Safeguarding the Kukis’ Culture and Political Aspiration
By Satkhokai Chongloi
Relevance of Haosa System of Village Administration in Safeguarding the Kukis’ Culture and Political Aspiration
The “modern” youths of the Kukis are in search of identity, adapting others’ culture and governments as though belonged to them. Gradually, the Kuki youths are leaving their own traditional heritages and merging toward the so called Pop culture which pulls people of the world together. If they are not properly informed they will soon be people without culture and therefore, a paper as such is a need of the hour which intends to find the traditional government of the Kuki people in centuries, and inform Kuki youths to enhance and elevate their traditional government that exists since time immemorial. It will not be a perfect paper but what has been written here would serve as a catalyst for further development and enlightens the mind of the Kuki youths and helps them to rediscover and restore their traditional value as a nation.
Origin of Haosa (Chief) Haosa Institution
The institution of Haosatna begins at home. Each set of rule applied to the household is also applied to the Village (Khosung), Area (Lhang), State (Gamkai) and National level governance (Kuki Inpi). No Kukis can be isolated from the village community. The village administration is the larger unit of each family’s governance. This Haosa Inpi or Village Administration is called the “Kuki Traditional Government.” This government was and had been the traditional government of the Kuki people and is also the highest court of appeal.
Each Kuki village has its own traditional government called “Inpi.” Since this Inpi was born with the Kukis, the institutional laws of the village Inpi are also the culture of the Kukis. This government was not the later development among the Kukis. The Inpi was when the inception of the Kukis. It was not a man made Inpi. It was born with the Kukis.
Khankho an ethical principle of Kukis’ Culture
Culture is behaviour by which an individual is identified as a specific group of people. It is also the social heritage and customary ways by which groups organize their way of behaving, thinking and feeling. The Kukis have a very distinct culture and a Kuki can not be isolated from the practice of customary laws. The whole laws or ethical principles of the Kukis evolved around the system of Khankho by which a Kuki is bound of both his social and political obligations in a society. The Chief rules under the system of Khankho and he is the custodian of the system Khankho and punishes villagers whoever violates the system according to the customary law of the Kukis.
The most important element in the Khankho system is called Upaship. A Kuki is Upa to someone where he receives Sating. There is no Kuki without the Upa. The role of Upa and his “Sating” is the backbone of the Kukis’ life and culture. The generation and genealogy of the Kuki is reckoned from the first male born of the family, who represents his father if the latter is deceased or is unable to function.
Even when there are no written documents available earlier than the sixteenth or seventeenth century, Kukis have been counting generations and genealogy long before in their special occasion. When the “Naopa Ki Inchon” (an extended home for the younger brother) is performed, his Upa and his Father adopt “Indoi,” a family/household god, for him. They reckon their genealogy from the Bulpipa to the brother for whom they adopt an Indoi. There are other similar occasions such a “Sutpi noija minluto kisim.”
In this occasion, the Upa, head of the clan reckons his genealogy under the main pillar of the house called “Sutpi,” from Bulpipa to himself and to all his brothers (Naote). So the Kuki is founded on Bulpipa who was the first born among the Kukis. The generation of Bulpipa has been carried through his first son and goes on till date and he is head of the Kukis. The union of one family with another family is through Sating. Sating is like a ligament that joins together all families of the Kukis. Therefore, the unity of all Kuki families remains in the one head of the family called “Bulpipa.” No Kuki can be exempted from the giving of “Sating” to the Upa. A saying of the Kukis goes thus: “Upa leh Lamsah Kipel thei lou” (the older brother/the head of the family and the side of the road cannot be avoided).
Vumson says, the “Zo (Kuki) culture is very much connected with zu (Ju); although some western writers suggest that Zo/Kuki culture is a Mithun culture.” The western writers, noticing that Mithun is prominent in the customary laws of the Kukis, called Kuki culture “Mithun culture.” It is also because the wealth of a person is judged by the numbers of Mithuns he has. Vumson, however, says that if anything could determine the culture of this people, it would be Zu/Ju (a local made rice beer or its equivalent Chabel, or tea-pot among Christians), not Mithun, because Zu/Ju is served in all occasions of Kukis whether big or small.
Nevertheless, there are two more factors which are more significant in the Kuki culture. They are the “Upa” and the “Sating,” without which there is no culture and tradition of the Kukis. Mithuns may indicate the wealth of a person and is used as Bride-Price. It also figures in the implementation of many other customary laws. The same can be said of the Zu/Ju. Without it there is essentially no Kuki culture. But much more than these two Mithun and Zu/Ju, are the Sating and the Upa. The family genealogy goes through the line of the Upa, and the Upa receives the Sating. Giving of Sating goes on to the line of Bulpipa who receives the last Sating of the Kuki people. The Sating and the Upa are the integral to being the Kuki people. The Upa and Sating brings unity and oneness to the Kukis.
A Kuki family is made up of three institutions: (1) the Upa, to whom the father of a family gives his “Sating,” who is important in every occasion of the family. (2) The Becha, two persons who are closed relatives acting as spokespersons for the family. Among the two, one is selected for “Bebul.” Bebul is the head of the Becha in that family, and (3) the Tucha, two persons who are a near kin from the sons of their daughters. There is also one selected as Tubul, head of the Tucha. In any given occasion, or when customary laws are to be performed, Bebulpa (Becha is name of the office/institution and the person is called Bepa, Bebulpa is head of the Becha) leads the meeting and introduces the reason for the occasion.
However, Upa says the main topic of the meeting, and his words are taken seriously. If the father of the family does not want to say anything, it would still be alright as long as his Upa had spoken. Tuchas prepare and serve Vaiju or Jubel (a local bear made out of rice which has been substituted with Chabel- Tea pot among Christian Kukis). These are the core relatives of the family in times of joy and happiness, and in times of sorrow and difficulties. They are family relatives and are part of the family. As a custom, on any occasion the household would kill an animal like a cow, buffalo and pig to perform social, religious, or political duties. Tuchas dress the meat. They cook and serve guests.
If the father hunts forest animals or set traps and killed deer, wild boar, lion, tiger, elephant etc., the Tuchas and Bechas are expected to dress the meat and arrange accordingly for the customary distribution of the portion of meats to relatives including “Sating” (meat taken from the back of animal or spinal flesh) to Upa. “Salu” (head of animal) is given to the Chief of the village. The “Sa-ngong” (neck of animal) is given to Sunggao/Pute. The “Sakong” (waist of animal) is given to Tuchas, and the “Sa-om” or “Sanah” (rib part of animal) is given to Bechas.
A Kuki who did not follow these “Sachan” distributions of meats pays the concern people a Mithun or a traditional shawl or “Thih dam,” or any kind of iron instrument with Jubel/Chabel as a penalty for not performing cultural law. In return the above families who got portions of meat bring Jubel and enjoy with the person who killed the animal. Among the most prominent one is Sa-ngong to Sunggao/Pute.
The children of the father who killed the animal would take the Sa-ngong to their maternal uncle Pute (the father/brother of their mother), which they called “Sa-ngong thah.” If the uncles were able and well-to-do, they killed pig or cow or buffalo. But if they were not, they would still kill a hen or a cock to please their nieces or nephews. The fame of a man is determined by how many animals and the kind of animals he killed, and the wealth he acquired in his lifetime. Therefore those men who killed animals like tiger, lion, elephant, wild boar, sajuh and birds like eagle were entitled to Sa-Ai for men. Chang-Ai is mostly done for the woman.
In a situation where a family has two or more sons, the eldest son inherits all the property of their father and looks after the family. His younger brothers stay with him till they marry. Once the younger brothers achieved manhood through marriage and having children, his father and Upa with the help of Village Priest, installs for him an Indoi (a household God) and selects Tuchas and Bechas. Most Upas shared their properties with the younger brothers when they move to their own houses. From that time onward, he is considered a full member of the society of the Kukis and begins to function as a responsible person with full authority to shoulder giving Sating to his Upa and any other social and religious obligations to neighbors and society.
These sets of duties are not written but every Kukis knew what their duty is to Naopa, as being an Upa and vice versa and to the Tucha, as being a Mipu and so on. Anyone who failed to perform this Khankho is talk of the village and he is like an outcaste. And therefore, a Kuki while striving to be faithful in doing the Khankho, he becomes faithful in all duties.
Khosung Kivaihom Dan (Village Administration)
The Kuki villages are founded on their cultural and family unit. If a father of the Kukis has many sons, and if his first son is capable to become chief of a village, his younger brothers will found a village and make him to be chief. The Chief is the eldest among the brothers and he is given Sating by all his younger brothers. He is the head of that family and eventually, the younger brothers become his villagers. He is made the Chief of the village by his brothers. In other instances, even when a person has many sons, the first son is not made to be Chief, unless he is capable or trust worthy to govern the whole family. Therefore, to become Chief of a Kuki village, one must be Upa (head of the family), must be trustworthy, loving, intelligence enough to be the Chief, and the younger brothers have to choose him to be chief over them.
Since the Kukis believe that the Chieftainship is given by God, the office of Chieftainship remained in the family of the Upa. It cannot be in any way taken from the Upa, head of the family. However, if the Chief does not have a son to rule after him, a brother, next to him will become the Chief. In such away a Kuki village administration is formed and it is a very powerful administration, because, a capable Upa was elected by his younger brothers, and the Upa takes care of all his younger brothers as he takes care of his own family.
Therefore, the Chief of the village acts as though a father who takes care of his own household. The villagers loved him and obeyed him. Therefore, there is no sacrifice too great for the villagers to make for the Chief and for the whole village. If a Kuki, other than his brothers wants to live in that village, he asked permission from the Chief whether he would be accepted as a villager. Once he was accepted, the Chief treated him like his own family, and the new villager obeyed the Chief and worked for the welfare of the village.
Each Kuki village has its own Inpi called Khosung Inpi (Village Government). The Village Inpi carefully elected prominent persons for three offices such as, (1) Khosung Semang, (2) Khosung Pachong and (3) Khosung Lhangsam to help the Chief in the village administration. There can be more than one person in each office if the village is bigger than one can handle the office. Persons with high quality, whether they are from the brothers of the Chief or his others villagers, could be elected for these offices, and they assist the Chief in all village administration.
The Kuki villages are carefully chosen. First, they select a place where the villagers can be well protected from attack of the enemies. They also select a place where they can easily find water and firewood. The Kuki village is called “Kho or Khaw.” Kho (village) plays a very important role in the life of the Kuki nation. All educations, handicrafts and any development in life of a person begin at home in the village. Most Kukis bear “Kho” in their names, which witnesses to the importance of the village among the Kuki people. Since most Villages Chiefs are heads of the Kuki tribes, Villages are the powerhouse of the Kukis. Therefore, the strength of the Kuki Nation lies on the strengths of the Kuki Villages.
Chiefs of the Kukis are the land owners. Even though they are owners of the land, they do not exercise their ownership or imposed taxes upon the villagers. The villagers are free to cultivate the land and free to hunt animals within the land. The villagers give a bucket of paddy as tribute to the Chief at the end of the year. The Chief also receives “Salu” the head of animal killed in the wild-game hunting, and the “Khotha,” each family of the village work one day for the Chief in his field to show gratitude. There is Kho Thempu (village Priest) and there is also Kho Thih Khengpa (blacksmith) in all villages. As mentioned, each village has an INPI (Parliament), and elected a Village Council of Ministers such as: “Khosung Semang,” “Khosung Pachong,” “Khosung Lhangsam” etc. to work closely with the Chief for the welfare of the village and for the well being of the villagers.
Each village of the Kuki is an independent political unit, and the Chief of the Village and his Council of Ministers are the political leaders of the village. Gangte writes, “Administration of justice, enforcement of executive function, maintenance of social practices and customary law, including religious performances are the areas of the village administration under the Chief and his Council of Ministers. Thus, a Kuki village is an important administrative unit.” Through this remark, we can see the importance of all Kuki villages, big or small, as a unit of the bigger Inpi (Parliament) of the Kuki. The following shows how the Chief and his council of ministers function and their responsibilities.
The Haosa (Chief of the village) as mentioned is the administrative head of the village. He is not an elected person, but as the eldest son, he has inherited the position from his father. The position is passed down from generation to generation from eldest son to eldest son. He is the Upa of the family and has absolute right of ownership over the entire land of the village. Even his younger brothers who made him Chief do not have the right to claim ownership over the land of the village. The Kukis’ political structure has been built and institutionalized in Haosa. It is based on kinship and the hierarchical order of the clan. In 1872 Col.
Dalton observes that the Kukis are “a nation of hunters and warriors, ruled as a nation by their principal hereditary chiefs or rajahs, but divided into clans, each under its own chiefs.” Gangte also mentions that the authority of the chiefs greatly enhanced the strength of their custom, for they were the perennial resource of the Kuki custom, tradition, culture, language etc. The Chief works in unity with elected Council of Ministers such as Semang, Pachong and Lhangsam for the welfare of the village. Like a father in the family, the Chief takes care of the villagers as his own children. He judges without partiality. He cares for the poor and the needy. He represents the village to the Kuki Inpi (National Government), and he seeks the welfare of his villagers.
The Semang is one of the top administrators of the village. He records all the resolutions of the meetings. He works closely and gets advice from the Chief and directs villagers where to cultivate and how the villagers can live in peace and harmony. He manages records and implements what had been agreed in the annual meeting. He watches over the development of the village and informs the Chief if there is anything to be done. He holds the Law and orders and judges according to the customary laws of the Kukis.
Peace and justice are under the Semang. Therefore, the villagers could live in peace and harmony under his leadership. The office of the Semang is such an important office in a Kuki village. If a village has a wise Semang, the Chief has no difficulties in implementation of laws and orders and there is development in the village. Therefore, the election of liable person for the office of the Semang is done with careful deliberation and the people elected are normally one of the most trustworthy people in the village.
Since, the Chieftainship goes in the line of the Upa to his first Son and then to the Grandson, all the Chiefs may not be capable of leading the village as his Father or his Grandfather. Still the business of the village would be as usual if they have good Semang, Pachong and Lhangsam. Normally, the Semang, Pachong and Lhangsam were elected to meet any untoward situation that could arise in the line of the Chief’s family. The laws and orders are under the Semang and he implements it along with the Chief of the village. Therefore, electing a Semang and its office was very important and done carefully in all Kuki villages.
The office of Pachong is also important as of the Semang. Pachong is a defense minister/secretary who protects the village from attack, and checks any incursion or looks out for intruders using their land without permission from the Chief. He prepares able soldiers for counter attack and leads the military into war if necessary. Pachong is also responsible to look after the Lawm, the Village Labor Corps, and the Sawm, the Village Bachelors’ Dorm.
These two Socio-educational and Political Institutions of the Kukis played a major role in educating young able men and women for the individual and corporal responsibilities and for the village to respond any outside attack. These two Socio-educational and Political Institutions are the institutions where the young Kukis learned everything they need in life. Pachong is the leader in charge who appoints able young boys to lead a group or the sub-groups for the protection of their village. The villagers live and work peacefully under the leadership and protection of the Khosung Pachong.
Lhangsam is a Public Relation Officer and the Foreign Minister. He is the information and broadcasting minister/secretary who arranges and informs the meetings, who looks after the roads that connect village to village and the roads leading to cultivated field, such as the water roads and the firewood roads etc. He also acts as agent of information and conveys the decisions of the Haosa Councils to the villagers. He is an emissary between the Khosung Inpi(village), the Lhangsung Inpi (area), the Gamkai Inpi (state) and Kuki Inpi (National Kuki Government).
Khosung Inpi Thutanna (
The Kuki village court functions independently and its decision is final. Villagers who is not in accordance of Khankho system mentioned above is punished. In the Khankho system of the Kukis, a Kuki learns all what he ought to do or ought not to do. The Village Court of the Kuki was not only for the betterment and for peaceful coexistence of the village administration; it was also for the peaceful coexistence with the nature.
When a person killed someone intentionally or unintentionally, before the victim’s family revenge, the culprit can kill a pig in the Chief’s House (
Smaller violation or breaking of laws like Biltan, dehkeh or any shedding of blood, a pig is killed as a fine of institution called Toltheh. The meaning behind of this is that the village is spoiled because of blood is being shed or something has been done against God and the village needs to be cleaned. A portion of the incantation in Toltheh ritual might be given as an example:
“…na Vohpi maikem bohni sonlang, alu khonah a paiyin lang chonset kinotdoh tante; ato khoto a paiyin lang chonset kinot lha tante; Pathen thu ahi.”(…cut your mother pig that has slanted forehead into two halves. Throw the upper halve towards the north of the village, which will push out sins. Throw the lower halve towards the south of the village, which will push out sins. This is the word of God).
Various animals are used as penalty for violating against the law but when killed it is performed as ritual. So that the person is free once again and the environment which has been spoiled is restored. The following incantation shows how the nature is restored:
“Tunin phupi akentai phaipi akentai. Kaleiduppi hungthouvin, kaleithopi hungthouvin.” (The evil elelments have retreated today, let the fecundity of my loamy soil be restored.”
Khosung Thempu is the Priest and the Medicine man of the village. “He is the counselor-in-charge of the public health in the truest sense of the term.” Thempu is the one who knows “Themthu” (the secret words of charms by which utterance in a ritual ceremony, a sick person can be healed). Thempu functions in relation to the belief of the Kukis and their environment. The Kukis believe in one Supreme God called “Chungmang Pathen.” They also believe that there are smaller gods living and ruling in the world who are capable of harming or helping them.
When a person encounters such a god or is hurt, a person becomes sick, and the sickness is called “Toh khah nei.” The Thempu can determines whether that sickness is the sickness of “Gamlah nat” (forest sickness), Twilam nat (river sickness), Kholailang nat (village sickness) etc. This belief tells us that the Kukis are constantly at risk of being attacked or captured by the smaller gods of the world. These smaller gods that can harm their soul and body are propitiated and appeased (Thawi or thoi) by the Village Priest (Thempu).
Therefore, Sing Khaw Khai rightly says, “Zo (Kuki) sacrificial function is thus to ensure the harmonious existence of man with his spirit, to protect the wandering spirit from demonic attack and to help free the spirit in case of falling into captivity.” He further adds, “the function of Thempu and his propitiation is therefore, “to maintain the physical body of man in a state of healthy condition.” Thempu is so important in the life of the Kuki. Thempu receives “Thempu sa,” a shared portion of meat for the Thempu. He treats all the ailing villagers free of cost. In return, the villagers give him a day’s free labor called “Khotha.”
Khosung Thih khengpa/ Thihsupa (blacksmith)
Kho Thih-Khengpa is the authorized blacksmith of the village. He makes all agricultural tools, and repairs them free of cost. Like Thempu, he also receives “Khotha,” where all villagers gave a free labor to show gratitude for his service. Blacksmiths also play an important role in the Kuki society. They produce not only the tools for cultivation but also they make military hardware such as guns, bullets, swords, arrows and many kinds of instruments used for defense of the village.
Khosung Lom (village labor corps)
Lom is one of the Socio-educational and Political Institutions of the Kukis in which boys and girls engaged in social activities for the benefit of the individual and the community. It is an organization in which training for leadership is given to the young people of the village. It is also an organization in which the young ones learn a sense of duty and the dignity of labor. It functions mainly for the sake of the unity and the economic life of the village.
Its main purposes are: “to assist the Chief and his council of ministers for the development of the village, to help the poor and the needy, to identify the strong ones and the weak ones for leadership purpose, and to make the village famous through their unity and oneness.” It is where the youths work together as a group in all activities especially farming, cultivating etc. Throughout the year, the team remains together. They work together every day like a family till work in the fields of the Lom members is done. The strong members help the ones who are weak, and all members share benefit equally.
The Lom can be divided according to the size of the village. The bigger the village is, the more numbers of Lom. Every Lom has a Lom-Upa (Leader), Lom lai kam, (one of the strongest lom members who has to work in the middle while working, because normally when the lom is working, the middle area needs stronger ones). Tollai-pao, (Information Leader) Lom-Tangva, (Work Supervisor) and Lom Tucha (the ones serving beer or wine in the ancient days but tea or water in the modern days). Lom Upa (leader) can be the Khosung Pachong or any one elected has to work closely with the Khosung Pachong.
The number of leaders may vary from Lom to Lom and village to village. All members are required to sing “Heijam” while working. Heijam is a kind of noise (like ho ho ho for men and he he he for women) a person makes while working. However, Heijam is sung in accordance with the rules. When the Heijam sounds harmoniously, there is unity, and the work of Lom is in progress. The sounds of Heijam are divided into four: Api (Bass),
At the end of the year, all Loms celebrate a feast called “Lom Selneh and Lom Juneh.” They killed a Mithun (Lom-Sel), and celebrate with joy and happiness. The event is accompanied by dancing drinking of rice beer at night, and competitions like “Kungkal or Sel kal” (high jump over Mithun), “Kangkap,” “kangchong kap” (Top) “Suh tum khaw” (javelin throw using heavy wooden pounding stick, and “Song-se” (shot put), at .
This feast continues for days and nights. The Lom is not only a place where young people learn different disciplines and etiquettes; it is also a place where love and unity is exercised. Since Lom requires able people, when there are weaker families who do not have sufficient workers to join the Lom and are unable to finish their cultivation on time, the Lom shows kindness by helping them finish their unfinished work. Therefore, the Lom is a very important part of the lives of the Kukis.
Khosung Som (Bachelors’ Dorm)
“Som” is another form of Socio-educational and Political Institution of the Kukis where all the young boys of the village sleep together at night. The purpose of this Som was to protect the village from the attack of enemies. Gangte rightly points out, “The nature of hostility and practice of tribal raids necessitate the existence of this organization, so that in times of emergency the services of able-bodied men might be available at short notice.” The Som is where the younger boys learn every thing that a man ought to know from their Som-Upa (Leader).
It is the place where the younger boys learn the folk stories, legends, war stories, and love stories of the Kukis. “This is an organization responsible for the mobilization of the services of the young men to meet the exigencies of the society.” The Som is an essential institution of the Kukis from where comes able generals, intelligent Semangs, Pachongs and Lhangsams to assist the Chief of the village for the welfare of the village. Som can be divided into as many groups as they can and sleep in those houses according to the size of the village. This Som plays a major role in protecting the village from outside attack.
Haosa (Chief) system of village administration cannot be completely written in a small paper like this, however, some of the main elements of how a village functions under the leadership of the Chief and his cabinets have been mentioned. The worldviews, beliefs, folklore, folktale, ceremonies like marriage and other activities of the Kukis are not included due to the limitation of time and space. Through this short presentation, one can come to know the uniqueness of the Kukis’ Villages Administration where Chiefs functions as head of the family and the villagers as members of a family.
Therefore, the village administration as a system of Khankho is properly guarded. People from other ethnic group may think the practice of Village Administration is forceful but the real meaning behind of all this vigorous laws there is love, care and concern about the well being of villagers. It is inline with the Kukis’ traditional policy that the Kukis are none communal, for peaceful coexistence and justice for all. The village administration is so important because it is also the administrations of larger Inpis like Lhang (Area) Kuki Inpi,
The word “brothers” used here does not necessarily mean his younger brothers. It includes his cousin brothers. It is the translation of the Kuki dialect called “Naopa,” and the plural form is “Naote.” It is understood in this broad sense.
 Vumson, Zo History (Aizawl: Published by the author, 1986), 12.
 Satkhokai Chongloi, Unpublished Dissertation of D.Min entitled “Culture and Traditional Unity: Context of the Church’s Mission Among the Kuki People in Manipur India,” (UTS Philippines, 2003), 26
T. S. Gangte, The Kukis of Manipur (New Delhi: Gyan Publishing House), 125.
 Cited in Gangte, 20.
 Hemkhochon Chongloi, Indoi (Madarsa Road Delhi: ISPCK, 20080), 154
 Gangte, 131
Sing Khaw Khai, Zo People and Their Culture (New Lamka: Khampu Hatzaw, 1995), 159.
P.S. Haokip, Zale’n Gam. Zale’n Gam (KNO, 1998), 7.
T.S. Gangte, 132.
T. Lhunkhotong Doungel, Chin Kuki Bulpiho Phunggui Thusim leh Chondan Bu (Imphal: Guite Doungel Council, 1993), 138. It was written in Kuki dialect and the translation cannot be without any error.
T.S. Gangte, 133.