The Kookies (Kukis)

Published on January 21, 2006

By Dr. T.D.L. Khongsai


“The Kookies (Kukis)” is an extracted note from the book entitled as “The Wild Tribes of India,” 

by Dr. Horatia Bickerstaffe Rowney, printed in 1982.

The extraction is done for those interested in rebuilding up of the Kuki Nation in particular, and the Kuki people (now named with varieties of newly invented names) in general, trying to understand who we were in the past, are at the present and will be in the future in the context of freedom, democracy and peace in our forefather land.

Let us understand that the writer is a non-Kuki, who has written down our history as he might have discovered us through his Research without bias. Therefore let us study this piece of writing to be a means of recognizing all the steps of our nation in order to rebuild our nation into a strong one as it was before the British invasion, the war fought from 1761 A.D. which has not yet been over till today.

The Kookies (Kukis)

The Kookies (Kukis) are a numerous race whose proper limits have not been defined even to this day. Their original settlement seem to have been in the hill recesses to the south of the Hylakandy valley, a wild and difficult country of large extent, whence they have branched out northwards into Hill Tipperah (Tripura) and southwards into Chittagong. The tribes occupying such a large territory are of course various, and are known under different names in different places, such as Lunctas, Chuckmas, Tipperahs, Reangs, Lushais etc, all living independent of each other and each ruled over by its own separate chief.


The appellation “Kookies, (Kukis)” is equally unknown to all of them, having been given to them by the inhabitants of Eastern Bengal: for their whole race they have no common name, and are content to call one another by the names of their different clans. But their general characteristics are very similar in all places, and they are easily distinguishable by them from other tribes. They are all stout and muscular make, though of a short size, and have a dark complexion, flat nose, and small eyes. Of some the legs are disproportionately long; and the face which in every case is as broad as it is long, is among some tribes round, but among others nearly square.


The women of all tribes are equally ungainly and filthy, and more squat even than the men; but they are at the same time very strong and lusty. The dress of the different tribes varied to some extent according to taste and locality; but there is not much room for variation where the general fashion is to go naked. According to their own traditions the Kookies (Kukis) and the Mughs, or Joomeahs, are of the same parentage, born of the same father by different mothers. The mother of the Kookies (Kukis) dying first, during the infancy of her son, the child was brought up by his stepmother, who gave him no clothing, and so he came to be called Luncta, or the naked.” Where any dress is worn, the woman have a small blue cloth round the loins, reaching from below the navel to the knee, and another cloth thrown over the shoulders, while the men have their dhotis and merzais, and a cloth tied round the head which stands for a turban.


The women wear no head-dress at any place, but cultivate a luxuriant crop of hair instead of it. The ornaments worn are necklaces, armlets and bracelets made of brass which are very massy, and earrings. The arms of the warriors are the dao, the bow and arrows, and the spear, a shield being occasionally used in addition for defence. Strings are also worn by them around the neck, both as ornament and armour; and tufts of goat-hair dyed red are worn on the thighs. The distinctive mark of the Tipperahs (Tripura) is a large quill stuck on the back of the head, from which re-coloured goat-hair is hung out in streamers.

The Kookies (Kukis) in Cachar are divided into two primary septs called the “old” and the “new.” The “old” are subdivided into three clans, of whom the most considerable in numbers are the Rhangkol, who are very powerful men physically, and very steady labourers, both for working and carrying. They dress decently, and are fond of ornaments; but like the rest of their race, neither wash their bodies nor their clothes, and are eaten up with skin diseases. They have no chiefs, but every village has a headman with limited powers. Their notions of religion are mainly borrowed from the Assamese, and are vague; but marriage is a religious ceremony with them, and always requires the presence of the Ghalim, or priest. There is no polygamy among them, and widows have the same liberty as widowers to remarry.

The “new” Kookies (Kukis) were driven into Cachar by the Lunctas within the recollection of the present generation, some thirty years ago. They are divided into four clans, each having a rajah or chief, of its town, who is entitled to receive one cut of each brood of pigs or fowls, one quarter of every animal killed in the case, one tusk of every elephant slain, and one basket of rice from each of his subjects. He is also entitled to receive free labour from each man for four days in the year, and has the privilege of adjusting their quarrels and differences with the assistance of a council of elders and of laws peculiar to the tribe, his decision being final in every case. The religion of the tribe recognizes an all-powerful deity named Puthen, who has a wife, a son, and a daughter-in-law; and in addition to them, there are household gods, to whom sacrifices are made.

The Tipperahs (Tripura) are Kookies (Kukis) who own allegiance to the Rajah of Tipperah (Tripura), paying him an annual nuzzur, and abwabs on marriage and other occasions. They are fairer than the other tribes, some of them being hardly darker than a swarthy European, but are not distinguishable from the rest in any other respect. They pretend to be Hindus, but have no restrictions of caste, and eat almost any kind of food, and from the hands of any person. Pigs, fowls, and pigeons are reared by them; but they keep no oxen, which they do not eat nor know any other use of.

The most powerful of the Kookie (Kuki) tribes are the Lushais, who are also the most easterly; and it is on account of their wars and raids mainly that the other septs have been forced forward into British territory in the directions indicated. The quarrels of the Lushais, like those of the Nagas, are incessant, and, as they always prefer to surprise their enemies instead of attacking them openly, however strong their own party might be, there is no option left to those who are attacked but to fly before them, since their main object is not so much to plunder as to kill or take slaves. Proceeding on a foray, they will march in the night with the stealthy pace of the jackal in the most profound silence, and on being overtaken by day will so conceal themselves among trees as to remain unperceived by persons passing under them, waiting in ambush till the time for surprise arrives.


The only notice given of an attack is the shout by which it is commenced, and those who cannot fly are either killed or carried off. After victory the assailants retire, taking away the heads of the slain and their slaves, the former to be used in certain ceremonies performed at the funerals of their chiefs, and for being exhibited as trophies. But, if they are defeated, they go back to their homes as silently as they came, and live in disgrace till their failure is retrieved. The one well understood law with all of them is that blood can only be wiped out with blood; and, if the murderer be a tiger, the Lushai will rush after him to kill him, and will never be satisfied till he has been killed, cooked, and eaten. Nay, if a man is killed by the fall of a tree, his friends will cut up the tree into chips, or burn it till it is reduced to ashes. The trouble caused on the frontier by a race so vindictive was necessarily great, and, in 1871-72, the Government had to send a rather strong party against them to repress their inroads, which was successful to this extent, that some of the raiding chiefs were punished and accepted the terms that were dictated to them.

The general character of the race is that they are nomadic but gregarious; frequently shifting their grounds, but not so migratory as the Mughs. The latter never remain on the same spot for more than two years; but the Kookie (Kuki) settlemens seldom changed before the expiration of four or five years. Their villages, called khooahs are therefore always better formed and finished than those of their neighbours. They are usually posted on the steepest and most inaccessible hills, and are fortified with bamboo palisades, while the passages to them are guarded day and night, in peace and war. Precautions of this sort are necessary on account of the aggressive character of the race and the outrages they perpetuate, which invite reprisals.


The houses in the villages are usually well made, and are raised on platforms of bamboos some six feet from the ground, and ranged in rows on each side of a street. Their cultivation patches also are very carefully arranged, but the work on these devolves mostly on their women. The men are all hunters and warriors, while the women work on the fields, an occupation from which no rank exempts them, the wife of a chief working alongside of the wife of his vassal. The process of cultivation is jooming, and the crops raised are rice and other grains of various sorts, roots, vegetables, tobacco, and cotton. The grains and vegetables form the chief food of the people, besides which they are fond of eating flesh of all kinds, and rear pigs and poultry. They also make their own fermented liquors and spirits, but do not drink intemperately, and are seldom seen intoxicated.


They are more fond of tobacco, which is smoke not only by men and women, but by children; and, in common with the Nagas, they drink the oil of tobacco mixed with water. Of the cotton raised by them the best portion is sold to the Bengali beparis by barter for fowls, each fowl being considered equivalent to its weight of cotton. A prodigious quantity of honey is also found in their forests, but they do not know how to separate it from the wax of the comb. In some places they are so rude that they still kindle fire by rubbing two pieces of wood together, and use the ashes of the bamboo as a substitute for salt. Their greatest of all virtues is velour, and the only accomplishments worth acquiring are: first, a knowledge of the military tactics practiced by themselves, and, after it, thieving the most contemptible of men, however, being, as with the Nagas, a detected thief. An oath taken by a Kookie (Kuki) is always held sacred: but it is very seldom that he will take any, and never except a very serious occasion.

The women of the Kookies (Kukis) as among the Nagas, are only values for the amount labour they perform. The manner of obtaining a wife is either by paying a price for her, or in the old Jewish fashion, by serving for her in bondage for a term of years; but no great value is placed on her rectitude. Cases of adultery and seduction are inquired into and punished, the punishment resting with the husband or father from whose charge the girl may have been seduced; but, on the other hand, all the women of a village, married or unmarried, are available to the chief at his will, and no stigma attaches to those who are favoured by them. Polygamy is not permitted; but there is no objection to retaining concubines in addition to a wife.


The marriage arrangements on behalf of the female are usually made by her father, and his inquiries in regard to her lover are best answered when the answer is that he is a great warrior, a good hunter, and an expert thief. The proofs demanded, and which have to be shown are the heads of he enemies slain by him, the heads of the game he may have killed, and the goods in his house that were stolen. If these are forthcoming, the arrangements are at once concluded. The idea of religion among all tribes is very similar to that entertained by the “new” Kookies (Kukis) of Cachar, except that the wilder Kookies (Kukis) believe more largely in spirits having change of their forests, hills and rivers, than in household deities, and that the best sacrifice a man make to them is the heads of his enemies.


Their idea of Paradise represents a happy hunting ground, where rice grows spontaneously, and game abounds as the heritage of the man who has killed the largest number, of his enemies in life, the people killed by him attending on him as his slaves. The chief end and object of life with the Kookie (Kuki) is, in fact, to kill his enemies, and there can be no greater virtue or glory then to do so. Diseases are believed to be inflicted by malevolent spirits who have to be pacified; and there is no other treatment for them. Some tribes burn their dead, along with different kinds of eatables given to the corpse; others bury them; but the burial day comes round once only in the year, and till its return each body is kept in a shed, all the bodies being buried together when the day returns. 

Posted on January 21, 2006

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