Institution of indigenous people and the Kukis

Published on October 16, 2007

By Satkhokai Chongloi


October 17, 2007: An indigenous people, once ruler of the “Independence Hill Country,” now became refugees, who fought against the supremacy of the British till 1919, who joined hands with the Indian National Army of Netaji S. Chandra Bose to protect their land and people from the invaders, whose country has been divided into three, India, the then Burma and the present Bangladesh, whose grievances have never been heard as they were surrounded  by the high political walls of newly emerging neighbors who have better connection with the outsiders.


No matter what, the truth about their existence as indigenous people and their hard paid blood of yesteryears heroes remained unchanged is the history of the Kuki People today.


No historians till date can challenge another indigenous people lived in the land of Kukis before the Kukis occupied these areas. In the Pooyas and Royal Chronicles of the Meitei Kings affirmed the existence of the Kukis in the early first centuries, having kings and rulers such as Kuki Ahongba, Kuki Achouba and Meidungu Taothimang. The relationships of Kukis with the Tipperah Kings in those days have been recorded in many books. Dr. Horatio Bickerstaffe Rowney in his book called “The Wild Tribes of India” mentions that “Tipperahs are Kookies who own allegiance to Rajah of Tipperah, paying him an annual nuzzur, and abwabs on marriage and other occasions.”


It was the King of Tipperah who married a daughter of Kuki Chief and they maintained a much cordial relationship respecting and helping each others’ governance.  Alexander Mackenzie has much more in his book, “The North East Frontier of India” about the relationship of Kukis with the Tipperahs. Since the Kukis were known and feared for their military prowess, the neighboring tribes hired them or asked their assistance when they were in great trouble.  The Kukis extended help to the Chakma Chief Ramoo Khan who rebelled against the East India Company in 1777 called into his assistance large bodies of Kookie (Kuki) men who lived far in the interior part of the hills (Carey and Tuck, 12).


History records the Kukis defending of their lands against the British colonizers in early eighteen century and the last and the greatest of all was fought in 1917-1919 which historians called in different names such as “The Kuki Rising,” “The Kukis Rebellions 1917-1919,” or “The Kukis War of Independence.” The British had a difficult time penetrating the Hill areas of Kuki-land. Even when they occupied the plains and valleys, the hill areas were still not under their direct rule. 


Conflict increased particularly when the British began to take away the power of tax collection from the Kuki Government in Cachar Hills and Karbi Anglong areas. The first encounter between the Kuki Inpi (Government) and the British  Inpi (Government) took place when the British East India Company occupied Chittagong and part of the Kuki land in 1777.  The other encounter took place in 1824 when the ‘Poitoo Kukies’ went to the hills along the river of Dhalleswari to collect bamboo and timber for trade, they killed the Britishers because they refused to pay tribute according to the Kuki custom of levying taxes upon those who passed through Kuki territory.  From the year 1824 onwards, there were more raids recorded. 


The year of 1860 was known as “The Great Kuki Invasion” in which “15 villages were burnt and plundered, 185 British subjects killed, and about 100 captives carried off”(Carey and Tuck cited in Lian S. Sakhong, 165).  Foreseeing the Kuki people as a thorn in the flesh and the difficulties involved in their invasion into the Kuki-Gam, the Bristish Indian government sent an expedition in 1871-1872.  These expeditions did not bring about an amicable peace.  Rather, there were more raids reported.  In 1871, within a period of thirty days, from January 23 to February 23, the Kuki conducted nine raids on the Cachar plain and attacked the British tea planters, who had intruded into their territorial hunting ground.


The British adopted a new policy in 1889, which resulted in the occupation and annexation that eventually divided the Kuki-land into three districts: The North Lushai Hills in May 1890, the South Lushai Hills in April 1891, and the Chin Hills in 1892-1893.  These three districts were distributed among three provinces Assam, Bengal and the then Burma.  This was the first and foremost division of the Kuki people. Eventually, the great war broke in 1917 and lasted till 1919. The Kuki Chiefs were requested to surrender in the hands of British Government. But, they refused and chose to be in prison where many Kuki Chiefs died in prison and some were released after more than 15 years of their imprisonment.


The Kukis have been neighbors to the Meiteis in Manipur. The Maharajah ruled powerfully in the valley but the Kukis ruled in the hills.  They helped one another in times of war. Some incidences can be mentioned such as in the (1) Ava lan, (war) the Chahsad Kuki Ningthou (Chief) helped the Meitei Ningthou, who fought against the Burmese King. The Chahsad Ningthou killed the Burmese King and brought the head and presented it as a trophy to the Meitei Ningthou. As a token of appreciation, the present Haokip Veng near the Kings’ Palace has been given to the Haokip Kuki Chiefs. (2) In the war against the Assamese Abhor King, the Kukis again helped the Meitei King. (3) Even when the Chin King abducted Chandrakirty Singh, 1200 Kuki warriors went to his rescue and brought the Meitei King back to his throne. Following the Treaty of Yandaboo of 24 February 1826 between the British and Burmese, Manipur valley was brought under the British rule. (4) Even in post independence India, Kukis opposed the Meitei King to sign merger agreement.


The Kuki Chiefs led by the Chahsad Chief, supported by Aihang Chief, Chief of Nabil, Chief of Lonpi and many other Kuki abled persons tried their level best to stop the Maharajah Bodha Chandra for signing merger agreement. It was said that the Meiteis who wanted the Maharajah to sign merger agreement on the other side of the Gate of the King and the Kukis who did not want on the other side almost pull apart the gate of the King. The Meiteis overpowered the Kukis and as a result, the King went to Shillong and signed Merger Agreement on September 21, 1949. Eventually, Manipur valley was merged fully with Indian Union on October 15, 1949, but the Hills remained under the rule of the Kuki Chiefs.


To protect the Rights of The Independent Hill Country, its people and properties, movable and immovable, the Kuki Inpi (Kukis Traditional Government) which fought against the British Empire from early 1761 to 1919 has been revived on 29 June, 1993 with its Traditional Policy that the Kuki Inpi is: (1) Non-communal, (2) Peaceful co-existence and (3) Justice for all. The Kuki Movement for Human Rights is and will continue to do the same and will be against any force that violates and jeopardize the rights including the religious rights of the indigenous Kukis.


The political solution for trouble-torn Northeast India (NEI) can not be dealt in isolation of a particular indigenous people or in a piece-meal basis. It has to be done collectively. It is rooted in the lives and cultures of people groups living together from time immemorial. It was the Kukis who defended this country not for their own people alone, but for all the people living in the region and must be done likewise today if any indigenous people claimed fighting to protect these regions.


The lasting political solution lies not from outside, not even from New Delhi, but in the hands of people living together here from time immemorial. Unless our movement is for the people, by the people and of the people of the whole communities living in the regions, our chronic problem will still remain untouched and success will remain only in our dream. The Kukis have been closely monitoring all movements but if the hard paid blood of yesteryear heroes of the Kukis would come to naught, the Kukis have to review their stands.


The writer, Vice Chairman of Kuki Movement for Human Rights, presented this paper at a regional training workshop on “UN Human Rights Procedures and National Institutions on Indigenous Peoples” held from October 12-14, 2007 at Lytton Hotel Kolkata, India.