As I mentioned earlier one of the main purposes of the burst of writing on Meitei national character is the lingering “aggressive Meitei trait”.

In the anthropological doctrine, the key to understanding Meitei character is to study their “aggressive trait”; that is, how it affects public and private life and how it became a Meitei trait – a peculiarity of a Meitei ideology – a manner of thinking, characteristic of the Meitei.

It was a fighting doctrine on moderate provocations, which superseded any other character. This was an obsessive Meitei ideology. It had its own virtues and vices, as all national characters have.

Gambhir Singh was recognized as the Raja of Manipur and the Treaty of Yandabo was signed in1826, between the East India Company and the Burmese. That Treaty bound the Burmese to recognize the perpetual independence of Manipur. By another treaty concluded in 1833, between the East India Company and Manipur, the Company ceded Jiribam in perpetuity to Manipur.

This was the starting point of the emergence of “Meitei national character” as iron entered the soul of the Meitei. The newly released Meitei spirit joined the living and dead – the romantically lost and the living present. They began to quantify their experience with daring and persistent energy; the trust in their physical prowess, valour, and the ability of their kings to keep their subjects under control.

Following the integration of the seven clans, their homogeneity was set off on a chain reaction due to costs and benefits of cooperation, underpinning their social life and providing the foundation of a unified Meitei national character.

The Meitei nation was firmly established by the singular and perfect coalition of its members. The biological basis of trusting behaviour to each other clan and the combinatorial system of vocabulary and syntax was beginning to lead to a common religion of Sanamahi laining.

The indigenous Sanamahism of the Meiteis was distinct from the other animistic religions of the neighbouring tribes and those existent in Awa, Kamrup and Takhel. The Sanamahi culture bonded them together as well as by the ritualistic celebration of Lai Harouba (pleasing the gods) of the Umang lais (gods of the woods).These distinctive religious traditions gave them awareness of national cohesion.

A difference in religion has always been pernicious as it is today, and often fatal to the harmony of the king and the people. The coerced religious consensus of the Meiteis in the beginning of the 18th century with their conversion into Hinduism offered a way in which all the seven clans could be imagined as shrinking and converging, and thus forming an idea of a national character of the Meiteis.

The Meitei national character supports the Darwinian concept of the ‘survival of the fittest’. To survive one must be fit and brave. From a study of Meitei history one can argue that they
do have a characteristic trait of courage, often stretched to the limits of foolhardiness.

Natural selection promoting genes for courage has probably been more ruthless for the Meiteis than in more densely populated and politically complex societies. Meitei national character as in any national character, can not be based on individuals. There are many heroic deeds of some people. But all people are not heroic.

In the 1950s, the whole idea of Meitei national character was running out of steam. It was the
time when the Meiteis were getting back on to their feet in reforming their society after the ravages of WW II.

In writing Meitei national character the first thing this research taught me was that our personalities generally do not change after about the age of 25. They are well entombed within each of us as a lifetime habit, attitude and approach.

Research in the past (2000), always indicated that individuals with low esteem (inferiority complex) are more aggressive than individuals with ‘high esteem’ (superiority complex). However, recent research (2005), found that individuals with ‘high esteem’ as well as ‘low esteem’ were associated with self- reported physical aggression.

Further research (2006), concluded that the long standing view that low esteem causes violence has been shown to be wrong and that a specific type of high self-esteem produces high aggression. People who are high on a trait are more reactive to moderate provocation
than are those who are low on a trait, which react to strong provocation. The Meiteis thus tend
to respond to moderate provocation because of a trait of an elevated type of self esteem.

On newer research, psychologists found out that there was an indication that persons who have low or high esteem levels are more prone to aggressive behaviour if they have high levels of a trait known as narcissism (excessive interest in oneself).

The modern study of human psychology by brain scan shows that social rejection (negative complex) activates brain areas that generate physical pain. It also shows that when we feel or are made to feel socially inferior, two areas of the brain become activated. One area makes
you feel a sense of sinking at the bottom of the abyss; the other area motivates to stave off the pain of feeling second rate, and you are compelled to compensate as a reward.

Certain cultures give a particular form to the aggression and sanctify the uniformity of its practice by all members of the tribe. The Meitei cultures supply the motivation for warfare. The Meitei predisposition for socially approved aggression is in a different category from that of an individual aggression, which is often severe and gets individuals locked up in prison.

In the evolutionary adaptive trend in getting rid of this Meitei gene, Meiteis still have a problem – a survival problem, in that they are locked into a Pyrrhic battle as Mayang Indians also have the same psychological profile – a superiority complex over the Mongol looking Meiteis, while forgetting that the damaging effect of colonialism over the Indian minds was a creation of inferiority complex from which they have recently recovered with an increase in GDP.

Richard Dawkins, the best known evolutionist after Darwin, would call this Meitei gene, a “selfish gene”. In its long journey through the generations, this particular selfish Meitei gene had been seeking something equivalent to an evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS).

In behavioural ecology, an ESS is an equilibrium refinement of the Nash equilibrium – it is a Nash equilibrium which is “evolutionarily” stable meaning that once it is fixed in a population, natural selection alone is sufficient to prevent alternative (mutant) strategies from successfully invading.

It seems the Meitei have developed this notable characteristic because of a protective Meitei chromosome that constitutes a single long-lived genetic unit.

But how can a single gene determine the aggregate trait of the seven clans of the Meitei nation? The answer is that one gene cannot. But it is possible by the automatic editing achieved by inversions and other accidental rearrangement of genetic material, a large cluster of formerly separate genes has come together in a tight linkage group on a chromosome.

Figuratively speaking, the whole is the sum of all its parts. And the character of the parts will determine the characteristics of the whole. The gene which is a piece of chromosome could live as copies for generations and generations. The genes are immortal. So, the immortal
aggressive Meitei national character is determined by the aggregate linkage group of different
genes of the seven warring clans, on a chromosome.

Given the stringency of their fighting ability and success, self-reliance and self- sufficiency, the Meitei national character undoubtedly wrenched them into a new genetic unit, which eventually mutated by what is called inversion, producing a phenotype of narcissism – a trait past its shelf-life now.

The forces needed in the handling of the central features of Meitei national character are moral and physical courage and readiness for combat either individually or socially. The most radical version of these is the aggressiveness though the Meitei is a well-balanced person, responsible, dignified, self-possessed and capable of recognizing his own true self-interest, in obedience to the law and co-operation with others.

The Meitei aggressiveness is not the same thing as bravery. Bravery is when you do something that frightens you, but you do it anyway because your gut feeling tells you that it is right. The Meitei do have bravery without doubt. History is full of splendid examples of Meitei valour.

The Anglo-Manipuri war delivered a great shock. The Meitei national character remained
muddled up ever since. In the aftermath of the Khongjom battle, the character fatigue clearly
manifested itself. The fighting spirit of the alpha Meitei male in Imphal, long moribund in the
Meitei political cockpits, grounded to a halt.

They degenerated into beta male while their wives changed to alpha female as they became breadwinners. They did whatever they could to eke out a living to feed the family. The ancient Meitei ‘Family Economy’ based on products, goods and services, mostly produced in the home and where the workforce consists of family members, alarmingly deteriorated.

By dusk, most men dressed in pristine white dhotis and shirts, wrapped up in woollen shawls in the winter, would amble to the Mapal Kangjeibung (polo ground) for ‘Leipung phamba’ ie
idle talk to while away time until their evening dinner was ready, cooked by their wives who
worked their fingers to the bones during the day. Sunday afternoons were a treat as they gathered at the Mapal Kangjeibung to watch polo matches between two Meitei panas with a Shahib or two on each side.

Following the World War II, while the Meiteis were at the crossroads of old and new civilisations, the relics of the older, pre-Hindu civilisation in the shapes of Sanamahi cult and Lai haraoba, began to work their impassive influence through an identity crisis of Mongoloid Meiteis in Mayang India.

This triggered the greatest surge in Meitei national stereotypes, as aggressive Meitei. The newly independent Indians, through no fault of their own, did not know that there is such a country called Manipur.

The early post-War period had no construct of Meitei national identity. The Meitei national character was in the blues. In fact, the idea was not born at all among politicians, intellectuals and even ordinary people.

There was a lack of educated politicians and intellectual historians, who could promote constructive arguments for Meitei national identity. It is the classic role of the public intellectuals to produce, transmit and adapt ideas about society and culture.

There were also no political institutions to inspire the loyalty of members of civic communities bound by a common language but different cultures and histories.

It was all the more problematic because Manipur was still in the process of formation, not only for the Meiteis but for the accommodation of the interests of various ethnic minorities, which posed massive problems and did not have immediate solutions.

National consciousness now began to impact upon the Meiteis, in spite of the fact that the Meitei culture and politics has been more egalitarian than the various tribal cultural groups.

National history has long played a prominent role in the forging of national identities, while the politicians have had a role in encouraging or discouraging the formation of a national identity.

It is now clear that Manipur was a very vague notion with uncertain frontiers. The complex identity of Manipur can only be formulated by taking into account all the uncertainties, ambiguities and contradictions. The unity of Manipur can only be conceived as multiple and complex, bringing together its diversities and contradictions. At least such a conclusion leaves the possibility that it might not offer a satisfactory answer.

A new class of liberal educated young Meitei people with an aching modernism sprang up with an infantile noble spirit that grew up to a mature Meitei National character. The language of civilisation current in the social and scientific circles elsewhere began to swamp the Meitei nation, with an optimistic prospect of a political dawn.

In the 1960s, the Meitei women, free from the complete dependency on the male socio-
cultural continuum broadened their perspectives by going to universities.

In the riveting memoir of the part played by Meitei women in shaping Meitei national character, their bravery stood out a mile with few equals like the Rani of Jhansi. A spontaneous national uprising of Meitei women known as the first Women’s war or Nupi lan, which erupted in 1904, stands forever as a historical obelisk.

The Darwinian evolutionary process had relevance to the formation of the Meitei nation. The ecological and geographical factors of Manipur primarily influenced the development of Meitei narcissism, while history, sociology, philosophy and ethnology gained significance later.

The Meitei national character is not without vices, as all national characters have. The main ones are: (1) the aggressive behaviour to moderate provocation; (2) the tendency to factionalism; and (3) lack of discipline. These traits have long been encoded in the double helix of our genes, which is impossible to dislodge until altered by various features of environment in future.
Meitei national character is thus an adaptive behaviour that has evolved in the Meitei genome for living in today’s society. That included organised warfare, reciprocity and altruism,
religion, exchange and trade. The history of Manipur is essentially the history of the Meitei clan.

Meitei national character, particularly the belligerence, superciliousness and tendency to dissension started in the 17th century CE, after the unification of the seven clans by Pakhangba.

In conclusion: Meitei national character was a psychologically homogenous unit within a framework in which most Meiteis, if not all, were palpably different from others and were conscious of a kind of superiority to others, real or imagined, with grassroots interest in its identity.

Like the Roman Empire that declined and fell, about five centuries after the Christian era, the Meitei nation fell 18 centuries after the Christian era. It is indeed indisputable that the Meiteis had national character in the past and certainly have one now. How about the future?

At the present time, the Meitei identity for the Meiteis would simply mean a loose Meitei citizenship in Manipur as the Meiteis do not anymore fantasize a Manipur dominated by them.

The writer is base in the UK
Email: [email protected]


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