Who is a Meitei ?
As a young boy I was always troubled by the question of, who am I? And like all of us from Manipur who studied outside, the problem was made worse by the constant taunts of ill mannered school/college mates; Chinky, Chinese, Nepali, Japanese, Chimpu. These were the common identity given to us. These comments made me angry and resolute to find out who I was? What was Manipur? Who are the Meiteis? School text books offered no help either, there wasn’t any mention of Manipur anywhere in history. I had to find it out on my own.
First of all let me put this straight, no matter what language we speak, what color our skin is or what religion we are. We are all Homo sapiens, one specie.
There is a theory called “out of Africa theory”. It proposes that man evolved from apes into humans (Homo sapiens) in Africa and moved from Africa to the rest of the world. These migrations were done as families or group of families. Whichever group wanted to move on, moved on and which ever wanted to stay at a place stayed and became the natives of the place. The natives of Andaman Islands the Jarawas were one of the groups who went out from Africa and they settled in the Andaman Islands. Their relative isolation has left them unchanged in features and culture from the tribes of Africa.
During this time of migration Manipur was submerged under a sea called the Tethys Sea. Due to this, Manipur never had any original out of Africa settlers. However later on as the Indian subcontinent began to push into Asia the land began to rise and the sea gradually disappeared and gave way to mountain chains, in what is now the north east India.
As habitable land began to emerge in these places, the region was claimed by 2 major groups. The Tibeto Chinese tribes coming from the north and the Thai tribes from the east. The southernmost settlements of the Tibeto Chinese tribes were the northern hills of Manipur and the western most settlements of the Thai tribes were the territories of the Khasis. Drawing a straight line through the middle of the overlapping regions of the tribes, those settling to the north of this line were Tibeto Chinese tribes and south of it were the Thai tribes.
In our quest to find the history of ourselves I and my sisters went to Kangla, when it was still under the control of the Assam rifles. No civilians were allowed in at the time. We went in with the help of an uncle who was in Manipur rifles. In there we saw the Kanglasha still in ruins, the seven ponds of the seven salai and also the place where the puya was burnt. After that we came across an old man with long beard dressed in white with his long hair tied in a knot. Sitting under a huge mango tree he was eating green mango with mint and green chili. He looked like a Maichou we read about in old meitei books, a spiritual man of vast knowledge. We went up to him and asked “pupu kangla gi matang da wari khara libi o” .My elder sister was our leader , she had lots of energy and enthusiasm in searching the history of Manipur.
Occasionally taking a bite of his mango he told us a story of how Kangla got its name and why it is the most sacred place in Manipur.
When our forefathers first came to this land, there was no Imphal valley, only a big lake. They all settled in the hills. But during this time in the whole of Imphal valley one place was dry. This dry land was kangla. The name kang meaning dry and la meaning land. Because of this reason it was regarded as the most sacred place. Whoever controlled kangla was considered to be the most powerful group in Manipur. Later on the water gradually receded and more dry land emerged and they started settling in these newly emerged dry land. The different pats, Keisam pat, Lamphel pat, Khongham pat, etc were the reminiscent of the earlier Tethys Sea.
With this new knowledge we went home satisfied and got a good scolding from our parents for wondering off on our own.
As for our forefathers more and more of them started settling in the Imphal valley and 7 different groups were formed, the seven salai namely: Mangang, Luwang, Khuman, Sarang-Leisangthem, Moirang, Kha-Nganba and Angom. Around 14000 BC, a powerful leader by the name of Pakhangba conquered all the seven salais. And name the new united groups as “Meitei”.
In simpler words Meitei was formed by the unification of Tibeto Chinese and Thai tribe of Manipur 16000 years ago. The Tibeto Chinese tribes are the tribes we now know as the Nagas and the Thai tribes are the tribes we now know as Kuki.
The very word Meitei is synonymous with unity. The identity of various tribes vanish as we try to find a single race behind it. Meitei is not a one race, diversity is the very fabric on which Meitei originates.
The story of Meitei does not end there. I have heard stories that Kabui were supposed to be the 8th salai of Meitei and that coming of Hinduism created problems in that happening. I would argue that as of now meitei consist of 9 salai and not just 7. The two others being Bamon and Pangan. It is said that the clan Nongmeikapam were originally Muslims who were proficient in using firearms and later on got assimilated into one of the Meitei salai.
In my search I also found that Yumnam the sagei to which I belong although categorized as Mangang were not in the original Mangang salai. We were assimilated into Meitei fold later on. Earlier we were considered as Hao/non meitei. My looks support the story…. Ha ha. Meiteis originated from the fore fathers of Nagas and Kukis.
We are at a very critical juncture in the fate of Manipur. Are we going to destroy each other? Naga vs Meitei,Meitei vs Kuki, Kuki vs Naga. Or unite as one and take Manipur into the future as a symbol of what unity can achieve. Our forefathers did it 16000 years ago and resulted in Meitei. We don’t need another Pakhangba to unite us, we just need to let love guide us and crush all feelings of hatred plaguing us. Bigger problems lurk just around the corner which threatens the whole of humanity, climate change, end of oil, war, religious conflict and what not. Let’s face them together as one and secure a bright future for our next generation.
If a hand full of tribes from naga and kuki unite to form the rich and diverse culture we see in Meitei, imagine what will happen if the whole of Naga, Kuki and Meitei unite to form a ‘new race’ of people.
There would be nothing we can’t achieve.
This is the time to unite as ONE.