The Zale’n-gam and Kangleipak equation

Published on October 27, 2007

By PS Haokip


October 27, 2007: The hills and mountains surround the valley called Kangleipak or Manipur. From pre-historic days, the valley has been a melting pot for all of the races and tribes of people who migrated over a period of time, and from various directions. It is on record that king Naothingkhong, who reigned circa AD 760, wanted to unite the nine petty kings and their respective clans.


In pursuit of this plan, king Naotinkhong married the daughters of four different kings of the hill tribes, namely Siloi Langmai, Khumen, Moirang and Mangang. The matrimonial bonds formed by king Naotinkhong served the process of assimilation and established a reign of peace. It also led to the eventual formation of a Meitei nation in the valley of Kangleipak or Manipur. 


In an earlier period, c. AD 33, during the reign of king Nongda Lairen Pakhangba, a man named Poireton came to the land of Kangleipak, with ambitions of assuming kingly status.  He managed to organise a sizeable force, consisting mainly of a confederacy of the chieftains from the Kuki hills of Zale’n-gam surrounding Kangleipak, and declared war on King Pakhangba.


Although Poireton did not defeat Pakhangba, he brokered an honourable treaty: his sister was married to Pakhangba. Following the matrimonial alliance, Poireton and his people were assimilated into the kingdom of the valley of Kangleipak, and, Poireton was made prime minister.


It is difficult to come by concrete evidence regarding the assimilation of the Kuki people into the fabric of the valley culture of Kangleipak. This is perhaps because at the time the people may have not been identified as Kukis. Prior to the introduction of the term ‘Kuki’ the people were known either by the names of their villages, chiefs or clans. In the period preceding Pakhangba, the Kukis appear to have been known as Chingburoi, meaning owner of hills.


In AD 33, following Poireton’s arrival in the valley of Kangleipak, the Kukis came to be known as Hao. Later on, the term Khongjai developed as yet another nomenclature to identify the Kuki people. Historians such as Majumdar and Bhattasa1i[1] refer to the Kukis as the earliest people known to have lived in prehistory India, preceding ‘the “Dravidians” who now live in South India.’ The Aryans, who drove the Dravidians towards the south, arrived in the Indian sub-continent around BC 1500.[2]


According to the Pooyas, the traditional literature of the Meitei people, ‘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.’[3] Cheitharol Kumaba (Royal Chronicles of the Meitei Kings) records that in the year 186 Sakabda (AD 264) Meidungu Taothingmang, a Kuki, became king. Another theory suggests that the term Kuki is of recent origin, introduced by the Bengali people of Sylhet around the sixteenth-century, and reinforced by the British in the latter part of the nineteenth-century.


However, viewed from the perspective that the Kukis, like other communities on the planet earth, who were at one time in the process of migration, it is reasonable to consider that some of them would have found their way into the Kangleipak valley in different phases. The assimilation of the Kukis into the pre-Hindu fabric of the valley would have been very natural. This is because at the time the valley people and the people of the hills were not distinguished or segregated socially by the caste system of the Hindu religion.


The Kukis, who came into the valley, however, did not maintain a homogenous identity. This was because they came in very small groups and at different periods, which made the process of assimilation easy. Among the nine kings of Kangleipak, a few of them were Kukis. Perhaps, the process of assimilation was accelerated by this fact. By the time a centralised Meitei kingdom emerged in Kangleipak, the Kukis in the valley had completely lost their own identity, being subsumed by the larger identity of the valley Meitei people.


The advent of Hinduism into the valley of Kangleipak brought about deep transformations in the society. Besides creating distinctions based on social and economic factors, it also erased any trace of the original identities of the hill people. In other words, Hinduisation systematically separated the people who had been assimilated as Meiteis, as separate from the people of the same stock not yet assimilated. The Hindu caste system and its various social prohibitions led to the end of the assimilation of people from the hills into the Meitei community.


The use of the term Manipur appears to be conterminous with the Hinduisation of Kangleipak. Hinduism and the accompanying sanskritisation made the people arrogant, conceited and insular. It prevented the mixing between ‘fellow-tribesmen’ from the surrounding hills of Zale’n-gam.


There are several facts, which highlight the Zale’n-gam-Kangleipak equation. The Meitei ritual of Sagei Khunthoklon illustrates that two-thirds of all Meiteis were assimilated Kukis. If all the Bengali and Hindi vocabularies are removed from the Meitei language, the remainder is part of a Kuki dialect. The Linguistic Survey of India, Vol III, Pt III, which classifies Meitei as a Kuki dialect/language, substantiate this. The stories of different Kuki tribes like Milhem and Chothe, for example, provide evidence that the Kukis are aborigines of Manipur.


In pre-history Moirang, Chothe Thangvai Pakhangba a Kuki king, known as Ivang Purile Lai Thingri Nachousa is recorded to have ruled for one hundred and twenty years (BC 90 to AD 30). During the ‘Ava war’ in 1810, the Meitei king Chourajit was not fully equipped to fight his enemy. He therefore sought the help of Kukis and declared, Chingna koina pansaba, Haona koina panngakpa, Manipur sana leimayol (The hills surround Manipur the Golden Land, and like a barricade the hill people guard the valley (free translation from the vernacular)).


In AD 1820, the Kukis of Zale’n-gam pitched in their might to help King Herachandra prevent the Ava incursions (Burma) into Kangleipak. The Kukis sent five hundred warriors, while there were only three hundred Meitei to fight the battle. Therefore, it is proper that victory in the war should be attributed to the contribution of the Kuki warriors. That would render appropriately a deserved recognition.


During the reign of King Chandrakirti (1851-1852), Kamhau, the Sukte Chin King declared war on the Meitei Kingdom. The defeated King Chandrakirti was taken prisoner to land of the Chin people. Upon receiving news of the Chandrakerti’s capture, the Kukis of Zale’n-gam sent 1,200 warriors and fought against the Kamhaus.


The Kukis successfully returned Chandrakirti to Kangleipak and restored him to the throne. Following the event, king Chandrakirti held a grand occasion at which the honourable people of Zale’n-gam and Kangleipak were invited. King Chandrakirti acknowledged the various occasions in the past on which the Kukis had helped the Meitei Kings.

For example, Pu Thanglet went and collected the head of the King of Ningthi in Burma and gave it to the king of Kangleipak. Secondly, during the war against the King of Assam, the Kuki chiefs of Zale’n-gam extended help to the king of Kangleipak. In the war against the people of Kohima, too, the Kuki chiefs of Zale’n-gam again helped the king of Kangleipak. The present-day Kohima War Cemetery is the location where the Kukis were entrenched.


This trench was known as ‘Kuki Picket’ or ‘Kuki Qitla’ in the local pronunciation. During the Ava War of 1810, King Chourajit Singh was assisted by the Kuki people of Zale’n-gam. In 1820, King Herachandra was again helped by five hundred Kuki braves. Therefore, in appreciation of all the help rendered by the Kukis, King Chandrakirti announced his recognition of Zale’n-gam as the Kuki nation (Source: as related to Kuki elders, such as Pu PK Haokip, Ex-MLA and Pu Jamchung Haokip, INA pensioner).


In the war of Kuki Rising 1917-1919, the Kukis fought a full-scale war against the British India Government to preserve the sovereignty of Zale’n-gam. The Kuki Inn (The Kuki House) at Imphal was constructed with funds sanctioned by the Government of India as a commemoration of the Kuki Rising, 1917-1919 and a monument to the brave Kukis and their struggle for freedom. However, significant as the Kuki Inn is symbolically, sadly in real terms that it is the only concrete recognition accorded to the Kuki people for their defence against colonialism.


No other people in the Northeast region of present-day India fought the British as long a period as the Kukis. Less deserving people have been given statehood only because they wielded firearms and followed a militant stance against the Government of India. To the Kuki people, the Kuki Rising, 1917-1919 and the commemorative Kuki Inn is representative of the sovereignty of Zale’n-gam.


The Kukis acknowledge the sovereignty of Kangleipak, despite Kangleipak losing its sovereignty to the British in the Anglo-Kangleipak War of 1891. The Kukis do not recognise the authority of the British India Government. Zale’n-gam and Kangleipak were parallel sovereignties that existed side by side and were complementary to each other. It is of significance that a Kuki-Meitei war did not occur in history. There was always mutual recognition and respect for the other’s right to self-determination.


As mentioned above, at the time of Manipur’s annexation to India in 1949, the Kukis sent two hundred and fifty armed warriors to help the king of Manipur resist merger to the union of India. Pu Holkhomang Haokip wrote an article (27 October 1993, Haokip Veng, Imphal, Manipur) to recount the event. An excerpt:     


I take this opportunity to write a few lines in connection with the Manipur Merger issue. It is an attempt to focus on the last minute events before Maharajah Budhachandra Singh had to leave for Shillong, to sign the Agreement against his will.


It is a fact that it was a group of Kuki Chiefs, particularly Haokip Chiefs, who determined to help the Maharajah to resist the Merger. Here, to be specific, a group of Kuki Chiefs was led by the Haokip Chief of Chassad, whom the Chief of Aihang, Chief of Nabil, Chief of Lonpi and many other Haokip villages supported. These Chiefs went to the extent that about 200-300 volunteers with muzzle-loading guns were kept at the gate of Palace to protect the Maharajah and his kingdom.


The leader of Akhil Manipur Hindu Maha Sabha organised strikes and procession to force the Maharajah to relinquish his throne and to merge with India. There was almost a clash between the volunteers of Haokip Chiefs on one side and A.M. Hindu Maha Sabha on the other. Meanwhile, 2 or 3 telegraphs reached/came to Maharajah from the then Home Minister of India, Shri Sardar Vallabhai Patel, but the Maharajah refused to go to Shillong.


Unfortunately, on that eventful day, against his will, supported by the fact that Maharajah turned back 2-3 times to God, then into his car, he made ready for his journey to go to Shillong to sign the said Agreement.


People of Manipur or any historian have not recorded such important events of those decisive moments, which took place at the palace gate. The Maharajah, out of his love for his supporters: the Haokip Chiefs and volunteers who stood by him for his protection and independent Manipur during those eventful time/moments till the last minute, have granted the Haokips to settle at Haokip Veng which itself is an axiom. (Source: Annexation of Manipur 1949, 1995, p.182, Published by the Peoples Democratic Movement, Manipur)


The above conduct of the Kuki Chiefs during that critical period is a clear manifestation of the Zale’n-gam and Kangleipak relationship: it was one of mutual recognition. The relation between the powerful Kuki kings of Aisan or Chassad with the king of Manipur exemplified this. The Kangleipak Kingdom ruled no part of Zale’n-gam, and the Kuki Kingdom ruled no part of Kangleipak. The Kukis had the foresight that the fate of Zale’n-gam would be linked with that of the Meitei King, in the post-British scenario.


Therefore, they were anxious to dissuade the King from responding to the call of Sardar Patel. The preservation of a sovereign Kangleipak was integral to the preservation of Zale’n-gam, because the British had left the fate of Zale’n-gam in the hands of the Manipur raja. As in the events of 1840s, 1860s, 1917-1919, and 1942-1945, the Kukis of Zale’n-gam had been a perennial thorn on the side of the British.


Therefore, it was only logical for the British to dismantle the Sovereignty of Zale’n-gam. They put the Kukis under various administrations, in the hope that there would not be another Kuki uprising. Thus, the British resolved to submit the fate of Central Zale’n-gam to the Manipur raja.


The British annexed Zale’n-gam following the Kuki rising of 1917-1919, which includes the entire present-day hills of Manipur. Although the British deprived the Kukis of their sovereignty, they continued to recognise their exclusive ownership of lands by issuing land deeds locally known as Pattas to each Kuki chief. Till date, the Kuki chiefs remain in possession of their Pattas.


There is ample evidence in history regarding the relationship between the Kukis and the people of Kangleipak. It must be noted, however, that help provided was one-sided: it was always the Kukis of Zale’n-gam extending help to the Meiteis of Kangleipak. History cannot be erased. The people of Kangleipak cannot feign ignorance of our common past; if they do, justice may not be in their favour. Both communities are worthy peoples. It is appropriate that they celebrate their past and continue to maintain an honourable relationship.


[1] Majumdar, RC & Bhattasa1i, N (1930, 6-7, fifth revised edition), History of India, Shyam Chandra Dutta, Dacca

[2] Thapar, R (1966, 29), A History of India 1, Penguin, UK

[3] NP Rakung, Reader, in The Telegraph, 17 January 1994, Letter to the Editor, Imphal, Manipur


PS Haokip is the President of the Kuki National Organisation.