The CHIKIMS and natural environments

Published on January 26, 2008

By Donn Morgan Kipgen

January 26, 2008: The state of Manipur (in India) has 5 hill districts and 4 valley districts which occupies a total geographical area of 22,327 sq km with a population of 23,88,634 approx. The tribals, the Kukis, Nagas and other Chin-Kuki-Mizo (CHIKIM) ethnic group, have a 34,41% total population approximately.


About 17,384 sq km (i.e 77.86%) area are covered by forest, which has tropical semi-ever green forest, sub-tropical pine and teak-gurjan forests alongwith Montane Wet Temperate forest. Manipur nestles at around 850 to 3000 metre altitude in the foothills of lower Himalayan mountain range.


About 70% of the tribals are working in agricultural activities. Their main seasonal food crops are paddy (rice) and maize. Wheats, cottons, sugarcanes, orange, passion fruits, bananas, betal leafs, potatoes, chilli-peppers, etc are other secondary food crops cultivated in localised environmental areas which have distinct climatical and geo-topographical conditions.


Round about 70,000 to 80,000 families, mostly CHIKIMS and Nagas, are indulging in Jhum (Shifting) cultivation which covers about 900 sq km approximately, though overall Jhum cultivation could have been done in over 1000-1200 sq km.


This led to small-scale deforestation which effects ecological balance. It is worth mentioning that the mightily vast Amazon rain forest produces over 85% of the earth’s pure oxygen supply. At present, the CHIKIMS live in peaceful co-existence with mother nature.

All well-known Western and Eastern civilisations started with forest and other natural environmental products and swiftly crumbled down with over-exploitations of forest and natural environments. The direct relationship between civilisation and forestry is hard to separate since its all about co-existence of Mother Nature.

The Mayas, Incas, Egyptians, Indus Valley and Aztecs among others, lived and died by deforestation and over-exploitation of their local geo-tropograhical environments in unmethodical scale. Ancient civilised societies fully knew the importance and exploitations of forestry with its immediate natural by-products for independent living and survival but sadly ignorant of ecological balance of natural environment.

Over-independence and wanton exploitation of forestry have had been the bane of ancient civilizations and so would the present day socio-geographical existence in both hill, mountain and valley areas, which is naturally applicable to North-East part of India.


Till now, the Kukis and other tribals in the hill areas of North-East India are dependent on forestry and living off the natural enviroment which could also be detrimental to long term natural existence if not manage well. Everything lives by nature and dies by nature, which at times is a cruel benefactor. Dinosaurs and ancient civilizations took the hard lesson down to their graves.

The CHIKIMS and other ethnic groups of North-East India who depend on forestry and other environmental products should be well-aware about Eco-balance system even though they are of small-scale industries of low returns. Like other ethnic groups living in hill, valley and mountain areas covered by both desidious and rain-forests, the Kukis, Nagas, Meiteis and other CHIKIM tribes have a broad-based economic existence in forest products.


Be it home or market, the local citizens ply their trade and daily existence by exploiting the richness of local environments and their by products in unorthodox manner or methodically for illegal purposes. The main forest industries in Manipur are the by-products of (i) Desidious, rain-forest and evergreen trees, (ii) Herbal and eatable plants and shrubs, (iii) Fruit bearing plants, trees, vines, etc. (iv) Bamboos, canes, sugar-canes, betal leaves and nuts, etc.


Honey, tobacco and its juice, ganjas, opium (source of Morphine), resin, charcoal, rubber, herbal-medicines etc are the subsidiary by-products of forestry and natural environment for the CHIKIMS, and other citizens of Manipur and NE India since time immemorial. The Kukis have made use of forest and natural environment as their primary existence, local economy and the lone sources of local trade with remarkable effects and extract productiv, dependable and positive exploitation of natural bounties.


Of course, all other ethnic groups in 5 Hill District of Manipur ply their trade and depend on forestry and natural environmental products with their own distinctive expertise and in diverse but enterprising methods. In all CHIKIMS and tribal villages and hamlets, houses and huts are built with crude but sturdy wooden poles as square pillars and support beams, with thachet roofs. The walls are of entwined-bamboo plaits covered with baked muds, usually mixed with chopped hays. A well-built home has wooden floors and walls with planks. Atleast 2 or 3 windows with wooden grills are complemented with chimney.


There is a porch or verandah with railing fence as wellas the outer picket fence made of poles and bamboo-plaited fence are the hallmarks of Kuki villagers. Like the wild west American rancher or farmer, most of the typical Kuki home has a small courtyard, garden in the backyard, a source of drinking water within or without.


Each house or family usually has cows, buffaloes, piggery or some few chickens, dogs, etc and a village chief and his council of elders, well-to-do farmers/villagers have their own unfenced but well-demarcated stretch of forested areas nearby or around the village perimetre like western ranchers, Red Indians, feudal lords and the likes for Jhum (shifting) cultivation on the hilly slopes, cutting woods for fuel, charcoal or timbers and secondary source of nature’s gifted food and game trappings, etc.


And when it comes to game-huntings, the CHIKIMS are stealthy and innovative as American Indians and as sure a good shot as Buffalo Bill (William Frederick Cody) and as enterprising as Appallachian or Eskimo trappers. Bamboo, sturdy tree and its branches, canes, jutes and strong forest vines have been used for making bows, arrows, spears, spikes, nets, weapon handles and sheaths, booby-traps, ropes, plaits, hats, water-containers, staffs, poles, gunny bags, mats, Kayak and paddles, carts and wheels etc by the CHIKIM villagers till now in the interior hill areas.


They are still living off the land, literally, though almost all of them have been christainised. With the entry of American Christian Missionaries in Lungthulien and Senvon areas about 70 years ago, the worshippings of ‘Indoi’ (Spirit of the House) and ‘Gamdoi’ (Spirit of the Wood), both better known as ‘House-God’ and ‘Forest-God’ in the intellectual circle, have been now abandoned, though not forgotten in spirit. The CHIKIMS are that much close to nature and forest. (With inputs from Pu S Singsit, IFS, Principal Secy., Forest)