Years of accumulated silt and a warmer climate, helped by the slow drainage of the vast expanse of water through underground tunnels known as chingninghoot in south Manipur dried up the water leaving an elevated valley of Manipur, interspersed with many big to small wetlands such as the Loktak pat, Lamphel pat, Yaral pat, Waithou pat, Kekru pat and so on.
The recorded history of Meitei settlements in the Imphal valley dates back to 2,000 years – about the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. I have empirical proof that the Meiteis settled in Kangleipak about 3,000 years ago (cf. The Origin of the Meiteis, next article).
More convincingly, according to Wangkhemcha Chingtamlen, another Meitei scholar, the Meitei language existed since 2,000 BCE. That makes Meitei settlement at least 4,000 years.
A pioneering Manipuri archaeologist O K Singh et al discovered some artefacts from caves such as Kangkhui and Hundung in Ukhrul, Machi in Chandel, Tharon in Tamenglong and others. The archaeological evidence puts the cave dwellers to be Meitei ancestors who settled there in the Pleistocene Ice age, 20,000 years ago (cf. next article – The Origin of the Meiteis).
The traditional stories of Meitei settlements first in the mountain ranges surrounding the valley, expressed as myths or folklore – though a metaphor for fiction, are important jargon to identify and interpret these stories. There is no doubt that the proto-Meiteis first settled in the mountain ranges surrounding the valley that was under water.
There is further evidence from the discovery of artefacts of corded tripod wares etc from the Meitei village of Napchik at Wangu in the southern part of Imphal valley, dating the Meitei ancestors’ habitation to 2,000 BCE. An additional evidence is provided of Meitei settlement in the valley in c 2,000 from the deciphering of older puyas before some of them were re-written.
The incidental finding of similar pebble tools of Neolithic age in Vietnam, Thailand, Burma and the Philippines should not let us conclude that we came from one of these countries. The Austro-Asian speaking Khasis of Meghalaya are genetically proven to be the original inhabitants. They did not come from South East Asia. I believe the non-Tibeto-Burman speaking Meiteis are similarly the original inhabitants, pending the genetic identification.
From the data collected for this paper, I believe, it is these ancient proto-Meiteis who called the composite Manipur “Kang leipak” meaning dry land; as they came down to settle in it.
TO BE CONTINUED…
The writer is based in the UK