Territory of the Kukis

Published on June 27, 2011

By George T. Haokip

The Encyclopaedia Britannica records ‘Kuki’ as a name given to a group of tribes inhabiting both side of the mountains dividing Assam and Bengal from Burma, south of Namtaleik River (Britannica 1962). G.A. Grierson provides a general idea of the wingspan of the Kuki territory and the composition of its people. An excerpt of the general introduction of the chapter on ‘Kuki-Chin- Group’ in The Linguistic Survey of India, Volume III, Part-III, is reproduced as follows:

“Territory inhabited by the Kuki-Chin tribes extends from the Naga Hills in the North down into the Sandoway District of Burma in the South; from the Myattha 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 points 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 hence spreads out westward 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 700 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 raises, with summits 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 Irrawaddy. This vast mountainous region, from the Jaintia and Naga Hills in the north, is the home of the Kuki-Chin tribes. We find them, besides, in the valley of Manipur, and, in small settlements, in the Cachar plains and Sylhet.

Kuki is an Assamese or Bengali term, applied to various hill tribes, such as the Lusheis, Rangkhols, Thados, etc. It seemed to have been known at a comparatively early period. In the Raj Mala, Siva is stated to have fallen in love with a Kuki woman, and the Kukis are mentioned in connection with the Tipperah Raja Chachag, who flourished about 1512 A.D.”(Grierson G.A:1904)

Vumson a noted Kuki scholar who is well verse in the earlier accounts of the British writer wrote on the territory of the Kukis as below:

“The land occupied by Kukis-Chin speaking people extends roughly from a latitutide of about 25 degrees 30 minutes north to about 20 degrees and 30 minutes north and falls between 92 degrees 20 minutes East. The region at present covers different political areas:

a) Assam: Part of Cachar North Cachar Hills and Mikir Hills,
b) Meghalaya: Part of the East
c) Mizoram : State
d) Nagaland: Part of extreme South
e) Tripura: Part of the East
f) Manipur: State (Except part of the central valley and extreme North)
g) Myanmar: The Chin state, large group including Tiddim- Falam and Haka are to be found, and part of the Magwe division and Kabaw valley.
h) Bangladesh: Sylet District and Chittagong Hill Tracts.( Vumson:1986)

According to Ralthanga, their land extends from 92 degree 10 minutes east and 94 degree 20 minutes east, which lies in the Indo-Burma ranges. According to H.W. Cutter, they lived in a land where they moved freely, with the boundary beginning from Upper Chindwin in the east, Akyab sea of Bengal in the south, Kaptai River in the west and two miles along the north of Imphal city.

When much stronger nation attack them they migrated from different places at different times. The Kuki-Chin-Mizo nation had to fight through like the Israelites in their move to occupy the Promised Land, till they settled in the land occupied by them at present. This nation occupies a land roughly estimated to be 20,000 square miles, and a population of around two millions, comprising of different tribes, speaking almost the same dialect, slightly different in pronunciation and tune.

This is a fact until today and one can see for himself in the town of Churachandpur, Manipur, India. The people speak their own dialect and understand each understand another language. They address themselves as ‘Eimi’, which mean ‘our people’ or ‘us’. They were once called nomads because they kept on moving from place to place, like the Patriarchs, without proper settlement until the 19th century. Finally they settled down in the present land occupied by them, which was divided into three countries-India, Myanmar, Bangladesh, under the ‘divide and rule policy’ of the British. .

In present-day context, the Kuki country covered by the movement ranges broadly from the upper Chindwin (Burma) in the West; the hills in Manipur and Aisan (Nagaland) in the East. The leadership was Chengjapao Doungel, King of Kuki, Pache Haokip, Chief of Chassad, Tintong Haokip, Commander-in-Chief of Kuki Army, Enjakhup Kholhou, Deputy Chief-in-Command of Kuki Army, and Khotinthang Sitlhou alias Kilkhong, Chief of Jampi. Kuki chiefs received tax and tributes from their various subjects in the regions stated above

The earliest Kuki offensive against the British colonialists date back to 1777, at the time of Warren Hasting was the governor General of India. The first incident of record was impelled by the colonialist’s annexation of Hill Tipperah (Tripura) in 1761 whereupon the Kuki went on the offensive against the invaders ( A. Mackenzie:1884). Elly described ‘Great Kuki Invasion of 1860s’ in Chittagong Hill Tracts as a culmination of previous ‘raids’ beginning from 1845 to 1851. ( A. Mackenzie:1978)

The year 1860 saw the great invasion of Tipperah (Tripura) and in the following year a large body of police marched to the hills to punish and avenge. (BS Carey and HN Tuck, :1976) In 1845, 1847-1848, 1849-1850, and 1850-1851 there were raids which are altogether called the Great Kuki Invasion of 1860s.( EB Elly:1978)

Reports were received in 1860 that 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. Before any intimation of their could reach them on 31st January the Kookies , after sweeping down the course of the Fenny, burst into plains of Tipperah at Chagulneyah plundered 15 villages, butchered 185 British subjects, and carried off about 100 captives.( A. Mackenzie, Op Cit, 1885)

A spirit of sovereignty pervades the history of the Kuki people. The territory inhabited by the Kukis people is known as Zale’n-Gam’ (P.S Haokip:1998) When Assam came under British rule following the conclusion of the Anglo-Burmese War in 1826,[1] expeditions to extend British rule throughout the Northeast were carried out by the Assam Rifles and the Assam Military Police. What followed was the Kuki Rising of 1917-1919 which served as a foundation of Kuki nationalism. In Zale’n-Gam: The Kuki Nation (PS Haokip, Ibid) Haokip recounts details of the rising, which was painstakingly collected. The event is a reminder of the spirit of nationalism exercised by our forefather.

They knew the land they occupied as ‘Zale’n-Gam’, which means “The land of free flight”.[2] They moved freely in their land with total freedom and without any trouble. They lived according to their customs and cultures, singing their own song and ate their own bread. It was their own country, governed by themselves. Later, when the British began to penetrate their land from the plains of Assam, every village fought against the British but could not last long and soon submitted to their enemy.

However their country was not yet conquered as we can see in the word of Cutter: “…why and how foolish of you all, your Israel land is not yet conquered land, it is your country…”[3] On the other hand, the British armed some of the tribes, for which other tribes would attack those who were under British protection.[4] From the writing of Vumson and other scholars, it is clear that the native fought in their best to defend their land. The British moved in all directions and effectively infected with the weapon of “divide and rule” among the native who were already fighting among themselves.

Communal hatred was deeply rooted in their hearts, which pulled down national integrity and ethnical oneness.[5] This infection remains uncured until today, though many attempts have been made. The people together, neither the latest name “Zomi,” cannot accept the name – Kuki or Chin or Mizo. Now, though the same nation, there are four names with no total acceptance to either of these name by the people in unison. Within a short period another movement with another name, probably ‘Manmasi or Chhinlung’ is likely to sprout up.


[1] Guardians of the North East: The Assam Rifles, 1835-2002 (2003, 11), First published in India by Directorate General Assam Rifles, Laitumkhrah, Shillong, 11 in association with Lancer Publishers & distributors, New Delhi[Expeditions]’ include ‘Kuki operations of 1880-1882 and 1917-1919’.
[2] P.S Haokip, Zale’n-Gam’ The Kuki Nation (Publish by KNO),p.35
[3] Ralthanga Sailo, Luz Israel, 6.
[4] Vumson, Zo History, Pp. 109-113.
[5] T. Gougin, History of Zomi, p.72.

* The writer is assistant professor at Agartala University and can be reached at kinepna@gmail.com.

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1 Comment

  1. Lun

    I like it. Na bol hoi mong2 e. You did it. Superb.

    Thanks for you kind co-operation.