By: Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh
Nobody knows where the Meiteis came from. Some Europeans (Pemberton et al) skewed this idea that the Meiteis probably migrated from somewhere in the Sino-Tibetan region in the thirteenth or fourteenth century.
As the Tibeto-Burmans are Mongoloid, they empirically inferred that the Mongoloid tribes in northeast India must have come from a common source somewhere near to or in China, and therefore must speak a Tibeto-Burman language. This is not true.
The Khasis of Meghalaya and the Danwars of Nepal terai are Mongoloids but they do not speak Tibeto-Burman. The Meitei do not speak Tibeto-Burman. Yet they tried to link the Meiteis somehow with the Tibeto-Burman group.
It is a sort of non-tribal person’s thinking, which is linear in sequence: if A is the foundation of B therefore C must follow. It is an example of garbled logic, ranging from glaring to more subtle misrepresentation of information derived from the study of medieval Tibeto-Burman languages.
It seems to me that it was a desperate attempt for some ersatz legitimacy. Since then, as there was not anybody interested to challenge them, every one swallowed the story hook, line and sinker.
Never has the hunger for historical truth been more intense for me. We owe this to our ancestors as a part of defining reality. Two and a half million Meiteis within and without Manipur are not few Tarzans and ‘Man Fridays’ whose origins are obscure.
I am trying without prejudice, to establish the legitimate origin of the Meiteis as the primogenitors of Manipur, by scaling the Meitei history as its tectonic plates moved slowly over the centuries. To me it is the most important and possibly the most hopeless debate around.
The proposition I am making contains a subject and a predicate. The point of the debate is basically to rebut the notional ‘history’ of the Meiteis as having migrated from somewhere in the Orient, just because we have Mongolian features. It is as incredible as the acceptance of some tribal people from Manipur and Mizoram by a Chief Rabbi from Israel in 2005, as one of the ten “lost tribes of Jews” from Israel.
I can not conceive of any cogent prehistoric necessity for groups of people to traipse hundreds of thousands of miles all the way to Manipur, which was then filled with water unless they fancied some Manipuri Pengba fish (osteobrama belangeri)??
The recorded history of the Meiteis goes only as far back as 33CE, just after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It was during the reign of Nongda Lairen Pakhangba who began the dynast and kingship of Ningthouja family. Any ‘historical’ accounts before 33CE are speculations which are conjectures without a firm base. They are based on oral traditions which are not verifiable.
It is quite possible to construct a credible history out of oral traditions. Oral tradition was communal and communities had leaders who exerted control over the tradition. Before the invention of written language, and before the advent of widespread literacy, oral tradition was much more used for transmission of stories.
Oral transmission is so primitive that it can not reliably transmit anything except short, memorable phrases, such as the ‘short sayings of Jesus’, which in itself is a supposition
without any evidence. The short sayings of Jesus were the only ones recorded, but they circulated by word of mouth for 20 years before being written down.
The Bible, meaning a “collection of writings” is the most scientifically studied book. It was written 20 years after the death of Christ. There are many books debating for and against the authenticity of the Bible, which is a recorded book of oral traditions. Oral traditions are typically passed on by word of mouth, which usually entail variations in lesser or greater degree.
Prof Gangumai Kabui in his well researched ‘History of Manipur’ (1991) mentions that the origin of the Meitei tribe is obscured, which we all know, and that the Ningthouja origin of the Meiteis is a myth. I have reservations about the latter.
The mythical nature of the Pakhangba legend of the royal clan was described by Hodson (The Meitheis p5). James Johnstone wrote: “The early history of Manipur is lost in obscurity but there can be no doubt that it has existed as an independent kingdom from a very early period.”(Manipur & Naga Hills p80). So did E W Dunn (Gazetteer of Manipur p37).
However, since Cheitharol Kumbaba –Royal Chronicle (33- 1897 CE) was translated into
English by Bama C Mukherjee (1897), it became clear that Pakhangba became the king of Manipur in 33CE (Joychandra, The Lost Kingdom 1955).
However, the dates entered in the Cheitharol Kumbaba antecedent to 1485 CE are forged. (W Ibohal, The History of Manipur p15).
Recently, an historian P Lalit in his “Brief history of the Meiteis of Manipur” has taken the Meitei history as far back as 1405- 1359 BCE. This dates back to about 3,000 years ago.
He has apparently traced the origin of the Meiteis to the Tang- Shang dynasty of central China (1523-1027 BCE). According to him, “apparently a group (Tang Shang) might have migrated and settled in the Koubru hill ranges along with the Lei- Hao tribes who were the original settlers.” (Ref unknown)
‘Its Chief married Sinbee Leima, the daughter of the Lei Hao Chief and established his kingdom, circa 1445 BCE. He became known as Tang-Ja- Leela Pakhangba (1445- 1405 BCE). His wife gave birth to a son named Kangba, who established the first Mi- Tei kingdom.’
‘In (34- 18 BCE) Chingkhong Poireiton came to Manipur with Leima Leinaotabi from a region then called Khamtilong, somewhere between the present China, Burma and Tibet. A few other tribes who were neo-Tibetans, like Chakpa, Nung, Kham, Khu etc followed him. He reached Ukhrul and then Kanglatongbi where he settled as there was a vast stretch of water and swamp spreading southwards.’ “Poireiton and the original inhabitants of Tang- Shang people intermarried and the kingdom came to be known as Poirei-lam and the people as Poirei-Meetei.”
‘Nongda Lairen Pakhanba (33- 153 CE), a descendent of Tang-Ja-Leela Pakhangba married a Poireiton princess, Laisna and ascended to the throne in 33 CE. He moved his kingdom to the valley when the water drained away through a tunnel called Ching-nung-hoot in southwest Manipur.’
Another equally fascinating account is given by Heishnam Nilakanta in his paper, “The
Meiteis were the hill people in the remote past…mainly inhabited Koubru ranges and…Kanglatombi and Kangpokpi… Nongpok Keithelmanbi… However they came down from the tableland…..entered the present Manipur valley.”
He adds that “The Tai (Shan) ethnic groups who came to Manipur … were the Kakching, Kabo…etc. A horde of Shan immigrants led by Poireiton came to settle in Manipur and were forced to acknowledge Pakhangba’s suzerainty.”
According to Wahengbam Ibohol (The History of Manipur, Early period, p9) Kangba physically lived in the 11th century and part of the 12 century CE. And that the indications were that hey came from the south.
After reading this book I have a complete disorientation of time and space with regard to the early Meitei history.
A more evidence-backed book (A history of Kangleipak part II p7) by Wangkhemcha Chingtamlen, mentions: “The written history of Kangleipak began around 2000 BC. And this is supported by clinching evidence of Kanglei Iindigenous written literary evidence.”
The late Soroj N Arambam Parratt (originally from Sagolband Meino Leirak, Imphal) has a different interpretation of the Meitei origin. Parratt is one of the great contemporary Meitei scholars.
She writes in the English translated Cheitharol Kumba p12 that in Manipur there was a ‘proto-Meetei’ known as Poireiton and Manipur was known as Poirei lamdam. Pakhangba’s group arrived (? wherefrom) and the Poireiton inferred to them as Meetei (Mee=people, tei=other).Eventually Pakhangba married Laisna, the sister of Poireiton.
The two clans merged and Manipur became known as Poirei-Meetei lamdam and the language as Meetei lon. Poireiton is believed to have brought fire to Manipur, which was taken to the Andro village. It is indeed true that the eternal flame, meihoubirol is still burning in the Andro village.
I have quoted the above passages from just a few authors whose scholastic writings I do not dispute. The reference is in support of my argument that there is blurriness in the oral traditions of the origin of the Meitei and even in some of the records in Cheitharol Kumbaba. Oral traditions expose the contradictory legends on false traditions.
There is also lack of agreement among the Meitei scholars about the early history of the Meiteis as to who came first? Was it chicken or egg? Was it Pakhangba or Poireiton? Did Poireiton come from the east or the south? Where did Pakhangba come from? Who were the Lei Hao tribes? And where did they come from? According to Parratt and Cheitharol kumbaba, Poireiton’s settlement was much earlier than Pakhangba in 18-34 CE. This date has already been recorded by the eminent Meitei historian K C Tensuba.
Capt Pemberton considered the Meiteis to be descendents from a Tartar colony. “We may safely conclude them to be descendants from a Tartar colony from China.” (The Metheis p6). On the other hand when I was a small boy, young mothers used to pacify crying babies on their backs saying that “the Tartars are coming.” More reliably therefore, the Meiteis could not have been the descendents of the Tartars. Otherwise, how could the mothers lull their babies to sleep, out of fear of the Tartars?
The British rulers found the Aryan invasion theory useful as it carried the western cultural dominance over the Indian natives. The British also found it useful to group all the Mongoloid people of northeastern India and the Himalayan belt as Tibeto-Burman- a classification intended for the wild/ savage animistic and shamanistic tribes.
In obedience to oral traditions, which it will be vain to unsettle, the studies now indicate that there exist stories of prehistory of the Meiteis that are more interesting than their history. But they are not without problems. At which date prehistory becomes history is different around the world. British history did not begin until the invasion by the Romans in the first century BCE.
The Meitei prehistory is antiquity (historic period before the middle Ages, 1154- 1485). The trouble with prehistory is that it has another prehistory (a funny Greek word).
Somewhere between prehistory and history of the Meiteis, an uneasy accommodation must be made for my premise that the origin of the Meitei is lost until we have the genetic discovery of the Meitei genome that will trace us back to the autotochnous status of the Meiteis
As an interlude, has anybody ever thought of the possibility of considering that the
Meiteis might have been the original inhabitants and responsible for exporting various population groups with various modified languages to Southeast Asia?
The writer is based in the UK
Email: imsingh AT onetel.com