Remembering Wangkhei Meiraba: A Forgotten Hero
Unlike the much celebrated and much remembered Forgotten Army of William Slim of the World War II, most Manipuris seem to forget to remember and celebrate the heroic deeds and acts of Poila Wangkhei Meiraba and his band of nineteen other brave soldiers who gave their lives on 23rd April, 1891 at Manao Ching of Kakching during the course of the Anglo-Manipuri War of 1891. Here is a brief and cursory history of this man and his band of warriors.
Wangkheimayum Meiraba was the grandson of Wangkheimayum Amu Singh, Ahallup Lakpa. His son Kshetri (Poila) married a lady of Thingbaijam and two sons were born. Meiraba was the elder one and his younger brother was named Jagat Singh. Meiraba (Poila) lived at Pishum Thong, Oinam Leikai on the bank of the Nambul River, Imphal.
An elderly paying homage to the departed souls
Wangkhei Meiraba was the Poila ( a military rank next to Major and above Subedar) in the Manipur army when Maharaja Kulachandra became the king of Manipur. After the Palace revolt and consequent developments which led to the execution of the five British officers including Mr. J.W. Quinton, the Chief Commissioner of Assam on the night of 24th March, 1891, the then British Government of India sent three columns namely the Kohima Column, the Silchar Column and the Tamu Column to invade Manipur which then was still a sovereign state even though much of India had then been under the British. The headquarters of the advance party of the Tamu column was at Palel, 29 miles south of Imphal, the capital of Manipur. Wangkheirakpaand Yenkhoiba Major along with their troops were sent to face the invading party and they encamped at Thoubal. After a few days Major Paona Brajadashee and Major Chongtha Miya with 400 sepoys re-inforced to assist Wangkheirakpa and Yengkhoiba Major. On the midnight of 20th April 1891 two parties, one under Paona Brajabashee and Chongtha Miya Major were sent via Khongjom to attack the British column at Palel and another party under Wangkhei Meiraba Poila were sent via Kakching to attack the British column stationed at Palel in a sort of pincer movement attack. But on the fateful night of 23rd April 1891 some British army under Major Leslie and his troops were holding a durbar discussing war strategy using a petromax at the Wairi side of Kakching were ambushed by Wangkhei Poila’s party .
The Memorial Tombstone (the white stone in front is the exact stone on which Wangkhei Meiraba fell when hit with bullets)
According to the late Pandit Achouba, in retaliation of the ambush a large contingent of British troops stationed at Palel marched towards the Chumnang side of Kakching and a fierce fighting took place between the well-armed and numerous troops against the Manipuri guerrilla army. Meiraba at this stage asked his outnumbered troops to retreat to the hillside while he himself hiding behind a big tree in a small ravine waited for his chance to shoot and kill as many British officers and their sepoys he could. Due to the superiority of the arms of the greatest empire, the guerrilla army of the Manipuris after the advice of Meiraba himself dispersed in different directions. Even after knowing that he and some of his troops have been surrounded by the British troops they fought to the end of their lives in the true Manipuri spirit where surrender is out of the question. A severe fighting took place at Manao Ching (Hill) of Kakching. It was here that Wangkhei Meiraba (Poila) and nineteen of his band of brave warriors gave their lives to defend their motherland. The exact spot where Meiraba fell had a big stone slab and it is on that exact spot that the memorial is built. In fact it won’t be wrong to say that the battle proved to be Manipur’s Battle of Plassey. Soon afterwards Maxwell blew up the Kangla Uttra which was then a symbol of the sovereignty of Manipur. Thus ended the two millennia old sovereignty of Manipur and it became the darkest chapter in the history of our beloved motherland.
M Gourachandra (Founder of People’s Museum, Kakching)
For the last twenty-four years the People’s Museum under the stewardship of Mayanglambam Gourachandra along with the State Archaeology , Department of Art and Culture, Government of Manipur has been observing the death anniversary of these fallen heroes. But the sad thing is that the monument is not getting the attention it truly deserves.The Manipuri people ought not to forget those who gave their Todays for our Tommorows.
( I did this write up based on my personal research, the records and souvenir published by People’s Museum , Kakching)