The Kuki War of Independence (1917 – 1919)’, Seminar Paper Presentation, School of Social Sciences Auditorium, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, 19 December 1997
[33] Gangte, TS (1980), ‘Anglo-Kuki Relation from 1849-1937’, Churachandpur, Manipur,
[34] Shakespeare, LW Col (1977) (first published in 1929)), History of the Assam Rifles, Firma KLM Pvt. Calcutta
[35] Palit, DK (1984), Sentinels of the North-East: The Assam Rifles, Palit & Palit, New Delhi
[36] Guardians of the Northeast, The Assam Rifles: 1835-2002 (2003, 19-20), Directorate General Assam Rifles, Laitumkhrah, Shillong 11
[37] Minute Paper. Secret Political Department, Government of Burma, Rangoon, 23 December 1919.
[38] Burma and Assam Frontier, L/PS/10/724, Oriental and India Office Collections (OIOC), British Library, London. CONFIDENTIAL, File No. 4895 Field Operations, Simla, Despatch On the Operations Against the Kuki Tribes of Assam and Burma, November 1917 to March 1919, From Lieutenant General Sir HDU Kerry, General Officer Commanding, Burma Division, To The Chief of the General Staff, Army Headquarters, India, Simla. (Diary No. 69190) No. 1762-K.P.M., Maymyo, June 1919.
[39] Political Proceedings, Oct. 1920, No. 13: Extract from the Proceedings of the Chief Commissioner, Assam, in the Political Department Number 8856 p, September 1920
[40] Gangte, TS (1993), The Kukis of Manipur, Gyan Publishing House, New Delhi
[41] Freedom Fighters of Manipur, published in 1985, Congress Centenary Year, by Freedom Fighters Cell, MPCC (1)
[42] Resolution of the Annual Kuki National Assembly conference, October 1946
[43] The Manipur Hill Peoples (Administration) Regulation – 1947, in Sanajaoba (1993), Manipur Treaties and Documents (1110-1971), Vol. I
[44] Jacobs, J et al (1990, 152), The Nagas, Hansjörg Mayer, Stuttgart
[45] Declaration of the KNA Working Committee, 11 August 1947, Kuki Co-operative Society (KCS) Building, Imphal, cited by Ray (1990), Authority and Legitimacy: A Study of the Thadou-Kukis in Manipur
[46] Resolution No.1, 27 May 1947, of the Kuki and Naga Unity conference held at Mao Naga village. Mr Lunneh (Kuki) presided over the conference, and Mr Lorho (Naga) was the Secretary; cited by Ray (Ibid)
[47] Ray (Op cit, 124)
[48] Resolution No. 1, KNA meeting concerning the Aimol and Tamenglong Circles held at Bolkot village, dated 8 June 1947
[49] Cited by Ray (ibid)
[50] Resolution of the Thanlon Area Chiefs Conference, 6 July 1947
[51] Vaiphei, PS (1995, 128), The Kukis, in Sanajaoba (ed.) (1995), Manipur Past and Present, Vol. 3, Mittal Publications, New Delhi
[52] Chaube (1973, 195), Hill Politics in North East India, Orient Longman, Calcutta
[53] On the Thadou and Kuki imbroglio, the Govt of Manipur issued an order recognising the name of the language in question as “Thadou-Kuki” vide No. 7/15/93-S/SECRET (HC)/Pt. I, 15-3-1996, as per the recommendation of the Expert Committee constituted under the direction of the Guwahati High Court.
Please note: Kuki in this context is distinct from Kuki of antiquity, which represents the ethnic whole.
[54] J Hutton,  in preface to W Shaw’s (1929) Notes on Thadou-Kuki, published on behalf of the Government of Assam
[55] Rev Dr Lunkim, T (1971), Kuki Holy Bible, Bible Society of India, Bangalore
[56] Anderson, B (1991 (1983, 40-41)), Imagined Communities, Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Verso, London
[57] Vide Civil Rule 320 of 1990 (Guwahati) Civil Rule 295 of 1987 (Imphal)
[58] Gougin, T., Emancipation of Zo Ethnic Group to Nationhood, 4 July 1998, Lamka (Churachandpur)
[59] A translation from Decade Souvenir,Kuki Students Organisation,Delhi, 1987-1997, 13
[60] Document for Manipur Mizo Integration Council, signed by Holkhomang Haokip (now Ex-MP) and General Secretary and KT Lalla, Chairman of the Council
[61] Vumson (1986, 278), Vumson (1986), Zo History, Published by the Author, Mizoram, India
[62] Bareh, HM (2004, 161), Encyclopaedia of North-East India, Vol V, Mizoram, Mittal Publications, New Delhi
[63] Op cit, 162
[64] Ibid, 40
[65] Ibid, 75
[66] Ibid, 113
[67] Haokip, PS (1988), Zalen’-gam: The Kuki Nation, KNO publication
[68] For a more detailed account of these Kukis, please see The Kuki People in www.kukination.net 

The writer is a spokesperson of the Kuki National Organisation. This paper was presented at a seminar entitled "The Kuki Society: Past, Present & Future," organised by Kuki Research Forum in collaboration with the Kuki Students’ Organisation, at Sielmat Christian College, Churachandpur, Manipur, India, from February 19 – 20, 2010.

1 Comment

  1. “Any Kuki Tribes’ in Manipur includes the ethnic group Aimol, Anal, Baite, Chiru, Changsen, Chongloi, Chothe, Doungel, Gangte, Guite, Haokip, Hangshing, Hmar, Kipgen, Kharan, Khoibu, Koirao, Koireng, Kom, Lamkang, Lhungdim, Lunkim, Lupheng, Lupho, Mate, Maring, Mayon, Misao, Monsang, Paite, Purum Ralte, Simte, Sukte, Tarao, Thadou, Thangal, Thangeo, Tuboi, Vaiphei and Zou”……………….
    Ja umtah PU SEILEN, Manipur, Nagaland a koi tribe hijongleh hetthei din PAO/DIALECT chomcheh akinei in. Pao kibang group khatchun tribe min khatcheh aneiye. Hiche dungjui chun koima kinel-baotam bol jong akijakhapoi. Eiho THADOU tia ana kihete, Manipur tribe lah a atampen te chu itidan a suhkhen toukhen itho uva PAOKHAT tho Thadou techu tamtah nahinsodoh hitam…LAINAT AUM VAL IN, aseije jong kahetapoi. Sopi pengkop ngelngel Haokip leh Kipgen jong tribe chomchom sosah ding! Ipi gu iki don khah u hitam vangset aum valjenge. THADOU va iki punkhom theilou uleh keivang Naga a behthei beh utin Meilhei a behthei beh utin hileuhen kicheh jenglou dingham?