by Professor Gangmumei Kamei
National Fellow, IIAS Shimla
Manipur was an ancient kingdom with a long history and rich culture. Manipur means the land or city of the gems. Manipur valley is a cradle of human civilization and culture. Different ethnic groups migrated to Manipur in search of land, resources, fame and glory. The Meitei kingdom grew up in the Manipur valley while in the hills, the tribals did not build up polity formation beyond the village polity.
The ancient Meiteis develop the knowledge of writing quite early. They possess strong sense of history and as we are all aware historiography is the art of writing history, the historiography of Manipur may be divided into the following categories, Traditional Meitei historiography, Colonial historiography, Post-colonial historiography, Tribal historiography. In terms of periodization these four categories cover four periods of history of Manipur; pre-colonial, colonial, post colonial and the historiography of the tribes.
The traditional Meitei concept of history
The traditional concept of history is expressed by the Meitei word Puwari (the story of fore fathers). This term is nearer to the Sanskrit “Itihas” rather than the English “History” or Greek “Historia”. The Meitei Puwari consists of the myths, legends and historical accounts of their country. The creation myths or cosmological traditions, origin and genealogies of the clans, the religious accounts, the dynastic accounts of the clan chieftains are given prominent place. We may refer to another word “Puya” which is like the Sanskrit Purana. Puya is a historical text which records the myths, geneology, historical tradition etc. Chronicles with or without chronology form the core Meitei historical literature.
History writing was dominated by the interest or consideration of the royalty and priestly class. There was no separate discipline of history as such. History or historical knowledge was part of the whole knowledge. As mentioned above, a Meitei Maichou was a scholar, a priest, an astrologer and an advisor to the royalty or nobility. Practical necessity requires the Maichous to look at society, state and religion as a whole. And the knowledge of the Maichou became a generalized and comprehensive one or with some great scholar encyclopedic. Historical particularism or special differentiation of history did not develop in the ancient period.
Chronicles records, and puyas were not only the “historical pieces” but they were used as manuals of administration, religious rites, social and judicial dispensation and cultural affairs. Perhaps it was due to this reason that history as a distinct and separate branch of knowledge did not develop in ancient Manipur. And the philosophy of history of the ancient Meiteis was to know the past, use the knowledge of the past for the present needs; and the action and achievement of the past should be kept for the knowledge of posterity. The king and nobility had a strong concern for the posterity. They tried to preserve what was achieved by the monarch in the past for perpetuation for their fame. The idea of the past was greatly influenced by the need of the present and by a desire for glorification by the posterity. Hence, the great concern for control over event recording chronicles. The greatest chronicle of this type is the royal chronicle known as the “Cheitharol Kumbaba”.
With the Sanskritization of Manipur, deliberate attempt was made by the Hindu scholars to imprint an Aryan and Hindu origin and identity on the Hinduized Meitei. The identification of religion and race had led to the emergence of a distinct sense of origin and a view of history on the part of the ruling dynasty. History was given a Sanskritized orientation which was reflected in the chronicles and geneology of the ruling Ningthouja dynasty of Manipur. The keeping of chronicles which was an indigenous Meitei practice was given a chronological frame by the adoption of Hindu calendars; for instance the celebrated Cheitharol Kumbaba, the royal chronicle of Manipur adopted three eras, Kalyabda, Sakabda and Chandrabda. The Ningthourol Kumbaba and other genealogical chronicles do not have chronology. The absence of time frame of chronology is a reflection of the Meitei concept of past which was intermingles with the present. The past and the present exist side by side in the Meitei psyche. Since, there was no technology of printing before the British rule the chronicles or historical texts were not printed or published but kept in the Pandit Loishang (royal college of priest). The Cheitharol Kumbaba was an official diary; the royalty’s view and version were recorded.
The British conquered Manipur in 1891; and the colonial era in the history of Manipur was started but Manipur had more than a century of relation with the British since 1762. Modern historiography started with British colonialism.
The British officers who participated in the Anglo-Burmese war and who helped Manipur in the reconstruction of the country were capable officers. Most of them were not only bold soldiers and capable administrative officers; they were great writers who left behind excellent reports on geography, history, culture and many ethnological accounts for the benefit of the posterity. The names of David Scott, first commissioner of Assam, Francis Jenkins, another commissioner, R.B. Pemberton, F.J. Grant who helped the Manipur Levy of Gambhir Singh, participated in the negotiation with the Burmese over Kabaw Valley are still remembered.
For the whole north east India, we have the excellent account of R.B. Pemberton, the Report on the north east frontier of British India published in 1835. This report devoted a sizeable portion on Manipur history, geography, economy and ethnography. R.B. Pemberton as a young officer volunteered to accompany Gambhir Singh in the liberation of Manipur. He was a pioneer of modern historical studies. Pemberton’s report was based on the style of James Mill’s History of India published in the year 1819 which was the first history of India in English language. Pemberton’s report is still relevant to the states and people of north east frontier and Upper Burma.
There were official reports and accounts published by British officers posted as Political Agents in Manipur. Mention may be made of Major W. McCulloch’s Accounts of the Valley of Munnipore and surrounding hill Tribes published in 1859 at Calcutta. McCulloch was in Manipur for nearly 23 years from 1844-1867. He was engaged by Maharaja Nara Singh in the settlement of the Kuki influx in Manipur. He married a Manipuri princess and helped Nara Singh and his successors particularly Maharaja Chandrakriti Singh for political stability in Manipur. Later on he settled in Shillong and died in 1885. McCulloch’s account is a brief report but it is mostly authentic and reliable. His account deals with the early history of Manipur particularly 18th century and first half of 19th century. His knowledge of the hill tribe was quite profound. He classified the tribes of Manipur as Nagas and Kukis. His description of Meitei society is even now relevant. He also studied languages of the tribes and communities of Manipur. So the ethnographic account of the tribes and communities is helpful for the reconstruction of the social history of Manipur.
Another Political Agent, R. Brown, a surgeon by profession, wrote A Statistical Account of Manipur and it was published in 1874. It was perhaps modeled after a guideline given by Sir W.W. Hunter, the Director General of Statistics, Government of India. Sir W.W. Hunter was the editor of 2 volumes Account of Assam. Brown’s Statistical Account was written after the gazetteer type. Brown’s account includes geography, history, religion, social account and ethnography. Though it is not history, it contains valuable historical information.
After Brown, there was the Gazetteer of Manipur compiled and published by Captain E.W. Dun in 1886 (an abridged edition was published in 1891). Captain Dun was an intelligence officer. His gazetteer was published as a secret document from Shimla. Dun’s account deals with the history of Manipur since the Anglo-Burmese war. He also gave a narrative of Anglo-Manipur relation. He declared that Manipur was an independent kingdom. He described the politics in Manipur, the monarchy, the nobility and the army. Dun’s original document with authentic maps is an extremely important work for the reconstruction of the history of Manipur. A great landmark in the history of colonial historiography of north east India occurred in 1884 when “A History of the relations of the hill tribes with the Government of British Bengal” was published by Alexander Mackenzie. Mackenzie was a competent member of the Indian Civil Service in the Government of Bengal. He had in 1869 published a highly documented report known as the Memorandum of the North Eastern Frontier. This report was highly praised by the Foreign Department of the Government of India. There was a pressure on him to publish a new edition of this memorandum. But Mackenzie who was the Home Secretary of the Government of Bengal who had access to the document and correspondence both in the home, judicial, revenue and foreign proceedings decided to make a review of British Government policies towards the hill tribe of the north east India. A group of hill tribes of Eastern Himalayas to the north bank of the Brahmaputra were completely reviewed. Another group of tribes mostly the Nagas of the Patkoi hills, Sibsagar areas and Southern Naga Hills was covered. The tribes of Khasi and Jaintia Hills, Lushai hills and Chittagong hill tracts were covered. With regard to Manipur, Mackenzie wrote that Manipur was an independent state; therefore Manipur state was outside the scope of his book. However, Manipur was a protected state and Manipur occupied a special place in the politics of North East India.
Many scholars had praised Mackenzie’s work as a great history of the colonial historiography. He was a great chronicler of events dealt by the then British Government with full facts at his command and with great responsibility in deciding policy affairs. He had written very nicely. His book had been praised as a great ethno history of the hill tribes. No student of history can ignore his work. Mackenzie as an analyst of historical events of the hill tribes of North East perhaps could not do justice. It was beyond the preview of his work.
Another semi historical account based on personal experiences dealing with expansion of the British Political Agency and administration was “My Experience in Manipur and Naga Hills” written by Sir James Johnstone published posthumously in 1896 in London. Sir James Johnstone (1841-1896) was a Political Agent of Manipur. He served in the Keonjar district of Orissa. He acted as a political officer in the newly established Naga Hills district. James Johnstone’s book makes a pleasant reading full of facts dealing with military operation, diplomatic relation, administrative affairs and keeping boundary affairs with Burma in peace. This book is not history but contains a lot of historical information. His views on men and affairs of Manipur are of great interest. He had a great vision for Manipur. Though it is semi historical it can be grouped under the source of history.
Last of the works on the colonial historiography was a History of the Areas Bordering Assam. It was written by Sir Robert Reid, a governor of Assam in 1942. Reid’s book is supposed to be continuation of Mackenzie’s history ending in 1884. Like Mackenzie, Reid had access to all the official documents. He divided the history by political units. Manipur state constitutes a chapter of the history. Unfortunately, Reid’s book is a compilation of documents. The author was not a historian. He was a mere documenter. His work lacks a central theme. This is not a history. However, for Manipur and other areas the information is very important. This book contains the historical narratives of Anglo-Manipur war of 1891, the execution of Chief Commissioner of Assam and his officers, and ultimate conquest of Manipur. It deals with the anti-British colonial movement like the Kuki Rebellion (1917-1919), the movement of Jadonang and Gaidinliu (1930-1933), the Women Agitation of Manipur Valley (1939-40). The narrative ended in 1940.
T.C. Hodson’s The Meitheis (1908) was a classic anthropological study on the Meiteis. This is the best work on the Meiteis in the twentieth century. Hodson was the great writer with the knowledge of anthropology. This work made the Meiteis known in the English speaking anthropological world. Hodson supplemented his study with his knowledge of Meitei linguistics. Hodson clearly shows on the ethnological and linguistic ground that the Meiteis are Tibeto-Burman.
An important work of the colonial period is the History of Assam Rifles written by L.W. Shakespeare and published in 1929. This history traces the glorious exploits of this famous Assam Rifles. Assam Rifles was born out of a para military force known as the Cachar Levy of 1835. This history deals with the Anglo-Manipur conflict of 1891 and the suppression of Kuki Rebellion (1917-1919) which are an important aspect of colonial history of Manipur.
The colonial historiography is not enormous and it does not contain much of history. The colonial writers did not deal with the central theme of history of North East India. Subsequent writers of the post independence historiography or Post-colonial period are supplied with the information whatever sketchy it may be in the reconstruction of history of the North East region including the state of Manipur.
The Meitei polity, society, religion, culture and folklore had been fully studied. The racial and ethnic identity was again raised. The colonial writers did not accept the Aryan origin of the Hinduised Meitei.
During the colonial period, the study of archeology was begun. W. Yumjao Singh was the pioneer archeologist of Manipur. The Report on Archeological studies Vol. I. 1935 was a comprehensive report on inscriptions, historical monuments and numismatic. Yumjao Singh, discovered the Phayeng copper plates of King Khongtekcha. He gave critical comments on the royal chronicle of Manipur known as the Cheitharol Kumbaba.
An issue which was raised by the Brahmanical scholars was their effort to refute the alleged statement by N.N. Vasu in Bengali encyclopedia, Viswakosh that the Hindu Meiteis were non-Aryan and Mongoloid. The debate carried over in post independence period. The pioneer of the school was the great Pandit Raj Atombapu Sharma.
Historiography of the Second World War in Manipur has been studied by the British army officers, the leaders of Indian National Army and followers of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and by the military officers of the Japanese Army. While Field Marshal William Slim’s book Defeat into Victory was a over view of the exploits of British 14th Army, the work of George Evans and Anthony Brett-James, Imphal A Flower on Lofty heights, The Springing Tiger by Hugh Toye gave the military history of the Japanese invasion, S.C. Bose’s The History of the Indian National Army is an important account of the war.
The post-colonial historiography
The contemporary historiography was started after British departure from Manipur. However, the post independence period may be taken as the beginning of post colonial period in historiography. Post-colonialism is initially an approach of English language literature in those countries which were under the British colonial rule. A huge literature on post-colonial theme was produced by both persons of literature, sociology, political science and now by the scholars of history. It was a reaction to things colonial from the scholars of post-colonial times. We may now locate post-colonial in the historiography of Manipur. Manipur has had a colonial experience. The colonial historiography was incomplete and did not have a balanced view of the people and their history. They created a hiatus between the inhabitants on religious consideration, Hindu Meitei and non Hindu tribes. They projected themselves as the saviour of the tribals from the dominant Meiteis. The colonial historiography refused to accept the Meitei traditional views on their origin, and history which were influenced by the Bhramanical scholars. They did not try to give any credence to the indigenous Meitei historiography.
However in the post-colonial period, an attempt was made by the historians to write a composite history of Manipur. There were two trends. One was the continuation of the writings of the Brahmanical school; the other was more or less a scientific historical school. The reassessment of history and historical events was carried out. The historian tried to glorify the history of the pre colonial and the colonial period. Under the post-colonial historiography, the hill tribes start demanding a place in the history and historiography of Manipur.
Between 1947 and 1991 four works on history of Manipur were published. R.K. Sanahal Singh published Manipur Itihas in Manipuri in 1947. It was a pioneering history with a scientific method based on chronicles of Manipur and British archival information and Bengali sources. This book is a contribution to post colonial historiography. The second one was J. Roy’s History of Manipur published in 1958. It was a first history of Manipur in English and widely circulated in India. The scope of his book was limited, starting from the 18th century only. The author did not have much access to the indigenous sources in Manipuri. The third one, R.K. Jhalajit Singh’s A short history of Manipur published in 1965 was a comprehensive history based on royal chronicle of the Ningthouja dynasty. The history covers all the periods of history, ancient, medieval and modern from first century to the Merger of Manipur to the Indian Union (1949). He utilized the indigenous sources in Manipuri language and the British archival sources. His objective was to record the expansion of Aryan culture and Hinduism to Manipur. He was under the influence of Brahminical School of history writing that the Meiteis are ethnically and linguistically Indo-Aryan. Gangmumei Kamei’s History of Manipur Pre-Colonial Period was published in 1991 in the last decade of the 20th century. This work is a well researched history. It covers the ancient and medieval period. He based this history on the original sources. This is a widely circulated work. The author applied the scientific method of historiography in this book.
A category of writings dealing with specific aspects of history and polity were published between 1953 and 1970. They are Atombapu Sharma’s Pakhangba (1953) dealing with religious history, Nandalal Sharma’s Meitrabak (1960) dealing with ancient Manipuri literature, the political system of Manipur and last days of independence of the state, N. Ibobi Singh’s Manipur Administration (1966) which describes the political system of Manipur in the 18th and 19th centuries and Manipur Itihas (1970) written by L. Chandramani Singh dealing with Anglo Manipur relation up to the 19th century. The books of N. Ibobi Singh and L. Chandramani Singh’s were the works of their doctoral research.
Publication of Cheitharol Kumbaba, the royal chronicle (1966)
The pandits of Manipur who had connection with the Pandit Loishang of the royal court had examined the royal chronicles in ancient Meitei script. The manuscripts of the chronicle were kept in the royal college of priest (Pandit Loishang) but the common man scholars could not get access to it. Some attempts were made to publish this chronicle. Mention may be made of the abridged version of Cheitharol Kumbaba published by Pandit Thongngam Madhab Singh in 1939. But it was L.M. Iboongohal Singh who was a Judge and member of the Manipur State Durbar during Maharaja Churachand Singh’s rule took the initiative of collecting the manuscript from the court with the help of Maharaja himself. And this chronicle was written out in Bengali script with the help of some pandits and handed over the same to the Manipuri Sahitya Parishad. The chronicle was edited by L.M. Iboongohal Singh and Pandit N. Khelchandra Singh. For authenticity and public respectability, the Manipuri Sahitya Parishad, the apex body of Manipuri literature published Cheitharol Kumbaba in 1967. This publication was a great landmark in the historiography of Manipur.
Cheitharol Kumbaba is a compound of two words, combination of two practices of royal court. Cheithaba is a system of counting years of the Meitei Calendar under the lunar system. The year of the calendar was named after an individual who volunteers to be a scape goat of the evils of the king, country and people for a particular year. In return he was given a reward of one pari (hectare) of tax free land. He was called the Cheithaba of the year. The system of Cheithaba was started in 1484 A.D. during the reign of King Kyamba. All the names of the Cheithaba are even today recorded by Pandit Loishang.
Kumbaba means counting of years (kum- year, paba- counting). So Cheitharol Kumbaba literally means counting of years according to the name of Cheithaba. The keeping of the chronicle was started from the 15th century. The chronicle gives a geneology of kings of the Ningthouja dynasty from Nongdalairen Pakhangba to Bodhchandra Singh (33 A.D. to 1955). The Cheitharol Kumbaba gives a list of 78 kings of Manipur. There were 37 kings of Manipur recorded before King Kyamba who started the chronicle keeping. So the reconstruction of the accounts of the chronicle before 1484 must have been carried out by the royal scholars and astrologers by collecting information from many other sources.
There have been many instances of rewriting the chronicle due to repeated foreign invasion particularly the Burmese and the British. There are many valid questions to be put on the recordings in the chronicles. Unless scrutinized properly the authenticity of the contents cannot be completely accepted. The Cheitharol Kumbaba edited by Pandit N. Khelchandra Singh has gone into several editions 1967, 1989 and 2009. A large number of chronicles mostly of the clans had been published since 1967.
In 1995, another version of Cheitharol Kumbaba was published with a new title the Lost Kingdom. This copy was translated from the original Cheitharol Kumbaba by Bamacharan Mukherjee who was a clerk in the British Political Agency. After British conquest in 1891, Bamacharan Mukherjee was commissioned to translate the chronicle into English. Mukherjee took the help of 14 pandits in collection of the different versions of Cheitharol Kumbaba and translating it to English. It took six years to complete the translation. L.Joychandra Singh, a journalist and a polo enthusiast discovered the copy of this Kumbaba in British Library and Record Office in London. He published the Lost Kingdom in 1995. The English version was very brief and different in details from Manipuri version.
Another version of the Cheitharol Kumbaba was published in 2005. It was entitled, The Court Chronicle of the Kings of Manipur The Cheitharon Kumpapa, translated by Saroj Nalini Arambam Parratt. Saroj Nalini Parratt was an anthropologist by training. She worked in Birmingham University along with her husband Professor John Parratt. She had already done research on religion, history and culture of Manipur. Manipuri was her mother tongue. She studied manuscripts of Cheitharol Kumbaba in the custody of several scholars of Manipur like Pandit Ngarianbam Kulachandra, Thongam Madhab, Nameirakpam Dinachandra, Kharaibam Deva, of course the 1967 edition of Cheitharol Kumbaba published by Manipuri Sahitya Parishad. It was published by Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, London. The second volume came out in 2009. Saroj Nalini Parratt’s versions contain the chronicle in the Meitei script. She gives the English translation. It also contains the list of kings. The first volume covers the period 33 A.D. to 1763 A.D. The second volume covers the period 1764 to 1955. There is also glossary of Manipuri words which makes the reading of the archaic word easy. It was supplemented by the specimen of Government approved Meitei Mayek script. Saroj Nalini Arambam Parratt had done a yeoman service to the oriental historiography particularly historiography of Manipur by publishing this chronicle.
During the post colonial period, there were a lot of interests in the history of Manipur which were an outcome of the several historical controversies. The first question which has been debated for more than 300 years was whether present Manipur was the Manipur of Mahabharata, secondly did the Pandava hero Arjuna visit Manipur and married a Manipuri princess Chitragada and a son named Babrubahan was born of the union of Arjuna and Chitragada? The Brahmin priests and scholars of Brahma Sabha presided by the Maharaja strongly argued that Arjuna visited Manipur and the ruling dynasty was descended from the Pandava hero and the ruling family was of Aryan origin. This was not accepted by the British scholars during the colonial period. This issue came up during the post colonial period. The scholars of the indigenous Meitei Sanamahi religion argued that present Manipur was not Manipur of the Mahabharata and there was no Aryan connection of Manipur. This view is gaining more support. There are a large numbers of scholars of the Sanamahi school who wrote both in English and Manipuri (Meitei lon) on their version of history, origin and culture which are gaining popularity and respectability. We may mention the names of Kangjia Gopal, S. Nilbir and K.C. Tensuba.
Archeology, epigraphy and numismatics had made progress since the time of W. Yumjao Singh. The contributions of O.K. Singh, Matuwa Bahadur, L. Kunjeshwari, P. Gunindra, Gourachandra Singh, K. Sabita and S. Bheigya Singh to these fields are really great.
Another historical issue was concerned with the Anglo-Manipur war of 1891 particularly the Battle of Khongjom. After conquest of Manipur by British in 1891, the British did not encourage any glorification of the princes of Manipur who were either executed or sentenced to life imprisonment. The conqueror did not like the conquered’s sacrifices to be known to the people. But a Manipuri soldier who participated in the battle of Khongjom composed a ballad comprising every stage and style of fighting between the British soldier and the Manipuri soldier. True, the battle of Khongjom marked the end of the war and independence of Manipur. So this ballad known as Khongjom parva was sung throughout the country. The ballad replaces the history. After independence and after the Merger of Manipur into India, historians, intellectuals, political leaders, common men started a fresh look at the Anglo-Manipur war particularly the heroes, Jubraj Tikendrajit Singh, Thangal General and Paona Brajabashi who lost their lives. People started observing 13th August of every year as an anniversary of execution of Jubraj Tikendrajit Singh and Thangal General as both of them was hanged to death in 1891. It was observed as the Patriot’s Day. There was another date which was observed as the anniversary of the battle of Khongjom. This day was observed as Paona Day or Khongjom Day. There were opinions on the date of the day of Khongjom. According to the Cheitharol Kumbaba this date was on 23rd April 1891. There is another opinion of the scholar based mostly on secondary British sources that the battle was fought on 25th April 1891 at Khongjom. The matter became so hot that the Speaker of the Manipur Legislative Assembly appointed an expert committee to decide. The expert committee on the basis of Cheitharol Kumbaba and other local sources recommended that 23rd April 1891 was the day when the Battle of Khongjom was fought and the Government of Manipur observed 23rd April of every year as the Khongjom day.
There was another group of knowledgeable historians who pointed out that the military proceeding of the Government of India concerning the military conflict between British forces and Manipur forces of 1891 particularly reports of Captain Rundall who commanded the British forces at the battle of Khongjom clearly recorded that the battle was fought on 25th April 1891. A question has arisen that which date was the true one? It is a methodological issue. Cheitharol Kumbaba was an official document, it was not a primary source; the recording of the event was done several months after. It had lost its status of a primary source of information. The military proceedings and the report of Captain Rundall was official and primary source. Captain Rundall was a witness of the battle and he did the fighting himself. This controversy is going on. Whom shall we trust, the primary source of information or the official source of information? The scholars procured records of the military proceedings of 1891 from India Office Library, London. The scholar who did all the research work is a person not less than Pandit N. Khelchandra Singh, the editor of the 1967 edition of Cheitharol Kumbaba. He published all these documents in the Documents of Anglo-Manipur War 1891 Part I and II (1984, 1991), Part III was published by L. Basanti Devi. Queen Empress vs. Tikendrajit Prince of Manipur: The Anglo-Manipuri Conflict of 1891 was written by John Parratt and Saroj Nalini Parratt (1992).
This controversy raises the role of the historian and his sources of information. The historian trusted the primary source of information in history.
Another set of writings on modern history of Manipur were carried out by a group of young and modern scholars. They are N. Joykumar’s books “From Feudalism to Democracy, History of Modern Manipur to the Social Movement of Manipur and the Revolutionary Movement in Manipur”, K. Manimohan’s “Hijam Irabot and his Political Movement”, N. Lokendra’s “Unquiet Valley” dealing with history of Manipur Valley during the colonial period, Lal Dena’s “British policy towards Manipur, Colonialism and Christian Mission”.
Learned articles were collected and published by enterprising editors. Mention may be made of History of Modern Manipur written by Gangmumei Kamei, Lal Dena and Joykumar Singh under the editorship of Lal Dena. This contributed book had become quite popular. A great contributed works was carried out by N. Sanajaoba of Gauhati University who published 4 volumes of “Manipur: Past and Present”. It was a massive attempt made by scholars of Manipur of different discipline, to write on history, civilization, religion, polity, law and culture of different peoples of Manipur under the hard working editorship of Sanajaoba Naoria. He wrote several works of different subjects. These four volumes have introduced Manipur to India and to the outside world.
Another hot historical controversy was the question of merger of Manipur state to Dominion of India. According to a view, Maharaja of Manipur, Bodhchandra Singh was coerced to sign the agreement and Manipur became a part of the Indian Republic. Another view was that it was a popular movement for the merger. There are two works on the subject. Haobam Bhubon Singh a military officer, administrator and political leader published the Merger of Manipur. Another counter work known as the Annexation of Manipur was published by an activist group. Merger continues to be debated.
Activist Interpretation of History
Historical scholarship has been confronted by an extraordinary state of activist interpretation. It is a part of the phenomenon of the intellectual activism which has engulfed the socially conscious elite of Manipur. Historical study has become a multi disciplinary study. Manipur’s history has been examined from different angles by the scholars of non-history discipline. This has added new dimensions to historical introspection. One of the consequences of this massive historical exercise is the emerging controversies on almost all landmark historical events, be that Sanskritization or desanskritization, the Kabaw Valley issue, the chronology of the Battle of Khongjom, Merger Agreement and the Communist movement of Irabot Singh.
We may refer to a well written “The Wounded Land” of John Parratt of Birmingham University. He has written with sympathy on the political, social and economic problems face by the people of Manipur in the 20th century. He was a passionate spokesman in the academic world. I. Mohendra Singh’s the Origin of Meiteis of Manipur and the Meitei lon is not Tibeto-Burman (2009) has propounded new theories based on biological findings on origin of man in relation to racial origin of the Meiteis. He also deals with an important chapter on the national character of the Meiteis. His formulation on the origin of the Meitei lon being a distinctive and indigenous language not related with the century old theory of Tibeto-Burman origin will definitely raise eyebrows among the well established linguistic authorities. One cannot but commend the intellectual efforts of the author.
Ideology in terms of religious and political background has been given a position of primacy. History, historical event and personality have been interpreted to suit the ideology of the different social and political actors. However, the current debate on Merger of Manipur to India in 1949, the political status and the consequences of the merger, the perceived or imagined has gone beyond the parameter of historical inquiry. However, the historical interpretation of events cannot be abandoned by the historians to the activists alone. The truth or facts in historical terminology have to be stated and made known to all concerned Truth cannot be hidden for all time.
Manipur is passing through a critical phase of her history. Historical scholarship is facing a crisis of historical interpretation. There can be use or misuse of history. Historian shall not be and cannot be neutral. He is to be objective and shall stand by the side of the truth.
There is a reasonable resentment among the hill people of Manipur that their history is not written properly. The tribals were in the pre-literate or non-literate stage of civilization. During the pre-colonial or in colonial period, the history of the tribal people was not written as they had not developed the art of writing. However, the tribals both Nagas and the Kuki-Chins have had their oral tradition, myths, legends and geneology. The tribes belong to, as Levi Strauss says “the society without history”. One may not agree with the great French sociologist to describe the tribal or primitive society as society without history. The clan and family genealogies are the important sources of information to reconstruct their history. There is also methodological problem to write the tribal history. Origin, migration and settlement are reconstructed by oral history. The tribes did not develop beyond village level polity. The Naga villages were described by W. McCulloch as the village republic whereas the Kuki-Chin developed village level chieftainship. The history of the relation of these tribes with Meitei state, the Burmese state and British colonial government provided a basis for reconstruction of their history. These relations are recorded in the Meitei chronicles and British administrative records. Many anthropologists and ethnographers reconstructed the history of tribes concerned by using ethno historical method.
In the nineteenth century British officers and historians recorded the ethnography of the tribes, military expedition against the Nagas and influx of Kukis, Lushais and Kanhows in the territory of Manipur. We may refer to R.B. Pemberton, W. McCulloch, Alexander Mackenzie, Robert Brown, Sir James Johnstone who wrote on the Nagas and Kukis. It was McCulloch who gave the classification of the tribes- Nagas and Kukis. However, it was only in the 20th century that the Director of Ethnography of the Government of Assam conducted a systematic ethnographic study of hill tribes of North East India including that of Manipur. We have already referred to the Meitheis of T.C. Hodson (1908) regarding the hill tribes, Naga tribes of Manipur was published in 1911 by T.C. Hodson. It was followed by John Shakespeare’s Lushai Kuki Clans (1912). Christopher Gimson wrote on Maring Nagas (1927). William Shaw wrote on Notes on Thadou Kukis (1929). The ethnology of the tribes during colonial period was not so rich. During the post colonial period several monographs were written both by European and Indian scholars. We may mention Naga Path written by Ursula Graham Bower (1950). The Naga, Kuki and Meitei scholars of Manipur wrote on several tribes. Mention may be made of M. Horam’s Naga polity, and Socio and Cultural life of the, Nagas. T.S. Gangte’s Kukis of Manipur and Understanding the Kukis. But history of the tribes on the historical method or ethno-historical method was written by few scholars. A.S. Shimray wrote a History of Tangkhul Nagas utilizing the Manipur royal chronicles as sources of history. The most significant work of history of a tribe was written by Gangmumei Kamei. His work “History of the Zeliangrong Nagas From Makhel to Gaidinliu” was written in a true historical form (2004). He also wrote on Anal- A trans-border tribe of Manipur and Account of the Koireng Tribe, more or less on ethno-historical method. Lal Dena’s Quest for Identity is a good work on the Hmar people. H. Kamkhenthang wrote on Paite- A trans-border tribe.
Reconstruction of the history of the tribes during the colonial period has been attempted while dealing with the Kuki Rebellion and the Naga Raj Movement. The tribals have accepted Christianity and western education had come to Manipur. After the World War II, there was emerging political consciousness among the hill tribes to protect their interest. The tribal communities started forming their tribal organization like Tangkhul Long, Kabui Samiti, Manipur Zeliangrong Union, The Kuki National Assembly, The Gangte Tribal Union, The Paite National Council, Khul Union etc. The educated tribals were got the opportunity to participate in the political process. They entered in the Civil Services and became professionals as teachers, doctors, engineers. Modernization had set in tribal society. The tribal scholars started writing in the tribal dialects and English language on their culture, custom, language, religion and history. There is now developed an incipient historiography and tribal studies.
There grew up insurgency among the Nagas, the Mizos and Kukis. The insurgents started writing history of their movements. Tribal insurgency has become a part of the tribal history. Tribal politics in the democratic process is an aspect of tribal history.
A historiography of the hill tribes could be written both at the state level and tribal level. There are a lot of research going on in the Indian universities and research institutes. A multi disciplinary method based on anthropology, sociology, ethno-history and purely historical method may be utilized to write the tribal history.
(This paper is a part of the author’s National Fellows Lecture series entitled “The Philosophy of History and the Historiography of Manipur” delivered by him at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study at Shimla on 8th September, 2010.)